I’m a PhD student in philosophy of mind and cognitive science at Glasgow University, in Scotland (UK).
I have been researching the topic of dreaming from a scientific perspective for quite a lot of time and I have always been interested in using dream experiences to develop theories of consciousness. In the last years, I have been looking into states of pure awareness and meditation and for my thesis, I’m especially interested in knowing whether we can reach those sort of states during sleep.
What brings me here is my research on the topic to connect with others that might have had more ‘unusual’ type of conscious states during sleep. On a different thread, I posted about a survey that I’m currently conducting to gather more information about the different sort of sleep consciousness that we can have. You can assess it here: https://survey.eu.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_6zBXR8J8cwhxCyp
Parallel to the survey, I’m also conducting phenomenological interviews with individuals that have had instances of awareness devoid of any sort of ‘ordinary’ content during sleep. I believe that this isn’t such an unusual experience and this can also be reached through hypnagogic states or the dissolution of a lucid dream. If you are unsure if you could be a good participant, I recommend you to check out my survey, which might give you a good insight on it!
Welcome, Adriana. Your topic sounds very interesting. Is your research aimed at describing awareness devoid of ordinary content, or might there be an additional aspect of looking into how to cultivate such states?
Hi ArthurG! I’m trying to describe it from a perspective of analytical philosophy. At the same time one of my research questions is really whether we can reach such states, so I guess I can’t really say how to cultivate such states when i)I’m trying to explain them, ii) question whether they can be had But many philosophers think that those states are everywhere! it’s just the essence of consciousness in a way
I think consciousness during dreamless sleep is empirically possible. If you take ‘dreamless sleep’ just to be periods of sleep where we are sleeping but not dreaming, this would include hypnagogia, sleep thinking etc. What I question is whether a truly objectless state, so just pure awareness, can be had and that this can actually be reported. But I challenge all of you to prove me wrong with my survey/interviews It’s very exciting to hear from participants who actually experience stuff very close to the ‘clear light sleep’ and said to be in a state of awareness devoid of anything (although this always include some sort of self-awareness)
For me this is interesting to discuss; I would see the categories a bit differently:
I personally experience phases of hypnogogia and hypnopompia as well as sleep thinking as „activity phases“ which are akin to lucid dreaming. For me the common denominator from an experience-point of view is the focus on mental activity, be it dream imagery, dream thought, dream sounds etc…
This state is experienced as dualistic, i.e. in a lucid dream I have an ego, I relate to objects, etc.
From an experiential point of view this differs greatly from dreamless conscious sleep, which I think happens either very rarely by itself and/or is the fruit of specific meditation practices, such as dzogchen, which lead beyond dualism and make clear light awareness directly available to conscious experience, either during wake or sleep, but experienced in a non-dualstic manner.
Conscious Dreamless sleep only happened once to me - and not within the last month.
My journaled experience as well as the very strong memory of it due to its non-ordinary nature which left a strong impression on me, reflects a short but distinct experience:
During sleep, I experienced a form of luminuous recognition without subject and object. Luminous but without seeing a distinct light source. Objectless, but not pitch black nothingness. Energetic Being. No doing. Being. Awake. Passive, awake and aware.
Similar to the first second of waking up, like the first second of experiencing a sunrise in the early morning, the raw experience just before the mental processing of the experience starts.
A feeling of completeness. Joyful being.
Then habit returned and with it the ego which tried to „grab“ the experience and what was by then established as „I“ fell immediately into unconscious dreamless sleep.
I personally have absolutely no doubt that dreamless conscious sleep is accessible, if the conditions are right.
According to several traditions, it is indeed not unusual to go often through these non-dual states. One could even argue that we all go through them every night (or from every moment to moment, i.e. bardo gaps).
But, we do so without recognizing it, we are unconscious while it is happening.
Like the postman bringing the mail early in the morning while we were sleeping in.
So, a busy untrained mind will miss these states due to its energetically chaotic state of perception.
Thus, effectively, it is in my opinion actually rare that we recognize these states which happen often. At least for us with untrained minds.
Regarding transitioning from lucid dreams to dreamless sleep, some teachers remark the change of perspective as key. I.e. from dualistic engagement with dream phenomena to dropping the focus on dream phenomena, by e.g. closing the dream eyes during lucid dreaming, or certain shamata meditation during lucid dreaming. Thus, the dreamer drops his/her dualistic perceptional activity and transmigrates to non-dualistic experience.
Hi Adriana, while re-listening to Andrew’s interview with Alan B.Wallace I was reminded of this thread here and wanted to bring the interview to your attention, in case you didn’t already know it.
Wallace riffs on several topics, especially around 54:24 minutes into the interview of how dreams emerge from the substrate consciousness and melt back into dreamless (objectless) consciousness.
This is a traditional theoretical model of describing the dynamics of interaction of consciousness and dream phenomena but - and that is compelling in my point of view - it can be consciously observed by meditational aptitude. A theoretical model which can be experimenationally checked by observation.
The only caveat is that the tool for experimentational observation of these mind phenomena lays within the mind itself, which could be seen as a break with the scientific dogma of trying to leave by all means the observing subject/subjectivity out of the equation… quantum physics had to accept the breakage of this dogma: that phenomena cannot be explained without taking the role of the observer into account.
Perhaps you will find this interview interesting. Good success with your study! Interview with B.Alan Wallace