Thursday, January 15, 2015

Waking, Dreaming, Being, chapter four continued

Continuing from this post.

Ordinary waking consciousness has a clear and separate sense of self, the I-me-mine of the ego. This dissolves in the hypnagogic state where we are fused and absorbed with whatever is arising. Spellbound as he calls it. One thing this state shows is that the self-sense is not a fixed and permanent structure but more fluid and changeable. In this state we are open to “more creative thinking and intuitive problem solving” (125), especially if we learn to consciously maintain that delicate balance between waking and sleep. The latter, of course, isn't completely spellbound and absorbed.

Freud saw this state as a regression, going back before reflective awareness and the reality principle. Mavromatis follows this line with a transpersonal twist: it need not be regressive but progressive as the sort of double awareness described above between waking and dreaming. Meditation can also elicit this state on the way 'down' the brain wave ride as noted above, but Theravada advises against staying in it as it lacks clarity, while Zen thinks its illusion and should be ignored. It also can lead to being absorbed and spellbound by the random images and sensations, which is seen as ego attachment. But as we've seen, this need not be the case if one applies one's trained attention to keeping that balance between waking and dreaming. This is akin to the sort of philosophical dualism in these traditions that sees relative and ultimate reality as completely different orders. And any intermediary between them that connects/separates them in mutual embrace, like this state, must itself also be of the illusory realm. (See the Batchelor thread.)

In dreaming the ego self in relation to another world reemerges, albeit a dream ego in a dream world. This can be from a first or third-person perspective, and/or alternative between them. Thompson thinks though that the third-person dream perspective is different from the hynagogic state in that in the dream there is an identification with a world, even if one can dispassionately observe the first-person self. There is no semi-coherent world in the hynagogic state. But again, there can be if one applies one's awareness and concentration training to it. But why bother if one sees it as an illusion and waste of time?

Memory also shifts between first and third-person perspectives. For one this shows that our memories are tied up with the present, thus there are no pure memories of how things exactly happened in the past. This explains how one can for example falsely remember being raped by a family member under the influence of a therapist with an agenda, or falsely remember past lives under the influence of a particular ideology. On the positive side third-person memories develop a self-othering perspective that allows up to see ourselves from another's point of view, thus enabling empathy and social cognition through an autobiographical or narrative sense of self. The latter self-reflective capacity therefore should not be so downplayed as some form illusory self, whereas the pre-reflective biological self awareness obtained in meditation should not be elevated as ultimate reality in contradistinction from where we actually get our empathy and compassion.

This can been seen in first-person memories, where we experience the entire field of our experiences from the inside. This is much more like the meditative experience of pure awareness, where we go below the reflective self and are absorbed in nondual interaction with either an object of focus or with pure awareness itself. Remember the DL saying in the ninth paragraph of chapter three above that when one is in this state one doesn't have access to third-person reflective thought. It is only upon later reflecting on this state via field memory of what it felt like is when we attach some metaphysical interpretation to it. This is reinforced by brain studies showing field memories are located more in the older brain areas. I suggest the same is true of field experiences of pure awareness. (See the states thread and the fold thread, the latter particularly on the function of memory.)

In non-lucid dreams our dream subject, either in first or third-person, is captivated. This is because the brain areas associated with conscious control, metacognition and reflection are deactivated. More basic, intense emotions like fear or elation are activated along with more primal brain areas. However in lucid dreams we can reactivate metacognition and some degree of conscious control. So what's going on in this state? The next chapter explores this.

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