• Michael McMahon

Lucid Dreaming

Updated: Jan 13

This is about how lucid dreaming could help the philosophy of consciousness. Dreaming can further our understanding of free will compatibilism.

By definition dreams are personal and anecdotal. I can’t fully describe the content of my own lucid dreams to you. This would be in the same way that I can’t accurately explain my qualia of yellow. But obviously you yourself can repeat the experiment in your sleep. Studying dreams is a convenient profession as your work begins when you go to sleep!

From my experience of lucid conscious dreaming I’m truly convinced that dreams aren’t solely poetic or metaphoricaI. I don’t think sleep is just for rest. I guess that were knocked unconscious because there’s actually too much happening during sleep. So it’s not just out of lackadaisical boredom.

The whims of dreams are mental experiments which are being evaluated by the unconscious mind. I contend that dreaming is an inbuilt, systematic process that’s central to how we come to have free will. The you that goes to sleep and the you that wakes up in the morning are discontinuous in time.

When I become conscious in a dream it’s viscerally, palpably apparent to me that I’m physically in an unreal reality that’s in a different location to where I first went to sleep. The visual content is exceptionally intricate, though in a bizarre way. The thought patterns of the unconscious disembodied dream are often intensely strange upon becoming lucid. I then eventually wake up back in my bed. I understand the anarchy only takes place during sleep. Waking reality is normal.

I don’t have lucid dreams on most nights. I just have carefree normal dreams or sometimes perhaps I merely have a good recall of the dream. And even when I become lucid it’s usually only lasts for under a minute. I just see pleasantly strange psychedelic shapes. Subsequently I experience a sensation of going at an immense speed before I open my eyes to see my room again.

But I’m age 25 now and started lucid dreaming 5 or 6 years ago. So in that time there’ve been rare instances where I’d very long-lasting nightmarish lucid dreams. I’d get into bed and go asleep. A short while later I’d be awoken inside the dream. The scenes would often be very morbid. I’m not sure what a suitable verb would be! But I could be floating and seeing creepy objects scattered as far as the eye can see. In one lucid dream my unconscious mind somehow hallucinated what appeared to be a series of vivid explosions. It was painless but it served to jolt me out of the dream. I then woke up as usual. Thankfully I never have too many nightmares. I’m obviously very self-aware that it’s only a dream and not the real world!

I’ve noticed that an ordinary dream that isn’t lucid can still potentially be unsettling. It can be disorienting if you’ve an intense memory of it after you wake up. Luckily this is very rare for me. But an example of such a dream would be where I got lost in a forest. I never became lucid. But when I woke up the recollection of the unnatural contrast between the colour of the vivid green leaves and the dark trunks of the trees left me feeling a bit disconcerted. Even though the dream was completely innocuous, the eerie peculiarity of the sensations could nonetheless throw you off balance.

Nightmares can be scary. But they can be counterintuitively enlightening. The sheer contrast between dreams and reality underscores just how genuinely real the waking world is! So lucid dreams can paradoxically strengthen your resilience to feelings of anxiety. A lucid dream can highlight the fakeness of dreams. If you’re a skeptic who doubts the reality of the world, all you have to do is juxtapose your experience with the surrealness of dreams. It emphasises how much more complex information is in the real world compared to what your unconscious dream can muster.

In this thread I try to reconcile my experience with scientific speculations. I’m not sure how accurate or inaccurate my explanations might turn out to be. But there’s definitely far more to sleep than meets the eye. I think we’re so used to daily routines and getting organised that some people essentially become cognitively closed to the mysterious and psychotic realm of sleep. Consciousness takes a different form in a lucid dream. I can’t control any of the content of what I’m seeing and even the thoughts that occur to me inside the dream are sometimes outside of my control. It’s like we don’t have free will in a dream.

(The nightmarish, hallucinatory ghosts of the uncanny valley stare at you as if to say: “Go back to sleep; you’ve woken up at the wrong time!” Are your dream characters deterministic?)

Dreaming is the physical reification of sarcasm itself. The oneiric self-effacing jokes are always on us. The silliness of some dreams can merely be the unconscious telling us what not to do. The fatigue of sleep acts just like an anaesthetic to dull our awareness during the operation of dreams.

The hard data is that there’s approximately 8 hours between sleep onset and morning that’s utterly unaccounted for. We desert the laws of physics and go AWOL while we’re asleep. The experience is then erased from memory each morning. Afterwards we’re left to ponder where free will comes from.

In the hyperlinked thread I draw parallels between dreaming and encrypting. The visual content of the dream such as dream characters, objects and surroundings all behave like decoys. They can be distracting. The strangeness of it confuses, overwhelms and overrides our customary logical reasoning. Dreams actively faze us into remaining unconscious. The unrealistic dream storyline functions as a deceptive diversion to prevent meta-awareness in the dream.

Could the brain be a type of time machine? The irony is that if cold determinism is true, then there’s nothing scientifically contradictory about jumping into the future. Consequently our feeling of free will would be caused by temporal factors rather than material or spatial coordinate planes. The physical future and the actions of other people would be the same regardless of your location in time. Causal loops would only happen if one in turn travels back in time after already having traveled to the future. It wouldn’t affect the logical consistency of one-way time travel. Other minds exist in timelines that are causally unconnected to your own.

In conclusion, I think sleep is instantaneous in time from the perspective of your own consciousness. Vivid dreaming subjectively slows down this leap through time. So we’re sleeping into the future! Whenever future generations finally solve consciousness and dreams, it will have probably required drastic ideas.

It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.

-Mark Twain

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