Comments on :
This last point is particulary interesting to me. How is it that envisioning one's self in a healthy status during a dream might improve one's actual health? Why can't one envision one's self in a healthy state while awake and get the same effects? This brings out the important point of the strength of the consciousness displayed in dreams. It seems that dreams are reflections of consciousness minus inhibitions. There are no consequences to one's actions displayed during dreams and therefore one's consciousness is left to display itself in its fullest capacity.
LaBerge's study of lucid dreaming is a manipulation of levels of consciousness. His ideas lend to this idea of "levels" and to the idea that our everyday level of consciousness may not be at its utmost level of function and influence. Overall, lucid dreaming poses many questions regarding consciousness. It also makes a lot of assumptions. Testing these assumptions, as laBerge has done with the DreamLight, doesn't seem to have concluded very much except that dreams have the potential to be induced at any time of day. Even this technique seems incomplete therefore leaving any further possibilities in question.
Even though I am convinced that I do not have dreams, I think Horgan's article about lucid dreaming has the potential to lend insight into the mystery of consciousness. Through research such as LaBerge's, our understanding of what is going on in the brain when people dream has increased. Most people would consider dreaming a kind of unconscious phenomenon that can cross over into the conscious world when we wake up and realize what has occurred (I wonder about the statement referring to the recall of dreams being indicative of mental instability...). Apparently, we can sense events and objects in a sleep state just as we can when we are awake and alert. Plus, we do not need to physically move our bodies while sleeping to experience the sense of moving our bodies in a dream. So, there must be something going on inside the brain that we have yet to uncover exactly. The same neuronal pathways can be activated in multiple ways, indicating that perhaps our developed brains are more plastic than researchers currently think.
The statement about dreams vs. reality was somewhat revealing: "we are always constructing 'simulations of reality' out of the firings of neurons." And this applies to both conscious and unconscious experiences. What are the true differences then between what's going on in the brain during the two different states? Is it just a matter of varied neuronal inputs even though the same outputs result? Essentially, maybe we don't have to actually be conscious to feel like we've consciously experienced something. But that doesn't seem to make much sense. A conscious experience should be something real, and not just something that goes on in the brain.
Since we're on the topics of dreams, why can some people remember their dreams while others cannot? Are the best dreams really going to occur after eight or nine hours of sleep? There goes the chance for most college students to experience lucid dreaming...
Dreams have always been thought to reflect on some part of reality. So the idea of lucid dreaming, where the person is awake and conscious of their real surroundings while dreaming, seems very intriguing and brings about several questions. It seems that there is confusion as to whether dreaming is a state of consciousness or unconsciousness. And is lucid dreaming leaning toward the more conscious side of a person's state, since during a lucid dream, one can communicate with the waking world? Another question that comes to mind is that, is the only difference between lucid dreams and day dreaming that lucid dreams occur during REM sleep?
LaBerge claims that lucid dreams have the ability to tap into the mind's creative powers. What differentiates a lucid dream from our imagination? This is suggesting that something in our conscious non-dreaming state inhibits us from our creative side. Another, question which I raise, is how people can accelerate their healing by dreaming of themselves well. This statement is similar to the belief that illness is all in the mind. If the person tries to convince themselves they are better, then maybe they actually do feel well. But there is no hard evidence that convincing yourself you are better will improve your health, so why is lucid dreaming any different?
LaBerge seems to put alot of faith in the power of lucid dreams. He associates it with healing, producing great art and other scholarly work. He also believes that lucid dreaming has the power to benefit people's skills, due to the fact that dreams involve the brain and the body. I definately think that these consequences of dreams need to be further explored in order to make concrete statements. I don't think that I can understand Susan Blackmore's point in that having too many lucid dreams can cause someone to lose the ability to discriminate between dreams and reality. Crick's observation that dreams are a way to shed unimportant details so that the brain doesn't get overloaded seems very practical. The idea that recalling dreams can cause mental instability, doesn't seem to make sense. The brain does have limited memory space, but when it gets "overloaded" with memory, it doesn't have a breakdown, similar to a computer, it just doesn't have the ability to remember things.
I found it very interesting to read that the family of hallucinogens is very chemically close to serotonin and that it binds to serotonin receptors. It's interesting to think that such a complex phenomenon as a hallucination, where things are perceived as an altered reality and not just an incomprehensible mess, can be initially created by a change in chemical transmitters alone. This leads to interesting conclusions about consciousness and the chemical constituents that make it up. If we were to gain an understanding and control of some of the chemicals that control it, than it's possible that many psychological disorders that effect consciousness or have to do with consciousness could be more adequately treated. A more complete understanding of the chemical processes in the brain could also lead to much more accurate models of the brain and it's functioning, including computer based artificial intelligence models of consciousness.
Perhaps the most interesting comment of the paper had to do with the report that users' personalities can change. Personality is one of the qualities that is an integral part of my definition of consciousness. To be conscious is to be aware of self and others and the distinctions between the two. Personality is that psychological distinction. It seems like such a permanant thing and yet for anyone who has worked with brain damaged individuals, it can change drastically after the injury. The fact that these drugs can have the same effect is striking, especially if one considers that these users then return to their previous "personality" after they are off the drug. It is as if they have two personalities in one body (no, I am not going to go into split personalities). Personality also feels like a really personal thing. We like to think that our personality is our own, sort of a psychological fingerprint. However, how original and personal can personality be if it is so readily altered by a chemical?
The subject of altered consciousness is really fascinating. It is so strange to me that you can change things as basic as who you are and how you perceive the world just by popping a pill. Such basic functions feel like they should be impermeable to outside influence. However, if we are going to believe that consciousness is a product of biology, it really isn't that strange.
Sensory stimuli perception and interpretation, thinking, self-awareness, and perception of reality are processes which are generally associated with consciousness. The fact that chemical changes in the brain that are caused by hallucinogenic drugs can alter these processes, seems to suggest an important mediating role for central nervous system chemical and neuronal processes in the experience of consciousness.
Ebbitt goes on to discuss the role of serotonin in the hallucinogenic activity of these drugs. It seems that a great deal of research in this area has shown that hallucinogenic drugs directly effect 5-HT2 serotonin receptors. While the exact mechanisms involved in producing all of the various physical and psychological effects of the drug are probably much more complex, the implication of serotonin is significant in that it contributes to a neurobiological explanation of conscious experience.
In considering this paper and the other presentation papers and discussions, I have come to appreciate the vast array of topics which have implications for the study of consciousness. While many questions about consciousness and its neurobiological basis remain unanswered, I feel that I have at least gained an ability to think about these and other topics in terms of consciousness.
I find it interesting how hallucinogenic drugs have been used through out history as a gateway to understanding or expanding consciousness. I think this is because we are fascinated by the way things which we consider so central to ourselves, like are personalities can be altered so dramatically and so easily. The fact that the hallucinogenic drugs do have an effect on the personality and behavior and appear to have a biological basis to these changes, specifically in the serotonin system, leaves seems to offer two possibilities to consciousness or at least behavior. One possibility is that our “true” personalities are different then the one in which are experienced on an everyday basis. And our everyday personality is produced by filtering and inhibiting aspects of it which we learn to be inappropriate. These filters and inhibitions are controlled by the functioning of different neurological systems within the brain. So when we take hallucinogens perhaps the filtering and inhibition systems of the brain are altered changing what aspect of our personalities we reveal in any given situation, in the same way a damage to the brains motion inhibitors results in the new behavior of trembling for Parkinson’s suffers. (I don’t know how I feel about this hypothesis because it seems way to similar of Freudian ego theory for me) Another possibility is that our personality is our chemistry. This is similar to the 40hz notion that one of the authors in Searle’s book had. In other words who we are is a matter of the relative levels of functioning of different neurological and neurochemical systems at any given time. Unless changed these systems all function in a definite, though perhaps chaotic relationship, which is our personality. The almost infinite number of combination of different systems explains why know two individuals have identical personalities, but since the underlying systems are similar there would be basic personality characteristics. In this situation hallucinogenic drugs alter the chemical signature of our personality and therefore temporarily change who were are. And chronic abuse of these drugs could cause the permanently through the systems out of their baseline relationship resulting in the psychosis experience by some chronic hallucinogen users.
As far as entertainment goes, I found the Vitaliano and Rakovic paper interesting. The entire time I read I kept thinking ìSomeone is putting us onî. I am not quite sure what to say about this article at all. My strongest reaction is that these authors are seeking scientific evidence for so-called phenomena for which there is no evidence. Inter-personal communication, long range transpersonal interactions, etc. seem to me to require proof of existence of first before one seeks explanation for how they work. Gaseous ionic structures in the vicinity of the body? It is interesting that whenever this gaseous substance is referred to a citation is not provided. What evidence is there for this gaseous ionic substance and how do they know it breaks down in an hour? I am still not quite sure what the ìconsciousî neural networks with embedded brainwaves actually refers to. I guess the bottom line is that I have more questions than comments.
I also agree with comments by my colleagues in regard to what is cited as the general definitions of consciousness among varying disciplines. I was unaware of such agreement or such definitions, at least not among biologists in any case. Then again, a citationas to where this information came from was not provided either....
The Hobson and Stickgold was a refreshing leap into science from the Vitaliano and Rokavic paper. As mentioned by others, the paper does provide a nice background of dream states and it is at least clear by what is meant by sleep mentation. Sine reading this, I have been trying to decide whether I think that one is conscious or unconscious when sleeping and I remain divided on the issue. On the one hand, you are unconscious when you sleep because you are not aware of what is going on around you, that is, in your external environment. But then again, a person who is sleeping can be awakened by a noise or by hearing his/her name being called, or hearing their baby crying. One can also awaken if someone throws on a light switch. We also wake up if we are cold or hot or if we are moved (Yes, I know not always....). So apparently some part of us is keeping track of what is going on in the outside world while we are asleep. It makes sense that this should be the case because otherwise, for example, animals would never sleep. It would be very disadvantageous to go to sleep if at the point one is left completely vulnerable and unconscious of the environment. I think oneís senses are probably a bit dulled when in a sound sleep, but I donít think I would call this unconscious.