Consciousness and Dreaming
(PD) - Thomas Cooper Gotch - The Golden Dream
Copyright ©2014-2021 - updated February 06, 2021
The science taught in schools today — including psychology — is typically a good five to fifty years behind current research. New findings arrive more rapidly than a student can read the papers, and there is no pretention that any of us can know all there is to know about any topic.
There are two primary approaches to psychology research: (1) observing and measuring the behaviors of others', and (2) observing and measuring one's own behavior. The first approach is by far the most common and generally holds the greatest weight within theories, but some individuals have had success with the second method, and though the second method does require substantially higher effort and dedication, the results can be worth the cost.
For myself, I do not wish to wait five to fifty years to learn of a topic that interests me today, and so I invest my time and effort into method number two so that I can more quickly learn of the things that hold my curiosity. For the moment I have no interest in reading exhaustive treatises on embryologies, oneirologies, reversibilities, etc. etc. that have no immediate value for the topics at hand, but rather I want to observe with my own sense of observation the how and why I myself experience the things named consciousness and dreaming. I am the type of person who could care less if a green vegetable were named a jalapeno or a wowitshot, nor do I care how many millimeters long the pepper is or from what genre it might be, all I care for is to experience the sensory perceptions of seeing, smelling, feeling, hearing, and tasting the pepper. To me the act of the experience is everything, while the act of memorizing a psychology paper's data has no thrill.
When beginning this article I sifted through dozens of psychology journals in search of related topics, while briefly eyeing how the base of knowledge was formed for each of the articles. All of the journals in my possession mostly only contained non-authoritative articles that recited other authors' works, and of the relatively few papers held by individuals who were themselves the researchers (of whom all of the other articles copied), the researchers all used method number one. There is value in observing other people's behavior, and there is value in making notes of how a bird or mouse can be psychologically manipulated into habitually saluting the flag, but since it is my opinion that the external measure of a thing does not and cannot describe the thing itself (nor so much as describe the flavor of a jalapeno), then I will ignore method number one while I only focus on method number two, that of empirical firsthand observation.
Too, there still exist strongly opposing views of consciousness and dreaming within psychology, and so if there is not yet a consensus for any topic, then there is no value in learning the existing views of which at least half must be wrong, and the more likely reality is that all of the theories have serious flaws (if a theory does not possess sufficiently compelling evidence to convince opponents that the theory is true, then there is no reason to assume that the theory might be true). My research may not describe an effect or act that other people experience — as if it were ever possible that any one set of acts could possibly be the same for all humans anyway — but at least I can learn of my own acts, and for me that is enough. If my own personal experiences mirror other people's, then fine, but if not, then that too is okay because research is best profited by discovering contrasts, and one man's difference of experience helps to define other individuals' experiences.
A relatively new research project for me has been the study of dreams. Roughly thirty years ago I had frequently observed within my own dreams a common theme of using self-invented (imagined) scenarios as a means of mentally working-through emotional content that could not be solved during waking hours (the normal day-to-day routines were too narrow to permit a full expression of my thoughts and emotions while awake). The positive result of the scenarios was to create a sense of having released the stress of pent-up frustrations while the dreams also acted as a means of learning, a form of learning that is similar to what the normal firsthand experiences provide in the awake state. In later years I heard of similar conclusions given by researchers who interpreted dreaming in rats as an act of learning, and so, perhaps, dreams might often be one means of learning for several different species.
In recent months I discovered a new (new for me) method to investigate my own dreams, and the method is both useful and pleasurable: taking an afternoon nap three or four times a week. For individuals like myself who do not get the quantity and quality of sleep we ought to have, what an excellent excuse it is to take a nap while being sincere in saying that the nap is research. The advantage (for me) of taking an afternoon nap is that it permits me to enter into sleep while still within the day's normal stresses of routine. When entering sleep at night the stresses are fewer, there is a sense of release from the day's burden, and the observing of one's dreams is not as productive due to my dreams usually being rather unremarkable (no monsters, no being chased, no space aliens, pretty much just normal stuff with an occasional wide grin). Dreams during daylight hours, however, are formed upon a much different presence of stresses, and the dreams can often possess much greater features that are useful for investigation.
One of the first discoveries was to observe how the mind (my mind) is aware of sensorially perceiving the external environment as it normally is, but upon the very moment of entering the sleep state the sensory perceptions will fully stop and a dream will begin. For me this is significant because I am of the type of person who is constantly aware of their sensory perceptions, and it is intriguing that such a strong conscious attention should so easily vanish in an instant. One moment I might be thinking-through a sequence of planning a chore to be performed later in the day, and in the next moment I would be 'eyeing' a dream-image, perhaps of a fabric as if waving in a breeze with no other object of visualization being present (yes, it was odd to me too). Repeatedly the observation of the changing sensorial focus proved to be the same, and as I exited the dream state I would once again be aware of sensing the immediate environment (temperatures, humidities, sounds, aromas, radiances, etc.). I had always known that sensory perceptions were greatly attenuated during sleep, but it was entertaining to me to observe such a greatly marked division between wakefulness and sleep (the features occurring during the change of awake-sensing to asleep-dreaming are fascinating to observe).
Some people believe that consciousness is the awake state itself, which has always been an obviously wrong belief anyway, but for individuals like myself who remain aware/conscious during sleep, we interpret consciousness to imply the act of the self-recognition of being present during the act of perceiving. To observe one's own entrance into the dream state is self-explanatory that 'consciousness' can and does exist in both the awake state as well as the sleep state (at least for some of us). Some of us perpetually critique our thoughts while awake and while asleep, and though the sleeping critiquing is different, still it exists, and it is self-driven.
When doing a quick search to see if any psychology papers might possess a similar finding, I found Jean Piaget's 1962 book "Play, Dreams and Imitation in Childhood" which holds a parallel interpretation that is in no measure of a clarity as what I could describe of my own personal experiences, but still the basic concept of attenuated external sensory perceptions during sleep states has been known in psychology for over fifty years.
An advantage of taking a nap in a recliner is that of the body being positioned differently than lying in a bed. A well-recognized effect is that dreams will vary relative to whether I sleep on my right side, left side, stomach, or back (pressures upon the skin and other effects directly influence the dream states). If I want to experience a specific type of dream then I will choose the body position that tends to be conducive to my having that type of dream. Sleeping in a recliner has a different effect due to the different body positions and ambience, and especially important is that the use of a recliner permits a slower ebb into sleep, which in turn provides me additional time to observe the ebbing emotional states and how they directly influence thoughts, dreams, and — most entertaining to me — memories. At least some of us form memories within emotional states, and I very much enjoy reliving an old memory that I had not thought of in decades. To relive a memory, to once again feel the emotions as they were felt when they were created, it is almost as if we are once again living in that era, and if the memories are positive, then so is the experience.
I had experimented with emotional states and varying 'brainwave states' when I was eighteen, and the results were very interesting (very), but now roughly forty years later the results are far more important as well as being far more entertaining because of the differing contrasts between maturity and the age of having had few responsibilities. For some of us, our memories never go away, the memories are always there, ready to be recalled, and if we retain a steady emotional state throughout life then the memories are never hidden, but if through age or injury or some other cause our emotional states are altered, then the memories are not easily recalled unless we willfully alter our emotional state to be the same as it was when the memories were formed.
My research has been both entertaining and successful. Of the numerous effects and acts that I have observed, I recently observed one that fully answered all of my questions. Hopping out of bed from a research nap I quickly walked into the kitchen to grab a pen and paper to jot my notes while I excitedly described to my wife what I had just witnessed. Fortunately no one else was in the house to see that I had not yet bothered to dress beyond my sleeping attire. The notes will never be entered into a computer (I do not record any research findings on electrical media), but with my written notes in hand I searched psychology papers to see if anyone else had landed upon parallel findings. From what I was able to find, it appears that psychology's current views do not closely mirror my own, and it also appears that mainstream psychology research might be looking in the wrong direction. A curious thing, however, is that modern psychology does possess a valid opinion of a parallel topic, but psychology does not appear likely to extrapolate the opinion to recognize and hypothesize about the thing that I observed. Salaried researchers are paid millions of dollars to research dreams and consciousness, so obviously I have no desire to give the information away for free (they can contract my services if they want the information). Perhaps in another fifty years — or a hundred — psychology researchers will recognize the same thing, and the act of dreaming will then be well understood and shared publicly.
The current state of psychological research is in a rather uncomfortable position of having numerous contradicting beliefs and theories that may have no potential of ever being answered through method number one; not in fifty years, nor in two-thousand years. It is a reasonable stance for an individual to recognize that they will not live long enough to learn of what researchers have already discovered today; new information is slow to reach the public, and private research is often never made public. My own electrical theories of 1967 were not paralleled by physics until roughly forty years later, and still the knowledge has not been made public, and perhaps never will because the physics theories do not include an ingredient that is necessary to make the theories rational.
In less than three months of applying research method number two I discovered numerous features of consciousness, dreaming, and memories, while also verifying a very specific detail that answers so very many questions that psychology itself is searching for (the thing really is very simple and obvious, but not obvious if the thing is not observed firsthand). I am very pleased with the research as well as the firsthand experiences, and too, I got a bit of extra sleep.
My research project will now take a slight turn of focus, to delve a little further into the emotioned memories just for the fun of it (the history of the effect is far more interesting than it may appear; I had a ton of fun with it when eighteen), and too, I want to learn how to have more of those dreams that give me a wide grin.
Addendum July 03, 2014
A week after uploading this article I browsed for current published theories of consciousness and dreaming. I landed on an excellent PDF by David Kahn and Tzicia Gover titled Consciousness In Dreams (Department of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA, Holyoke Community College, Holyoke, MA, USA). As I have mentioned numerous times in my other articles, I purposefully avoid learning of other researchers' findings until after I have discovered my own conclusions. Little is as destructive to research than to have one's research data polluted and nullified by being consciously or subconsciously influenced by another person's beliefs. Below is a quote edited from a parallel article that I am working on:
"The scientific paradigm of T. S. Kuhn (1962) — as also casually mentioned by David Bohm from his discussions with other physicists — is that scientific research commonly shares the view and methodology that is currently popular. If one researcher walks a path of investigation, then so is it likely that other researchers will follow the same path because the methodology is suggestive: it is heard, learned, rationalized, accepted as viable, and then applied. This is one of the reasons why a researcher is profited best by performing their own private research while not knowing of the popular methods which could negatively influence the researcher's own personally developed methods." (Consciousness and the Scientific Method of Introspection, Larry Neal Gowdy)
Of the topics that hold my interest, in none do I want my research to be swayed by popular opinion or popular methodologies. I want to find my answers on my own, choosing my own methods, and discovering answers that are meaningful to me personally. Memorizing another man's words is not meaningful to me, nor is a research project meaningful to me if all I do is to place a mathematical measurement upon another person's behavior. I want to experience the behavior myself, observe it firsthand, and intimately know what the thing is, which are things that cannot be achieved through normal experimenter-subject interaction.
The Kahn/Gover paper is quite good and parallels some of the findings that I hinted at but did not speak of: (1) during sleep several specific mental activities 'disconnect' from the current thought-processing, and (2) the mind is as if not running on all cylinders (one of my own analogies as well as Kahn's/Gover's). I have not yet found a paper that speaks of the specifics of what the disconnected thought-processes actually do, and so for the moment neither will I speak of it, nor will I speak of the far more intriguing implications.
I will touch on the Kahn/Gover paper with more depth on one of my next articles, but for the present it is interesting to note that psychology has made good progress over the past forty years, and I am a bit impressed that the researchers are discovering useful data. The item of importance for the moment is to observe the differences of research; (1) the research method of making measurements over a period of forty years, and (2) the research method of self-observing a couple dozen naps. The current paradigm of scientific research does appear to work for minor topics, albeit perhaps so slowly that the method becomes self-limiting due to new data requiring more time than the researchers' own lifetimes. At the present rate of progress, psychology might begin approaching close to having a suitable concept of dream consciousness within another one-hundred to two-hundred years, but still only from the external point of view, and not from the depths of understanding that arrive from being the dreamer himself.
The question here is to ask: if a machine were to measure all behaviors and all energy consumed within a human, and the machine were to perfectly relate all behaviors to all energy states, then would the machine know that consciousness exists? If a machine cannot measure and thus conclude that consciousness exists, and if the knowledge of the existence of consciousness can only arrive from a person speaking of their being conscious, then the current scientific paradigm of machine-like measurements can never discover consciousness nor the numerous other similarly important attributes of what it means to be conscious.
"At least two important regions, the dorsal lateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) and the precuneus in the parietal lobe, are deactivated during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, the period when most dreaming takes place.
Because of this, we lack the ability to fully exercise our short-term memory when we dream, both within the dream and upon awakening. This helps explain breaks in continuity during the dream and why it is difficult to recall dreams on waking.
...Thoughts emanate from and generate attitudes, memories, and feelings from brain activity when awake . When dreaming, the same is true, but with altered brain activity. If these alterations are viewed as imperfections, or evidence that the brain is simply firing on too few cylinders, it is easy to dismiss dream content and write it off. If, on the other hand, dreaming is to be accepted as a different but valuable form of consciousness , there is much to learn, wonder at, and explore." (Consciousness in Dreams, David Kahn and Tzivia Gover.)
Within the self-observed dream state (or at least my own) there is indeed a similarity as what Kahn and Gover wrote, but there is a different reason for why the 'deactivations' occur. Similarly as to how there may be three or more different regions for applying mathematical reasoning, so also might different regions be used for different types of dream production. And yes, very much agreed, there is indeed much to learn, wonder at, and to explore.
The one thing that I want to press-home is that humans are not identical, nor equal, nor the same: humans are different with different thoughts, different intelligences, and different manners of dreaming. The popular online theories that claim that "we" dream 'this way and that way' are nonsensical and of an impoverished knowledge. Your dreams are your dreams, and only you can know if you have a consciousness during dreaming.