Saturday, 27 December 2014

The Interpretation of Dreams

This has come out of po's post of this article on dreams, and of course I'm trying to get away from the constant harping on about you know what, so let's do this instead.

Firstly, the meaning of dreams.  To me, a dream is the result of the unconscious random state of the human mind during REM sleep coming into contact with the waking mind.  It isn't something that happens at night when you're asleep, on the whole, so much as a series of false memories generated by the brain.  You do not live through your dreams or experience them unless you are dreaming lucidly.  The interpretation of dreams is like the interpretation of tea leaves or constellations.  It's a creative process whereby you project meaning onto them, but no less valid for that.  The problem with this view is that it doesn't seem to explain sleepwalking when the dreams concerned are relevant to the physical activity observed by others.  Also, this is the interpretation of a waking mind of the experience of dreaming.  The relationship between time and consciousness is different in waking and dreaming experience, so the mere idea that they do not occur in time for a waking consciousness may simply be the way they present themselves to that mode of consciousness rather than being somehow objectively true.  In a sense, you always have that dream but at some point you have a relationship with it which enables you to know that you have it, which to wakefulness presents itself as a point in the passage of time.

Having said that, dreams sometimes hint at processes which make sense while awake.  For instance, dream paralysis often manifests in dreams themselves, my dreams tend to be dimly lit rather than bright and there can be ideas like having turned into a statue which hint at incipient paralytic conditions.

Implicit in the way I think about dreaming is the idea that dreaming and wakefulness are two states of consciousness of equal status, among others such as meditation and daydreaming.  One does not have priority over others and they may not have the same relationship to time and perception.  This might just be silly of course.

Lewy Body Dementia is something I deal with in everyday waking life, in my work.  It involves a merging of dreaming and wakefulness so that the sufferer can't distinguish between the two and they occur together, so people will perceive their dreams superimposed on waking life and act accordingly owing to the suspension of disbelief which occurs in dreams.  This condition is associated with Parkinsonism, though it can occur without it, and it can be mixed with Alzheimer's Disease.  Lewy Body Dementia presents me with difficulties because it involves a mixed state of consciousness and therefore the person concerned, if dreams are not experiences, could be seen as a "zombie", i.e. they no longer experience, and in fact it wouldn't even make sense to say "no longer" as time is not like that in the person's experience or consciousness.  A second issue here is that there appears to be duality of experience with unity of subject.

There is also a rare form of dementia called Fatal Familial Insomnia, where the sufferer loses the ability to sleep.  I imagine this situation to be a little like Alzheimer's in that an impenetrable and ineliminable substance has furred up the "sleep" sensor, so the brain is no longer able to respond to fatigue in the usual way.  If you think of the sleep sensor as an eye, it's as if it has a cataract, so it cannot respond to the danger of staying awake too long and therefore avoid it.

Whenever I think about this kind of thing, I feel that I'm being horribly clinical and detached about life-devastating conditions.  FFI is a truly horrendous condition as it involves losing the ability to fall asleep and becoming psychotic as a result, which eventually kills you.  If I had that, I don't think I could stand to live to the end, to be honest.  I'm also aware that Lewy Body Dementia is very common indeed, and that whatever the horrors of FFI, Lewy Body is much more likely to affect someone reading this, directly or indirectly.

Moving on from those horrors, which not everyone can do, Daniel Dennett is considerably invested in the idea that dreams are not experiences because of his view of the nature of the mind-body problem.  Personal experience appears to demonstrate that lucid dreaming at least, if not other kinds of dreaming, is experienced.  Otherwise it looks like you have to posit the idea that lucid dreaming is not dreaming and that just looks like sophistry.  Therefore I'm just going to say Dennett is wrong without bothering to argue much for it, meaning that it looks as if dreams actually are experiences, which at least rescues Lewy Body Dementia sufferers from being the walking dead.

The next issue is that of sex dreams, as opposed to erotic dreams.  It seems that it's quite common for people to dream about sex.  The article linked to at the top of this entry claims that 8% of dreams have sexual content.  I have had erotic and sexual dreams, but not at the same time.  Sexual dreams are extremely rare for me.  I may have had three in my entire life, although the issue of whether one often forgets one's dreams arises in particular here because of my reaction to a sexual dream on awakening.  On the three occasions when I've dreamed I was having sex, I found it exceedingly distressing and woke up utterly horrified and disturbed.  This was one of the rare calamities which would reduce me to tears before I started taking the gloop.  They would definitely count as nightmares.  This suggests to me that I might have had sexual nightmares before but repressed the memory.  On the other hand, and this will make no sense to you unless you know about what "the Problem" is, I have more often had erotic dreams, in which of course I am always alone.  I could take them or leave them really.  I suppose I feel a sense of satisfaction that nobody else was in my dream.  However, the idea that as many as one dream in twelve has sexual content on average is pretty worrying.  I don't know how someone could deal with that much upset in their lives and if that were so with me, I think I would probably try to stay awake all the time.  Maybe it's because people have sex in bed or watch a lot of porn.

Getting back to the issue of lucid dreaming, this is something Sarada and I have differences about.  I have an issue with hypnotherapy, that if not done in the hands of a competent therapist it would lead to the expression of the cause of the problem, e.g. a food issue or smoking, in a different way which makes it futile.  Sarada feels the same about lucid dreaming.  She feels that a lucid dreamer is tinkering with their subconscious.  I don't generally agree although it does make me quite tired when I do it, suggesting the suspension of disbelief in dreaming refreshes more than the physical inactivity or the dreaming as such.  Having thought about Lewy Body being a mixture of wakefulness and dreaming, it might be that training oneself to dream lucidly could help one to deal with it if it comes, or, more worryingly, that lucid dreaming is mixing the two, which might encourage its onset without insight.

That's my take on the article.  How do you see it?