How do we know the difference between dreaming and waking life? Dreams seem real while we're immersed in them. So does everyday existence.
When we wake up from a dream, how do we know this isn't still part of the dream? I love Thomas Metzinger's telling of a twice-waking tale in his book, "The Ego Tunnel," which I blogged about before.
But before getting to that... a tale of my own.
Yesterday I sat down in Salem's Court Street Starbucks with a grande Pike Place in one hand and my laptop knapsack in the other. I fired up my MacBook and checked email, listening with half my attention to eight or so guys having a coffee house meeting.
"God" kept floating into my ear canal. Pretty soon it became evident that this was some sort of Christian men's group. The leader asked a new member to speak his mind.
Which had to do with how he was sure that God was giving him messages to do this or that -- join the group was part of it, I believe. He was convinced that these divine signs weren't coincidences. I couldn't follow the details and still peruse my emails.
The men were just a few feet away from me. I was the only other person in that section of the Starbucks store. I felt like an alien visitor to Earth listening to a conversation that would sound freakily weird on my world.
Except, when I got in my car and drove away I started to think about all the weird coffee house conversations that I've had over many years.
I've sat around with friends who believed as I did -- that we were initiated by a guru, God in human form, who now resides within our head in his subtle spiritual form and is going to accompany us through vast mysterious higher realms of consciousness, taking care of our karmas along the way, bringing into our lives exactly what is needed to break the cycle of reincarnations that have kept us being reborn as animals, plants, insects, and god knows what else for countless eons.
Yet I had just been sipping my coffee and typing away on my laptop, feeling a sense of relief (and also, I have to admit, superiority) that now I wasn't enchained by ridiculous dogmas like those Christian guys were.
As if I, or they, have any choice in what we believe. Or not believe. Metzinger writes:
Probably most professional philosophers in the field [of physical underpinnings of actions and of conscious free will] would hold that given your body, the state of your brain, and your specific environment, you could not act differently from the way you're acting now -- that your actions are predetermined, as it were.
...This is a widely shared view: It is, simply, the scientific worldview. The current state of the physical universe always determines the next state of the universe, and your brain is a part of this universe.
Sure, I've been doing some waking up. Not because I stood outside of myself, watching my brain dream religious fantasies, and then turning on some sort of Enlightenment Alarm Clock.
No, I've just been cruising along inside my ego tunnel, as we all are, doing whatever, however, whenever.
I feel more awake now. But how do I know what is "waking"? How does anybody?
Here's Metzinger's story about waking up twice. A lot of food for thought here. (And another blog post, I'm pretty sure.) OBE stands for "out-of-body experience."
"During the night of May 6, 1986, I became consciously aware that I was sleeping and also spiraling out of my physical body, in the typical manner described by Swiss biochemist Ernst Waelti (see chapter 3). Here is my 'case study'.
Standing in front of my bed, I immediately realized that, for the first time in two years, I had entered the OBE state again. The clarity, the same electrified sense of lightness in my double body, made me excited and extremely happy, and I immediately began to experiment.
I moved toward the closed glass door of the second-floor balcony in my parents' house. I touched the door, gently pushing it until I penetrated it and slid out onto the balcony. I flew down into the garden and landed on the lawn, where I moved about in the dim moonlight and looked at things. Again, the whole experience was crystal clear.
When I became afraid of not being able to sustain the condition much longer, I flew back up, somehow returned to my physical body, and awoke with a mixture of great pride and joy. I had not managed to make any verifiable observations, but I had had another OBE, in a clear, cognitively lucid way, fully controlled and without any intermediary blackouts. I sat up, wanting to take notes as long as everything was still fresh, but couldn't find a pencil.
I jumped out of bed and went over to my sister (who slept in the same room), woke her up, and told her, with great excitement, that I had just managed to do it again, that I had just been down in the garden, bouncing around on the lawn a minute ago.
My sister looked at her alarm clock and said, "Man, it's quarter to three! Why did you have to wake me up? Can't this wait until breakfast? Turn out the light and leave me alone!" She turned over and went back to sleep. I was a bit disappointed at this lack of interest.
I also noticed that while fumbling with the alarm clock, she had accidentally set it off. It was beeping away and I hoped it hadn't wakened anybody else. Too late! I could hear someone approaching.
At that moment, I woke up. I was not upstairs in my parents' house in Frankfurt but in my basement room, in the house I shared with four friends about thirty-five kilometers away. It was not quarter to three at night; the sun was shining and I had obviously been taking a short afternoon nap.
For more than five minutes, I sat on the edge of my bed almost frozen, not daring to move. I was unsure how real this situation was. I did not understand what had just happened to me. I didn't dare move, because I was afraid I might wake up again, into yet another ultrarealistic environment.
In dream research, this is a well-known phenomenon called false awakening."
"During the night of May 6, 1986, I became consciously aware that I was sleeping and also spiraling out of my physical body, in the typical manner described by Swiss biochemist Ernst Waelti (see chapter 3)."
---The "consciously aware I was sleeping" and "spiraling out of my physical body" sounds interesting.
---Could you write a comment(copy) the "typical manner" as described by the Swiss biochemist Ernst Waelti in chapter 3?
---Interesting to read more on how One knows they are consciously aware of sleeping.
---In addition, a description of the "spiraling" would be interesting.
Posted by: Roger | April 15, 2009 at 08:21 AM
This has happened to me as well.I've found it better to go to Borders on the days the women's knitting group is there and not the Christian men's group.
Posted by: Dogribb | April 15, 2009 at 04:19 PM
One night, Zhuangzi dreamed of being a butterfly — a happy butterfly, showing off and doing things as he pleased, unaware of being Zhuangzi. Suddenly he awoke, drowsily, Zhuangzi again. And he could not tell whether it was Zhuangzi who had dreamt the butterfly or the butterfly dreaming Zhuangzi. But there must be some difference between them! This is called 'the transformation of things'.
Posted by: George | April 15, 2009 at 05:18 PM
George...nice allusion to a Taoist waking up twice. I've read an interesting interpretation of Chuang Tzu's story. But I can't remember it now. Must be dreaming.
Posted by: Brian | April 15, 2009 at 06:10 PM
Roger, Waelti speaks of..."my body was lying there in some kind of paralysis. Simultaneously, I found I could pull my hands out of my physical hands, as if the latter were just a stiff pair of gloves...I lay down horizontally in the air and floated across the bed, like a swimmer who has pushed himself off the edge of a swimming pool. A delightful feeling of liberation arose within me."
Seemingly "spiraling" describes a process of leaving the body. Metzinger says that in 12.5% of OBE cases this happens through a "head exit." It is abrupt in 47% of the cases; slow in 22%, and gradual to very slow in 16%. There's lots of variation in the out of body experience. I guess spiraling is one way leaving the body can feel.
Posted by: Brian | April 15, 2009 at 10:18 PM
Brian, I have had many of these OBEs over the years and they were very much like what Waelti describes. Also, to me the spiraling was always what seemed to be upward.
On 2 or 3 of my OBEs I also had what he calls double awakenings although I have never thought of them in that way. BTW, I have noted a difference between these OBEs and dreams. Since I also have remembered and recorded many dreams over the years I have come to realize that my dreams are always remembered backwards, like pulling a rope out of a well, while OBEs are remembered forwards from the beginning like in normal conscious remembering.
Perhaps the oddest OBE was when I left my body and drifted or floated out through my roof. In looking down at my house I noticed that while my house looked about the same it had a cupola on it, which my house did not, and there were no cars around, and the street seemed to be just made of dirt, no concrete. Like I was in a place very similar to mine, but not the same.
Posted by: Turnertoons | April 17, 2009 at 01:15 AM
In your OBE's have you come across other "people"?
I read one account of an OBE wherein the person who
had the experience reported seeing "others" but was unable to communicate with these "others".He also reported that they all seemed to be in a zombie like state.He speculated that they where discarded spirit bodies of souls that had evolved
He also spoke about the plasticity of the envirement the OBEr is in.With the need to be very careful with thoughts as they immidiately took some
All interesting stuff for some.
All the best,your rather more earthbound friend
Posted by: Obed | April 17, 2009 at 04:31 AM
Turnertoons and Obed,
Do OBE's occur during meditation or during a sleeping period? Would be interesting to see if there are any similar beginning or initiating OBE conditions.
In addition, are there any mental activities, that One needs to engage in, to bring about an OBE. I'm guessing, mental activity would produce a dream state.
Posted by: Roger | April 17, 2009 at 07:25 AM
I have had no experience of OBE's and what knowledge I have comes from the experiences other people have posted on the internet.They may be associated with the hypnogogic state that proceeds sleep or awakening.
Posted by: Obed | April 17, 2009 at 07:31 AM
Thanks for your reply. Maybe, Tunertoons has some addition information to present.
What initiates an OBE, would be interesting to explore.
Posted by: Roger | April 17, 2009 at 07:37 AM
Obed and Roger,
In my experience with OBEs it was a state that I initiated by spending time before hand relaxing and suggesting to myself that I would in fact do this. However, my success rate was probably no more than about 10%.
Before learning how to meditate my OBEs occurred just as I was going to sleep after spending day time (like Saturday or Sunday afternoon) relaxing and suggesting to myself that I would do this when I went to bed. After initiation into the RS method of meditation occasionally I would have this experience accidently. It was not something I sought and always occurred after meditating for some time (at least an hour or so) - probably just as I was pretty focused and got tired and was falling asleep in meditation.
Once in a while (perhaps 25% of the times) in my OBEs I would see other people. However, I learned not to bother to try and communicate with them because they seemed not to notice me.
To me the most interesting and enjoyable thing about the OBE was the ability to fly around.
Posted by: Turnertoons | April 18, 2009 at 04:09 AM
Thank you.Very interesting.Could you fly through things? Do you still practise the RS meditation?
If I am being over curious,just say and I will shutup.
All the best
Posted by: Obed | April 18, 2009 at 04:38 AM
So where did you learn this over curiousity?
Posted by: Roger | April 18, 2009 at 07:23 AM
Where did I learn over curiousity?
About 55 years ago,when I and my brother used to
look for porno pictures in our parent's bedroom.
All the best
Posted by: Obed | April 18, 2009 at 08:16 AM
lol - sounds like something I might do too.
40 years ago, more like a Playboy magazine fold out, realm of exploration.
Posted by: Roger | April 18, 2009 at 08:26 AM
Nice.Good to have a laugh.
Posted by: Obed | April 18, 2009 at 08:37 AM
Yes, the OBE is very interesting.
So, is the Hypnopompic State, that whch occurs between wakefulness and sleep, a state of mental activity?
Entering the OBE, would this be a non-mental state? If mental activity is occuring, during the OBE, then could one possibly be experiencing a type of hallucination? This could be a concern. At least for me.
What would be interesting, imo, is that no matter what One's mental activity, One could engage in an OBE that is non-conceptual non-mental. This realm would be free of halucinations, however, with an ability to transfer information back to Ones mental realm, for documentation and group discussion.
This would make for some interesting conversation.
Posted by: Roger | April 18, 2009 at 10:48 AM
Obed and Roger,
Yes, I experimented with flying through objects, and found that I could not only move through walls, floors and doors, but could touch or feel things too. I sort of came to the conclusion that I must have some sort of a lighter body that I was using. Perhaps one made up of just a few molecules so that it could easily get through solid materials. In my opinion when in this state I was no different than I am now. Wide awake, alert, able to think and process and make decisions just as I do in a normal everyday waking state.
I no longer seek these experiences as I feel like "yea been there done that, so what?" I do not feel like I am any wiser or that I gained anything from this, except that I have a firm feeling that there is a lot about all of this that I really do not understand and that so far I have not found anyone who seems to have a clue either.
Out of habit I still use the RS method to clear my mind of noise or chatter everyday for short intervals. However, I no longer meditate regularly.
Curiosity is a good thing, but just don't be like the cat.
Posted by: Turnertoons | April 19, 2009 at 02:38 AM