Saturday, January 17, 2015

Waking, Dreaming, Being, chapter five

Continuing from this post.

In a lucid dream one's attention is split: we know we are dreaming yet we still experience the dream ego in a dream world of fantastic, vidid and shifting events with some limited control. At least some of waking memory becomes accessible. Some methods are more likely to elicit lucid dreams: changes in the sleep cycle, melatonin and carefully observing hynagogic imagery as one dozes off (see, told ya). Another is using auto-suggestion before sleep each night that you will become lucid during dreaming.

To understand dreaming Thompson differentiates different aspects of awareness: witnessing, its changeable contents, and identifying contents as the self. In non-lucid dreams even though we're aware of a lot of changing contents we only identify with the dream ego at the center of the contents. In lucid dreaming we can stand back and witness not only the contents but the dream ego as well, thereby expanding our sense of self. So who or what is this witness?

To answer that question Thompson's waking-dream body again flits about to the difference between knowing one is dreaming versus dreaming one is dreaming. His first argument is that they feel different and seem different in waking memory. In the first there is a kind of attention lacking in the second. There are also different brain-imagery readings. By practicing witness awareness during the hypnagogic state one can then maintain it into a lucid dream state. He also describes a similar Tibetan Buddhist dream yoga technique. Without such witness awareness the imagery in the hynagogic and dream states become absorbing and one can then be just dreaming that they're dreaming. The latter lacks clarity and the ability to direct your attention. Even so, the quality of ever-shifting content typical of dreaming is mostly beyond one's control, even with witnessing awareness.

Subjective reports though are not enough to differentiate dreaming lucidity. Tests of dreamers showed that their eye movements during that state matched their physical eye movements. A dream study instructed dreamers to move their eyes right and left a certain number of times when they because lucid. Upon awakening they reported on the dream eye movement which matched the physical eye movements. Their brain waves also confirmed that during the eye signals they were indeed in REM sleep.

EEG studies of verified lucid dreamers show increased gamma wave activity in certain frontal brain areas more typical of the waking state. Brain waves are also more synchronized across brain areas. This does not occur in non-lucid REM sleep. However this does not mean that lucid dreming, or lucid waking for that matter, are limited to specific brain areas but rather the coordination of distributed whole brain networking.

However as noted earlier even in lucid dreaming control of content is extremely limited compared to the control of the waking state. So some wonder if lucid dreaming isn't more a dissociation than an integration. However it can also be said that ordinary waking consciousness also doesn't have much control over its content unless one is trained in some form of witnessing attention. In both states witness training allows one to disidentify with the dream ego and waking ego. True, but even without such training waking consciousness does not have the wild and disconnected scenarios of dreams unless one is schizophrenic. Perhaps then the dreaming witness state allows for a reintegration of at least some of the typically ignored or missed internal and external data during waking?

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