People look at the internet all day long. It's not a huge surprise that people are dreaming about memes. In the subreddit Thomas the Plank Engine, people post the strange memes that they see in their sleep.
According to mod Book915, Thomas The Plank Engine came about two years ago, when fellow mod TA10S posted a meme they'd seen in a dream in humor subreddit Me_IRL. It featured Thomas the Tank Engine's face, repeated in rows, growing subtly more frustrated until an image of a plank breaks the combo. Then, Thomas is calm.
It looks enough like a meme that it's basically legible, but it also doesn't make any sense at all. Why does the plank calm Thomas? What angered him to begin with? People found this image so hilarious and confusing that it got almost 10,000 upvotes on Me_IRL, and spawned the subreddit Thomas The Plank Engine.
"I just happened to be in the original r/me_irl thread, and noticed there was a demand for a subreddit about dream-based memes that was unfulfilled," mod Cubed_Gamer said. "So, I made it a reality. The rest is history."
Thomas The Plank Engine now has over 15,000 subscribers, and a pretty healthy submission of posts. People submit memes about Minecraft, like user TheMetaKid_X, and "Big McDonalds, like user PrinceNoel." They're things that feel uncanny enough to not quite be real, but made of the same building blocks as memes you see in the waking world, so they're recognizable.
"Dreams are really strange, and I'm sure everyone has had some weird things happen in theirs," Book915 said. "I'm assuming that people are dreaming in meme format because memes are just a really big part of their lives. Since people look at a lot of memes when they're awake, they kind of remember them once they fall asleep, and their subconscious does the rest."
"I guess my meme-y dreams happen because my brain's just scrambling to find familiar things to incorporate, and spending a lot of time online means it's got a good sampling of meme material. It doesn't surprise me that it's this common, since memes are a big part of internet culture, Reddit user Sleebytoe told Motherboard. She posted a meme to Thomas the Plank Engine depicting a disgruntled Miranda Cosgrove and the phrase "obeying the worm."
The posters and mods of Thomas the Plank Engine all said that they don't dream about memes very regularly, and some don't remember their dreams particularly well at all. The surreal humor that comes from dream memes is attractive to all of them, in part because the randomness of dreams makes connections that the waking mind would not.
"They’re uncanny in the same way dreams in general are uncanny; it’s logical enough that’d someone would be able to come up with it, but not enough that it makes any genuine sense," Reddit user Inunonaizo told Motherboard. They had posted a meme to Thomas the Plank Engine depicting a blurry, cheering man with the caption "When you and your stupid friends wake up every stupid morning, so you live yet another day of your stupid lives."
"It’s similar to computer-generated memes, in that there’s clearly some sort of process behind it, even if the process doesn’t produce remotely normal results," Inunonaizo said.
There's not much separating dream memes from intentional humor, but people making up dream memes doesn't seem to be much of a concern to the mods of Thomas the Plank Engine. Cubed_Gamer said that occasionally they'll see a meme submitted on the subreddit that doesn't feel like it was made in a dream, but ultimately it doesn't matter.
"Dream memes are made after the fact, based on pieced-together fragments of what you remember from your dreams," they said. "There's always a touch of your brain trying to piece it back together and make sense of it. There's really no way of telling for sure what's a real dream-meme and what's not, so we don't remove many posts for not being authentic."
To TA10S, the distinction between a "real" meme and a dream meme is even more blurry.
"All of them are real," they said, when asked about dream memes that feel authentic. "Memes don't necessarily have to reference real events or figures, so as far as I'm concerned, anything that gets a laugh out of me is a real meme."