“Certain moments from the dream stand out sharply. The moment the vehicle I was traveling in pulled up to the long row of stone steps leading up to the building and I first saw you. We nearly collided as we embraced. We only spoke briefly when you abruptly went back inside the building, as I walked around the building and ran down a hill to a deserted beach. Turning again toward the building, simply thinking about going inside found me standing in what seemed to be a university office. You were printing out some sort of form as it came up on a computer terminal above your head. One of them was supposed to be for me, and you pointed to a table across the hall, but I was unable to locate the form with my name.
Moments later, I was once again on the steps in front of the building, and when you came out I remembered saying, “God, you’re beautiful.” We spoke of meeting again and I had to return to my vehicle. For some reason I had to climb in the window of the building where I was staying, although I wasn’t sure why.”
– Excerpt from my dream journal
The clarity of the meeting and the startling sensation of familiarity stayed with me for quite a while after waking. It seemed at times that I was directing the action in the dream, although I truly was NOT expecting to see anyone at all when the doors to what may have been a bus opened. My sense of surprise and delight was genuine. The dream seemed more of how I would imagine it to be, rather than how it might actually be. In the context of my research into the nature of consciousness, I am more convinced than ever that the sleeping and dreaming components of neurological functioning, while clearly acted upon and influenced by the physiological changes that take place, are a window into a much wider world that we are only glimpsing presently.
An article in Discover magazine by Robert Sapolsky, Director of the neuroscience lab at Stanford, (“Wild Dreams,” Discover Magazine April 2001) concerning recent studies at the National Institutes for Health raises some interesting questions about much of our conventional wisdom, and puts many of the previously “established” ideas about dreaming into a new light. The experimental premise and positron emission tomography that tracks the blood flow through the brain in the different stages of REM sleep and slow wave sleep, verify the findings in a reasonable fashion, but the metabolic isolation of the regions of the brain that consolidate and retrieve memories was perhaps the most interesting finding of the study. The integration of visual patterns conducted in the subcortical regions are essential to what we “see” in our dreams.
The lessening of activity in the prefrontal cortex, and the increased activity in the complex sensory processing areas where emotions and memories are managed doesn’t explain how images that have never previously occurred in our experience appear. Complex construction of elaborate scenarios that have never taken place, may be partially the result of contributions from our imaginings or daydreams, but dreams like one I experienced recently seem to defy explanation.
“Last night I had an elaborate dream about a huge stone fortress, which had the appearance of Egyptian architecture. It felt as though I was part of a team of individuals investigating the site, spending much of the time in my dream exploring the many rooms and features. After an indeterminate amount of time, I was standing far out in front of the structure speaking with several colleagues when the structure started to tumble; slowly at first, but then like a row of dominoes the rest of it followed in a synchronous manner.
Huge chunks of the fortress came tumbling toward us and we scrambled to avoid them. I saw a ledge of rock above me that might just take me out of harm’s way. I leaped to get on top of it and turned to face the structure as it collapsed, and saw several individuals who were jumping away and may have been lost in the collapse. My leap propelled me high above the scene.
As I was imagining what might have occurred, simply considering what might be taking place below the collapsed section of the fortress, I suddenly found myself in what appeared to be a large chamber within the collapsed area.
For some reason simply my thought of what it might be like transported me there, and my very next thought–that it might be open to the air–sent a rush of fresh air upon me.” – excerpt from dream journal
Dreaming clearly puts me in a state totally dissimilar to my normal waking state, with only periodic moments of mental references that are actually familiar. The context in which even those familiar components appear is quite often anomalous to my waking memory of these reference points, and I am frequently struck by this very idea as I am dreaming, often recognizing that the dream event is taking place in a wholly different context than expected.
Dreaming for me is quite often a strikingly vivid experience, with a degree of sensation and occasional awareness of being in a dream state. As opposed to Sapolsky’s claim that we often have a sense of “reckless abandon,” I quite often seem to refrain from actions in my dreams, just as I might while awake, although still noticing a lessening of inhibition to some degree on occasion.
Our window into the world of dreams, while slowly revealing layers of involvement with both a physiological and psychological nature, also reveals that there is still much that is not understood about the processes involved in dreaming. The appearance of specific dream events not drawn from conscious memory, and elaborate scenarios conjured in an imaginative frenzy, suggest to me that there may be far more complex interactions that cannot be fully explained by the neurophysiology and metabolic activity in the brain, just as the true nature of consciousness itself and its link to our cognitive systems continues to elude scientists and philosophers alike.