Closer To Truth: Sleep And Dreams |

There is an ongoing PBS TV series (also several books and also a website) called "Closer To Truth". It is hosted by neuroscientist Robert Lawrence Kuhn. He's featured in one-on-one interviews and panel discussions with the cream of the cream of today's cosmologists, physicists, philosophers, theologists, psychologists, etc. on all of the Big Questions surrounding a trilogy of broad topics – Cosmos; Consciousness; Meaning. The trilogy collectively deal with reality, space and time, mind and consciousness, aliens, theology and on and on and on. Here are a few of my comments on one of the general topics covered, subjects dealing with sleep and dreams.

Why Sleep?

We sleep, we dream, we are conscious. However, that severely makes us unique. To the best of my knowledge all mammals sleep, presumably dream (I'm sure my cats dream), and are conscious or have a state of awareness. The same might even apply to birds and even reptiles, sometimes amphibians. However, there is a point where something living requires sleep yet usually does not dream and is not conscious? Probably not since being conscious means being aware and all living things must of necessity be aware of their surroundings and the state of their own being and take appropriate actions, or invoke appropriate responses, as required. That does not mean that they dream, although knowing that for certain is a difficult ask. Or, are there living things which do not sleep, like sharks, which have consciousness. I've got to answer "yes" since a shark is a living thing are needs to be aware of what's going on externally (is there prey around) and internally (am I hungry). Any, all living things are conscious yet all living things do not sleep. Do jellyfish or sponges sleep? Micro-organizations do not sleep to the best of my knowledge yet have to have an awareness of their surroundings. In fact one could argue that we do not actually sleep since all of the cells in our body do not sleep. Our body cells are busy little cells while we saw logs. One could argue that we are not an individual organism but a colony of billions of (micro) organizations. Anyways, the bottom line seems to be that sleeping (and dreaming) are not going to tell us squat about consciousness. As to why sleep, assuming we really sleep given the parts of our sum do not sleep, well sleep might just be one of those mysteries that make life, or at least life that sleeps, interesting.

Secrets of Sleep 1

Okay, on average more likely as not you got some sleep within the past 24 hours. The question is, what actually part of you was sleep? It was clearly not your heart. It was clearly not your lungs, or your kids or your digestive system. Your organ systems have to keep functioning. Now in fact you are not a single organism, or even a collection of organ systems, but a colony of organizations which we call cells. Now clearly none of your cells were sleep at the switch when you were sleep. All of your body's cells are required to be on the job 24/7/52. So if no part of your cellular structure sleeps, again I ask what part of you actually sleeps when you sleep. And what might this say about your ultimate reality?

Secrets of Sleep 2

I had a correspondent comment to me about the hypothesis that sleep could be an illusion. They said: "What is the bit of us which sleeps, it can only be our awareness; nothing physical.

However that makes absolutely no sense at all! How can nothing physical under a physical transformation (from awareness to non-awareness), as in going to sleep? It's like saying that mathematics goes to sleep or beauty goes to sleep or time goes to sleep or Wednesday goes to sleep. How can a non-physical part of you know when to shut down without any connection to the material you? Does it operate independently of the physical you? There is no unexpected non-physical part of you. Your awareness is not a nebulous nothing but has to be absolutely grounded around physics and chemistry and the biochemistry in and of your cells, especially your brain cells.

You are aware that you are reading this right now. Why? Light from the screen enters your eye and gets converted to electrical impulses and via the optic nerve gets carried to, and interpreted by your brain. You can not have awareness therefore without the physics; chemistry and biochemistry all at work inside of you, therefore inside of your cells which are apparently active 24/7. That sensory awareness apparatus is not just for external stimuli (like light) but for internal stimuli (as in I've got a headache) which also includes all of what is conscious inside your mind (I think I'd better get dinner ready ).

It would appear there that it must be your sensory apparatus, your awareness apparatus, that sort of shuts down when you go to sleep, but not to the tune of 100% – that's not good survival strategy therefore a physical process like a very loud noise can jolt you into an awakened state again. So are we saying that all your sensory organs are 100% functional yet some in reduced awareness mode? How that can be achieved, and in literal seconds in that wake-asleep transition, eludes me.

So again, what part of you, what physical part of you, is actually sleep?

I sort of feel like the character in the movie "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" when he's building that sculpture of the Devil's Tower but does not know why. "This means something. This is important." he says, but he does not know what. Well this sleep puzzlement means something too, it is important, but I have not figured it out yet.

Sleeping is a strange thing indeed.

Secrets of Sleep 3

Here are a further set of thoughts on or about sleep.

The sleep process is decidedly a physiochemical one. There's nothing nebulous or non-physical about it. The proof of that pudding is that if you ingest too much alcohol, you end up sleeping it off. If you eat a large meal, you tend to get sleepy. You can take course sleeping pills in order to fall sleep. If you want to prevent falling asleep there are drugs to assist you, like caffeine. Then too, you can just take a cold shower. The Internet is full of helpful advice about all of those do's and do not's to do or not to do if you want a good night of sleep.

You may drift off to sleep and gradually wake up, but that transition of awareness to non-awareness, and non-awareness to awareness is near instantaneous, which must put restraints around the actual physical processes at work.

The question keeps organizing, what part of you is sleep when you are sleep? Not only do not your body cells sleep (since they are unicellular organisms in their own right – see below), but most of that which makes up the bulk of you – from tapeworms to the bacteria in your gut and the germs that infect you and that circulate in your blood stream – never sleep either.

The fact that sleep is mysterious is in itself mysterious considering that you spend roughly one-third of your brief existence here on this planet in limbo-land. Other bodily processes are not nearly as mysterious. Eating and digestion is not mysterious. Going to the bathroom is not mysterious. The mechanisms behind your locomotion is not mysterious. Reproduction is not mysterious. The common cold and flu as well as hundreds of other afflictions are not mysterious. Aches and pains are not mysterious. The mechanisms behind the eye and the ear are not mysterious. But sleep is mysterious.

So where in the animal kingdom does sleep begin? Keeping in mind by the way that there's quite a difference between sleep and rest; between being sleep and being dormant. When you're dormant you are just in a state of suspended animation awaiting the return of favorable environmental conditions before you can carry on carrying on. The distinction between sleep and hibernation is not all that clear. Hibernation just seems to be a very long or prolonged period of sleep.

It seems pretty clear that unicellular critters do not sleep. It's hard to imagine even multi-cellular animals like sponges or jellyfish or earthworms and clams as ever being fast sleep. Do the insects saw logs or just rest? Sleep is rather a dangerous thing to do in that you might miss out on a meal that comes swimming or crawling by, or worse yet, you might become a meal while doing so off I imagine that many species do not use the sleep function.

Whatever the dividing line, that line in the sand between those that sleep and those that do not sleep should tell us more about the mystery that is sleep.

Secrets of Sleep 4

Many things are claimed to be illusionary and some things are like optical, auditory, and tactile illusions. Free will is often claimed by some to be illusionary; ditto consciousness. Time is another concept thought to be illusionary. Even your apparently real reality might be an illusion. Clearly your dreams are an illusionary form of reality. Perhaps your sleep is equally illusionary. One can easily imagine a character in a video game retiring at the end of a hard day of fighting off the zombies and going to sleep. But is that character really biologically sleeping? No. Like just about any other facet of reality, software can simulate it, so our reality of sleep might just be an appropriate or virtual reality of sleep if one decided to postulate that we are really video game characters; virtual animals existing (not 'living') in a Simulated (Virtual Reality) Universe.

New Science of Dreaming 1

I have heard it said that why we dream is a highly mysterious facet of our lives. I fail to see what's so mysterious about dreaming and the need for it. Here is my theory. We know from experiments that people placed in sensory isolation tanks go slightly bunkers (that's a medical term!) After a reasonable period of time has elapsed. When all of your sensory apparatus detects nothing – no sight, no sound, no taste, no smell, no touch – for a really intensive period of time serious mental issues can arise. What happens when you go to bed and go to sleep? You experience no sight, no sound, no taste, no smell, and no touch. In sleep, for all practical purposes, you are in a sensory isolation tank. In order to make up for this lack of sensory input, the brain, which never sleeps and is ever active, starts dreaming. Dreaming provides the brain with sensory input. Dreaming negates that eight hours of sleeping sensory isolation as far as the brain is concerned. Now this does not explain what we dream, but it does explain, IMHO, why we dream.

New Science of Dreaming 2

By the way, here is a puzzlement. Why do not you ever remember the very beginning of your dreams? You always seem to come in somewhere in the middle. Another oddity is that that sort of parallels your already really real life. Since you do not have any memory of your conception through birth, and birth through your second or third third year, you kind of pop into your life, a life with memories, somewhere in the 'middle' like in your dreams. Interesting, no?

New Science of Dreaming 3

From the moment we wake up, until the time we go to sleep, our brain gets bombarded with sensory inputs – sight, sound, taste, smell and touch. When we go to sleep however, we're in sensory isolation. Without it's a really loud bang, or super strong odor, or the pet dog jumps on top of you, you sleep soundly through it all. It's not good to be in a sensory isolation tank for eight hours straight, which is what sleep is. So, how does the brain manufacture sensory input? Dreams! Apart from the automatic functions of the brain / nervous system, like breathing, your brain keeps active via dreaming. It's generating images and receiving back those images – busy work if you will.

The reason there because it's hard to recall your dreams, well it's akin to short-term memory. Once awake, once the brain is in forward gear, in high-drive, what was dreamt about is now as negligible as what you had for dinner 101 nights ago.

Source by John Prytz

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