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My girlfriend, “Emily,” often tells me her dreams, and I, less often, tell her mine, which are usually too murky and disjointed to share. We try to make sense of our dreams, to find meaning in them. What do they reveal about our fears and desires?

Interpreting dreams is an imperfect, highly subjective art, as Sigmund Freud, in his rare moments of humility, would surely have granted. Dreams are entirely private, first-person experiences, that leave no traces beyond the dreamer’s fallible memory.

And yet making sense of dreams, it occurs to me lately, is not wholly dissimilar from making sense of “reality,” whatever that is. Yes, we all live in the same world. We can compare notes on what is happening, and draw inferences, in a way impossible with dreams.

And yet your experience of the world is unique to you. So is your interpretation of it, which depends on your prior beliefs, yearnings and aversions, and on what matters to you. No wonder we often disagree vehemently, violently, on what has happened and what it means.

Science offers our best hope for achieving consensus about what happens. Scientists accumulate bits of evidence and try to assemble these fragments into a coherent story. After much haggling and second-guessing, scientists converge on a plausible narrative. Modern humans evolved from apelike creatures living in Africa millions of years ago. A novel, deadly coronavirus has emerged in China and is spreading across the world.

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