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By Jordi Jiménez

In the previous article, we talked about the mechanism of images and their meanings in dreams. Today we will add a new perspective to this topic that is so important for the understanding of human psychism: the translation of bodily signals into images. To put it another way: the translation from one kind of language to another.

It is easier than it seems. For example, and continuing with dreams, in one of them I see myself walking with difficulty in a marshy area, I can barely move my legs and I notice that I am sinking. Then I wake up and see that my legs have become entangled in the sheets, making it difficult to move them. Translation of bodily impulses into a visual image. In another dream I find myself in the middle of a fire, everything around me is burning, but I don’t feel any heat. I wake up and realise that I have a strong acidity in my stomach because of something I had for dinner that made me sick. Translation of bodily impulses into visual images.

In dreams, this translation into visuals is more evident if we can detect the signal that gives rise to these images. By the way, this will affect the interpretation that we make of the dreams that we saw in the previous article. If we want to make a more refined interpretation, we will have to take into account the possible external origin of these images, so as not to believe that my life is falling apart and sinking hopelessly into a dreary swamp when it turns out that the sheets had become entangled in my legs…

In everyday vigil, this translation of impulses also occurs, but it is somewhat more camouflaged and more difficult to detect. We will find ourselves with a multitude of registers of diffuse bodily signals from all corners of our body that will be translated into visual representations and this will give us a complex and intertwined structure of responses that will subsequently produce certain behaviours or others.

For example, a person with high blood pressure generates this bodily signal in a very subtle, almost imperceptible way, but the impulse reaches consciousness and is translated. Then, we see that this person usually has feelings of dislike for closed and oppressive spaces, and we see that he or she seeks or likes open spaces that are liberating for him or her. The consciousness has received the bodily impulse related to pressure and has translated it in its own way in the form of images, in this case, visuospatial images, which produce a compensatory register of liking for open spaces.

The translation of impulses gives rise to various narratives, tastes, and fantasies.

Moreover, not only are these impulses translated, but also associative chains of these translated images are opened. The opening images by compensation of that signal begin to associate with others by similarity, contiguity, or contrast. For example, open spaces suggest to me mountains and heights from which a distant horizon can be perceived or deserted beaches where the sea is lost in the distance. This taste leads me to prefer villages rather small and far from the city, and better in a house than in a building where there is light. And in such a house, better a few large rooms than many small ones. In short, one can link some images with others in very long associative chains. The nice thing about it is that about likes and dislikes, about ways and lifestyles, and about a multitude of behaviours, it has its origin in a small health condition that is giving a signal in the body.

Of course, this does not work the other way around. That is, people who like the outdoors do not necessarily have high blood pressure. This would be an oversimplification that does not correspond to what we are explaining. Incidentally, many so-called “self-help” books are very fond of using such simplifications to classify and label people by making excessive use of what are called “illusory correlations”. A taste for the outdoors can have many origins, and perhaps several at once. There is always a biographical component, from lived experiences, and social or environmental components, both from cultural values and from the simple orography of the terrain where the person was born. We cannot reduce everything to the body signal, just as we cannot reduce everything to the environment. We have to leave behind the reductionism to which the old official psychologies have accustomed us.

In the same way, we also find an infinity of images in cultures and myths that are in reality translations of bodily and/or environmental impulses common to all those people and that have been fixed in history as cultural contents that were transmitted from generation to generation, losing in time the signal that gave them origin. How can there be common or equal bodily impulses in a whole people, in a whole community? For example, because of the climate and the characteristics of the place (environmental stimuli from humid and cold climates or hot and dry places influence the translation into images), or because of the type of food. Or even by certain rituals and ceremonial practices in which certain substances are used or certain unusual postures are used.

All of these produce bodily signals in the participants that are translated into visual images, bearing in mind that environmental features also produce bodily registers that are translated. It is not difficult than that these visual translations coincide quite a lot between the different people living within that culture and end up creating, for example, the visual image of a woman with a thousand arms (symbolising help to all beings), or the image of a dragon with its head on fire. It is easy for people in each culture to recognise in these images the bodily registers that have given rise to them (whether internal or environmental) and therefore to accept them as unquestionable realities since they coincide with their experience. In fact, they are internal realities projected to the external world as images that end up becoming allegories with social and cultural significance, and which endure through the centuries.

And going a little further, the same phenomenon of translation occurs in images of fantastic beings of all times and cultures, such as mermaids, fairies, forest elves or centaurs, and unicorns. In mythology, there are examples such as the valkyries of Norse mythology, the Celtic selkies, or the succubi of medieval legends. From all this infinity of images, we could dig and look for the translations that acted at the time and that gave responses to personal or collective situations of that culture. It is no longer a question of individual bodily impulses (as in the first examples we gave) but of collective fears, desires, or hopes that are expressed in the form of these mythological beings that have very peculiar characteristics.

Today we have seen that the human consciousness functions in an interconnected structure with the body that supports it and that, in addition, this mental-bodily structure is at the same time interconnected with the environment in which it exists, thus forming a new, broader structure, the consciousness-world structure.