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Where in the mind is the seat of dreaming?

  1. Jun 11, 2016 #1


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    I guess the core of this question comes down to the naive question is the subconscious below the unconscious?

    Let me 'splain by way of personal example.

    My dreams usually contain no real surprises. Like a script I've already read, I often seem to act in dreams as if I have a pretty good idea of what's going to happen. In, say, a fight with a stranger, I sort of know how it's going - I swing at him and miss, and he points his gun at me, but never pulls the trigger. It's like we're play-acting.

    If I'm driving a car, and apply the brakes and start to skid into a river, it's kind of like I'm watching it over my own shoulder.

    Occasionally though, I have a dream where an outcome is like a bolt from the blue, and utterly catches me by surprise.

    The other night, I dreamt I was taken to a doctor by my spouse to get tested for ... something, I didn't know what. I assumed it was something mundane but systemic such as allergies or fatigue or something like that. I let the doctor do all sorts of weird tests - tests that I should have been able at least question if I were thinking clearly, but for some reason, I was mildly sedated for the tests.

    He looked very carefully at several of my scabs, taking samples and stuff, and he took a punch biopsy of my bone.

    I waited for the results, wandering around on my mildly sedate state, eventually flopping to the floor like a drunk person; it was all somewhat silly.

    Then I got hold of a label for one of the things he'd given me. It said, in not so many words, you're being given this because you have CANCER.

    WHAM! Right out the blue. I started wailing inconsolably.

    It was only *after* being given the answer that I recognized the obvious signs: he was looking for lesions and checking bone marrow, etc.

    So, it seems to me that my subconscious knew all along what the dream was about (and dropped obvious hints that I never picked up on), but my unconscious was totally oblivious.

    So, I guess my unconscious is still not in communication with my subconscious. I would have thought my dreaming would have come directly from my subconscious - which would be why - in most of my usual dreams, I am aware what story the dream is telling.
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  3. Jun 12, 2016 #2

    Simon Bridge

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    nobody can answer where in the mind dreams happen since we do not have a solution to the mind body problem.
    as far as the emergent concepts of subconscious etc are concerned, they are models in the abstract and so exist side by side rather than as levels one above the other... except maybe metaphorically in which case it's whatever you like.
    The kind of experience you relate likely highlights an inadequacy in the models.

    neurophysically, dreams happen all over the brain in a state where this activity is disconnected from your body.

    I like Dennet's pandemonium model in "consciousness explained" ... at least it will show you why the question is difficult.
  4. Jun 12, 2016 #3


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    Sorry, my question as not where in the brain, but where in the mind.
    i.e. are dreams created by the unconscious or by the subconscious?
    Are un- and sub- distinct enough to ask that question?
  5. Jun 13, 2016 #4


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    An interesting topic. My background in this is modest, but,... since a professional psychotherapist has not yet answered,...

    IIUC, the distinction between "un-" and "sub-" conscious is a common mistake. See, e.g., this Wiki page, section "The subconscious and psychoanalysis".

    The unconscious is (at least in the Freudian scheme) divided into id and superego, and regarded as the source of dreams. Yet our experience of dreams can be a conscious one. So, when you said "seat" of dreaming, did you mean the source of dreams, or the experience?

    That Wiki page on the unconscious mind also has some interesting remarks about non-Freudian views of dreams. The one about how the neurons fire periodically in the lower brain levels, sending random signals to the cortex, which then tries to make sense of the signals being received by (presumably?) pattern-matching, and synthesizing a dream accordingly. This kinda makes sense to me, since whenever I have dreams of rising water (often violently rising), I wake up merely to realize that I really need to go to the bathroom... o_O I.e., the signals of a bladder-in-discomfort got re-processed into a dream about dangerous water.
  6. Jun 13, 2016 #5


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    I don't think there's an agreed-on definition for either the unconscious or subconscious mind. As far as I can tell from a brief look into the subject, the unconscious mind is a "better" term than subconscious in the context that most research uses the term unconscious, but even then it's hard to say what the distinction is given that both terms have been used in many different ways over the years. Just look at these two articles:


    Since there doesn't appear to be any accepted definition or description of either, I'm not sure you question can be answered with any certainty.
  7. Jun 13, 2016 #6
    In my experience, the terms unconscious and subconscious "mind" have traditionally been used interchangeably in the psychological literature with no really agreed upon operational distinction between the two. If you peruse the split-brain research of Sperry and Gazzaniga and others from a neuropsychological perspective, there is a good deal of evidence that what might instead be called "non-conscious" operations of the brain are carried out in the non-dominant hemisphere, mainly the right hemisphere in right-handed individuals.

    As far as dreams, the idea that they "well up" from the unconscious mind is somewhat of an antiquated notion. The brain is simply in a different operational state during sleep than it is during waking. It goes through cycles where thalamocortical oscillations change the dynamics of the global rhythms of the brain. There are also changes in the way sensory input is processed. What we characterize as a waking, "conscious" state is very much related to the manner in which current incoming sensory stimuli grounds our cognitive processes to a perceived sense of "objective" reality. What you are getting in a dream state is a cognitive apparatus that is operating without this grounding of a polymodal sensory input. The brain during the dream state is relatively shut off from input-output operations. It's pretty much a chaotic event where the sensory environment the subject is behaving in is assembled from stored memories.

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  8. Jun 13, 2016 #7
    If I may kick in, my take-a-way from a lot of the more recent thinking about the brain is how little control the so-called conscious mind has. Sam Harris talks about this in his book Free Will--decisions occur in the brain before we are consciously aware of them. In fact, the part of our minds we are unaware of seems to be 'aware' of much much more than 'we' are (with our presumed awareness)! I would tentatively submit that we could almost swap the terms conscious and unconscious, and consider ourselves as inhabiting the unconscious bit. (See, Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain by David Eagleman and The Believing Brain by Micheal Shermer for some backup vocals on this score.)

    As to the original question, Where in the Mind is the Seat of Dreaming, the field of psychology that I have been exploring lately, Evolutionary Psychology, might posit that all functions of the brain exist in evolved modules that don't need necessarily to have discrete, unique locations in the brain. If you can imagine sleep evolving as a way of staying very, very still (to hide from predators) and use less energy (possibly evolving long, long ago when we were little squirmy things of some description) followed by the need for memory and learning consolidation, which piggybacked on this state of stasis, (because evolution is a great tinkerer).

    The dream state could be more of a protocol that gets activated, more-or-less brain-wide, rather than a little theater nestled somewhere among the folds. Once the bothersome tasks of sensory input/output are suspended, the brain goes about some necessary housekeeping, the most important of which seems to happen mostly, but not exclusively, during REM sleep. Because when we wake up from this phase of the sleep cycle we report 'dreams' we assume we are 'dreaming' during REM, but it is just as possible that, when we wake up from the housekeeping operations going on, we have a buffer full recent impulses that we weave into a dream scenario, which seems to have unfolded in time only because there is no way to conceive of that much information 'all at once.'

    Or not. There are cavernous gaps in my knowledge which I can only hope others will be kind enough to help me span. Happy face.
  9. Jun 13, 2016 #8


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    I have often thought there is a lot of truth to that. That dreams are not nearly as meaningful as we like to think. That meaning is imposed on them by the conscious, like a form of mental pareodelia.

    However, I am sometimes astonished at how often I sleep fiercely - a term I use when I wake up rigid with muscle tension (sleep paralysis) and my dreams have been very loud - like on a rushing roller coaster.

    These kinds of dreams are looooong (days, years) complex and ... artistically cohesive - with foreshadowing, character and plot development, irony, a story arc and a resolution. I wake up and have to pause, I have to take a moment and remember who I am and where I am - I'm on Earth, and it's 2016 and my name is Dave.

    Remember the ST:TNG episode The Inner Light, where Picard is zapped by an alien probe and experiences 40 years of life among their people? When he wakes up, he has to take a moment to remember their names again, like he hasn't seen them in 40 years.

    I've had dreams like that. They are so rich, I race to write them down, but of course, the ideas and images slip from my mind like water through my fingers.
  10. Jun 13, 2016 #9


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    Indeed. The only meaning I've ever gotten out of a dream is, "Get up, you've got to go pee".

    Wow. I've never had a dream like that. Mine are much shorter, with little depth.
  11. Jun 13, 2016 #10
    Actually, I tried not so say that dreams are meaningless, because I don't know that that is true, but I was indeed talking about something like pareidolia. Except here the environment is not throwing up random cues that we mis- or over-interpret, as we might we with potato that looks like Drew Carey or something (as so many potatoes do). Everything going on in dreams is based on our own experience and how we ordered things in the past, so wouldn't it reflect somehow on who we are in some way? Even if they aren't that useful in therapy and such. It does sound like you have some wild dreams! But, you know, descent with variation. That's your unique phenotypical expression of the genome. Gotta love it.
  12. Jun 13, 2016 #11


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    I remember, when I was a very little kid having to pee really bad, somehow, I just happened to be holding a Bugler Tobacco can ...

    You can probably dream up the rest... [COLOR=#black]..[/COLOR] :blushing: [COLOR=#black]...[/COLOR] :oldlaugh:

    And no!... It wasn't ...
    ROFLMAO ... That only happened once ! !
    Last edited: Jun 13, 2016
  13. Jun 13, 2016 #12


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  14. Jun 13, 2016 #13


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    one of my fav episodes ! .. brilliant story

    like Drakkith said, I don't recall dreams that have crossed into a second or more day

    have had a lot of recurrent dreams over the years ...
    sometimes once or twice a year, other times, many years between them ... but even in the dream state, I am recognising that I have had this dream before and always wonder if they are trying to tell me something ?

    The one non-recurrent dream was me playing the keyboard (Synth) and I died ... in the dream I felt myself leave my body and float up some 25-30 yrs later, I'm still here, but my keyboard isn't. I sold it within 6 months of the dream to buy my first decent computer

    It wasn't so much about me literally dying, nor the keyboard for that matter ( as far as I know, it may still be working) ... It was a parting of ways something in my life that wasn't getting the use I planned dying off, so I could move into new things

    I'm a storm chaser, both here in Australia and on trips to the USA

    I have 2 periodic repeating storm related dreams
    1) being chased by intense lightning strikes ... really as tho they are out to get me
    2) chasing the tornadoes and the camera often failing to operate correctly

  15. Jun 13, 2016 #14

    jim mcnamara

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    With regard to 'fierce sleep':

    Volitional control of muscles is not active (turned off) during REM sleep - REM is the time when your brain dreams. If you are startled out of sleep by your alarm or a loud noise, you may feel like you are unable to move voluntarily.

  16. Jun 18, 2016 #15
    If you can remember your dreams, then you technically are concious of it, or? I have in the past done Lucid Dreaming, where I "wake" myself up in my dreams. A few times I have even managed to fall asleep while conscious (aka WILD; Wake Induced Lucid Dream), and wow feeling your body going into sleep paralysis mode is very scary! Suddenly I can't move my body anymore and hear a weird sound like my ears have been shut off, then I feel myself "fall/rise" out of my physical body. To wake yourself up in dreams, you can have certain "dream signs" that trigger your awareness that it is a dream. For me it is looking at my phone to see the (digital) time, since it is something I do quite often through out a normal day. In my dream I never am able to see the actual numbers, only weird symbols. The moment I see symbols its like a light switches on that "I am dreaming" and I instanly "wake up" consciously into my dream and it feels completely real! After getting the hang of Lucid Dreaming, I eventually managed to "fly" around in my dreams, but I had to trick myself into believing I could fly lol. It is all very strange, but there seems to be some consistancy of how to lucid dream, even though the dreams themselves are abstract and not as "concrete" or linear like in real life. I don't want to ramble on though, here is some basic information of Lucid Dreaming at least:


    However, if you actually write down your dreams / keep a dream journal, it will be MUCH easier to become lucid while dreaming. From my own experience, I feel it is that you start becoming more and more aware of certain thought / dream patterns. Most of it I am sure is quite subjective, but there seems to be some similarities in people with dream signs for example (most people see symbols instead of numbers is one) and also the techniques for becoming more lucid in dreams (dream journal, waking up before your normal wake up time (can make you fall back into a dream state very easily))..

    You should definitely try it yourself, if you are able to remember certain parts of your dream already, that means you were lucid at some point to be able to recall it. I know some people that have practiced a lot and can become concious in their dreams almost on demand. Some use it for therapy, everything feels completely real, so you can face your fears (or pleasures haha) if you want. When you wake up you really feel that you have experienced it, like it happened yesterday. It is all very weird, but I've tried it myself many times so I know how it works for "myself", though I would love to know something more concrete about it (something more objective, then simply subjective).
  17. Jun 18, 2016 #16
    Thanks for that. Just for the sake of keeping on the thread, we started with 'where in the mind is the seat of dreaming,' and then played with the notion that dreams are not experienced in some 'real time' way while you are sleeping, but arise when a sort of a buffer of impulses associated with housekeeping operations remains as you wake up, and the 'conscious' mind makes a story out of it, because that's what conscious minds do. Do you think that could still be true, even when taking into account your lucid dream states? I would like to know your perspective, as I don't have quite the same kind of dreams personally.

    And, we should all be taking more care with the word 'conscious,' because no one knows what it is, and every time we say it, somewhere, a kitten dies. :-(
  18. Jun 18, 2016 #17


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    I find that unlikely. This should show up as a sudden burst of activity on an EKG upon awakening as your brain processes everything and you "experience" the dream, but as far as I know that doesn't happen.
  19. Jun 18, 2016 #18
    Very good point! Offers an avenue for evidence against the hypothesis. I'll try to do some research and get back to this thread.
  20. Jun 18, 2016 #19


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    Drakkith is right as usual. Researchers have done experiments on sleeping subjects, waking them up at certain points in their REM cycles, Their studies seem to indicate that, not only do dreams happen in realtime, but that their pace is appoximately the same as reality. For example, a dream in which the subject takes subjectively ten seconds to walk the length of a hallway, also seems to take about ten seconds objectively.
  21. Jun 19, 2016 #20


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    That surprises me. How is that measured reliably?
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