The Neuroscience of Consciousness and Dreams Part I – We Inhabit the Shifting Trance States of Consciousness Twenty Four Hours a Day. Everything is Synthetic Illusion Created by the Brain.



With some difficulty, Eddie finally got to sleep that night. That is to say, he left his waking state with its beta brain waves. He did have some difficulty relaxing and allowing in alpha waves. Eddie finally shifted trance states into stage 1 sleep with its theta waves. Then he went to stage 2, where sleep spindles and K complexes appeared. Then he moved into stage 3 with its delta waves and gradually into stage 4 with increased delta waves. Then Eddie went back to stage 3, back to stage 2, and then on to REM sleep. This cycle—1, 2, 3, 4, 3, 2, REM—was repeated every ninety minutes all night long (REM sleep substituted for stage 1). As the cycles repeated, REM sleep got longer, and sleep stages 3 and 4 got shorter and shorter, and in the later cycles, they disappeared. Eventually, Eddie woke up; that is, he left the sleeping trance states and switched back to the beta brain waves of the waking trance state. And on and on he went, through the daily cycle.

Since REM sleep is a trance state, we need to consider the nature of trance states. A trance state is a frame of consciousness within which we see an alive world. When we shift trance states, we enter a different world of consciousness. An ordinary example of trance shifting happens when we go to the movies. We go to a movie theater, park our car, wait in line, get our popcorn, and find a seat. Then the lights go down, and a movie is projected on the screen. This is when we shift from our regular waking trance to a movie trance. As an art trance, a movie is a partial trance, where you still partially inhabit your regular consciousness. You are aware that you are in your seat, eating popcorn, and hoping there’s no gum on your shoe. Meanwhile, you vicariously live the adventures on the screen. Although a movie is art and not real life, the feeling experience of the movie is real. As a representational illusion, it is “art-ifice.” If it’s a horror movie, you feel fear; with a comedy, you laugh; with a sad movie, you cry. When the movie is over, you shift trance states back to “real life.” Sometimes, you may inhabit the feeling of the movie for hours after the movie ends. In this case, the trance shift back to regular consciousness is blurred, and you remain partially absorbed in the movie world you have just experienced. All art forms operate similarly. For example, when you see a painting, you become immersed in a partial visual trance and experience the human story as depicted by the art-ifice of the artist through symbolic forms on a canvas.

A dream is the experiential illusion of a world within the REM trance. The REM dream trance operates similarly to an art trance, with two important differences. A dream is not a two-dimensional art form like a painting but a kind of three-dimensional holographic movie with alive feeling. And the REM trance is a total trance state, not a partial art trance, where there is no awareness of being in a trance at all. While dreaming, there is no awareness of waking reality. There is no awareness outside its frame. Nothing else exists. As a full trance of consciousness, the dream experience just seems real and regular life. In a total trance state, there is an intact boundary frame, with no perspective outside of it. The drawings of M. C. Escher illuminate this phenomenon. He draws fish moving in one direction and birds going in the other. If you focus on the fish, you see fish in the foreground. The birds constitute the background frame. They, as background, cannot be seen. Likewise, if you focus on the birds, you see birds in the foreground. And the fish now constitute the background frame, and they cannot be seen. You cannot see the birds and the fish at the same time. In other words, a figure seen in the foreground is only seen within the boundary of the background frame. Escher’s use of the visual art-ifice of background and foreground frames operates like two total trance frames. Waking and REM sleep are full and separate trances of consciousness. Each operates as a total frame, within which you see its images. Consciousness in waking life is birds, and consciousness in dreams is fish. You cannot see birds and fish at the same time. Within each trance state, there is no awareness that the other even exists.

The Neuroscience of Consciousness Part II will address Communication Between People through Symbolic codes.

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