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Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Living Dream

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

The illusive dream. Is this
series of images, ideas, emotions, and sensations that occur involuntarily in the mind during REM (rapid eye movement) stages of sleep just a necessary release of common stress and fear? Or are dreams deeply rooted in the individual spirit and soul of each human -- dark and light experiences that mix past and future events in strange, fleeting but discernible patterns of meaning? One thing we do know: dreams are very real experiences. Let's explore some information about one of life's biggest mysteries.

Dream Recall

Dream recall is willful and largely unpredictable. Within 5 minutes of waking, half of a dream is forgotten. Within 10 minutes, 90% is gone.People remember a dream most easily when awakened during REM sleep. (Inge Strauch and Barbara Meier, In Search of Dreams, 1996) And, women tend to have more frequent dream recall than men. A dream can only be stored in memory if followed by a brief awakening of which the dreamer need not be aware at all. (Koulack and Goodenought, 1976)

Dreams and the Blind

People who are born blind before the age of about 5 report no visual imagery in dreams as adults, but may have dreams equally vivid involving their other senses of sound, smell, touch and emotion. Those blinded after about the age of  7 are likely to retain visual imagery in dreaming. (Amadeo & Gomez, 1966; Berger, Olley, & Oswald, 1962; Kerr, Foulkes, & Schmidt, 1982) Uniquely visual imagery is dependent on uniquely visual experience.

Here is an example of a blind person's actual dream experience: (Pseudonym) Fernando, 29 years old. (Blind since he was nine months old, with total blindness) “In my dreams I never see, but I can hear, speak and also smell. Also, I very rarely dream that I am walking along the street with a cane. However, in real life, I do it very often."

Strangers In Dreams

Dreams are frequently full of strangers who play out certain parts, yet the mind is not inventing those faces – they are real faces of real people encountered during life but maybe not known or remembered. People have all seen hundreds of thousands of faces through their lives, so they have an endless supply of characters for their brain to utilize during dreams.

Dream images come from personal experiences filed in long- term memory, even people seen in a movie or a photograph or just imagined, says psychologist Rosalind Cartwright. The interesting issue is why someone sees them in a dream on any particular night. They are triggered by some emotional response to an experience during the day that people may not even be aware of consciously.

Those feelings important to self-concept carry over into sleep and search for a match in memory, which is more emotional than logical and may be better served by a composite of several people with a similar meaning. (Bill Sones and Rich Sones, "Strangers In Dreams Not There By Accident," Deseret News, May 28 2009)

Dreaming In Color

Recent research shows that the majority of dreams are in color. In the sleep lab, Robert Van de Castle, Ph.D. reports that when awoken from the REM state, distinct color was reported in 70% of the cases and vague color in another 13%. (Robert L. Van De Castle, Our Dreaming Mind,1994) 

The reason many people perceive dreams as colorless appears to be matter of recall. Spontaneous non-laboratory dream reports indicate that only about 25% to 29% recall partial or full color, so time seems to drain color recall. Color recall may have to do with the nature of consciousness in dreams, as observed by the vivid colors usually associated with Lucid dreams. (S. LaBerge,  Lucid Dreaming, 1985) 

Another important aspect of color recall may be the emotional intensity of the dream or the colored imagery. People have a tendency to recall the most emotionally impacting or stimulating parts of a dream, and not so much the rest. The brain may assign certain colors to a dream object particularly when the color can be optional, for example dreaming of a red car versus a blue car.
And interestingly, studies from 1915 through to the 1950s maintained that the majority of dreams were in black and white, but these results began to change in the 1960s. Today only 4.4% of the dreams of under-25 year-olds are in black and white. Recent research has suggested that those changing results may be linked to the switch from black-and-white film and TV to color media.

Loss of REM Sleep

In a recent sleep study, students who were awakened at the beginning of each dream, but still allowed their 8 hours of sleep, all experienced difficulty in concentration, irritability, hallucinations, and signs of psychosis after only 3 days. When finally allowed their REM sleep, the student's brains made up for lost time by greatly increasing the percentage of sleep spent in the REM stage.

Dr. Robert Stickgold and his colleagues at Harvard Medical School concluded that REM sleeps seems to be essential for learning how to do things. Learning to play a musical instrument is an example of such "procedural learning." Decision-making also appears to benefit from this overnight form of cogitation. During REM sleep, the brain integrates information it took in during the day but couldn't process at the time. "Sleeping on it" is not necessary, however, for simple memory or learning tasks. 

Stickgold also believes that sleep may be involved in "erasing memories from the immediate and distant past," and that dreaming is probably a piece of this process.(Associated Sleep Societies Annual Meeting, June 2001)

Animals and Dreams 

Studies have been done on many different animals, and they all show the same brain waves during dreaming sleep as humans. Watch a dog sleeping sometime. The paws move like they are running and they make yipping sounds as if they are chasing something in a dream. Animals have complex dreams and are able to retain and recall long sequences of events while they are asleep, Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers report for the first time in the Jan. 25 issue of the journal Neuron.

While any pet owner knows that animals seem to dream and studies show that animals' brains follow the same series of sleeping states as humans' do, this may be the first time that researchers know what animals are dreaming about.

"No one knew for certain that animals dreamed the way we do, which can involve replaying events or at least components of events that occurred while we were awake," said Matthew Wilson of MIT's Center for Learning and Memory. "We looked at the firing patterns of a collection of individual cells to determine the content of rats' dreams. We know that they are in fact dreaming and their dreams are connected to actual experiences." (Melissa Kaplan, "Animals Have Complex Dreams MIT Researcher Proves," MIT News, December 18 2009)

Sleep Paralysis

During REM sleep the body is paralyzed by a mechanism in the brain in order to prevent the movements which occur in the dream from causing the physical body to move. However, it is possible for this mechanism to be triggered before, during, or after normal sleep while the brain awakens.

A Sleep Paralysis is possibly a hereditary disorder in which one experiences very frightening seconds or minutes of total body paralysis with little respiration and eye movements. A victim in this state feels awake, but he cannot move or speak. In addition to the immobility, the common symptoms include feeling choked or suffocated, hearing strange noises like footsteps and voices, seeing beings or dark shadows, and feeling an existence of someone in the room. Alien abduction or ghostly encounters are often reported.

Although these symptoms often direct the victims to believe in ghosts, mistransmission of neural signals in the brain causes Sleep Paralysis. When a person sleeps, his brain sends signals to inhibit any muscle contraction. If he comes into consciousness before the brain sends signals to activate muscle contraction, he cannot move his body, and consequently, become "paralyzed." A lucid dream may precede such a paralysis. (Hersen, Turner & Beidel, Adult Psychopathology and Diagnosis, 2007)

Incorporation In Dreams

Our mind interprets the external stimuli that our senses are bombarded with when we are asleep and make them a part of our dreams. This means that sometimes in our dreams we hear a sound from reality and incorporate it in a way. For example you may be dreaming that you are in a concert while your brother is playing a guitar during your sleep.

Precognitive Dreaming

Results of several surveys across large population sets indicate that between 18% and 38% of people have experienced at least one precognitive dream and 70% have experienced déjà vu. The percentage of persons that believe precognitive dreaming is possible is even higher – ranging from 63% to 98%.

Many scientists have attempted to decipher precognitive dreams, and they still struggle for an explanation.
Some researchers even propose that precognitive dreams do not exist — suggesting that self-fulfilling prophecy or shear coincidence explain the dreamers’ ability to foretell the future.

Beliefs in precognition propose dreams can relate the potential future. Unlike our physical body which is bound by the laws of physics and the dimensions of time and space, the subconscious mind is governed by the freedom of the laws of metaphysics, which goes beyond physical limitations. The subconscious mind can perceive the probable future by following a stream of consciousness forward. The future is probable rather than predestined because we have free will, and can change the future with our choices. 

A precognitive dream occurs when the subconscious mind perceives the probable future. Some people experience this as deja vu which is literally translated as “already seen.” When you have had a precognitive dream and then experience the event you dreamed about previously, it seems familiar because indeed you have already seen it in your dreams.

Researchers think that before a dream can be categorized as precognitive, it must meet certain criteria. First, they must have in some way foretold the future and been reported prior to the event happening. However, researchers must be able to exclude:
  • The possibility of chance;
  • The dreamer already knew about the event;
  • Self-fulfilling prophecy; and
  • Telepathic influences. (Dream research suggests that telepathic influence is possible. For example, another person could unwittingly project images into the mind of the dreamer. While some researchers would view this phenomenon as highly unlikely, others concede the possibility.)
For scientists, if a dream meets these criteria, it can be classified as a precognitive or prophetic dream. Dreamers, on the other hand, have a different way of cataloging their dreams. "Dreamers who have had a number of precognitive dreams say that these dreams have a different feel to them their ordinary dreams," said E. W. Kellogg III, Ph.D. in an interview with the Association for the Study of Dreams. (Kathy Jesperson, "Precognitive Dreams Reveal the Future,", December 11 2009)

           "Dreams are the bright creatures of poem and legend, 
           who sport on earth in the night season, and melt away in the first beam of the sun,
        which lights grim care and stern reality on their daily pilgrimage through the world." 
   -Charles Dickens

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