A couple of years ago, I wrote an article for a magazine, titled “Knock Knock”, prompting the editor to ask “Who’s there?” (you can find it on my home page, down the bottom)Who exactly, I replied, well I’m not sure, “There are people in the dream, they walk, talk, share opinions and even seem to have their own agendas. The question is, are they constructs of my own imagination or is there more to it?”
Now, without trying to offer any kind of definition of imagination, let’s take the stance that what I am alluding to is the question of agency, whether or not the apparitions of the dream are sentient in their own right?
Free will is probably the most hotly debated topic in consciousness studies and will likely remain so for some time to come but let us at least, adopt the position that we have the illusion of free will suffice to differentiate ourselves from purposeless computer mechanics.
Armed with a sense of self and an inquiring mind, with which to direct it, does offer us a unique opportunity to explore the dream world and for those of us with the more lucid capabilities, this offers perhaps a unique insight into the human mind.
As an avid lucid dreamer, I am continuously looking for ways to validate our experience with some degree of objectivity but the word subjective just keeps getting thrown at this science, time and time again.
Psychological evaluation eternally suffers from this disposition, yet psychiatric evaluation does not remain a nebulous of ambiguity, certain criteria do indicate specific pathologies, suffice to allow them to be targeted (to some degree) with appropriate medicament.
As a medical practitioner of some degree myself, I do have to have a degree of insight into mental faculties and if in doubt, I could perform what we call a mini mental status exam (MMSE for short). This is a simple test (as opposed to its older brother, the MME or mental status, the system used to diagnose mental illness) that one might use in order to evaluate someone’s basic mental function, i.e. whether the subject is operating with sufficient intellectual insight into their environment to be considered psychologically able or not.
It’s a simple test, just 3 questions to orient your person is all is needed. As an example, I might ask “What is your name? Who is the president of the USA? and What is the capital of France?” or I might try “What is your date if birth? What is the weather like in London today? (or any other locale they inhabit) and What is your door number on your street?” Hopefully, you get the idea here.
OK, the experiment…I wondered, as a means to investigate the dream figures that wandered my dreams, how would they respond to my probing of their sanity, how well would they be oriented?I ventured forth and decided to test…
The results were, to say the least startling… A few years ago, not so far in the past, I had the pleasure of listening to my esteemed colleague, Robbert Waggoner, as he touched among a number of peculiar aspects of lucid dreaming but there was one that stood heads and shoulders above the rest for me…literally…
For those of you who have not read his superb essay “Gateway To The Inner Self”, I suggest you do so… It is an incredible investigation into the world of lucid dreaming that charts some of his more mature voyages, showing an adept ability to explore the wonders of the dreaming mind. Not expressing any particular school of thought or adherence to any particular belief system allows him to tackle matters in a terrifically objective way and one of the stones he un-turns is left as a very intriguing mystery, he refers to them as the “drunken sailors”
Sitting in the lecture theater, not necessarily in anticipation, he finally came to talk about a bizarre incident he encountered several years ago, when he tried to probe a dream figure to alert her to the fact that she was dreaming, something we have all tried (and often failed). On doing so, she seemed to go into a kind of frenzied like response, gazing through him, with her head making a kind of repetitive wiggling motion, hence the term he coined…
I sat there celebrating in the kinship, someone else, without my prompting them had triggered this bizarre response of the “dream figure frenzy” as I have come to term it.
Now, I for one, am careful not to contaminate my experiment with expectation, much as I can avoid it and hence I had not been overly vocal about my findings prior to someone else actually reproducing them before I brought it to public attention and now I had some evidence of a similar situation from a very credible source.
Allow me to summarize my own experience here without swamping you with detail…Dream figures, so far as I can see, tend to behave themselves pretty well in their given environment, whether that be a juggler who happens to throwing balls in the air or a more sophisticated exhibitor, like a friend you know from the waking world engaging you in a conversation but when you apply the MMSE, so far as I can see, they seem to short circuit, that is they tend to seem quite disorganized in their behavior, often exhibiting the dream figure frenzy response!
I had tested this prior to reading Robert’s book (although I didn’t term it until after) a great on a large number of time of respective subjects and really did not expect the results I found. On the contrary, I expected them to “know what I did” as I was still operating what I now regard to be a rather naive materialist model (i.e. the brain contains the mind), I have since abandoned this view.
I am aware that the sharing of my findings on the net does undermine any potential future investigators using the MMSE approach by steering their expectations but I cannot help to feel that the risk is worth it as there may be something more fundamental afoot here. I might compare it to the light switch test of lucid dreaming – we know when you try one (or any other electrical device for that matter), they tend to fail. As to why, we do not know. Some people might “blame the net” for spreading this rumor and fueling the outcome but does that really stand up?
I think not, I know of far too many incidents of people discovering this themselves incidentally. The light switch phenomenon is one which does require a much wider spot light and I do have my own theories about this. Incidentally, I did bring this to Robbert Waggoner’s attention one day as we chatted in my kitchen, he seemed perplexed that we hadn’t really challenged this phenomenon before either….?
My conclusion on the curious incident of the persons in the dream has actually amounted to a metaphor that I would like to share with you in conclusion. Picture this “You are at a murder mystery type night of entertainment, beside you sits someone who has introduced himself as a doctor. One of the guests meets rather unfortunate circumstances during the dinner and dies mysteriously. The doctor reveals that, based on his observation, this may be a case of poisoning…”
In character, you decided to investigate the matter and ask about for any clues, eventually finding yourself engaged with the doctor. He reels off a few lines about his observations but not sufficiently satisfied, you dig a little deeper. As it happens you happen to know a little bit about pharmacology and present some ideas to the doctor only to be met by the abrupt pat on the arm and a rather embarrassed face saying “Sorry, I am not a real doctor as you know, I am just an actor playing the role and don’t really understand your question…”
The dream figure seems to adopt a similar role playing like stance with a kind of looping like behavior model, one which so long as he is allowed to play is very good at it but once you try to break context (MMSE), they seem to short circuit!
I don’t expect everyone of you to have this experience all the time (light switches work occasionally too) but could this “dream figure frenzy” be a repeatable phenomenon of lucid dreaming, one which writes a new and interesting chapter not just in this elusive subject but in our theory of mind at large….