“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.

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.

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“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:

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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.