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
From Chapter 1 - Human Sleep
The great mystery of sleep in human experience is that we can know so little
about an activity so intimate to us all. To put our familiarity with sleep into
perspective, consider that we spend roughly a third of our lives sleeping -
about eight hours' sleep in every twenty-four-hour period.
Sleep's familiarity, however, paradoxically seems to blind us to its
comprehensiveness. Many of us will be surprised, for example, to reflect that we
spend as much time asleep each week as we do at our jobs. Similarly, when we
view sleep in cumulative perspective, the lengths of time we log unconscious
rapidly grow striking. Adult humans sleep between three and four months a year,
while children and adolescents devote close to half of their young years to
sleep. Over the course of a lifetime, by the time we have reached seventy years
of age, each of us will have spent well over twenty years asleep. And curiously,
five of those years will be spent dreaming.
Because dream sleep is the most unstable stage of sleep, due to all of the
hallucinated activity that attends it, it is the time when we are most likely to
spontaneously, or naturally, awaken. In fact, every morning, prior to our real
or final awakening, we all awaken momentarily several times. Typically in a
morning dream sleep period there are five or six of these tendencies toward
waking. The dreamer may not even open his or her eyes, but on an EEG these
"micro awakenings" are readily apparent. This is why when we awaken in
the morning, we frequently are able to recall having just been dreaming. Our
dreaming literally wakes us up. Because of this propensity to awaken from dream
sleep, and because dream sleep always comes at the end of a ninety minute cycle,
we tend to sleep in periods that are rough multiples of ninety minutes - most
commonly four cycles, or 360 minutes (six hours), or five cycles, which is 450
minutes, or seven and a half hours. If you should awaken during the night and
look at your clock, you will see that these ninety-minute cycles do indeed
define our sleep periods; our awakenings from sleep are almost always in
multiples of ninety minutes.
While there is a propensity for us to sleep in ninety-minute cycles, that is,
to awaken at their completion and thus from dream sleep, there are many
variables - alarm clocks, children, roommates, dogs, cats, street noises,
needing to go to the bathroom - that cause us to awaken from all of the various
stages of sleep. What has been demonstrated is that if we awaken from dream
sleep, we most likely will recall having been dreaming, whereas if we awaken
from any stage other than dream sleep, we most likely will not recall having
been dreaming or, for that matter, having had any dreams during the night. Even
when we do awaken directly from a dream, it can still be difficult to recall the
dream in detail. Most dreams are lost by the time we get to the shower.
From CHAPTER 2: " Dream Sleep"
As mentioned earlier, it is conceivable that desynchronized neural activity
in the brain is necessary to support an awake consciousness. This observation,
coupled with the observation that desynchronized activity also characterizes
neurons during dream sleep, raises an interesting question. From a subjective
point of view, aren't we conscious in our dreams? Aren't we "awake" in
them? If we reflect upon our own dream experiences, we find that while dreaming,
we always *believe* we are awake. We describe our dreams as, "*I* was
walking down this long and winding road, then *I* came to a bridge, which
stretched out over an ocean, and then *I* saw a rainbow," or something like
that. The point is that we almost always recount our dream experiences in the
first person, and we also feel awake during our dreams. Accordingly, it seems
possible that this "awakeness" during our dreams, though we are not
fully awake, as we are when we are *really* awake, is responsible for the
desynchronized waveform that appears on the graph..... Here the paradox of dream
sleep rears its head once again. We do exist in our dreams. Our
"presence" in dreams is responsible for their being any retrospective
experience of dreaming at all. But we have already observed that one of the
defining features of sleep is the absence of consciousness. So which is it? Are
we conscious during our dreams, or not? And if we are conscious in our dreams,
then how is this consciousness different from an awake consciousness?
CHAPTER 3: "Consciousness During Dream Sleep"
Recall your own experience with dreams. Generally you are involved in
whatever is occurring in your dreams, and all the while you believe you are
awake. You navigate the dreamscape with a familiar sense of self; you react and
respond to situations much as you do in daily life. All of your familiar sensory
abilities are intact. You are present in your dreams; you see in them, you feel
in them, you perceive in them. You experience emotions, have thoughts, and make
decisions. You see, hear, feel, smell, touch, and taste. You are inquisitive.
You evaluate, analyze, and investigate. You feel the earth beneath your feet,
you scan the horizon with your eyes, and you feel the wind blowing against your
cheek. Things happen to you in your dreams.
But before we proceed too far along in examining the similarities between our
dreams and our waking experience, it would be prudent to remember that for all
of the familiar aspects of our self that we carry into the dreamscape, some
aspect of our self is glaringly absent. The key evidence in support of this
statement is that while we are dreaming, we almost never notice that we are
dreaming. And, stated plainly, we *should* notice when we are dreaming.
During dreams, and in any dream sequence, there are literally hundreds of
clues that would tip off an awakened consciousness that one* had* to be
dreaming. Violations of physical laws - abrupt, impossible scene shifts and
connections of events - are not the exception in dream experience; rather, they
characterize dream experience. People and objects metamorphose as we watch, and
incongruities and absurdities are everywhere. Most dream scenarios do not
correspond at all with our everyday waking lives. Suddenly we are back at
school, a mixture of high school and college, and we are writing a paper, making
ink marks with our fingertips as we pull our hands down the page. In dreams,
clues abound, but for some reason, we consistently fail to recognize the
dreamscape. What has happened to our minds? What should be an immediate and
facile reality discrimination task is suddenly next to impossible. Something,
something very comprehensive, is missing.
Next month I talk more about whether or not we actually possess consciousness
in dream and what this can mean to our lives. 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