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Thursday, October 4, 2007

Dream, Dream, Dream…

posted by on October 4 at 14:06 PM

It’s just an idea, but is it possible that dreaming is an older form of human consciousness that has been replaced by a more accurate operating (or representation) system? Looking at ancient literature, one gets the impression that dreaming was the normal way of organizing the objective world. Burning bushes, talking clouds, humans with animal heads or legs—these fantastic things were real in the way they are real in our dreams. But unlike us, our ancestors never woke up; for them, the dream was everything. The original people of Australia even have a period in their history called “the dream time.” Maybe this was the first form of consciousness, one that was used to hunt, fuck, and grasp. But over thousands of years, a better system of organizing and interpreting reality developed and replaced the old one. The improved system is still in operation today, but it might be replaced by a better and more effective, future form of consciousness. The later, improved system runs by day; the older, dying one comes alive only at night, only in sleep.

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You should check out "The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind." Not exactly the same idea, but related.

Posted by Jude Fawley | October 4, 2007 2:23 PM

So this is an upgrade? We certainly have some bugs.

Posted by Jez | October 4, 2007 2:23 PM

@2 yah, I get a mental "blue screen of death" every time I have to go to work. ;)

Posted by Toby | October 4, 2007 2:42 PM

Wow. That was really beautiful Charles, seriously.

I had a dream the other night that ghosts and Gods and everything we think of as supernatural were actually people dreaming in an alternate reality a few frequencies removed from our own but that they came through into our world in their dreams and behaved really weirdly as a result. This reminded me of that.

Posted by BillyCorazon | October 4, 2007 2:44 PM


Posted by DaiBando | October 4, 2007 2:47 PM

A lot of research suggests that dreaming is a state of consciousness that operates in tandem with waking forms of consciousness (remember that there are many states of wakefulness just as there are many stages of sleep.) Dreaming may perform some necessary "parsing" of information accumulated during the day into an organization that can be called upon later. Subjects allowed to sleep but awakened when they entered Rapid Eye Movement sleep (i.e. dreaming) show impaired recall and other cognitive deficits.

For this reason it seems unlikely that dreaming is a mere vestige of an earlier form of thinking. Vestiges don't perform crucial functions.

Saying that rational waking consciousness is "better" than dreaming consciousness may be a bit like saying it is better to have a working heart than working lungs -- that is to say, not an either/or proposition. For myself, my unconscious mind seems to be smarter than my conscious mind often enough for me to be wary of underestimating it.

Not that I would trust my dreaming mind to do my taxes. But maybe to write a melody.

Posted by flamingbanjo | October 4, 2007 2:49 PM

I believe Carl Sagan peddled a similar theory in The Dragons of Eden.

Posted by JMR | October 4, 2007 3:01 PM

But dreaming isn't dying out ... if your evolution concept is correct, then it's just moved to a different, still important, place in human consciousness. Possibly, though, dreaming has undergone an enormous assault from rationality & book larnin', and many have lost the skills to use it's power? Perhaps these are relearnable skills.

Posted by treacle | October 4, 2007 3:05 PM

Wow. I think this is the first and only post Charles has ever posted that I've actually been interested in contemplating in-depth, or at all.

Posted by Callie | October 4, 2007 3:07 PM

Why Mudede is probably my favorite Slogger ...

Posted by tsm | October 4, 2007 3:17 PM

What flamingbanjo said. The research suggests that dreams are at least in part evidence of the reordering of memories (which are tied to emotional affect, which is why dreams often have such strong emotional content). In a sense, your brain is busy defragmenting. There seems also to be a intuitive, visual problem-solving element that Charles's post is more concerned with, but which tends to be out of conscious control -- which is likely why we find it less effective.

I'd think that what has been replaced is time to dream -- prior to electricity, night lasted a whole lot longer, and REM sleep occurs most often in the time people's alarm clocks are going off.

Posted by MvB | October 4, 2007 3:28 PM

Interesting post. Maybe dreaming is not the ancient form of human consciousness, but the future form. I tend to think that dreaming allows us to access a part of our brains that, as @6 said, is "smarter" than our conscious brains.

When I was about 12, I was working on one of those physcial "bar game" type puzzles (with rings you have to separate or some such thing), right before bed. I was having a hard time of it, so I put it on my nightstand and went to sleep. Right before I woke up, I dreamed the answer. I sat up, picked up the puzzle, and solved it right away.

It freaked me out a little, and led me to believe that our unconscious minds are "smarter", and if we as a people could figure out how to tap that, we could advance tremendously as a civilization.

Posted by Julie | October 4, 2007 3:35 PM

The other night I dreamed that Chuck’s fingers fell off and his head imploded, finally forcing him to stop posting on Slog. I woke up with an overwhelming sense of happiness and joy!

Posted by You_Gotta_Be_Kidding_Me | October 4, 2007 3:55 PM

Humans don't work that way.

We're not designed like an OS. We are designed for periods of fuzziness with short periods of concentration.

So, Charles is more correct than most.

Posted by Will in Seattle | October 4, 2007 3:55 PM

Jude @1:

That book was the first thing to pop into my mind as well.

You may be the only other person, aside from the person who originally gave me the book, who's actually admitted to having read it.

Posted by COMTE | October 4, 2007 4:05 PM

Oh, how I wish that I could remember my dreams. That only happens 2-3 times per year.

Best movie about sleep: "The Lathe of Heaven". The 1980 version.

Posted by Big Sven | October 4, 2007 4:07 PM

I'd look up what dream time actually is before sticking that in anything permanent.

Not an expert on it, but it's wayyy more complex than a "period of history."

Posted by Cale | October 4, 2007 4:45 PM

I highly recommend a good thick stout or porter just before bedtime to improve dream quality.

Black Hawk Porter and Obsidian Stout, in particular, are borderline hallucinogenic.

Posted by gnossos | October 4, 2007 4:57 PM

I agree about The Lathe of Heaven, Big Sven. Very much about dreams.

Posted by Will in Seattle | October 4, 2007 4:59 PM

Compte@15: I have no idea if any of Jaynes' hypothesis is true, but I think the book, like a good Borges story, is worth reading and pretending it is true just to consider what the implications would be, and then to be like, woh.

Posted by Jude Fawley | October 4, 2007 7:30 PM

i'm reminded of the bumper sticker "don't believe everything you think" and that is what ancient people essentially did, according to jaynes in his book.

Posted by ellarosa | October 4, 2007 7:46 PM

Ellarosa @21, with regards to the bumper sticker (perhaps the best bumper sticker ever, in my opinion), I'd argue that that is essentially what we still do, just differently.

Posted by Jude Fawley | October 4, 2007 8:52 PM

Of course, if I take my own advice, then I don't believe that I am necessarily right @1, @20, and @22, nor even @23. :)

Posted by Jude Fawley | October 4, 2007 8:54 PM

@20 et al, regarding Jaynes. Funny that this book should come up again and again in my life ... note this article in Slate a few months back (the penultimate paragraph):

I haven't picked up "The Origin of Consciousness..." in a while, but i remember thinking, For a book on neurobiology this is rather well written ... I almost don't care if the thesis is true.

Posted by DCM | October 5, 2007 12:06 PM

@ 6 "A lot of research suggests that dreaming is a state of consciousness that operates in tandem with waking forms of consciousness "

Funny but I was making a coffee and thinking this exact thing. I believe dreaming is ongoing but when we are awake and bombarded with stimuli, dreaming is pushed back or blocked by the overwhelming experience of being awake. if you close your eyes you can easily see the abstract images and strange ideas dreams can be formed from. All you are doing is blocking the more overwhelming stimuli you receive with your eyes open. It is the same stuff creative or surreal ideas are created from. When we sleep our brain which is crating all this stuff relies on these random ideas and images and we call it dreaming but it is there all the time. We process things we see and experience each day abstractly and "in tandem" with more overwhelming concrete things we experience while awake. At any one point we can imagine anything no matter how beautiful or how terrifying all this comes from a continuous "in tandem" state we have called dreaming when asleep.
Well that is how I see it.
Now it is an overwhelmingly beautiful day outside so I think all my creative ideas I have to work on will have to wait.

Posted by -B- | October 5, 2007 1:01 PM

@9 You are right, me too. Weird!

Posted by -B- | October 5, 2007 1:02 PM

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