Lucid versus non Lucid Dreaming as a Model
In the last couple of decades, dream research has taken a turn into the field of consciousness. Through lucid dreaming, NREM sleep, REM sleep, and waking states, many dream researchers are attempting to scientifically explore consciousness. When exploring consciousness through the concept of dreams, many researchers believe the general characteristics that constitute primary and secondary consciousness remain intact:
Primary consciousness is a state in which you have no future or past, a state of just being…. no executive ego control in your dreams, no planning, things just happen to you, you just are in a dream. Yet, everything feels real…S_econdary is based on language_, has to do with self-reflection, it has to do with forming abstractions, and that is dependent of language. Only animals with language have secondary consciousness.
There have been studies used to determine what parts of the brain are associated with lucid dreaming, NREM sleep, REM sleep and waking states. The goal of these studies is often to seek physiological correlates of dreaming and apply them in the hopes of understanding relations to consciousness.
Some notable, albeit criticized findings include the functions of the prefrontal cortex that are most relevant to the self-conscious awareness that is lost in sleep, commonly termed as ‘executive’ functions. These include self-observation, planning, prioritizing and decision-making abilities, which are, in turn, based upon more basic cognitive abilities such as attention, working memory, temporal memory and behavioral inhibition. Some experimental data which display differences between the self-awareness experienced in waking and its diminution in dreaming can be explained by deactivation of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex during REM sleep. It has been proposed that deactivation results from a direct inhibition of the dorsolateral prefrontal cortical neurons by acetylcholine, the release of which is enhanced during REM sleep.
Experiments and studies have been taken out to test neural correlations of lucid dreams with consciousness in dream research. Although there are many difficulties in conducting lucid dreaming research (e.g. number of lucid subjects, ‘type’ of lucidity achieved, etc.), there have been studies with significant results.
In one study, researchers sought physiological correlates of lucid dreaming. They showed that the unusual combination of hallucinatory dream activity and wake-like reflective awareness and agentive control experienced in lucid dreams is paralleled by significant changes in electrophysiology. Participants were recorded using 19-channel Electroencephalography (EEG), and 3 achieved lucidity in the experiment. Differences between REM sleep and lucid dreaming were most prominent in the 40-Hz frequency band. The increase in 40-Hz power was especially strong at frontolateral and frontal sites. Their findings include the indication that 40-Hz activity holds a functional role in the modulation of conscious awareness across different conscious states. Furthermore, they termed lucid dreaming as a hybrid state, or that lucidity occurs in a state with features of both REM sleep and waking. In order to move from non-lucid REM sleep dreaming to lucid REM sleep dreaming, there must be a shift in brain activity in the direction of waking. Other well-known contributing scholars involved with lucid dream research and consciousness, yet primarily based in fields such as psychology and philosophy include:
Stephen LaBerge- most known for his lucid dreaming education and facilitation. His technique of signaling to a collaborator monitoring his EEG with agreed-upon eye movements during REM sleep became the first published, scientifically-verified signal from a dreamer’s mind to the outside world.
Thomas Metzinger- known for his correlate of neuroscience and philosophy in understanding consciousness. He is praised for his ability to probe and link fundamental issues between these fields.
Paul Tholey- most known for his research on rare, non-ordinary ego experiences and OBEs that arise with lucid dreaming. He has also studied the cognitive abilities of dream characters in lucid dreams through various experiments.