Dream To Forget

As a second-year medical student, in the neuroscience course, I was assigned an article by Francis Crick and Graeme Mitchison, entitled The Function of Dream Sleep. If I recall correctly, the premise of their theory was that the function of REM sleep is to forget spurious memories, to make room for more relevant memories. If they’re right, then it follows that one shouldn’t try to remember their dreams. (Unfortunately, trying to remember your dreams and recording them in a dream journal is an important tool for achieving lucid dreaming.)

This morning in Science Daily there’s an article about daydreaming to forget. In this article, daydreaming seems to be presented as “mind wandering”; this seems to me to be the result of losing one’s mental vigilance and being distracted, rather than the result of a conscious decision to fantasize. I wonder whether the authors of the 2010 paper referenced the 1983 paper by Crick and Mitchison, and I wonder how the two theories — REM sleep causing forgetting, daydreaming causing forgetting — relate to one another. I’ll have to obtain the paper and find out.

If you like the topic of dreams, I’d suggest you see the movie Inception!


Coraline (2009)

For B.O.

Yesterday, I got around to seeing the movie Coraline. I thought I had gotten tickets to a “regular” version of the show, but was pleasantly surprised to see a 3D version. (I now suspect that only a 3D version was released to the theaters.) Here are some thoughts (warning: SPOILERS below).

  1. Entering a dream world, or at least an alternative world, is a common theme in Mr. Gaiman’s work. The most obvious example (to me) is his Sandman series, which focuses on a god-like being, Morpheus, who rules the Dream World. Other examples are Stardust, American Gods, and Neverwhere.

    As some of you might know, I’m interested in the topic of dreams, especially lucid dreams. From his writing, I suspect that Mr. Gaiman knows what lucid dreams are, and that he may have even experienced them personally.

  2. Names are important to Mr. Gaiman, and he often chooses them carefully. Sometimes they symbolize something, and sometimes they’re puns. One memorable one for me (SPOILER ALERT) was in American Gods: there was a character there named “Low Key” who seemed to be just a regular guy, but turns out to be the god Loki. Or how about the character Ms. Lupescu in The Graveyard Book, who turns out to be a werewolf?

    In this case, I started wondering about the name Coraline. It looks like it means having to do with or being made of coral. But I’m not sure how that fits in with the movie. Maybe the transposition of the letters “a” and “o” from the more common name Caroline signifies something? Maybe it somehow symbolizes the character’s transposition between the real world and the Other World?

  3. There seemed to be only one way to get into Other Mother’s world: through the strangely organic-looking tunnel behind the secret door. Curiously, there seemed to be two ways to get out. The obvious way was to go back out the way you came in, through the tunnel. But Coraline seemed to be able to return to the “real” world simply by going to sleep and then waking up — at least for her first two visits to Other Mother’s world.

    As an aside, the organic-looking tunnel was reminiscent of a similar tunnel in Poltergeist (1982): in Carol Anne’s closet, an organic-looking tunnel appeared, that led into the maws of Hell! (A serpentine tongue came out and grabbed the little girl and dragged her in!)

  4. There’s an old admonishment about being careful what you wish for, because you might get it. It seems pertinent to this movie, because Coraline was offered the choice of having what appeared to her to be a better world than her “real” one. Of course, it was actually a bad deal, because she would have become Other Mother’s prisoner!

    Another movie I saw recently, Fanny (1961; saw it on DVD) had a similar situation, where a brash young man desirous of a life of adventure leaves behind his childhood sweetheart, the love of his life, to become a sailor. Unfortunately he finds that traveling the world as a sailor isn’t as romantic as he had thought it would be, and returns home. Only to find that, in his absence, his girlfriend had gotten married an older man.

  5. There was one part in the movie that I didn’t quite understand. At one point, Coraline wanted to open the door to get to the Other world, but her mother had locked the door and hidden the key. All of the sudden, she seems to know where the key is hidden, and goes directly to it — she grabs a chair, stands on it, and lifts the key off a hook high above a door. How did she know where to find the key?
  6. I wonder whether Other Mother could’ve won over Coraline with a subtler strategy. If she had simply been patient and kind, and kept serving delicious food, maybe Coraline would have chosen to stay in the Other World, without any coercion. Cf. Aesop’s fable about The North Wind and the Sun.
Published in: on 24 March 2009 at 10:35 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Mango Goose (Dream, 02/04/09)

I dreamt last night, of the old family house. The dream seemed to have three “scenes,” so I was tempted to count them as separate dreams, and indeed I list the three “scenes” separately below. But I believe they were actually just one rambling dream.

Unfortunately, at no point did I achieve lucidity.

1. The Balky Lamp. I was in my old bedroom, back in the old family house. It was dark, so I tried to turn on my lamp but it wouldn’t light. I peered out the venetian blinds and could see a light coming from some source, perhaps a street light. I returned to my lamp, and tried it again. This time it turned on.

I’ve read somewhere that electrical devices have a tendency not to work in dreams. I think The Balky Lamp was a good example of the effect. Perhaps if I had had the presence of mind to do a reality test when the lamp wasn’t working, I could have achieved lucidity. It is another example of the Dry-Cleaning Effect: can you train yourself to have the presence of mind to do a reality check whenever an electrical device doesn’t work in your waking life? If so, the next time a balky electrical device appears in your dreams, you might do a reality test, and you might then go lucid!

2. A Walk Around The House.
Here, I exited the front door of the old family house with B.B.; we went to the west face of the house following a curved path that isn’t there in real life. To the east we saw P.H., a child again, riding his bicycle up and down his driveway.

This dream fragment may have come either immediately after The Balky Lamp or immediately after The Mango Goose. I have placed it second in the list because I think that was the order in which it appeared; but I am not certain.

3. The Mango Goose.
I was back in the entry foyer of the old family house, facing towards the door, looking upwards and over my right shoulder. Somehow, I could see straight through the ceiling and perceive a goose on the roof, as if I had X-Ray vision. I saw that the goose had in its beak a string or vine, about 12′ long, from which dangled a fruit like a mango. Somehow, I was able to catch the goose, grabbed it by its neck so it couldn’t bit me, and lifted it up. Although in real life this would surely injure a goose, in the dream somehow I knew that the goose would be okay. I am not sure what happened to the vine and the “mango.”

Small animals that bite occasionally appear in my dreams. I wonder whether I have some hidden phobia.

Published in: on 4 February 2009 at 9:10 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Soul vs. Spirit and the Duality of Consciousness

I once read a very interesting book entitled The Lost Secret of Death: Our Divided Souls and the Afterlife, by Peter Novak. The thesis was that in ancient times, people made a distinction between soul and spirit, but that in modern times we have forgotten the difference. In a nutshell, spirit is a sort of spark or particle of consciousness or life, whereas soul is some sort of psychic capacitor which accumulates one’s thoughts and life experiences, good and bad. According to this system, human beings are made up of three things: a soul, a spirit, and a body.

Mr. Novak claims that if you do a careful reading of the Bible, you’ll find that this subtle distinction is maintained. He also listed many cultures which make the soul-vs-spirit distinction, which I summarize in the table below. I’ve also included in the table parallel distinctions that Mr. Novak makes between two types of ghosts and between two kinds of afterlife.

If I recall correctly, according to some ancient belief systems, if a person’s soul and spirit remained “attached” after death, then that person’s consciousness would survive death. Otherwise, that person’s consciousness would be lost forever. With special training (special prayers to the gods? meditation exercises? mastery of lucid dreaming?), one could increase the chances that one’s soul and spirit would remain attached after death, in which case one’s consciousness would survive in the afterlife.

A disembodied spirit without an associated soul results in a poltergeist; a disembodied soul without an associated spirit results in a haunt. I suppose that a spirit attached to a body without benefit of a soul may result in a Philosophical Zombie; perhaps a soul is required for qualia.

In the November 17, 2008 issue of the New York Times, an article appeared entitled Found: An Ancient Monument to the Soul . In there, the Egyptian distinction between ba and ka is mentioned. So, Mr. Novak wasn’t making it up!

I have also read a book on lucid dreaming (a topic of great interest to me) entitled Stop Sleeping Through Your Dreams: A Guide to Awakening Consciousness During Dream Sleep, written by Charles McPhee (a Princeton alumnus), a.k.a. The Dream Doctor. Mr. McPhee writes:

“When I worked in sleep research at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, I once asked sleep researcher Dr. Wallace Mendelson to define human consciousness for me. Much to my surprise, my existential question did not cause Dr. Mendelson to blink an eye. “Consciousness is easy,” he explained. “Consciousness is a duality. It is the seemingly paradoxical ability of being able to experience sensation and, at the same time, of being able to experience oneself experiencing that sensation.

“When Dr. Mendelson first gave me this definition of consciousness, I was unsure of what I had my hands on. Over the years, however, my appreciation of this definition has grown steadily. It is the best understanding of consciousness I have ever encountered.”

I must admit that I very much like Dr. Mendelson’s definition, too. Sometimes when people are talking about consciousness, I get the impression that they are really talking about one or the other of Dr. Mendelson’s two components of consciousness. I like the recursive aspect of the second component, that of “being able to experience oneself experiencing a sensation.” I believe that Douglas Hofstadter had a similar idea about the underlying etiology of consciousness.

I wonder whether Dr. Mendelson has written anything on consciousness. When I go to PubMed and do a search on

mendelson w [au] AND consciousness [tiab]

I find only this paper.

Another very interesting book that touches upon similar topics is Human Devolution: a Vedic alternative to Darwin’s theory, by Michael Cremo. Deliciously intriguing, and very… unorthodox, shall we say. See this paper to learn more about ancient Sanskrit metaphysical teachings on consciousness. Fascinating!

OK, here’s a table listing the words, ghosts, afterlives, and consciousness components as they relate to soul and spirit. I have added a few of my own ideas.

Ancient Christianity (?) Soul Spirit
Greece Psuche Thumos
Egypt Ba Ka
Israel Nephesh Ruwach
Persia Urvan Daena
Islam Ruh Nafs
India Jiva Atman
China Hun Po
Haiti Bon Ange Ti Bon Ange
Hawaii Uhane Unihipili
Dakota Indians Nagi Niya
Academic Fields of Study Arts and Humanities Science and Engineering
Peter Novak’s descriptions of soul and spirit Subjective, dependent, fertile, emotional, nonverbal, recessive,
passive, responsive, in possession and control of the memory. Emphasizes unity with the external.
Objective, independent, logical, verbal, dominant, active, possessing independent free will. Emphasizes distinction and separateness from the external.
Ghosts Haunts
(stereotypically, a ghost tied to a specific locale, moaning about his past life, and clanking chains like Marley’s Ghost)
(pure motive force, no emotional content, throwing things around)
Afterlife Eternal Bliss or Suffering
(Heaven and Hell; acyclic)
Reincarnation (cyclic)
Split Brain Right Brain Left Brain
Freud Unconscious Mind Conscious Mind
Dr. Wallace Mendelson’s definition of consciousness as a duality. Ability to experience sensation. Ability to experience oneself experiencing sensation.
Dungeons and Dragons Wisdom (clerics) Intelligence (magic users)

It was with great interest that I discovered that many psychic readings of Edgar Cayce (pronounced “kay-see”), “The Sleeping Prophet” (I wonder whether he experienced lucid dreams), have been gathered into a single book entitled Soul and Spirit. Unfortunately, I found it very difficult to make much sense of the readings! They are raw and largely unedited (the editors didn’t want them to be colored by someone else’s interpretations), and are very challenging to read. You can try reading a sample here; maybe you’ll do better than me.

In Plato’s Republic, Socrates states that there are three parts to the “soul”: reason, will, and desire. This isn’t quite the same as the spirit-soul-body triad, but I thought it was interesting enough to mention in this post.

Addendum (07/18/09): I just found a series of articles from 1913 entitled Spirit, Soul, and Flesh, by Ernest D. Burton, published in The American Journal of Theology. Here are the references (if you do not have a JSTOR account, these links may not work):

Spirit, Soul, and Flesh: I. Am J Theol, Vol. 17, No. 4 (Oct., 1913), pp. 563-598.

Spirit, Soul, and Flesh: II. Am J Theol, Vol. 18, No. 1 (Jan., 1914), pp. 59-80.

Spirit, Soul, and Flesh: III. Am J Theol, Vol. 18, No. 3 (Jul., 1914), pp. 395-414.

Spirit, Soul, and Flesh: III. Am J Theol, Vol. 18, No. 4 (Oct., 1914), pp. 571-599 [yes, for some reason ‘III’ was repeated; this was probably an error]

Spirit, Soul, and Flesh: IV. Am J Theol, Vol. 20, No. 3 (Jul., 1916), pp. 390-413.

Spirit, Soul, and Flesh: V. Am J Theol, Vol. 20, No. 4 (Oct., 1916), pp. 563-596