A Different Kind of Dream Analysis

Is it possible to dream without knowing it?

I realize this sounds like the tree falling in the forest question, but I think your answer will reveal a lot about your philosophical views, specifically on the mind/body problem. Could be fun? Maybe?

Well, let us go then, you and I…Photo on 9-23-15 at 12.51 PM #3

If we can dream without knowing it, doesn’t that mean that whatever physiologically/objectively constitutes a dream is the dream? This would be strange, especially since we tend to think of dreams as utterly subjective, so much so that even relating them to others seems at times to be an impossible task. We own our dreams, whether we want to or not.

Dreams are one of the few ways we get to have such intensely personal experiences, outside of psychedelic drugs and such. Ever notice how ridiculous the dream seems when you recount it to yourself upon waking or tell someone else about it? What was in the moment taken without skepticism is now stripped of that credibility, and sometimes even meaning, perhaps because it is so divorced from objective reality. Even those who believe that dreams evoke universal symbols usually concede that it’s up to the dreamer to make those connections, to do the interpreting. (Plus, those symbols vary to some extent from culture to culture. For Koreans, dreaming about feces means it’s time to buy a lottery ticket.) To say that dreams are a physiological occurrence that might be unknown to us is to empty dreams of their content.

Some people—usually the ones who find the tree in the forest question profound—like to ask how we know we’re not dreaming right now. Kant answers this somewhere by saying that dreams are recognized as such by their contrast to our experience of objective reality. To put it another way, it’s not just: “Dreams are weird.” It’s: “Dreams ARE weird.”

Imagine this conversation:

“I had a dream last night.”

“Oh yeah? What was it about?”

“I don’t know. I didn’t actually experience it.”

If we take the view that dreams are lived experiences that become known only in relation to experience of reality, this conversation is nonsense. If we don’t, we might say the matter is paradoxical, but possible.

The belief that we can dream without knowing it seems to go without saying in scientific articles, like this from the Scientific American:

“Dreams are notoriously difficult to recall. In fact, if a dream ends before we wake up, we will not remember it.”—Deirdre Barrett, What Processes in the Brain Allow You to Remember Dreams?

Most of us would read the line above and find nothing unsettling about it. Sure, we have dreams we can’t remember. That happens all the time. But—and this is a big but—we know we don’t remember them only because we remember a part of them. This forgetting is kind of like forgetting someone’s name, but upon hearing it, recognizing it as the right one. Does this experienceable lapse of memory of dreams indicate that we regularly forget entire dreams, waking up only to say “I slept a dreamless sleep”? I would say this is a presumptive leap. To be clear, I remain agnostic on the larger matter, but this particular argument doesn’t work for me.

Plus, in order to find a correlation between two things, we must be able to have access to both of those things. I wouldn’t find it terribly problematic for the scientist to rely on a person’s remembered account of a dream in order to find out what happens to the brain during that particular sleep cycle. However, the wholly forgotten dream is inaccessible to both the scientist and the sleeper. How is a correlation to be made? (And let’s ignore that correlation is not causation. Establishing correlation seems problematic enough.)

Perhaps it’s this: I’ve heard that REM sleep is the time during which we dream. (I’ve also read we can dream during other times as well, but let’s ignore this one too.) We might be tempted to say that if we can objectively monitor and verify that REM is happening, we can establish that a person is dreaming. But there’s a problem here. We can’t say that we always dream during REM sleep or that REM sleep is a reliable indication of a dream occurring.

Or maybe it’s this: The scientist watches the sleeper sleep. The sleeper jerks, kicks, talks in her sleep, maybe sleep walks. Maybe she even screams out the Ten Commandments while beating on the mattress. Then she wakes up and says, “I slept a dreamless sleep.” Only the most Cartesian of us will insist that the sleeping subject might not have dreamed.

Photo on 9-23-15 at 12.51 PMI often watch my dog sleep and smile at his muffled barks and kicks, imagining that he’s chasing down a lizard in his mind or maybe even whining at me for being unable to operate the toy drone he so loves. I realize I’m anthropomorphizing to some extent here, and I know I can never know what he’s dreaming, but I don’t find it all that problematic to say that he’s dreaming. And in his case, he can never tell me and I will never really know. But I’d find it incredibly over-scrupulous if someone argued this point.Photo on 9-23-15 at 1.05 PM

On the one hand, I want to give the observed behavior of a sleeper/dreamer credibility, but on the other hand, I want to preserve that common sense definition of a dream as the 1st person narrative.

Where do you stand on the matter?

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49 thoughts on “A Different Kind of Dream Analysis

  1. I used to think I didn’t dream, but then read that we do dream, but we just don’t recall it, but if we make an effort to recall our dreams upon waking, we can remember those dreams. I did this and often ended up remembering multiple dreams a night.

    With that said, I think trying to reconcile the subjective/objective divide is problematic. If I dreamt, but forgot the dream, did I dream? This is like asking if I really lived during times I forgot about. For instance, I can’t remember what I was doing 4 weeks ago at this time. So did I experience that time?

    If objective correlates of subjective experiences are observed, is that enough to state the subjective experience happened, regardless of what the subject says? That this is even an issue says something special about subjective experience. Not that it isn’t physical, but it can be edited after the fact. If my brain is in a state corresponding to experience X, and I experience it, but forget it by the time a researcher tells me I was in X, then I’ll resist that interpretation. I think this is a key reason for the difficulties we run into. There is no sacrosanct, immutable copy of my experience I can access, and it’s this that raises the illusory issue between the objective and subjective (IMO).

    This idea is unsettling because it takes away my sense of ownership of my experience. If I can forget experience, then not only is it like I died to that experience, but third party observers could be better reporters of my conscious states than I am. If I equate myself with my conscious states, what am I do do with my sense of self given that it can blink in and out of existence, be retroactively erased (by forgetting), edited, and better reported by people who didn’t experience what I supposedly experienced?

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    • Thanks for your thoughtful reply! I feel like I’ve been warmly welcomed back to the world of blogging.

      “I used to think I didn’t dream, but then read that we do dream, but we just don’t recall it, but if we make an effort to recall our dreams upon waking, we can remember those dreams. I did this and often ended up remembering multiple dreams a night.”

      Yeah, I rarely *have* dreams. In fact, the only reason I thought to write this post was because I’m starting a new medication that seems to make me have these wonderfully epic dreams, the kind I used to have as a child. When I have my normal dreamless sleeps, I rarely wake up and think about it, but when I do, I draw a blank.

      “If I dreamt, but forgot the dream, did I dream? This is like asking if I really lived during times I forgot about. For instance, I can’t remember what I was doing 4 weeks ago at this time. So did I experience that time?”

      Hehe. Kind of. I tried to make exceptions for those times when we know we dreamt something, but can’t quite remember it. The fact that we have partial memories can lead us to believe that we shouldn’t trust ourselves at all, but I’d warn against that. If I remember I dreamt, but don’t remember what I dreamt, that seems to be similar to remembering that I must have been doing something 4 weeks ago at this time, but not knowing what. I definitely don’t remember (shit, don’t even ask me about five minutes ago!) but if I were to look at my planner and see a note there—Doc appt, 1:30—for instance, I might remember some of that day. As you say, sometimes we can force ourselves to remember things. Not that this is always accurate, but it’s something.

      “If my brain is in a state corresponding to experience X, and I experience it, but forget it by the time a researcher tells me I was in X, then I’ll resist that interpretation. I think this is a key reason for the difficulties we run into. There is no sacrosanct, immutable copy of my experience I can access, and it’s this that raises the illusory issue between the objective and subjective (IMO).”

      And the worst thing about dreams in particular is that there is no way to get direct access to it, except through the subject. All the researcher can tell is that my brain is in a certain state, which generally corresponds to a majority of people reporting that they dream during that state. If I forget the dream entirely, (and supposing others do the same on a regular basis), how do we establish a certain two-way correlation in the first place?

      “This idea is unsettling because it takes away my sense of ownership of my experience. If I can forget experience, then not only is it like I died to that experience, but third party observers could be better reporters of my conscious states than I am. If I equate myself with my conscious states, what am I do do with my sense of self given that it can blink in and out of existence, be retroactively erased (by forgetting), edited, and better reported by people who didn’t experience what I supposedly experienced?”

      I haven’t done much research on this dream subject, but I would definitely be unsettled if it turned out that I did a funny dance at 3:42am, sung a song at 3:45am, delivered a speech a few minutes later, then got myself back into bed only to wake up and remember nothing of it. I’d probably need video proof to believe it.

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  2. I think there have been experiments where people where woken up during REM sleep (and normally could recall some memories of a dream they had just been in) and during non-REM-sleep (and normally could not remember any dream). I think this can be taken as evidence that we do dream during REM sleep and if we do not wake up during that phase, the dream will be forgotten. I think we dream practically every time we sleep, but often any memory of it is erased.
    One funny idea: maybe there is no dream experience at all, just some memories written into our brains that we can recall later (like a fake memory). However, I don’t believe this, but while waking, I cannot disprove it.
    I think when we dream, most of the time we are not aware of it. Some part of cognition seems to be switched off. I only can recall a few times when during my dreams, I became aware of being in a dream (I have described one such experience here: https://denkblasen.wordpress.com/2015/05/23/dreaming/), but in most such cases, I woke up soon after. I heard some people can learn “lucid dreaming” but I don’t know how to do that.
    I don’t believe much in dream symbolism, neither the psychoanalytic nor the lottery or dream book variety. Of ciourse, you can form connections. I sometimes dream complete scientific theories. I guess it is a side effect of some housekeeping process of the brain. It must be advantagous since many animals do it, at least mamals. I think your dog really does dream.

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    • I just read that people dream during NREM sleep as well, which would throw a bit of a monkey wrench into things. On the other hand, I’m sure there are plenty of studies/recorded instances that show we seem to be dreaming, even though we have forgotten it.

      “One funny idea: maybe there is no dream experience at all, just some memories written into our brains that we can recall later (like a fake memory). However, I don’t believe this, but while waking, I cannot disprove it.”

      Ha! This sounds sort of like an evil demon’s version of Plato’s theory of recollection. I love it. 🙂

      “I think when we dream, most of the time we are not aware of it. Some part of cognition seems to be switched off.”

      There are studies that say the part of our brains that are linked to logic and reasoning seem to shut down during the dream stage. That accounts for why we find absurdities totally normal while we’re dreaming.

      I’m not quite sure what lucid dreaming is. I’ll have to look that up.

      I’ve had some doozies. One time I had a dream in which I was able to float around. I had to concentrate in order to do it, but concentrate in an unselfconscious way, like a musician playing a hard piece. When I floated, I said to myself, “This is absurd. This can’t be real. I must be dreaming.” I felt myself falling when I had that thought. Then I came up with a loony test to determine whether or not I was dreaming. I happened to remember a particular cobweb in a high corner of the ceiling (this was a real cobweb in real life, one which I had kept meaning to clean and which I happened to remember in my dream) and I decided that if I saw the cobweb when I floated up there, I’d know my powers were real. If I didn’t see the cobweb, I’d know I was dreaming. I saw no cobweb, so I knew I was dreaming (according to my crackpot test). I tried to float up again, but couldn’t, then I woke up feeling pretty disappointed.

      And that’s the boring dream. I had another in which I ended up running smack into a door (in real life) during a slumber party. I woke everyone up. That was pretty embarrassing. (Although perhaps not as embarrassing as yelling “Fuck you” at the age of five while sleeping over at a friend’s house.)

      And another in which I had the dream with a dream thing. That went on for so long that I when I finally woke up, I felt really unsure of whether I was truly awake or not. I was unsettled for the rest of the day.

      Usually, though, I dream of such boring things that even in the dream I sometimes chastise myself. “Really Tina? You could be flying around, but instead you choose to worry about which socks you’re going to wear today?”

      I agree that most dreaming is like the “housekeeping process” of the brain. I call it the trash bin. I notice a lot of useless details in my dreams that are directly correlated to something that happened, usually entirely insignificant. And perhaps that’s why I dream of socks so often!

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      • Some people seem to become aware of dreaming while dreaming and then they can controll, to some extent, what they are experiencing. This is called lucid dreaming. It seems like one can learn it. There are methods and devices (like something that creates a bright flash of light when you are in REM sleep, so when you perceive it you remember “ah, I am dreaming”, but I don’t know it that really works or it is just hype. Whenever I noticed I was dreaming, I woke up soon after, but I don’t know what was cause and what was effect here, maybe realizing I was dreaming was part of the process of waking up.

        Your cobweb dream sounds like it was something into the lucid direction. Kepp a spider in the corner, so you can train that. 🙂

        Years ago, I occasionally had some unusual dream experiences, it felt like a stream blowing through my head (I cannot describe it better) and I had some especially vivid dreams during such experiences. Maybe that was some kind of seizure, I don’t know.

        I have noticed that towards the end of dreaming, just before I wake up, the episode seems to come to some kind of closure, like in a film (although looking back on it when I have woken up, it is just nonsens) and I tend to have a music-like experience towards the end of dreams.

        In some dreams I have intensive musical (and dancing) experiences and sometimes I have managed to rescue littel bits of melodies into the waking state.

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        • It seems like there are varying levels of lucidity, I suppose. Michelle Joelle and I were discussing the odd combination of knowing that you’re dreaming, but being unable to control anything. Even in the cobweb dream, I had no control over the results of my ridiculous test, even though my test confirmed that I was dreaming.

          So cool that you have musical experiences in your dreams. I vaguely remember having one of those…it involved a guitar with hundreds of strings and all kinds of strange noises. I think that was the only time, though. You really are a musical person!

          I can see how interesting musical experiences would appear in dreams for those who are so inclined, especially since the normal everyday filters are off in dream-land. But remembering them would be quite a feat.

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          • It looks like some musical process is going on in my brain most of the time. It is parallel to other thinking processes, maybe in the other half of the brain. Sometimes I am whislting or humming, sometimes I am doing some rhythm, but I think often I just think music. Maybe we dream about the things we think a lot about. I also have had dreams where I was dancing and that is really fun, complex polycentric African dance (which I did a lot for some time and still do occasionally). That is rare, but dreaming music is quite normal for me.

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  3. Haha, where I stand? Whenever I start reading something philosophically flavoured, I think I know what I think, but then as I continue reading, I’m no longer sure what I think, or even IF I’m capable of thinking any more! (I must be dreaming!) 😉 Well, that was an interesting read though! Over to you philosophers… 🙂

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  4. The only conscious access we have to our dreams is through memory, and memory is unreliable. Like nannus, I see it as possible that we don’t experience dreams as a narrative, but just construct a narrative to make sense of the jumbled dirty data we have upon regaining consciousness, data that would have been cleared away if sleep had proceeded normally.

    Although I have to admit that watching someone or something jerk and thrash about when sleeping certainly seems to imply that something is being experienced. At least until I remember that the movement of a fetus seems to imply the same thing, except that most embryologists think it’s just reflex until well into the third trimester.

    All that said, the fact is that our remembered experience is of a narrative, albeit often an incoherent one. I don’t think there is any significance to cream content, except perhaps in the sense of revealing aspects of the psychological state of the dreamer.

    I read something a while back that said liberals often remembered their dreams but that conservatives rarely did. I found this odd since I virtually never recall my dreams but, at least by US standards, I’m pretty liberal.

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    • Wow. Interesting stuff.

      Well there’s certainly no way to tell whether we construct a narrative upon waking or whether it’s there in the dream. I feel like it’s there in the dream, but you’ve presented a real tough one!

      I wonder if we do experience mostly jumbled data, but since it’s so jumbled, we present it to ourselves in the dream as a narrative. (Like a paradigm of sorts, a constellation to map out the data.) Maybe narration is something we can’t get rid of, not even in sleep? That’s what I’d like to believe. It certainly feels like that’s the case. We definitely experience emotion when we dream and I’d find it hard to believe that emotion could come without some amount of narration (even though it might be pretty ridiculous, as dreams often are).

      Or how about this one: When we don’t remember our dreams, it’s because we didn’t narrate our random data. When we do remember, it’s because we’ve presented the data to ourselves somewhat coherently?

      Pure speculation, of course. But fascinating.

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      • That’s an interesting idea. But would you say it’s consistent with dreams more likely to be remembered when the dreamer is woken from REM sleep?

        Actually, now that I think about it, it seems possible that our neural circuitry fires haphazardly during REM sleep, the contents of which are usually not remembered because the memory subsystems aren’t functioning. When we’re suddenly awakened, the memory systems come online and are able to capture a sampling of the random data, and our conscious feedback attempts to make what sense of it that it can.

        I wouldn’t be surprised if reality weren’t some complicated combination of all of these.

        I think the day will come when we understand the brain well enough to know the answer, but until then, very much agreed that it’s largely all speculation.

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        • I don’t know about the link of memory to REM sleep. If the current thinking is that memory functioning is entirely off when we’re dreaming, I’d wonder how that theory makes sense of what we experience.

          I guess all I was thinking was that a narrative of sorts must be happening during some dreams (maybe not all) since it seems that emotion would have to be tied to a narrative. I could be wrong about that connection, but it would be pretty paradoxical otherwise. It wouldn’t have to be a long narrative, or even a coherent one, but I can’t imagine emotion could be elicited from mere jumbled data either. I know I’ve woken up from my dreams because of the power of the emotion derived from them, and there was virtually no transition to waking. (None that I was aware of, if we want to go that route…)

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  5. I’d echo what SelfAwarePatterns said. I often dream very vivid dreams and then forget them. There is just a fragment of narrative available to me on waking. But, as I drift off to sleep the next night and enter the same state of consciousness, those dreams often return to me, and I pick them up from where I left off. It’s kind of fun, like watching a TV series.

    Of course the actual content is utter nonsense. As SelfAwarePatterns says, they are probably random memories being jumbled together and some pattern-matching part of the brain constructing a narrative (just like we do all the time without ever noticing.)

    I have read that during sleep the part of the brain that judges the veracity of a situation is turned off, and without skepticism we simply accept everything we experience as truth. That is why dreams are so weird and make no sense to the waking mind. This may simply be pseudo-science – I don’t have a reliable source.

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    • Wow, you can actually carry on with your dreams like a TV series? I’m jealous. I’ve never done that. I had this really obnoxious one in which I was given a brown paper bag with a special prize inside. I went through the whole dream doing things, mostly boring things, and I never got to open the bag. I was so mad when I woke up. I tried to go back to sleep to see what was in the bag, but no go. This dream of disappointment about the paper bag was so powerful it actually made it into my novel. I just couldn’t resist the symbolism.

      “I have read that during sleep the part of the brain that judges the veracity of a situation is turned off, and without skepticism we simply accept everything we experience as truth.”

      I read that somewhere too. It makes sense to me. It seems to be a nearly universal thing about dreams—they’re weird, yet we fully believe in them while we’re in them.

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  6. “If we can dream without knowing it, doesn’t that mean that whatever physiologically/objectively constitutes a dream is the dream?” – I think a dream by definition implies consciousness (that is, being ‘with knowledge’), and which I take to be more than physiological and ‘objective’ (whatever that means). What consciousness does not imply is the operation of memory functions.

    When we know things as if they were occurring in real time, it is memory that is in operation, which itself is a more-or-less accurate representation (a reflection) of what happened in consciousness ‘just then’. In sleep, memory tends not to be functioning, and yet there still is consciousness, otherwise we would not awaken upon hearing the alarm clock – that hearing initially occurs consciously in sleep.

    So, my theory is that dreaming is audio-visual thinking without memory, and which largely relies upon imagination because it has no real-world causal thread to follow. It may loosely follow what were sub-conscious causal threads though – anxieties, desires, and things we find difficult to deal with in conscious memory (our wakeful state). I love the final picture of Geordie Tina!

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    • “I think a dream by definition implies consciousness (that is, being ‘with knowledge’), and which I take to be more than physiological and ‘objective’ (whatever that means).”

      I was wondering if anyone would think of what a dream is by definition. For me, this is part of what’s so problematic about saying we can dream without knowing it. A dream seems by definition to be a narrative of sorts that occurs in our sleep. Perhaps that’s not a rigorous definition, but close enough to make my point. It’s the common sense POV I’m after here.

      On the “‘objective’ (whatever that means),” that was me being clumsy. I suppose I meant something that can be witnessed or measured by others.

      I totally agree about dreams lacking that real-world causal thread, but they do at times seem to have something that links the data pieces together, whatever we want to call it. Dream glue?

      I wonder how imagination can operate without memory? Wouldn’t some modicum of memory be necessary?

      On memory and dreams, I’ve got a funny one for you. The other night I may or may not have had a dream about almost getting locked into a room with “monkeys” (more on this to come). It was one of those dreams in which I knew no one. Anyways, I was with some woman and while I managed to escape the room, she didn’t. I ended up with some other woman I didn’t know and a baby monitor that connected to the “monkey” room. I could hear muffled animal noises and such. I was concerned that the woman in the “monkey” room would get hurt, so I said to woman #2:

      “Don’t you suppose we should call her cell and see if she’s okay? I mean, she’s in there with a bunch of monkeys.”

      “They’re baboons.”

      “Okay, baboons. Shouldn’t we call and see if she’s okay?”

      “Give that some thought. You can’t hear much noise, can you? That’s because the baboons are sleeping. If you call her cell, you’ll wake up the baboons and they’ll kill her.”

      “Oh, right.”

      I promptly forgot woman #1 and decided to get a cheeseburger and a milkshake. Best to let sleeping baboons lie. (The remainder of my dream was spent obsessing over which flavor of milkshake to get and whether or not I should get it with the cheeseburger or after. Oh the dream dilemma.)

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    • Hahahaha – totally brilliant Tina! I love woman Number Two’s specificity, and your immediate and unquestioning compliance with her Murderous Baboons Theory! Life is so much easier when we just agree with everyone. I ought to do it more frequently.

      “I wonder how imagination can operate without memory? Wouldn’t some modicum of memory be necessary?” – Yes, perceptual imagery and their manipulation are the building blocks I think. Percepts are stored memories, or if you like, ‘off-line’ memories – right? Imagination can go and grab a bunch of them – ‘milkshakes’, ‘cell phones’, ‘monkeys’, ‘murder’ – what’s the link? Let’s see, a bit of your ‘dream glue’ tries to make patterns out of the available percepts, as you say, ‘a narrative’, and absolutely anything will do for the story. So that’s just the brain neurotically trying to create those narrative patterns and some semblance of order for it to feed off I suppose – the conscious mind abhors a vacuum. As I said ‘memory tends not to be functioning’, but perceptual recall is that tendency made dormant. That fits the fact that what we dream is nearly always random perceptual stuff threaded together as best the brain can. Most people’s dreams are as crazy as yours Tina. Well, almost.

      Great to have you back!

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      • I can tell you the woman number two’s specificity comes from my insecurity about my lack of knowledge on distinguishing primates. The cell phone? Hell if I know. Probably just a ubiquitous part of life these days. Can’t even avoid them in dreams. The murder/danger? Well, believe it or not, I was actually locked in a cage with a “monkey” when I was a child. This really happened on the island of St. Kitts while I was on vacation. I was pretty good friends with the “monkey” (whatever it was) until that moment, then I got scared. Milkshakes? I had one recently and I hadn’t had one in a long time. It was delicious, so I stored that away as a note to self: “Milkshake=good. Not always disgustingly sweet.”

        I’m thinking “Dream Glue” would make a nice title for a collection of poetry. I once coined the phrase “dream gravy”. It’s when the air suddenly turns thick as gravy when you have to run away from a monster. Everything goes into slow-mo, except the monster, of course. The gravy is on you and you alone, and it’s homemade with an extra thick roux base.

        Nice to be back! I hope I’ll be able to keep myself awake throughout the day (troubles with fatigue still). I miss my friends.

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  7. It seems like our normal mechanisms for encoding memory are not working during sleep as well as they are when waking. I don’t think we are likely to remember most dreams other than the ones we had just before waking. So yes, there is a whole set of our mental experiences to which we don’t have access and neither does anyone else. I have been incubating a story idea about this for a long time. In the story, people can “meet” in these dreams and have conversations, but it is not something they can remember afterward. But what if the same two people met in real life? And what if elements from the dream relationship started to affect the “real” one? I have to do more research for this, but it was inspired by some scholarship on dreams that I read. It had to do with certain brain patterns that were recorded while people are asleep, ones that seemed anomalous.
    And yes, I recall reading that people can dream during non-REM sleep.

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  8. I’m comfortable with the subjective and objective nature of dream experience. It occurs to me, and perhaps this is your underlying intent, there is a similar view regarding subjective (waking) experience and objective neural correlates concomitant with the reported subjective experience. One confounding problem with the study of consciousness is the personal subjective nature versus what we can analyze objectively.

    Scientists can use EEGs to monitor brain activity, and they’ve studied sleep fairly extensively. As you’ve touched on, one binding between objective and subjective is that people awakened during periods where they objectively look like they’re dreaming report vivid and immediate dreams. As the SciAm quote mentions, once a dream completes, the brain largely forgets it.

    If, as some think, the purpose of dreams is to sift through short-term memory and file some of it to long-term memory, then dreams are a byproduct of this process, and your brain naturally doesn’t store such byproducts for long-term.

    It’s only when we wake up and record our dreams that they become awake experience — like a story we made up — and have a chance of being remembered. (I’ve posted a number of my dreams, but only because I keep a pad and pen by the bed. It’s in telling the dream story that they become consciously real.)

    Is a forgotten dream different than a forgotten awake experience? I think it is. The dream is (we might suppose) a byproduct of your mind’s process never intended for long-term storage. All awake experiences are potentially candidates for long-term storage.

    I doubt that dreams are planted memories. They appear on EEGs, and to observers, to occur in time. I’ve watched my dogs chasing [rabbits? squirrels?] — suppressed leg movements and barking — in what is clearly real time. I’ve seen people dream as well, and there seems a definite real time narrative.

    Once I was dreaming I was playing football, and I actually kicked my wife, so I’m pretty sure dreams are “real” experiences (for some value of “real”). I do think your brain probably treats them as slightly different.

    I’ve twice managed to have lucid dreams. In the dream state and clear in my head that “I’m dreaming! Cool!!” Both times I was able to manipulate reality around me, but in both cases too much awareness eventually woke me. But it was awesome while it lasted. The second time I was more prepared to experiment, so maybe practice makes perfect.

    [Ever notice how much dream narrative is like movie narrative? Instant shifts of perspective and scene. Jump cuts. Movies are dreams!]

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    • “As you’ve touched on, one binding between objective and subjective is that people awakened during periods where they objectively look like they’re dreaming report vivid and immediate dreams.”

      I wonder if my bizarre example/scenario has ever happened? I just made that up to get my point across.

      “If, as some think, the purpose of dreams is to sift through short-term memory and file some of it to long-term memory, then dreams are a byproduct of this process, and your brain naturally doesn’t store such byproducts for long-term.”

      This theory of data disposal is pretty fascinating. What’s especially interesting about it for me is that I can actually recognize elements of dreams that are simply lifted from recent experiences, probably meant to be disposed of but accidentally restored. For instance, I might help my husband find his car keys and then have a dream in which the car keys appear. Or I might hear something inane on the news (oh, that never happens!) and then that subject will appear in my dream. Sometimes when I wish to make something of a dream, I’ll actually edit out those obviously irrelevant elements from recent experience in interpreting the meaning of it all.

      “Is a forgotten dream different than a forgotten awake experience? I think it is.”

      I agree. Thanks in large part to phenomenology, I like to look at forgetting as a kind of experience in itself. The experience of forgetting a dream (not waking up and saying “I didn’t dream”) is very different from the experience of forgetting something in real life. Real life forgetting is first of all a hell of a lot more disturbing, but also a lot easier to remedy. Others can sometimes verify things or correct you, or there might even be more objective evidence. I can remember tons of insignificant details. I have a damn near photographic memory when it comes to things my husband is likely to misplace. I could probably come close to listing the contents of the refrigerator and spice cabinet. I tend to be good at remembering numbers (telephone, passwords) but dates? Times? What people say verbatim? No way. I’m afraid to answer the phone out of fear that I’ll relay a far too condensed version of a message. Maybe this is why the majority of my dreams are boring?

      On the other hand, when I try to remember a dream, I have to do it shortly after I wake up and I have to care enough to think about it. I usually don’t care. But when I do care, I can actually sense myself narrating over the dream. It’s not events or scenes that are erased (to my knowledge) but rather the meaning of the events, the emotion behind them. The emotional content is either erased or diminished and I’m left with the jumbled events, as in a poorly edited movie. I usually find it all pretty funny when I’m reflecting on a dream, even though at the time I was upset or confused or whatever. I wonder if the emotive content is what binds the crazy stuff together in the dream, and so when that’s lost, so too is the cohesiveness.

      “I’ve seen people dream as well, and there seems a definite real time narrative.”

      I agree again. In fact, I think I read that somewhere too. I know I’ve carried on conversations with my husband while he was sleeping (he was taking a sleeping pill that caused this weird behavior). The conversation made no sense whatsoever, but his tone of voice seemed to imply that he heard me and if you didn’t speak English, you’d think we were simply having a conversation. Plus, it was a real back and forth in terms of timing, even though his responses made no sense.

      “Once I was dreaming I was playing football, and I actually kicked my wife, so I’m pretty sure dreams are “real” experiences (for some value of “real”).”

      Haha. I used to be a kicker and screamer. As I child I had a recurring dream of being pushed off the grand canyon (due to my fear of heights and seeing the grand canyon). The thing that always disturbed me most was that I never knew who pushed me! Thankfully I grew out of that. Apparently I sleep like a log. Plus I fall asleep really fast, usually in under five minutes.

      So lucid dreaming is knowing you’re dreaming and being able to control it? I’ve had that to some extent, but the control part is usually not there.

      Dream narrative is sort of like a movie. I’d never thought of that before, but it makes perfect sense. Suddenly you’re in one location, then you’re in another.

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      • “I wonder if my bizarre example/scenario has ever happened?”

        I’m not sure which “bizarre example/scenario” you mean. The one about screaming the Ten Commandments? If so, I’m sure something similar must have happened. A huge problem with any subjective experience is the unreliability of eye-witnesses. Even wide awake ones will describe an event they all viewed differently.

        “What’s especially interesting about [the theory of data disposal] for me is that I can actually recognize elements of dreams that are simply lifted from recent experiences, probably meant to be disposed of but accidentally restored.”

        Only if you remember the dream! That dreams recap aspects of the day isn’t surprising if what’s going on is a housekeeping process of deciding what to store and what to discard. (I wonder if people with “photographic” memories lack that process.)

        “Real life forgetting is first of all a hell of a lot more disturbing, but also a lot easier to remedy.”

        In the past, I’ve never viewed it as disturbing. In the very first Sherlock Holmes novel, A Study In Scarlet, Watson is trying to figure out his new (strange) roommate: “Holmes’s knowledge of astronomy was nil; he was ignorant of the Copernican Theory and of the composition of the solar system. ‘You say that we go round the sun. If we went round the moon it would not make a pennyworth of difference to me or my work.'”

        Yet Holmes could distinguish 37 different types of cigar ash. Holmes explains to Watson that he considers the mind like an attic — it has only so much space. So he is careful to ignore or forget anything he deems not relevant to make room for that which is.

        My mind seems to work in a similar fashion. Often, in certain areas I deem valuable to me, I hear it once and pretty much lock it in forever. In others, it’s in one lobe and out the other. I famously can never remember the plots to movies and books (part of why I enjoy re-watching and re-reading). Which is a little odd considering how much I value storytelling. I do tend to remember what I got from a story, but not the details. At all. Often even how it ends!

        In my increasing dotage, though, I can actually feel my mind getting less acute, and memory for things I feel I should remember sometimes becomes elusive. I forgot Cameron Diaz’s name for months… I kept trying to remember the name of that actress in Something About Mary. I refused to look it up. Eventually (I believe) another part of my brain took over remembering that particular bit of information, and now I can recall her name easily. Like I did just now.

        (I have no particular interest in Ms Diaz — it was just one of those things.)

        Wait… what were we talking about?… ❓

        Oh, right,… forgetting waking experiences versus dreams. 😀

        Yeah. Totally different, I agree. I do think it’s possible very different things are going on.

        “Plus I fall asleep really fast, usually in under five minutes.”

        Likewise. Usually. Sometimes the mind just won’t shut the eff up. There seems to be some correlation with how interesting or exciting my day was.

        “So lucid dreaming is knowing you’re dreaming and being able to control it? I’ve had that to some extent, but the control part is usually not there.”

        No doubt it’s a spectrum. I didn’t have full control in the two I’ve had so far, but I had more in the second one than the first.

        In the first, I had an experience somewhat like your cobweb. In the dream, I remembered that supposedly one test of dreaming is that you can’t read anything. I realized I was holding a bunch of papers in my hand, and determined to try to read them, but somehow couldn’t. “Ah, ha!” I thought.

        In the second dream, I read labeling off some crates (that I was using my mind power to throw around the room as a dream test), and — in the dream — though, “Oh, so that’s not true, then. You can read in dreams.”

        I’ve had lots and lots of dreams where I knew on some vague level I was dreaming, but usually there’s more a feeling of being along for the ride — like watching a movie, and many of my dreams would make great movies. (Sometimes I wake up and think, “I’d pay money to see that!”)

        What the sense of dreaming usually does allow is for me to change the dream any time it gets dicey or in any way threatening. The thought is usually, “Hey, wait! This is my dream, and there will be none of that!” Then the dream just changes to something else. Channel change, so to speak. But no other sense of control

        The two lucid dreams were strikingly different in the amount of awareness and control. In the first, I could decide to do things and then do them. Only in the second could I actually manipulate my environment to some degree.

        “Dream narrative is sort of like a movie. I’d never thought of that before, but it makes perfect sense. Suddenly you’re in one location, then you’re in another.”

        Yep. I’ve been thinking about how much cinema changed storytelling (but that’s another topic). More than any other form, movies are dream-like. And then you get guys like David Lynch who try to make movies even more dream-like… deliberately confusing and filled with often disconnected images. I’m not really a fan of his work, although Mulholland Drive deserves another look, I think.

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  9. I honestly can’t tell if I know that I’m dreaming while it is happening. On the one hand, if I’m in a deep sleep, I feel pretty sure that I’m experiencing whatever it is I’m experiencing at the time, but on the other hand, when I wake up, there’s no question in my mind about whether or not it was true, even if I’m confused for a moment. Sometimes it’s rather disappointing to realize it was just a dream, if my dream took me traveling, or put me in touch with a friend I haven’t seen in a long time.

    Then again, if my sleep is light or I’m anxious about something, I always know I’m dreaming and there’s nothing I can do about it. If I have a big meeting or a lecture about which I’m nervous, I’ll tend to dream about going public places without shoes on. I’ll be aware that it’s a dream and try to imagine shoes onto my feet, but they always disappear, no matter how hard I try. I suppose this might be a semi-lucid dream, but the dream has more power.

    Thanks for this post – I’ll be thinking about dreams for the rest of the day!

    Liked by 3 people

    • So funny about the shoes! Usually it’s appearing naked. I love that. Just curious, are you a shoe person?

      I was once insecure about my underwear even though it was the apocalypse. I never bothered to check whether I was wearing my pretty panties or not, but it nagged me throughout the dream, even though I and everyone else was about to die.

      I know what you mean about semi-lucid dreams. I fought the dream, but the dream won.

      I don’t think I’ve ever been able to manipulate a dream. I can sometimes make decisions about whether or not I’m dreaming, but I can’t seem to force myself to a happy place or fly around over the city. Or taste or smell anything. In fact, all the good things in life always seem to be unreachable in my dreams…I’m always on the cusp of eating something delicious or discovering something really big, Truth Itself, but then I wake up. (And yeah, it tends to be delicious food and Truth Itself.) I hope this doesn’t say something really deep about my personality! 🙂

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  10. Hmm. Well, I have had dreams so real in nature, that I absolutely feel as though I have met people in them. (Paul Weller was in one, I have no idea why of course, though I do like some of his music and The Jam were brilliant…and…. I’m drifting tsk), and dreams like this real are to me as meeting Paul Weller in real life and chatting about potatoes or the like would be. They stay with me often, and are very strong experiences at times. I can sometimes choose to go back into dreams, not very often, but it happens. Then, either the same (or a very similar) dream occurs, or I pop in somewhere around the middle, and I can then alter the outcome. I fine the intensity of dreams absolutely fascinating. I have taken no interest in ‘dream translations’ and the like, but what actually is going on in there can be powerful stuff, and for all we know, alter our behaviour and decisions on a daily basis. I do think we dream and are unaware of it, but not necessarily every night. Just having a poor memory would make that feasible, and to be sure it does not happen seems to be stretching fingers into an area we simply do not know enough about and waggling them about in a dismissive fashion. I reckon your average bod dreams away regularly, heading off into the freedom of the imagination with wild abandon. And we may know nothing about it the next day. Other than say, a strong urge to eat pickled onions.*

    Welcome back Tina!

    – *sonmi who woke up one day after hating pickled onions all her life – suddenly needing to buy a jar and get stuck in – and may well have wandrered off course in her answer significantly – upon the Cloud

    Liked by 3 people

    • I was just commenting on the food thing with Michelle. So funny you should mention picked onions…I do often wake up wanting something I haven’t had in a while. Although never pickled onions.

      Hm, now I’m beginning to wonder about my bizarre tofu cravings lately. I’ve never cared for tofu that much. I mean, it’s okay, right? But in itself, it’s kind of tasteless. You got me thinking…

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      • Here’s the key – don’t eat sloppy tofu, it’s awful. It used to be the case that I’d have to put a tea towel over a slab, on a plate, and weight it down with another plate and some tin cans, in order to squeeze most of the water out, and that was overnight! These days you it’s usually pre- squashed *laughs*.

        Take your tofu and cut it into one inch by half an inch chunks, then put it into a plastic tub (one that has a lid), add some good soya sauce, put the lid on, and shake. Then empty out the spare soya sauce, and add some flour (spices here optional, I like Chinese 5 spice myself), and then shake it up again. Heat up a pan with some sesame oil in it and fry the pieces till crispy. Those pieces are so gorgeous tasting that all I want to do now is make myself some and add it to noodles and cashew nuts. But it’s bed time, so I guess I’ll have to dream of the dish instead. (At least I’ll not get fat eh?!)

        – sonmi off to eat in her dreams upon the Cloud.

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        • That does sound delicious! My mom used to make it that way, although I think she used something besides Chinese 5 spice. I, however, am lazy these days. I must be having some kind of weird deficiency because I can eat the stuff straight. (Although lately I’ve been adding soy sauce in order increase my salt intake—doctor’s orders, believe it or not.)

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          • You dream of a tofu lover every night, and when you awake, your brain tells you very subtly that he was good enough to eat, even though you remember nothing but monkeys and pedantic odd women. *nods and strokes her beard*

            – sonmi and her couch upon the Cloud

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  11. I kept a dream diary when I was a student. I would write down any dream I remembered as soon as I woke up. It had to be done fast, immediately, or all traces would be forgotten. At first, I would not remember much, but the more I wrote the more I would remember, until, after a few months, I was remembering several dreams a night, in considerable detail. And, as I wrote them down, their symbolic meanings often became apparent to me. I still remember them, in detail, after 40 years! It was a wonderful record of insights into my subconscious mind, and cheaper than therapy!

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    • I did the same thing in college, but it didn’t last long. I thought I’d get some great writing ideas from my dreams. That was the year I made my first “C” ever—in creative writing. (Although, to be honest, I think it was because I spent all my time fretting over my super difficult math course, assuming I’d do fine in writing.)

      I still remember those dreams too. The odd thing was that they started getting more vivid when I decided to write them down. It was like a part of my subconscious mind was trying to keep things interesting, mining for material.

      As far as therapy goes, I don’t think I got much from my dreams. In fact, mine started getting scary. Not nightmare-scary, but more like creepy. Like I’d dream of looking at the alarm clock and seeing it say “7:24” and wake up and see my alarm clock say “7:25”. That’s about when I called it quits on keeping a dream diary.

      This is somewhat off topic, but I just have to ask…you’re British, right? But you just said “diary” the same way we Americans do. I watch a lot of British shows and couldn’t help but notice that Doc Martin calls his planner a “diary,” which led me to wonder what British folks say when they want to refer to a diary…the kind in which teenage girls write their secrets. It’s been one of those things that’s been nagging me for a while now, but I haven’t bothered to look it up. Now it seems like the word “diary” is used in both senses over there?

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