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Wide awake – and yet dreaming

10 Oct

Descartes, philosophy’s great sceptic, asked himself how he could be sure that he was awake. He wrote, «How often do I dream that I am here, in my robe, sitting by the fire, whereas in reality I am lying undressed in bed!» This thought led Descartes to formulate his famous doubts and finally to the sentence «I think, therefore I am». Whether awake or dreaming and whatever else might be «out there», there can be no doubt that I exist. In the meantime, this has also been confirmed by sleep researchers in the meantime. Each individual is his own fixed point of reference. He remains himself whether awake or asleep, although it is never possible to be absolutely sure what he is really doing at any given time.

From a neurophysiological point of view, this puzzle has a simple solution – it is not possible to differentiate completely between wakefulness and dreaming simply because there is no significant difference between the two. The brain does not possess a sleep module. We dream using the same areas of the brain, linked to the same networks as those we use for our everyday experiences in the real world. Our awareness of sleep and dreams is based on the same neuronal processes. The Indian neuroscientist, V. S. Ramachandran states that “we are constantly hallucinating and what we perceive to be true are simply the hallucinations that best fit the current sensual information.”

I had a dream

6 Oct

All around me it’s rocking, booming and cracking. There’s water everywhere and I’m so frightened I feel sick. I’m on board the Titanic and I’m trying to get out of the ship’s hold.

I’ve got a backpack on my back. There’s no one in sight but I hear loud screaming in the distance. In the corner of one of the rooms I suddenly find a man. He stands and looks at me. «Give me your backpack and go through the door behind you».

I frown. «What do you want my backpack for? It’s mine, and everything I own is in there.»

«Give me your rucksack and go through the door behind you,» he repeats.

I don’t give it a moment’s more consideration because my options are severely limited, so I take my backpack off, throw it into the arms of the stranger and go through the door…… and I’m standing in a meadow full of flowers. The sun is shining, the birds are singing. I stand and stare…..and wake up.