Electric Dreams

Stop Sleeping Through Your Dreams 

Part II

Charles McPhee, Ph.D 

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McPhee, Charles (1996 December). Stop Sleeping Through Your Dreams (Part II). Electric Dreams 3(11). Retrieved July 26, 2000 from Electric Dreams on the World Wide Web: http://www.dreamgate.com/electric-dreams 

In his enlightening, entertaining book, Charles McPhee assists anyone interested in finding out how to become a conscious participant in our dreams by offering a step-by-step guide to mastering the techniques of lucid dreaming. Charles has also offered us a Web site through which we can discuss the issues of consciousness and dreams with him directly. He will be visiting with us here for the next few months at Electric Dreams, answering questions and giving us peeks into his work, Stop Sleeping Through Your Dreams. - Richard

In Electric Dreams November 3(10) Charles began exploring the phenomena of dream sleep and consciousness. This issue he continues to unfold his investigations into whether or not we actually possess consciousness in dream and what this can mean to our lives.

Now, let us return again to our question. We possess a lot in dreams, but do we possess consciousness?

From CHAPTER 4: AThe Body of Time@

The Evolution of Consciousness

Against the backdrop of millions of years of evolution, the question is often asked as to why consciousness should have evolved. What benefit or advantage does the ability for self-awareness, and the concomitant existential reflection that attends self-awareness, lend to us evolutionarily? As conscious beings, we are partial to consciousness; it is the only way we know ourselves. But as we survey the world around us, we must acknowledge that nearly all other life forms do not possess this ability for consciousness. Why, then, are we the exception? If there is a biological reason, then do we come to life on the back of this ancient creature of time, man, merely to take a ride on an existential Ferris wheel? Do we get swooped up to see the stars, only to retire gently, and forever, at the end of the ride? Or has our consciousness evolved for another reason? Are we a most-favored species, selected by the gods to become as we imagine them?

Consciousness is a psychological experience, but as with all psychological experiences, it possesses a neurobiological corollary. As suggested in chapter three, consciousness is our ability to experience the experience of sensation as it occurs. When we gain consciousness in a dream, we are able to experience our experience of the dream as it is occurring, which allows us to make the fairly obvious observation that we are dreaming. But notice that with consciousness, we always experience sensation twice: first when it comes over the sensory wires to us, and then when we actively observe, or experience, our experience of the sensation. Thus we Asee@ our seeing, Atouch@ our touching, and Afeel@ our feeling. The extent to which we focus our attention on the experience determines the degree to which the experience is impressed in our memory. It also determines the degree to which the experience becomes part of our active awareness - that is, memory that is recalled.

As our experiments with consciousness progress through the course of this book, we will find that a striking relationship exists between consciousness and memory. And to return to our original line of inquiry, this relationship also suggests a simpler answer to why consciousness evolved than, perhaps, does divine intervention. Our ability to reflect radically enhances our ability for memory, which may be one reason why consciousness is valuable from an evolutionary point of view. The relationship that exists between consciousness and memory is most likely the great advantage of consciousness. This ability for reflection also ushers us into the paradigm of experiential existence. Welcome to the living.

CHAPTER 5: AWhy We Sleep Through Our Dreams@

Of all the times when we might most want our consciousness, when we are in the fabulous dreamscape, we find that it is almost categorically denied us! Each night we enter the dreamscape once again, yet each night we enter blind. Without consciousness we are unable to recognize our dreams. We are unable to see where we are, unable to be where we are.

Psychologically, the absence of consciousness from dream sleep makes no sense. We are all blessed with a fantastic, natural mechanism for inner illumination, for healing and mental health, yet we are never permitted access to it? To add insult to injury, not only are we unable to interact with our dreams consciously, but our memory of the experience is radically impaired. Unconsciously experienced sensation is very difficult to recall; we routinely forget the overwhelming majority of our dreams. So why do we dream at all?

The need for dampening of the reflective ability during dreams is curious. As chapter six explains, sustained experience with lucid dreams shows that consciousness is compatible with the dreamscape, albeit a rare guest. When we observe that the immediate result of gaining consciousness in a dream typically is that we awaken ourselves, then we can see why consciousness generally is an undesirable accompaniment to dream experience. Most often when we perceive we are dreaming, the realization startles us and we disturb the physiologic balance of dream sleep, causing us to awaken shortly thereafter. Put simply, we notice we are dreaming, and then we wake ourselves up. First our mind wakes up in the dreamscape, then our body wakes up, and we make that quick transition from dream sleep to being awake again, with the dreamscape but a memory. This is the famous AOh, shoot!@ of lucid dreaming. In attempting to prolong periods of consciousness in the dreamscape, all lucid dreamers first learn not to startle their bodies out of dream sleep once they recognize they are dreaming.

So, we arrive at a perplexing juncture in our search. The dreamscape is very nearly categorically denied us. But enjoy, for a moment, the paradox that attends this grail: It is ours, but we are not permitted access to it. We are responsible for its creation, but we know not whence it comes. We spend an hour and a half a day, ten hours a week, twenty-one days a year in the dreamscape, but we rarely get a chance to visit. We walk in it, we talk in it, we feel it, we touch it, and we ask it questions. It touches us, it holds us, we are enveloped wholly within it. Every night we walk the corridors of our mind. Feel and touch the walls!

Consciousness: We exist without it; we do not exist without it.

Next month we move into the lab to see what research can offer us in a way of evidence and explanation. If you can't wait, you can stop by my Web site for a full chapter summary of Stop Sleeping Through Your Dreams. If you would like more on this, my book is published by Henry Holt and Company, Inc. Publication Date: December 27th, 1995. 0-8050-2500-6 $22.50, cloth. Contact: Robin Jones, (212) 886-9270


-Charles Mcphee