Dreaming With Lemurs

Dreams mean different things to people according to culture, time and place. For tribal cultures, dreams were often revered by being incorporated into the life of its members through rites of passage, or taken as prophetic messages. These practices have mostly faded away in cultures where individuality is highly esteemed. As technology enables individuals to sustain themselves seemingly independent of a tribe, there is less need to rely on the messages that dreams bring.

When thought of at all, we moderns tend to think of dreams as personal messages referring to one’s individual psychology. Even psychological practices discourage us from sharing dreams for fear of contamination or the loss of a temenos. I share this concern.

But, I am challenging myself here by sharing with you two dreams to see if there may very well be a shared constellation between dreamers, even in an online environment.

Why not expand our understanding of dreams as meaningful to both the dreamer and the tribe? A tribe can be any group of individuals where connection somehow constellates. Familiarity with tribe members is not necessary for dream meanings to constellate. We have much more in common than our differences may keep us from realizing, yes?

Recently, I was given two dreams which prominently featured a similar animal. The first dream, dated October 18, 2014, included an astounding sense of lucidity and went something like this:

As I wake up, I am actually beginning a lucid dream. I’m standing in the street and realize that if I move I can float upwards above the street. As I move upward, I see a small animal. I move cautiously towards him. It might be a bat, but I don’t see wings. I look into his face and eyes and hold out my hand to him. He then sits in my hand and we look deeply into each others eyes. I let him go and then wake up.

But, I am not awake, but am lifting off the ground into a vivid night sky. There are multiple moons and planets visible everywhere. I am aware of the ability to float around at will. The beauty is so stunning I wake up.

The second dream, dated December 18, 2014, was recorded like this:

On a boat moving towards Liberty Island with Paul (my husband), we move past the island when we see another beautiful island beyond. On the island there are vertical rock formations which have small delicate, ornate tops.

We reach the shore and look around to see a herd of elk-like creatures scampering off the rocks onto the beach where we are. I touch the ornate rock formation and to my surprise, it breaks off. I feel bad about that. I turn around and can feel an animal biting my upper back. Paul says suddenly, “It’s a lemur.” The distinction of his words made me turn around and look. The lemur was now on the rocks and I see him with some cats who are his friends. I am no longer afraid and wake up.

Ring Tailed Lemur

Upon waking I felt very moved by the presence of the lemur, but wasn’t even sure what a lemur was. I thought they were part of the cat family! So, after reading up on lemurs I realize that the animal in the dream from October was also a lemur. It had bothered me that although it resembled a bat, it wasn’t. Upon seeing a photo of a lemur, I recognized that the bat was actually a lemur.

Lemur’s are from Madagascar, and sad to hear, critically endangered, but were very much revered by the native culture. A myth about the Indri, a kind of lemur, portray Indri brothers in story as enacting the original split between animals and humans:

“Most legends establish a closer relationship between the indri and humans. In some regions it is believed that there were two brothers who lived together in the forest until one of them decided to leave and cultivate the land. That brother became the first human, and the brother who stayed in the forest became the first indri. The indri cries in mourning for his brother who went astray.” Wiki

From Wiki: Serge Gomes da Silva – oeuvre personelle (own-work)

Also called babakoto, the Lemurs have a very distinct call and response style of singing. I found some YouTube’s of Lemur sounds and as I hit play, all five cats in my home went on immediate high alert. Honestly, I have never seen all of them react the way they did. I had to stop playing the beautiful haunting lament of the Lemur sounds. Time to get head phones!

“One explanation for the name babakoto, is that the calls made by the indri resemble a father calling for his lost son.[10]

Another legend tells of a man who went hunting in the forest and did not return. His absence worried his son, who went out looking for him. When the son also disappeared, the rest of the villagers ventured into the forest seeking the two but discovered only two large lemurs sitting in the trees: the first indri. The boy and his father had transformed. In some versions it is only the son who transforms, and the wailing of the babakoto is analogous to the father’s wailing for his lost son.”

But Roman and Christian cultures do not see the lemur as a friend of humankind, but as vengeful ghosts of the deceased haunting someone who has dissed the ancestor with an improper funeral or burial.

Lemurs were so-named by the 18th century zoologist, Linnaeus, because of the nocturnal activity and slow movements of the slender loris.” And In Goethe‘s Faust, a chorus of Lemurs who serve Mephistopheles dig Faustus’ grave.”

It’s striking to me how opposite in nature the views are between the Madagascar natives and modern Europeans in their association to Lemurs. Perhaps the dream speaks to a need to reconcile the opposition between these two views? On a personal level, that opposition is very much of a concern to me and upon hearing these associations, I was impressed by how strongly resonant the two cosmologies play in my current thinking.

In mythology, and perhaps because of their size, behavior and likeness to us, Indri are thought to have a common ancestry to humans. A lover of animals all of my life, I am honored that the lemur has come to me in my dreams. Going out on a limb, so to speak, I would love to hear of your associations to the dreams or the lovely lemurs.

Dream Tribes

Could it be possible that dreams contain a level of knowledge not available to our conscious awareness? Who then, is the dreamer, and what is the dream? How can we enter into the dream’s perspective with the demands of our busy, techno-crazed day world where our sense of self as a separate body, by necessity, dominates, taking precedence over the seemingly distant and elusive night-time experience of who we are?

Before Hillman, Jung, and Freud, there were the beginnings of what we might recognize today as modern dream researchers, but their ideas have been over-shadowed or ignored because they didn’t produce a school of followers, a program of therapy, or get much recognition from those who came after them.

Frederic William Henry Myers, born February 6, 1843 in England, was a classicist, philologist, and founder of the Society for Psychic Research. Much of his psychic research is questionable, but his essays on dreams and states of consciousness as quoted by Sonu Shamdasani below interests me. Perhaps the quote below is disturbing or ridiculous enough to some to not warrant much thought. Call me crazy, but this resonates deeply with me:

“One may even say that with the first touch of sleep the superficial unity of consciousness disappears, and that the dream world gives us a truer representation than the waking world of the real fractionation or multiplicity existing beneath that delusive simplicity which the glare of waking consciousness imposes upon the mental field of view.”

Sonu goes on to say that Myers believed that dreaming went on all the time, but our day world awareness, acting as a filter, narrows our sense of self to an illusory, unified whole that aligns more properly with the individual nature of our body. Could it be that the psyche is so fluid as to adapt to the circumstances of the life forms it inhabits? If so, this may help us to understand the group behavior of other species, such as ants, bees and birds, who clearly know at a distance their roles within the context of the needs of the group. Are we just different from them, or, have we lost the ability to dream, think and share a common, or public mind, as perhaps our ancestors once experienced.

In a very unusual statement to modern ears, Meyers gave credence to the possibility that he was more than his waking self, as dreams and other transpersonal states suggest:

“Our habitual or empirical consciousness may consist of a mere selection of thoughts and sensations, of which some at least are equally conscious with those we empirically know. I accord no primacy to my ordinary waking self, except that among my potential selves this one has shown itself the fittest to meet the needs of common life.”

He goes on to say:

“I hold that it has established no further claim, and that it is perfectly possible that other thoughts, feelings, and memories, either isolated or in continuous connection, may now be actively conscious, as we say, `within me’, – in some kind of coordination with my organism, and forming some part of my total individuality.”

Perhaps – or perhaps too, these vagaries suggest that there is communication going on between us and members of our group, or as Jungian Analyst Tess Castleman, in her book, Threads, Knots and Tapestries, How Tribal Connection is Revealed Through Dreams and Synchronicities, prefers to call it, our tribe. By tribe she means a group of people, known to each other or not, but part of a web of relationship which experiences an entanglement on a level below awareness, in her words, “the part of the human psyche where intersection lies within relationship.”

She believes, as did some preliterate cultures, that dreams not only carry personal meaning, but are given to an individual for the sake of the group, or tribe that one belongs to. The message of a dream is not only for you, but in response to your relationship within a group. As a modern though she does acknowledge that this public aspect of the dream does not suggest that we should run out into the street and tell the world our dream. As she so wonderfully puts it:

“Telling a dream is like undressing.”

Indeed.

Freedom of mobility and technology make bonding within a group difficult as people once did. She suggests that dream groups and other purposeful gatherings of people may become places where the telling of our dreams can once again find both shared meaning and a transformative process for each of the participants.

I recently heard about Tess’ work from a co-worker and look forward to participating in one of her dream groups in early December. Her book is quite good and puts a slightly different slant on the subject of dreams for me. I often feel that I am connecting with people through my dreams, whether they be people I know, deceased friends, relatives, or strangers, their otherness is compelling for its stark difference to my day world sensibilities.

Her book describes her experience with both analysands and dream groups. The many complexities of blending and sorting the smeary, or as she says, gooey aspects of interactions between the participants, often includes a bonding where synchronous and meaningful events become commonplace.

For skeptics, at the very least, it may be important to remember that if the dream world seems so foreign as to lack any meaning, or too ridiculous to warrant thinking about them, it is that very strangeness that may be inviting us to consider the mystery that lies within them.

“The questions dreams bring to consciousness, the curiosities and the imagination needed to receive them, opens a territory within oneself that enlivens and restores the modern soul.”

For me, the beauty of dreams is that they continue to open up my deficient day world perspective, night after night, faithfully presenting to me new images, places, people and events in strange settings beyond the limits of my waking self’s choosing.

As noted, quotes by:

Castleman, Tess (2004-08-01). Threads, Knots, Tapestries. Kindle Edition.

Sonu Shamdasani. Jung and the Making of Modern Psychology: The Dream of a Science. Kindle Edition.

Dreamland

“Myth is the dream of the people – the dream is the myth of the individual” Herbert Silberer

Whether my attraction to liminal states comes from a lifelong interest in dream states, or attention to dreams leads to an interest in liminal, non-ordinary states, or a mix of both, is unclear. Perhaps it’s the persuasive sense of something deeper and richer, the hidden treasures calling out as beauty does, that draws me more closely to both.

“The best thing about dreams is that fleeting moment, when you are between asleep and awake, when you don’t know the difference between reality and fantasy, when for just that one moment you feel with your entire soul that the dream is reality, and it really happened.”James Arthur Baldwin

A dream of mine is for a willingness to be changed by everyday communion with the world as it is; an edgeless movement between day and night. Perhaps then, an exchange between the mysterious states of dreaming with day world awareness of time and fate, can bridge the two more readily. Maybe when the day world sense of reality becomes less “me,” then the night world of dream figures and mysterious places becomes less “not me.” The waking dream of the day world blurs the edges into a more seamless connection of day into night, you into me and life into death.

The etymology of the word “dream” is itself evidently controversial, ambiguous and unclear, but surprisingly relates to “joy, mirth, musical sound.”

In his book, Jung and the Making of Modern Psychology, Sonu Shamdasani’s discusses Théodore Flournoy, and his influence on C.G. Jung:

Jung and the Making of Modern Psychology (häftad)“The dream could have a purposive and teleological role in developing latent faculties. It derived this from the special significance that Flournoy attached to the creative imagination. This faculty was “the foundation of our being.” It was stimulated by reality, to which it applied itself through acting to transform it. As a result, “the human soul is a machine to transform the real.”

Who remembers the day world or questions the reality of waking states while dreaming? Dreaming is perhaps a deeper immersion into a more passive state where something other than willed, intentional focus of the day world has its way with us. As the Greeks told of Persephone’s abduction into Hades’ Underworld, so are we immersed into a world not of our choosing.

We may wonder what dreams mean, but one of their gifts is that they do not so readily give up their meaning. While dreaming, who asks what does this mean? In some sense, their gift is the freedom to let the characters, plot and movement of the dream roll on, moving us into unknown territory with no need of anything other than participation.

“It is, indeed, good that no valid method [of dream interpretation] exists, for otherwise the meaning of the dreams would already be limited in advance and would lose precisely that virtue which makes them so especially valuable for psychological purposes – namely their ability to give a new point of view.” C.G. Jung

Although no precise meaning may be found in dreams, they may give us insight as if shuffling the deck of our day world experience and viewpoint. They allow us an experience that may not be available to us in waking states. Who knows where dreams are drawing from? There are many theories, and I suspect they each may contain some validity. I like that we cannot precisely know the dream’s function, purpose and meaning. Yet they can serve creativity by offering insights that bring us new ideas and new ways of seeing when we attend to their presence and messages.

Jung,1910 Prints & Photographs Division Library of Congress

Dreams allow us an alternate way to see ourselves, others and the world. If attended to, they can act as a bridge to the unknown, and in that sense have a creative function.

In a letter to one of his students, Jung says:

“In the deepest sense we all dream not out of ourselves but of what lies between us and the other.”

One of the gifts that Jung gave us is to reconsider the value of the dream world as a counter weight to a one-sided day world experience of both ourselves and others. Dream plots and characters may force us to see ourselves and others in ways that shock us or are entirely unrecognizable.

“The dream is the small hidden door in the deepest and most intimate sanctum of the soul, which opens to that primeval cosmic night that was soul long before there was conscious ego and will be soul far beyond what a conscious ego could ever reach.” Carl Jung

I have found though, that by attending to dream images and movement, they do reveal to me a much-needed understanding, often through a highly charged emotional dream that upon waking, shows me something I was either unable or unwilling to see before the dream.

So, perhaps it is that our conscious, waking, day world self, finds its deepest roots in the mystery of whatever source dreams and life itself may come from. Maybe, in some way we may never fully understand, we carry with us the origins of the universe and all subsequent traces in a blend of physical and psychological experience that serves to further articulate the mystery of being.

Dreamland by the artist Joni Mitchell

“We’re going to lay down someplace shady
With dreamland coming on” Joni Mitchell

Except as noted, all quotes from Sonu Shamdasani. Jung and the Making of Modern Psychology: The Dream of a Science. Kindle Edition.

Entanglement

“any measurement of a property of a particle can be seen as acting on that particle (e.g. by collapsing a number of superimposed states); and in the case of entangled particles, such action must be on the entangled system as a whole. It thus appears that one particle of an entangled pair “knows” what measurement has been performed on the other, and with what outcome, even though there is no known means for such information to be communicated between the particles, which at the time of measurement may be separated by arbitrarily large distances.” From Wiki

To our waking selves, the question “what is dreaming,” provides us with one of the most useful ways to recognize seemingly naturally occurring boundaries and divisions. It is worth noting that in dream states I do not recall ever questioning the nature of waking states. Putting aside for the moment lucid dream states, how different my dreaming self appears to my waking self comes from the waking recognition that both states, separate and distinct, co-exist.

Lower South Falls, OR

Distinction, definition, identity, and notions of ourselves and others can not be made without narrowing down and separating into parts ourselves and others. Just as the dream world is hard to conjoin to the waking world, it is difficult to hold the particularity of anything alongside an integrated state it participates in. Any focus on particular ideas or things – an act of separation itself, seems to blur the edges into a peripheral vision. Perhaps this can be likened to the idea in physics* of entanglement. Are we waves, particles, or both?

A symbolic representation of a biphoton (a pair of entangled photons)

I find it comforting that physicists now understand waves and particles to be descriptions of different states of things dependent on the perspective of the observer. These states may also describe our human predicament of trying to measure what exists in motion. Intuitively, I have always felt myself to be part of a bigger whole, but the nature of some particulars, like the difference between dreaming and waking states, seem to detract from the seamlessness in ways that cannot be ignored. The temptation to draw conclusions remains.

In Robert Moss’s book, The Secret History of Dreaming, he writes about the many ways that dreaming has been understood, whether as prophetic warnings, time or astral travel, or tools for psychological transformation, dreaming has played a significant role across time, place and culture. Through technology, we moderns now gain a birds-eye view of history and past cultures in a desensitizing way that tempts us to feel removed, post-modern. And so, I often remind myself that we are part of the whole human story, and that paradoxically, the fractured sense of culture experienced today, as technology shakes us up like a snow globe, is itself an acculturation, albeit a sometimes disorienting one.

Perhaps though, fracturing itself engenders a sense of unity, as unity and wholeness remain phenomenologically ungraspable, but intuitively and ultimately real.

When technology is used to reproduce a picture digitally, the greater the fracturing, the less the particulars are seen, the clearer and more whole the picture appears. So, what to make of the nature of the world then, is it digital or analog, or do the terms simply fail us, or perhaps merge together?

Maybe the two distinct perspectives feed each other, and that feeding enriches our experience of particularity into the ability to intuit whole and unified states. There is no war between them, as physics shows us that particle and wave behavior depend entirely on how we view and measure them. Likewise, I wouldn’t want to suggest that homogenization is some sort of goal and that stirring the pot into a well-blended soup will cure all ills. If the universe shows us nothing else, it shows us variety through multiplicity and diversification.

Comets Kick up Dust in Helix Nebula

Where am I going with this? Inspired by a discussion on the nature of consciousness in a podcast on Skeptiko, between host Alex Tsakiris and scientist Bernardo Kastrup, which synchronized nicely with a post entitled “Who Are We,” by Michael, who blogs at Embracing Forever, a resolution for me, where before there was none, seems to be taking shape. But, there you have it, look quickly while it’s a particle and remember that the wave is not affected, or is it? …and what I see, each moment and stop to describe, is but a glimpse.

But does it matter to know this, and if so, in what ways?

Perhaps in our ongoing struggles to be a human family that gets along, we can recognize the validity of both states, respecting that we are continually moving between their different perspectives.

We may not only be living in the world, but as well, may be shaping it with every thought, breath, birth, death, movement or stillness that becomes us. Not only in the usual sense of shaping the world through public activity, but through a web of consciousness that creates and embraces us and every “thing.” From the tiniest particle, to universes unknown, we continue to sense separation to the extent that our ability to filter, through our embodied senses, allows. And even in filtering, Bernardo suggests that through our sharing of this web of consciousness, to some extent, and not always equally, we share the burdens of each instance of life ever to have taken form. The implication then, is that we are truly in it together, for better and, of course, for worse.

 *To be fair, I claim only a scant lay person’s knowledge of quantum physics and you are free to make of the comparison of the behavior of the quanta with psychological states what you will.

Let There Be Dark

As more and more of us, in an increasingly sleep-deprived world lose touch with our dreams, I continue to wonder what it is we are losing. Dr. Rubin Naiman sees our difficulties with sleep and dreaming, driven by “unrelenting motion”:

“We live in a world of unrelenting motion, a world that discourages slowing and stopping, a world that has lost its sense of rhythm and regard for rest. All life is by nature animated or in motion. But in the natural world, all motion is rhythmic, that is, it is tempered by rest. Things come and they go, they expand and contract, they are active and then they rest.” Rubin Naiman, Huffington Post.

But what is it that is lost from a lack of sleep and attention to dreams? In Naiman’s book, Healing Night: The Science and Spirit of Sleeping, Dreaming, and Awakening, he reminds us:

“Night is the shadow of the Earth. It is as nature intended, dark. And unsettling. Since darkness deprives us of vision, our primary means of orienting to and managing the outer world, it dissolves essential aspects of our social, extraverted selves. Most of us are probably less afraid of the dark per se, but more frightened of what darkness might reveal.”

What might the darkness reveal, what do dark, empty spaces provide for us, why should we attend to them, let alone welcome them?

The endless drive towards daylight keeps us active long after the days’ work is over. Even if you do live in a very remote place, it’s no stretch to see that our drive toward activity has huge implications for all life forms, the physical states of our bodies, souls and the planet itself. Our red-hot activity is a global warming.

The dark might not only reveal to us the restlessness of our minds and pains of our bodies, it may also make room for that which we don’t know, but very much need to. Through a willingness to greet the dark though sleep and dreams, we may gain a new perspective from the encounter with images in dreamstates. The lack of our dayworld orientation and control in dream states is what may further our openness to all experiences of otherness. From Robert Bosnak’s book, Embodiment: Creative Imagination in Medicine, Art and Travel:

“What we perceive while dreaming is that we are in a place which is not of our making. We didn’t invent it. It is a spontaneous presentation, an independently alive manifestation. Apparently physical worlds come to life in a flash and disappear without a trace. We stand at the dawn of creation.”

In dreams there is a clear sense that those we meet are not us. It’s an odd circumstance of encountering an objective reflection of our subjective interior. But more than that, dream images, the specific ways in which they appear, engage us in a night world state much differently than our waking selves might.

To gain a better sense of embodied images, Robbie, along with some fellow soul spelunkers, spent time together on retreat in a primitive cave, where over the course of a week or so, they engage the images, their dreams and each other:

Cave of Altamira, near Santander, Spain.

“Along the wall I see, shimmying on his belly along the cave barely two feet high, our ancestor on his way to be initiated into the world of the great spirits, the massive mammoth. He crawls on to the great hall, half a meter high, where, lying on his back, he draws the great spirits among whom he lives, the alien beings, greater, swifter and stronger than he on the ceiling in order to capture and venerate their spirit and become initiate to their powers. Unable to take distance he draws the ceiling animals life size, in perfect proportion, as if by entering their body he can feel along their contours as he draws. Lit by a tiny grease lamp, spooking the cave around him, I see him in a face-off with dark fears, and his awe of the Great Ones. Encounter, meeting, face-off, opposing directions, the Great Ones show the way.”

Can we imagine seeking out such places for their darkness, in which we open ourselves to the power and wisdom from creatures who, although we must fear, must also cooperate with for survival? Does not our technology, with its ability to destroy the night, insulate us from feeling, instinct, intuition and what Robbie calls, embodiment?

Without advocating an impossible return to the past, there is yet something the darkness offers us, especially the more insulated and artificial our environments have become.

In embodied dreamwork, Robbie uses waking imaginative states to move the dreamer’s subjective identity into the figures of the dream. By embodying the images, they come to life, moving in a way that embodies us in their felt experience. Perhaps it is the movement itself that we fear. If so, how can we hope to move that which needs moving in us?

“It is as though through a medium of Paleolithic wall painters the animals have charged into the wall, waiting in static polychrome for a next observer to embody, who again will feel their energetic charge, and change them back from stasis to ec-stasis (out-of-stasis).”

Gua Tewet, the tree of life, Borneo, Indonesia.

Although Westerners, and perhaps others, are not accustomed to giving weight to images, Robbie, in the tradition of Henry Corbin and others, sees images as having their own substance. Substantive images weigh on us and live through us, even when we ignore their reality.

“This book is a passionate attempt to contribute to the restoration of an awareness of alien intelligences perceived by creative imagination—embodied images with a mind of their own—while comparing it to our current, what I consider to be impoverished, perspective which views intelligence as singular. If I succeed in sensitizing you to the existence of an inbetween reality—neither physical body nor mental allegory—of alien embodied intelligences, without expecting you to believe in flying saucers, you will catch a glimpse, as did I in my conversations with Corbin, of a place outside the body-mind conundrum.”

He has succeeded in sensitizing me, towards seeing embodied imagination as one more way to practice living the unity that exists between body, mind, soul, spirit – angels and ancestors, and to recognize the unity between all living beings, especially those encountered in non-ordinary states.

All quotes as noted from, Bosnak, Robert (2007-09-12). Embodiment: Creative Imagination in Medicine, Art and Travel (p. 11). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.

All quotes as noted from, Rubin R. Naiman. Healing Night: The Science and Spirit of Sleeping, Dreaming, and Awakening (p. 21). Kindle Edition.

 

 

When Science Dreams

“I’VE ALWAYS WONDERED WHY my brain doesn’t simply rest at night, as my body does, but instead sets to work creating an artificial world that seems as real as waking life.”

The use of the phrase, “my brain,” in Andrea Rock’s book, The Mind at Night: The New Science of How and Why We Dream, beautifully displays the problem of language, where body parts become separate entities, and dream states are artificial in comparison to waking states.

File:Michael Lukas Leopold Willmann 001.jpg

“Landscape with the Dream of Jacob”

Rock’s book collects an amazing amount of research on brain function and dream states, including a look at the cause of dream content, sleep disorders, lucid dreaming and dream states of non-human animals.

For science though, causality, function and purpose are valued, while quality, meaning and subjective states are deemed unreliable. Scientists tend to over-value measurement, as acceptable verification of objective fact. What we dream takes a back seat to how and why we dream:

“The current revolution in thought about how and why we dream debunks some elements of the theories proposed by both Freud and Jung. But as you’ll see, there are significant pieces of each of their theories that are now supported by scientific evidence.”

The book dabbles in the fascinating but contentious debate over the source of consciousness.

“Ultimately, dream research may also help answer what many consider to be the most intriguing question of all: what is the source of the peculiar brand of self-reflective consciousness that appears to separate humans from other creatures—that nebulous quality that allows us to make intricate plans, fantasize, string memories together to create a personal history, or use abstractions such as language and art to represent our own mental processes?

At the end of the book, consciousness is said to be, “a con job beautifully carried out by neural circuitry of astonishing complexity.”

“Thanks to those who are in the forefront of the quest to comprehend those larger questions about how brain becomes mind, we are now seeing that even when we are interacting with the “real” world in waking hours, our experience actually occurs not “out there” but within the brain itself, just as it does in dreams.”

1345672If only the measurable is real, the source of consciousness will be sought only within the material brain itself. At its worse, there are more than a few scientists who are quite certain that free will itself is an illusion, because so much behavior corresponds to measurable brain physiology. One has to wonder though, has all of nature evolved only to realize that we are machines programmed to realize we are programmed?

Measuring electrical circuitry and chemical reactions does not address what drives fluctuations. Passivity and lack of agent is assumed. Can the human quality of our awareness, as it changes over a life time, affect measurable brain function? If so, I await the day that science seeks to measure our willful attempts at change over a larger span of life.

The author discusses J. Allen Hobson’s theories that all dream imagery is dependent on externals absorbed from waking states. The stranger in your dream is an amalgamation of people you have seen, that’s it. But, can you measure an unknown or prove the image is a blend of people you’ve seen? This assumes that all of our states of awareness come from internal sources.

Anytime I hear the word random being used, I am troubled. For example:

File:Museo del Prado - Goya - Caprichos - No. 43 - El sueño de la razon produce monstruos.jpg

The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters

“In this altered state, Hobson says, the brain does its best to spin a dream plot to match brainstem signals that may randomly stimulate an intense feeling of fear one minute or a sensation of freefalling the next. Hobson and McCarley’s landmark study maintained that since the signals that initiated the creation of dream imagery came from the primitive brainstem and the more highly evolved cognitive areas of the forebrain were just passively responding to them, the dream process had “no primary ideational, volitional, or emotional content.” The resulting dream was the product of the forebrain “making the best of a bad job in producing even partially coherent dream imagery” in response to chaotic signals from the brainstem.”

Does measuring neurochemical activity in the brainstem prove involuntary stimulation, or that dream states have no correspondence to anything outside the physiology of the brain? Perhaps the seeming randomness of brain activity in sleep states is driven by something not yet understood. Can it be proven that the signals from the brainstem are “chaotic?” Here is where I think dream content itself could be studied for patterns corresponding to an individual’s dayworld experience. Correspondence between waking and dreaming states might be found to have conscious, volitional correspondence. It would be interesting to monitor the dreams of people who are in therapy or doing dream work to discern meaningful physiological brain patterns.

Below, Rock refers again to Hobson’s work on the physiology of dreaming:

“In his view, the settings and characters our brain dredges up from our personal memories or imagination as it scrambles to form a plot to respond to this chaotic electrochemical state may reflect our emotional preoccupations, and reflecting on those preoccupations can provide insight.”

The choice of the words “dredges,” and “scramble,” reveal the difficulty in accounting for the images in the dream. If not dredging and scrambling, what else might we discover to be going on in the formation of specific dream content? Perhaps there is a bridge between physiological process and symbol formation, even if locating it in matter is not possible.

Hobson concludes that many dreams in which we are trying to move, but can’t, have a physiological basis:

“Those circuits in turn are issuing orders for your body to run, but since the brainstem is preventing those signals from reaching your leg muscles, the perception carried through into the dream is that you’re trying to run but you’re stuck, so you weave that into the dream’s plot.”

What is not accounted for are the dreams in which we are moving. Having had many such dreams of walking, running, drumming, singing and even riding a bicycle, Hobson’s idea is not convincing.

Some cultural prejudices are apparent below  that I would question:

“As Jonathan Winson argued, dreams were never intended to be remembered in the first place, so when we do recall them, we’re just getting an unintended glimpse of our brain at work in its off-line mode. “It is a matter of chance, not related to their function, that we are aware of dreams at all,” says Winson.”

“Intended” by who, you might ask? “Function” for Winson, must be physiological only, which makes it “a matter of chance.” How one determines that dreams were never intended to be remembered is beyond me. Many cultures outside of western europe see dream states and images as meaningful initiatory experiences vital to their relationships with each other and the world.

Rock, however, is reporting the research without necessarily taking a stand on what she presents. I do though, sense her desire to show that dream states primarily have a physiological function. Although she acknowledges that psychological meaning is useful, she does not address its possible effect on brain function. Can we conclude that physiological brain function never corresponds to willful, active insights of meaning and symbolism that are a part of every person’s life? While correspondence may be difficult to measure, a less reductive approach to neuroscience may be useful to the field of mental health.

For many modern scientists, it seems taboo to speak of qualitative meaning as having a physiological basis or correspondence. Perhaps from a fear of losing objectivity, science believes that measuring and repeatability are the only means of validation. For those who have done dream work leading to meaningful, life-changing experience, it may be awhile before the results are recorded in the annals of science.

For a look at a more technical description of dreaming, I do highly recommend Andrea Rock’s book.

All quotes: Rock, Andrea (2009-03-25). The Mind at Night: The New Science of How and Why We Dream – Basic Books. Kindle Edition.