But sleep itself might contain the antidote to any trend toward impoverishment that its motionlessness imposes.
Infant Mind Richard Restak observes,
months into the pregnancy, eye movements and breathing are linked:
rapid eye movements, combined with irregular, jagged breathing. This pattern
will persist throughout childhood; during periods of eye movements the breathing
becomes irregular and jerky. Dreams disturb the sleep, disturb the breathing
. . . this is our explanation in children and adults. But what can we say
of the fetus? Does it dream as well? [. . . .] Indeed, what could the fetus
be dreaming of? No neuroscientist, unaided by input from some Higher Authority,
could ever begin to answer that question."
Higher authorities aside, the observation suggests that fetal sleep involves more than just dozing; it involves fetal dreams.
REM sleep—the stage named after the rapid
eye movements that accompany dreaming—challenges conventional psychodynamic
explanations of dreaming when
it occurs in fetuses. The prevailing psychodynamic theories describe
dreams as exercises in conflict resolution, wish fulfillment, or the "sifting
through" of mental residues. Such psychological processing in the
mind of a fetus might have little or no significance, if it can be imagined
at all. Another theory explains REM sleep in fetuses without
relying on psychodynamics. This theory proposes that dreaming is not concerned
primarily with psychological processes, but with neurophysiological ones.
In this model dreams have the job of maintaining neural networks, particularly
sensorimotor feedback loops, that are not adequately exercised during
J. Allan Hobson, in The
Dreaming Brain, notes that during dreams the brain's visual and
motor cortices are as active as they are during waking, although input
from the eyes and output to the muscles are blocked. The high levels
of neural activity, "are just what one would want if one function
of REM sleep were actively to maintain basic circuits of the brain," Hobson
"Since our daytime repertoires are not always comprehensive in calling
forth a complete set of neural actions, these circuits might otherwise
suffer through disuse." Research
conducted in 2011 substantiates this insight. Using brain-imaging
technology, researchers at the Max Planck
Institute of Psychiatry in Munich, the Charité hospital in Berlin
and the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences
in Leipzig determined
that actions performed in dreams activate the same brain circuits that
are active when those actions are performed awake. The dreaming
brain simulates inputs and outputs to exercise sensorimotor feedback
the sensory vividness of the dream world and its ability to call forth
tireless, though virtual, activity.
Lucid dreaming in the news
has the potential to mitigate the neurological impoverishments of sleep,
then native extraterrestrials should have little to worry about in the
way of sleep-induced neurological impoverishment.
juvenilized brains will be adept at dreaming. A typical
three-month-old infant spends about 40 percent of its sleeping time in
the REM state, in contrast to an adult brain, which spends only about
20 percent of its sleep time in REM. Neurological neoteny in weightlessness promises to deliver to adult extraterrestrials the infantile percentage. But the prospect of spending
a large fraction of one’s life in REM sleep might not be one
that many prospective space settlers would find inviting, given, among other things, the often unsettling tumult of
the dream experience.
But the disorienting buffeting
that dreams serve up can be circumvented. Lucidity
is available to tame the bully. Becoming lucid—aware—during
dreams and taking command of dream events is a skill that can be practiced and mastered.
working at Stanford University, not only has documented the occurrence
of lucid dreaming, but also developed training methods that help
sleepers become lucid in their dreams. The adept lucid dreamer, exercising
intent, can manufacture experiences to order.
method involves equipping the trainee with goggles that signal
him or her with a colored light when the trainee is in the REM phase
of sleep, as determined by an EEG monitor. Using agreed-upon eye movements
as a code, the dreamer can signal back to the outside world about
events that occur in dreams. The EEG monitoring equipment verifies
that the subject remains asleep during the communication.
"The general basic activity of the brain is similar
in a normal dream and in a lucid dream. In a lucid state, however,
the activity in certain areas of the cerebral cortex increases markedly
within seconds. The involved areas of the cerebral cortex are the right
dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, to which commonly the function of self-assessment
is attributed, and the frontopolar regions, which are responsible for
evaluating our own thoughts and feelings. The precuneus is also especially
active, a part of the brain that has long been linked with self-perception."
an attractive pitch: "Lucid dreamers are often overjoyed to discover
that they can seemingly do anything they wish. They have, for instance,
but to declare the law of gravity repealed, and they float. They can visit
the Himalayas and climb to the highest peak without ropes or guides; they
can even explore the solar system without a space suit."
perhaps, it turns out that avid video gamers develop a knack for lucid
dreaming. Researcher Jayne Gackenbach, a psychologist at Grant MacEwan
University in Canada, reports, "If you're spending hours a day in
a virtual reality, if nothing else it's practice. Gamers are used to controlling
their game environments, so that can translate into dreams." Gackenbach's
research on lucid
dreaming proficiency in video gamers is summarized HERE. If today's video games facilitate lucid dreaming,then full-blown virtual realities would have to do much more. The distinction between technological and neurological "realities" might dwindle to insignificance, given sufficiently advanced technology and sufficiently enriched neurology.
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