Study Guide

Dr. William Haber in The Lathe of Heaven

Dr. William Haber

Master Oneirologist

Dr. William Haber is a Master Oneirologist. Oh what, you've never heard of that? It's the study of dreams, obviously.

Now, this may be a long shot, but we're just going to guess that oneirology is not one of the most well-funded departments in scientific research. After all, Dr. Haber doesn't even have a window in his office. When we first meet him, he's a pretty low-level researcher who is barely keeping up his practice.

Nevertheless, Dr. Haber is obsessed with the quantitative study of dreams. Don't believe us? Maybe this will convince you. He says:

"That's roughly it. The Russians have been using it for fifty years, the Israelis refined on it, we finally climbed aboard and mass-produced it for professional use in calming psychotic patients and for home use in inducing sleep or alpha trance. Now, I was working a couple of years ago with a severely depressed patient on OTT at Linton. Like many depressives she didn't get much sleep and was particularly short of d-state sleep, dreaming-sleep; whenever she did enter the d-state she tended to wake up. Vicious-circle effect: more depression—less dreams; less dreams—more depression. Break it. How? No drug we have does much to increase d-sleep." (2.89)

We could continue (Dr. Haber sure does), but you probably get the picture.

We guess we admire Dr. Haber's dedication to his profession, but there's one problem with it the whole thing: dreams don't just appear out of nowhere; people dream. Dr. Haber, though, doesn't care about people. He's sort of like a more pathetic Dr. House… who, you know, randomly ends up getting the power to change the world.

Captain Save-the-World

We'll tell you exactly the moment when we figured out this was going to be bad: it's the moment when Dr. Haber tells us about his dreams. He says: "[…] I frequently daydream heroics. I am the hero. I'm saving a girl, or a fellow astronaut, or a besieged city, or a whole damn planet. Messiah dreams, do-gooder dreams. Haber saves the world!" (3.41)

What's wrong with that? He just wants to save the world, right?

Yeah, but notice how the dreams are actually all about Dr. Haber? He doesn't want to save the world for the world's sake; he wants to save the world so that he can look cool and get a lot of power. His motives are all messed up.

On top of that, have you ever noticed how superheroes often seem to smash into buildings, destroy monuments, and generally mess up life for people in their city while they're fighting the bad guys? And it's not like they never clean up after themselves, right? So even though Batman set a building on fire to fight the Joker, he still set a building on fire. You might even say that he's caused more trouble than there was before.

That's exactly what happens when Haber tries to save the world. Sure, there is world peace… but now there are hostile aliens trying to kill everyone on earth. Or, sure, there is no racism anymore, but there is also nothing awesome because everyone is exactly the same. Every little inch Dr. Haber takes in the right direction also results in another step in the wrong direction, until reality becomes absolutely unbearable.

… And His Sidekick, Get-Power

So, yeah, we're not pretending that Haber is only interested in the humanitarian uses of George's dreams. This man wants power. He wants bling, he wants respect, he wants an office with a view—and he uses George to get it.

With each new incarnation of reality, Haber gets bigger and more impressive, until, in the end, he basically runs the entire world: "He was an important man, an extremely important man. He was the Director of HURAD, the vital center of the World Planning Center, the place where the great decisions were made. He had always wanted power to do good. Now he had it" (9.24). That would be fine, except have you ever noticed how the people who are really interested in gaining power are never the people who should have it?

Haber is too interested in changing things with his newfound power to realize that he is on the brink of destroying the universe—we guess you can only stretch reality so far before everything snaps. But instead of trying to keep in line with the harmony of the universe, Dr. Haber works against it to get what he wants, and all, supposedly, in the name of "progress."

As Fake as Milli Vanilli

Honestly, even though he probably sounds pretty lame based on everything we've told you so far, it wouldn't be so bad if it Dr. Haber weren't a total fake.

What do we mean, you ask?

Well, think of it this way: Haber's personality is fake, his office is fake, and everything about him is fake. Try this description on for size: "But the big man was like an onion, slip off layer after layer of personality, belief, response, infinite layers, no end to them, no center to him. Nowhere that he ever stopped, had to stop, had to say Here I stay! No being, only layers" (6.54).

So, while George is so solid and secure that he's extra normal, Dr. Haber's ambition causes him to have no real core being.

It's so bad that when he's alone, Haber doesn't even know who he is. It's actually kind of scary:

He listened to the radio, but it would not listen to him. He was all alone, and nothing seemed to be real in solitude. He needed somebody, anybody, to talk to; he had to tell them what he felt so that he knew if he felt anything. This horror of being by himself was strong enough that it almost drove him out of the Institute and down into the crowds again, but the apathy was still stronger than the fear. (8.9)

Dr. Haber only knows who he is when he can perform in front of other people. Without other people around, he's no one.

So if you were confused about the reasons why Haber's dream nearly destroys the world, here's your answer. George is able to dream and change reality because he can draw from a deep stability in his core. There is so much inside of him that he can project it onto the world. But there is nothing real inside of Dr. Haber. He has nothing to give, so all he can dream about is his own destructive ambition.

In the end, Dr. Haber is nothing… so when he dreams, that's what he gets. A vortex of nothing.