Tuesday 21 October 2014

Deep Sleep dreams compared with Dreaming (REM) Sleep dreams: visions, meditations, inspiration and revelation

Most, almost-all, the dreams that we remember are those which occur in Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, such that this type of sleep is termed Dreaming Sleep. By contrast, Deep Sleep is usually recalled as dreamless, and when someone is woken from it (difficult) and does recall dream content, it is conceptually simple, slow, non-narrative.

Yet, I have come to believe that it is these slow, simple dreams of Deep Sleep which really matter, while the narrative dreams REM sleep are nearly always trivial.

I need a new name for the 'dreams' of Deep Sleep - because they are so different from REM dreams. I propose Slow Motion Segment - because although the Deep Sleep content is very simple and may be in words, emotions, or any other domain; when the 'dream' is visual it is not really static  - not like a picture - but more like a slow motion segment of video - like a second of waking time, stretched-out and its inner workings and evolution examined in incredible detail.

So, just as the release of the cricket ball from a bowler's fingers (or a baseball from the pitcher's fingers) can barely be seen in real time (taking only thousandths of a second), in 'super slo-mo', the extraordinary and evolving, interacting intricacies of finger, wrist and arm movement can easily be observed: that is a metaphor for what goes-on in the 'dreams' of Deep Sleep. 


I have read many, many accounts of dreams - in all sorts of writings from the psychoanalytic, through the scientific, to the personal; and people have told me their dreams, and of course I have my own dreams... and the overwhelming impression is that dream content is nearly-always (but not always) trivial, emotionally-shallow, and lacking in serious significance.

REM dreams, by and large, are not a profound message awaiting decoding, they are at the level of a TV soap opera - sometimes emotionally sensational in a manipulative sort of way, but ultimately just froth: 'chewing gum for the mind".

But Deep Sleep is the most therapeutic, recreative and necessary form of sleep - despite that its mental contents are apparently not explicitly accessible. We are only indirectly aware of the consequences of Deep Sleep - seldom of the goings-son: we feel the difference that Deep Sleep makes, but are seldom aware of what made than difference.


Meditation is, or should be, about linking-up the conscious mind with the slow, simple and significant world of Deep Sleep - and not with the flashy trivialities of REM sleep - which lead merely to hallucinations, delusions and other delirious phenomena.

The content of meditation is not supposed to be like a REM dream, but more like a Slow Motion Sequence - an examination and experience of something tiny and apparently-fragmentary that waking life would barely notice, it would flash-by in an instant; but which is revealed as rich and significant and enlightening.


This means that when a mystic reports his visionary experience derived from this Deep Sleep type of meditation, he will be using the language of waking consciousness to describe what was perhaps a tiny and apparently insignificant moment of awake time, and will have to contextualise, elaborate and interpolate details in order to make sense of the Slow Motion Segment.

Indeed, this is, I think, why Deep Sleep and Visionary and Meditative and Inspirational and Revelatory experiences are seldom explicitly remembered (they are remembered by the effect, rather than by their content) - the awake time-scale is so extremely different from the experiential timescale of Deep Sleep.

I would say, many hundreds of times slower; so that Deep Sleep might spend an hour of awake time (as measured in the 'real world) examining the inward workings and implications of one experienced second of Deep Sleep dreaming...


So to take a revelatory vision such as William Arkle's Hand of God


My belief is that the actual vision which underlay the written account was probably of the nature of a slow motion segment - a short, visual and emotional experience, which was known in extraordinary detail - but which can only be recalled and described in narrative language of the type we associate with the awake state and REM sleep.


I think this is also what happens in inspiration - for example in science. A very simple, short segment - known intuitively in rich inner detail - is what provides the insight, and not an extended explicit narrative: I am thinking of the simple visions of Kekule's Benzene Rings symbolised by ouroboros snakes with tail in mouth, or Szilard's Eureka moment about nuclear fission as a traffic light changed to green.


What about those relatively rare examples of REM sleep dreams which are experienced as significant: Jung's Archetypal, Mythic or Great dreams. I suppose that these are a combination of normal narrative dreams of REM sleep, with an incursion of Deep Sleep and its Slow Motion Segments - so that, as it were, the trivial REM dream story suddenly slows down a hundredfold, and becomes extremely detailed, reveals great profundities: an epiphanic moment showing 'the world in a grain of sand'.


These reflections came to me while pondering the prophecies of Isaiah from the Old Testament (and Book of Mormon); and how obscure yet significant they seem to the waking mind.

If we can suppose Isaiah having true revelations, yet needing to translate these into the shallow, trivial, fast moving world of everyday life - we can imagine that he hit upon a poetic method, in that lyrical poetry can condense vast meanings into few words.

(Perhaps this is, indeed, the primary 'function' of poetry in the human condition?)

There is the problem of translating poetry, and translating between an ancient society and a modern one is also difficult (some say impossible) - but in a divinely-inspired version such as the Authorised/ King James Bible, when being read in a proper spirit - the meanings will be there even for the modern and English speaking reader/ meditator; at least, to those able and willing to attune poetically, and not 'literally'- and thereby to intuit vast depth and detail from few words: words that can unpack hours from seconds.



Imnobody said...

I had a Kekule-like experience when I was young and was immersed in my Doctorate. I had a mathematical problem that made my proposal ugly and difficult to apply.

I woke up in the middle of the night with two equations in my head. The same equations that solved my problem in an elegant, simple and very satisfactory way. A breakthrough that made my PhD possible.

I didn't remember any REM dream associated with these equations so I think you are right: I must have solved the problem while in Deep Sleep.

Joel E. said...

Xenophon records two of his more significant dreams in the Anabasis. The first dream comes to him the night after all the leaders of the Greek army have been murdered by Tissaphernes. In it he sees a vision of fire from Zeus that spurs him to gather the remaining captains and organize the defense himself. In the other dream, when the army is trapped for days between the river and the mountains, with foes on each side, he has a dream of shackles being removed, and immediately he receives news of how they can escape.

I mention these because both seem to be "relatively rare examples of REM sleep dreams which are experienced as significant."

What is bizarre to me is that the instinctive reaction of nearly every modern is to dismiss dreams as silly. And the instinctive reaction of the average person in all history before us was the exact opposite.

As far as meditation-type dreams, my guess is that the oracles of the ancients sometimes had little conscious control over what they were saying. Homer, not an oracle, was however an oral poet with a very artificial language. Only certain patterns of words fit the hexameter. And it required training of many years to be able to extemporize those words as he was required to do in performance. I imagine that he was serious when he asked the Muse to sing through him at the beginning of his songs: he was not experiencing 100% conscious control over his story. And the ancients certainly regarded poetic utterance as divinely inspired.

The oracles, who were often people with specific sorts of psychological conditions, were perhaps in a similar state. The legend of a specific oracular fugue state is something that has been passed down. I think that in both the case of oracles and of poets we have an example of reduced consciousness, but where the brain remains active enough to keep the experience on track, rather than letting it explode into randomness.

I note that in view of the ancients, such a state was something that took a great deal of preparation and was only accomplished by special individuals.

Bruce Charlton said...

@J - "What is bizarre to me is that the instinctive reaction of nearly every modern is to dismiss dreams as silly. And the instinctive reaction of the average person in all history before us was the exact opposite."

Yes, I blogged on that exact topic a few years ago. But I still think *most* dreams *are* trivial!

streamfortyseven said...

Just had a look at the bureaucracy overtaking real function article, by way of the Archdruid Report... and just happened to click on this.

Of the dreams I remember, none have had trivial content, all have been in living color, with sound, taste, smell, touch - the same as in waking life. And I've dreamed of things that actually came to pass, like the iPad I got in 2010, with the same sort of function, down to the touchscreen and youtube-like videos with sound, and the wifi towers and the rest - and that dream was in 1991... Asking me about the symbolism in dreams is like asking me about the "symbolism" of my waking life.