Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Time distortion less likely during weird experiences

Distorted clockA significant proportion of ghost sightings (as well as other anomalous phenomena) are caused by near sleep experiences, like hypnagogia. In such states, our brains mix dream material with what is going on at the same time in the real world. Some people think that apparent time in dreams can sometimes flow at a different rate to the real world. It is often reported, for instance, that a lengthy dream can be packed into a relatively short time asleep. This may be because dreams are often episodic, showing only 'highlights' of the 'story' they are conveying. But what if time really does flow at a different rate in dreams? Wouldn't that make hypnogogic experiences even weirder, with dream elements moving at a different rate to real ones? It would make ghost sightings feel even odder! But does it happen?

Regular readers will know I have an acquaintance who experiences microsleep with REM (MWR). This is a rare phenomenon that some people (usually those with a sleep disorder) experience where they go into a dream instantly during a microsleep (usually only seconds long). Generally the dream momentarily replaces what is going on around the microsleeper in the real world, a weird experiences in itself and likely to explain some reports of anomalous phenomena. However a recent experience was distinctly different.

My acquaintance went into microsleep, with eyes closed, and a dream took over the entire visual field. However, there was a real world voice heard at the same time, from a nearby radio, and this carried on throughout the dream. However, it was not incorporated into the dream, as real world sensory data often is. It was like being in a cinema watching a film with a fellow audience member talking loudly and continuously! The mixture of dream element with real life sensory input means the experience qualifies as hypnogogic. What is more, my acquaintance was aware that it was a dream at the time, making it lucid as well!

But here's really the interesting bit. The dream element and the real voice both proceeded at a normal speed, together! This would agree with the study done by Stephen LaBerge using lucid dreamers (see here). So, it seems time really does flow normally in ghost sightings, where they are caused by hypnagogia. This probably answers the question I raised in an earlier blog entry (here) where I suggested that apparent time distortion in such experiences might contribute to their 'spooky' feeling.

It is still possible that time is distorted sometimes in dreams. It might be only in hypnagogia, in contrast, that the brain deliberately keeps time from both the dream and sensory sources synchronized to make sense of the overall experience. I guess that seeing a human figure (or alien) that is not physically present is spooky enough for most people.

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