"The purpose of our dreams," says the philosopher Sorrdja of Farfrit, a strong dreamer of the ancient Deyu Retreat, "is to enlarge our souls by letting us imagine all that can be imagined: to release us from the tyranny and bigotry of the individual selfby letting us feel the fears, desires, and delights of every mind in every living body near us." The duty of the strong-minded person, she holds, is to strengthen dreams, to focus them -- not with a view to practical results or new inventions but as a means of understanding the world through a myriad of experiences and sentiences (not only human). The dreams of the greatest dreamers may offer to those who share them a glimpse of an order underlying all the chaotic stimuli, responses, acts, words, intentions, and imaginings of daily and nightly existence.This book is so fantastic and I'm only 7 out of 16 stories into it. The whole book is just random short stories about visiting other worlds where people are different. There's a world where a "year" is 24 of our years long and every "spring" there is a massive migration from the city where everyone lives together, learns, produces and doesn't have sex to the country where everyone lives in a cottage, relaxes, and has sex and babies (for 12 years or so until they decide to go back to the city). The entire society of highly intelligent humans is structured like bird society in every possible way. In another one genetic engineering has gotten out of control and there are corn-people and chicken-people and dog-people. In another one every one is a hyper agressive violent loner. In another one the people just have very deeply ingrained beliefs about body and soul and reincarnation that the observer who sits with them and talks for a while explores. On another world, the adults never talk. Children learn language from other children and then just stop talking as teenagers. Adults might say one word every 5 years or so in dire circumstances.
For them, dream is a communion of all the sentient creatures in the world. It puts the notion of self deeply into question. I can imagine only that for them to fall asleep is to abandon the self utterly, to enter or reenter the limitless community of being, almost as death is for us. -- "Social Dreaming of the Frin", Changing Planes by Ursula K. LeGuin
In every story, the author is a visitor on these strange planes and she explores the social structure and spiritual beliefs of these very different cultures. This is what LeGuin has always done best in her novels and in this book she gives us the very essence of the LeGuin imagination and social exploration boiled down into these short little vignettes. It's like eating gourmet literary candy (or sushi!) for the imagination. Why would you ever want to stop?