Monday, 21 September 2015

There is no 'I' in dream

Crows in a tree"Now there was going to be trouble. I reached for my phone." This the latest 'voice' reported by my acquaintance (MA) who experiences MWRs (microsleep with REM). MA goes straight into a dream state during microsleep episodes that last just seconds. Being awake before and after means that the dream episode can feel very much like a waking experience. A small proportion of the general population, typically with certain sleep disorders, have such experiences. As I've reported recently, MA often just hears a voice. It does not appear to address MA but is more like an overheard conversation. Since the dream state during MWRs does not appear to be very deep, MA is able to remember what happens, including precise wording, easily. In contrast. MA does not remember ordinary long sleep dreams well.

This latest couple of sentences are extraordinary and here's why. They are in the first person but, though presumably originating in MA's brain, do not 'feel' as though they are MA speaking. Indeed, MA had no phone at the time this latest incident occurred, nor was there any imminent threat of 'trouble'. So it appears that the 'I' in this case was not MA but someone else.

The sentences sound like those of a narrator or protagonist in a novel or movie. Indeed, such short speech fragments are deeply frustrating because MA never finds out what happens next. What was the trouble coming and who was the narrator going to call? We will simply never know. MA has never heard speech fragments that appear to be a continuation of earlier examples.

MA also gets visual MWRs and these have a similar quality. It is as if MA is present at some scene but not involved in it. No one addresses MA. the scene simply unfolds on its own. It is as if MA was an invisible witness at the centre of a movie set where a scene was being filmed. There always seems to be some sort of unknown plot unfolding, driving the action forward. However, the MWRs, whether visual or spoken, do not appear to direct extracts from actual movies that MA has seen.

What is interesting about all this is that the movie-like quality of the MWRs can make them feel very real. Not only that but some of the material seems to be directly taken from actual movies, albeit altered (see here). So it is possible now to see a direct path for someone who has watched a movie about UFOs, for instance, to have a MWR about aliens loosely based on those memories. And if that person was not aware of what MWRs are, they might very well accept the experience as a real alien encounter.

I'm not sure how different MWRs are to long sleep dreaming but they do seem, for MA at least, to follow a quite specific pattern. Maybe this is because the brain experiencing a MWR is not as profoundly asleep as in the long sleep dream. This may be why MWRs usually feel much more real than long sleep dreams and why they may be mistaken for paranormal experiences. MWRs may be playing an unknown movie sequence in someone's heads as if it were real.

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