I have revised and condensed a long master’s dissertation on dreams I wrote in ’96 which focuses on the anatomy of the brain, an organ which will not come into the present document. It will form part of another text.
If people had more faith (and therefore more patience) in their potential, they would be constantly drawing upon their dreams as a precious resource in their development. They would certainly rely less on dubious individuals who have the presumption to present themselves as already evolved in these areas of potential, without any true merit. I refer to the seers, dilettantes, visionaries, messiahs and such like, whose sole justification is that they satisfy, whether for money or sheer folly, a rampant demand. The ones who disappoint me are in fact the end consumers, the ones who turn to others for swift and easy ways of overcoming their flagging sense of self-esteem, as I have mentioned elsewhere. At the very least, they forget that experience cannot be transmitted, and neither can effort nor the faculty of understanding. Stupidity, on the other hand, can be passed on by a process of social accumulation.
Like astrology, dreams have irrevocably lost the standing they once enjoyed as a result of the endless Cartesian autopsies performed on them by us which necessarily lose sight of the whole picture. A state consciousness lies somewhere in the alterations which affect the overall uniformity, which itself is difficult to define. On closer examination, we find that that a viable key to interpreting consciousness is behaviour, by which I mean our response to the environment, or, in other words, everything we do. We may also attempt to define behaviour in terms of cerebral activity recorded as differences in potential between two points on the scalp, namely the EEG (or electroencephalogram). This is the expression in electrical terms of the periodic synchronisation of groups of neurons (or nerve cells), which is presumably governed by a cerebral structure called thalamus.
Given a standard expected response, deviations from the standard indicate lesions or diseases. Mysteries abound, and in this case too it is not yet clear whether these electrical waves are epiphenomena (namely expressions that have no impact on cerebral activity) or whether they really do influence cerebral activity. If we take the state of wakefulness as a form of behaviour, we can see that it involves a number of EEG bands, depending on whether it is relaxed, with eyes closed, etc.. The alpha voltage, or pattern, corresponds to an oscillation within this state between 8 and 12 hertz, which is the widest range on the back of the head. Note: remember that the exchange of electrical impulses enables the brain to function. The electrical impulse produces a magnetic field and its frequency is measured in hertz (which is the number of oscillations per second). The frequency in the brain varies between 1 and 30 hertz. Cerebral waves are divided into: BETA (13-30 hertz), which are characteristic of a state of alertness, vigilance, readiness; they are linked to logical thinking, fear, anger, restlessness. Unfortunately, they are “normally” dominant. ALFA (8-12 hertz), which represent the balance between body and mind, as well as integration between right and left sides of the brain; THETA (4-7 hertz), which represent a deeper balance between sympathetic and parasympathetic. They increase during the relaxation that precedes sleep, meditation, etc.. In particular, Schumann waves (7.83 hertz) influence and derive from the body’s regenerative processes. In infants, theta waves are more prominent than beta waves. Hence the fact that adults are mostly denied the depth of reality experienced by children. DELTA (0.5-3 hertz) in deep sleep, rarely when awake. They are not present during the REM phase, of which more will be said later. However, it is in this phase that cellular regeneration takes place and the immune system and hormonal balance are regulated. Despite the fact that humans spend on average one third of their lives sleeping, little is known about the function of sleep. It is an active process, and therefore I would call it a special kind of wakefulness. The EEG does not change much during sleep. From sleepiness to deep sleep the waves become gradually slower, with interruptions at certain intervals by what is sometimes called paradoxical sleep, in which the state is similar to that of wakefulness, and the subject is therefore considered to be awake. In slow-wave sleep there is still residual muscle tension, as well as cardiovascular and respiratory activity, and the changes are slight. The sleeping subject is easy to wake and almost never speaks of having dreamed; at most, it is “thoughts” rather than dreams, namely an altered state of wakefulness with little motor activity. Things are different in paradoxical sleep, or REM (sleep with rapid eye-movement behind the closed eyelids). Muscle tone is inhibited and breathing, heartbeat and blood pressure can vary up or down. Approximately 85% of the time, the sleeping subject, if woken, will speak of having dreamed. These states in two different types of sleep follow regular cycles every 30-90 minutes (slow waves), with REM phases of 10-15 minutes. From this it can be seen that in ten hours of sleep we have eight hours of slow-wave sleep and two hours of REM sleep. If we eliminate this phase of sleep for given periods of time, we find that paradoxical sleep tends to remain constant because we make up for it with longer REM phases and reduced short-wave sleep.
What is the purpose of sleep? After what we have said, the answer would seem to be straightforward: to dream. But this raises another question: what is the purpose of dreams? And here we are stuck. The functional value of sleep, which to the layman appears to be that of resting, is not borne out by a number of facts. Firstly, the brain gets no rest whatsoever during sleep; on the contrary, during the REM phase there are areas of the brain that are more active than during waking hours. Furthermore, neither cerebral circulation nor the consumption of oxygen (the brain needs approximately one hundred grams of sugar per day in order to function, and oxygen is needed to burn it) are reduced during sleep. It is, however, true that some groups of nerve cells slow down considerably when we sleep. Researchers have found that certain parts of the brain are “offline” when dreaming, whereas others have “high-speed access”. PET studies show that two areas of the brain are highly active during REM sleep, namely the limbic and paralimbic systems. These include the amigdala, the hippocampus, the parahippocampal cortex, the cingulate gyrus and the medial prefrontal cortex. The limbic system regulates emotional experience, emotional behaviour and the conversion of emotions into physiology (Hoss, Dream Language). In other words, a process of reorganisation takes place which appears to be linked to the reordering of the memory and learning “files”. So-called consciousness is the result of an interplay between three systems of cerebral cells which form part of the ascending reticular formation (ARF). This is located in the brain stem and receives information from: 1) the regions of the cerebrum (cerebral cortex, limbic system, basal ganglia); 2) the spinal chord; 3) the cerebellum. Received information determines the information that is transmitted to the spinal chord, the cerebellum and the cerebral cortex. The ARF affects practically the entire central nervous system and is influenced by it. Muscular, respiratory and cardiovascular activity, as well as an enormous mass of information, depend on it, and this is not the place to go into it. Suffice it to say that the ARF can be activated in many ways (light, touch, sounds) to waken the brain. The system’s sensitivity is selective (a soldier in war) and selection depends on habit (the sound of the sea after a few days), where one becomes habituated through constant stimulation, but a variation within the stimulus we are habituated to leads to wakefulness (dishabituation).
Many drugs, such as anaesthetics, inhibit or slow the input to the ARF. As with everything else, here too there is bipolarism: two groups of neurons called sleep centres antagonise ARF response activity, while playing a part in it. They secrete the chemical mediator serotonin, an inhibitor which induces slow-wave sleep, but also facilitate the induction of REM sleep by the pontine sleep centre. The opposite occurs when the levels of serotonin fall.
I said above that the REM phase remains constant even when we lose sleep. Recovery, however, does not match deprivation, therefore it is not the case that a good sleep can make up for a sleepless night. According to Brenner, the pontine centre is responsible for initiating sleep by increasing the levels of serotonin. He also observed that REM sleep occurs when another neurotransmitter, noradrenaline, is produced in greater quantities by the locus coeruleus, thus inducing states that are similar to wakefulness. REM sleep is interrupted by dopamine (DOPA) and anti-MAOs, which are not against cats, but against monoamino oxidases. The anti-MAOs boost the secretion of noradrenaline so that drugs that increase serotonin increase the percentage of slow-wave sleep, and drugs that increase noradrenaline (e.g. anti-MAOs, antidepressants) abolish the REM phase and preserve to some extent slow-wave sleep. It is worth remembering at this point that dopamine is the precursor to noradrenaline and that excessive levels of dopamine can lead to the inhibition of the transformation process of noradrenaline, resulting in its reduction.
I am prompted by these considerations to warn against falling into the trap of thinking that neurotransmitters are the source of happiness or unhappiness, of a choleric, melancholic or paranoid personality. Chemistry does not produce a mental state, because it too is a product. The internal device designated to maintaining a balance between various polarities is disrupted by the external device. This external device is made up of pain and pleasure, victories and defeats. External pressure is reflected in disruptions to the flow (hypothalamus, limbic system, etc.) of neurohormones in the brain, as occurs in the two aspects of the autonomic nervous system, the sympathetic and parasympathetic. Do you remember, for instance, that desire activates the hormones, whereas its repression turns them into dangerous poison? Every time we resort to chemistry (sometimes justifiably) to correct something, we do so by poisoning information and the processing of data, and furthermore we “cure” effects, not causes; what’s more, in the vast majority of cases, the remedy will prove worse than the disorder. But it is normal that altering and controlling functions should placate human beings and “science”, the depositary of control, as both are terrified of a natural way of functioning. In order better to understand what follows, we must return briefly to the EEG. Simply put, it can be read in terms of height, speed and form. The height, or amplitude, of a wave is measured in volts and described as being of low or high voltage. The speed of a wave is measured in terms of frequency, or cycles per second. There is a relation between voltage and frequency, since the higher the voltage the lower the frequency of a given wave-form. In a state of wakefulness, for instance, voltage is low and frequency is high. If that is the case, we have more or less four different states of sleep, with a gradual increase in voltage from 1 to 4 and lowering of the frequency; in other words, until delta waves become predominant. And this does not take into account REM sleep. REM sleep occurs at stage 1 of the EEG model (low voltage and high frequency), and is characterised by the rapid movement of the eyes. Furthermore, the sharp waves registered on the summit of the cranium are more prominent in non-REM sleep in phase 1, whereas stage 1 in REM sleep frequently includes saw-tooth waves. Practically speaking, during wakefulness we go from 1 to 4, we return to phase 1 and then back to phase 4. Approximately 90 minutes after the first phase 1 we have a REM period of around ten minutes. Generally, the subject does not return to stage 4 following this REM period, but usually goes to stage 3 before the next REM phase occurs, which reoccurs approximately 90 minutes after the first one. The most typical model shows alternation between phase 2 and REM phases at approximately 90-minute intervals. They are initial averages, given that, alongside other factors, REM phases tend to become longer.
Normally in adults the REM phase takes up around 22% of sleeping time. The remaining 78% is divided between 50% in phase 2, 7% in phase 3, 14% in phase 4 and 7% in phase 1 non-REM. Gender makes no difference in this model, but age has a significant impact. A newborn baby spends around 50% of sleeping time in the REM phase. Elsewhere, I have asked: what do babies dream? One cannot dream nothing. What is contained in the memory banks (which by rights might be considered empty) that produces the dreams?
Past lives that are so close to the rebirth? Or simply sense experiences perceived through the uterus and the placenta? This second hypothesis is difficult to accept, since in babies born prematurely (who therefore have less experience inside and outside the uterus) the REM phase reaches 80%. It has been suggested that it serves in the development and activation of the child’s brain. In my view, however, this does nothing to explain the question of content, which must be there. It is the case that a prematurely-born infant requires more adaptation and protection. Criticism of “graphic” content may be countered if we attribute such communication to the bioplasma creating paramagnetic cellular interconnection (Schneider).
Around the fourth year, the REM model becomes approximately that of an adult. Children have a phase four in which the growth hormone is secreted. The average voltage in the overall EEG reduces with age, but not much energy is required to generate electrical activity in the brain. J.A. Hobson says that the brain functions on 20 watts of power, which is what is needed for a fridge light. The REM displays some interesting biological modifications, for instance variations in the volume and composition of urine, as well as in spinal fluid pressure. The EOG, or electrooculogram, also varies. The EOG measures potential differences between retina and cornea during eye movements in the REM phase. Generally speaking, in people born blind there is no EOG activity. Other changes, which I will not go into here, have to do with the EMG (electromyogram). Breathing and EEG show an increase, whereas emotions experienced during sleep understandably lead to variations in the autonomic or vegetative nervous system. There are therefore important implications for the health of those who suffer from certain ailments: for example, headaches upon waking resulting from increased cerebral circulation in the REM phase in the case of vascular cephalgia. Further: during the REM phase, ulcer sufferers secrete more gastric acidity, asthmatics have more attacks, those with cardiac disturbances have greater numbers of angina or arrhythmia attacks.
In 1965, the first ever detailed study on male erection during sleep was published. A device an atrocious simulation of a vagina which was later replaced by an even more horrendous mercury-based vagina, was placed around the base of the penis. I personally believe that the guiding principle was “eye that doesn’t see penis doesn’t feel”. But it was found that there was some form of erection in 95% of the REM periods in young adults (60% full, 35% partial), hence the reference to “eye that doesn’t see but penis feels”. Other studies concluded that the time spent with an erection amounted to 190 minutes during pre-pubescent years (10-12), declining gradually to a minimum of around 100 minutes at the age of 60-70 years. Between you and me, one hour and forty minutes’ erection per day, every day, as far as I am concerned, is a dream come true! It is all a matter of treating the state of wakefulness with the same degree of wonder, without wasting so much through a lack of awareness. Despite the fact that the ability to have a full erection during the REM phase decreases with age, healthy subjects at 70 still have nocturnal erections. During periods of sexual inactivity, erections are fewer and at longer intervals compared to those who are sexually active. It has been found that subjects suffering from serious ailments such as diabetes or damage to the nervous system have no nocturnal erections. Which is not the case if the impotence is caused by emotional problems. Dreams therefore bypass conscious life, and the above distinction can serve as both a distinguishing and therapeutic criterion. Nocturnal erections are not necessarily linked to erotic dreams, but they can diminish if dreams have anxiogenic or aggressive content. Whereas for males direct observation is straightforward, for females it is impossible. Some of the techniques that have been used have included inserting a photoplethysmograph inside the vagina and deploying clitoral and labial sensors, which recalls body piercing. Cylindrical, mock-phallic probes have also been used. The VPA (vaginal pulse amplitude) yielded a variety of results, which has led to the conclusion that in normal young women there is a marked increase in genital circulation which is comparable to that of men, with the same provisos for ailments. But here, too, in my trivial opinion, very often dreams are unfortunately not transferred over into the waking state.
But the time has come to close the chapter on sleep, to prevent sleep affecting you. The chapter on dreams is far shorter from a neurophysiological viewpoint, and far more uncertain than tangible manifestations such as sleep and its phases.
Tantrics (and they are not alone) say: “The night is the day of the soul.” They say that we all live not one life, but two simultaneously: one is the life of the five senses, and is defined by time and space. The second is a parallel world of free exaltation. “When awake, the body sees with contempt the slumbering senses.” When there, we are between death and rebirth, and we practice dying. There is no distinction between past, present and future. It is the realm of the right side of the brain, and everything is simultaneous. We even have the ability to see through that which is solid (for instance, the naturalist Agassiz) and to bring the information back into the waking world (lottery numbers). And so we have Abraham Lincoln and his accurate premonitory dream about his own death, clearly something he did not want (unlike the dream of my cancer patient, which can be read differently – see The Improbable, The Possible). Such examples, which are multipliable, tell us, better than any abstruse scientific argument, or any one of the many visionaries or charlatans that fill the planet with impotence, that the future does not exist.
In dream yoga, it is important to stay lucid while dreaming in order to bring clarity to the confused multiplicity. Man therefore becomes not only self-creator, but also a self-enlightened guide inside his own creation. Alongside the Tantrics and Tibetans, the Chaldeans, Egyptians, Persian Magi and Greek oracles were all dream masters who were far more capable than we are of using dreams as a tool. But this is outside my domain. The Tantric, after a series of rituals and techniques, adopts the “lion position”, with the head facing North, (on the right side, legs bent and the hands together under the right cheek). Everything must be recorded before the eyes are fully opened. If memory fails, the first thought to occur after waking must be noted down. From a Tantric standpoint, the most important dreams occur around dawn. If a practitioner finds the “trigger”, the dream can be repeated, sometimes in a state of wakefulness. Lastly, the Tibetans see the dream as a trial-run for dying.
There is no modern contradiction for these observations, not even for the millennia-old notion of influence, for example of colours and food on dreams, which was widely known; we now don’t know more, we just know differently. I will explain: interesting studies have been carried out on certain therapeutic or nutritional aspects of food. For instance, we know that barbiturates produce nightmares, but, as they are laboratory-created, they are not natural substances. Vitamin B12 (1000mg before sleeping, to be precise) produces coloured dreams in those who have never experienced them before (they are more frequent in women than in men, however). Zinc, selenium and vitamin B6 are sure to produce more vivid dreams, which makes them easier to remember. In therapy, alongside the clear benefits of such nutrients, I make use of them especially with rigid people “who never dream”, nor don’t remember their dreams. There are also many plants, infusions, extracts, and so on, which have similar functions, but that is a field I haven’t explored. I will mention only milk and bananas, which contain large quantities of tryptophan and aid sleep and dreaming through the sequence tryptophan> serotonin> sleep. Lastly, melatonin, which, although it leads to a deeper sleep than in the REM phase, nevertheless stimulates our onirical world.We were speaking of Tibetans and Tantra. Regarding dreams and their freedom of vibration, I might cite Shakespeare (The Tempest, IV,i,156-157): “We are such stuff/ As dreams are made on; and our little life/ Is rounded with a sleep”. Ultimately, dreams are closer to all that we belong to and contain. Remember? “Everything that exists in the universe exists in man, anything that does not exist in man, exists nowhere”. Questions of past and future make sense only when compared with autistic time and the limitations of the state of wakefulness. Further: “Today is the tomorrow we worried about yesterday” is a well-known saying. After Laplace’s postulate, it would appear perfectly understandable. We are told that the current state of the universe is an effect of its previous state and the cause of its future state. Only a defective knowledge of the present stops us from knowing the future: if we knew everything, the future would cease to exist. But if we contain everything and belong to everything, we are everything, and it is easy to argue (at this level) that it is pointless to set obstacles or limits which cease to exist once we make our assertion. Hence, the world of dreams is as follows: extension and liberation of human possibilities. The utmost synthesis is in the emerald tablet of Hermes Trismegistus, which we have mentioned before, with its 15 propositions, the second of which begins with: “That which is below is as that which is above, and that which is above is as that which is below, to perform the miracles of the one thing.” The emerald tablet summarises all that is, or has been, accessible to man. Trismegistus was one of those who attempted to touch the outer limits of imperfection. He did not die of disappointment like Prof. Calligaris, nor was he lynched by his contemporaries like Reich, but only because the ancients knew somewhat more about “science” than we do, and they had more faith in those who walked one step ahead of everyone else.
More on dreams later.