Dystopian Dreaming

Dystopian Dreaming by Kelly BulkeleyWhile sitting in the audience and taking notes during the recent IASD conference in Berkeley, I found myself marking several instances where something the presenter said triggered my dystopian imagination.  I confess to being a long-time fan of science fiction and fantasy stories about frightening future worlds controlled by alien invaders, zombie hordes, inhuman technologies, totalitarian governments, and/or rapacious capitalists (I made a list of some favorites below).  I enjoy these stories as literary nightmares: vivid, emotionally intense simulations of real psycho-cultural threats, looming now and in our collective future.

 

At the IASD conference I realized I could turn this interpretive process inside out.  I began to look at dream research from the genre perspective of dystopian fiction.  What would an uber-villain in such stories find appealing in state-of-the-art dream research?

 

Let me be clear, these are my own shadowy speculations and in no way reflect anything directly said or intended by the presenters!

 

Sleep paralysis induction.  There is now a proven technique for inducing the nightmarish experience of sleep paralysis–that is, causing someone to enter a condition in which their bodies are immobilized but their minds are “awake” and vulnerable to terrifying images, thoughts, and sensations.   I can imagine this technique being put to nefarious use by military intelligence agents, state-controlled psychiatrists, and cybernetic overlords.  The ability to trap a person within a state of sleep paralysis would be a horribly useful tool for anyone bent on total mind control.

 

Transcranial magnetic stimulation.  This technology enables the direct manipulation of neural activity during REM sleep, targeting specific regions of the brain.  If the technology were refined with malevolent purposes in mind, it could potentially disrupt people’s normal dreaming patterns, controlling what they do and don’t dream about.  An evil scientist could thus invent a kind of anti-dream weapon, a magnetic beam aimed at the head of a sleeping person and programmed to stun, control, or destroy.

 

Disrupting PTSD memory formation.  Trauma victims can diminish the symptoms of PTSD if they perform a series of distracting cognitive tasks with six hours of the trauma, thereby disrupting the formation of long-term traumatic memories.  The future militarization of this method seems inevitable.  Anything that alters memory can be used by evil governments to manipulate people against their will, either to do things they don’t want to do (black ops soldiers) or forget things that have been done to them (massacre survivors).

 

Remote monitoring of a person’s sleep.  The Zeo sleep monitoring system (which I’ve used for three years) has now developed a wireless version that instantly relays the user’s sleep data from the headband via a bedside mobile phone to the Zeo database.  This kind of technology opens the door to real-time remote monitoring of people’s sleeping experience, and potentially the ability to reverse the flow of data and influence/shape/guide people while they sleep.  If enough people were linked into the system, it could serve police states as a valuable tool in 24-hour mind-body surveillance.

 

My interest in these morbidly malevolent scenarios is not entirely theoretical.  Over the past few years of developing the Sleep and Dream Database I’ve been thinking of the darker possible applications of this technology, less Star Trek and more Blade Runner.  If it’s true, as most researchers at the IASD are claiming, that dreams are accurate expressions of people’s deepest fears, desires, and motivations, then it’s also true a real potential exists to put that dream-based information to ill use.

 

Projecting even farther forward, I wonder if there might be some kind of future inflection point where the amount of data we gather suddenly reveals much bigger patterns and forms of intelligence than we had previously been able to recognize or scientifically document.  What would happen if this leap of knowledge enabled our collective dreaming selves to somehow unite to challenge the dominance (one might say totalitarian regime) of waking consciousness?

 

I think about all this as I continue building up the SDDb, trying to make good decisions and avoid the nightmare pitfalls.  Dystopian fantasies help me clarify what’s at stake, where the dangers lurk, and how the future may unfold.

 

You may be familiar with Arthur C. Clarke’s 1953 science fiction short story “The Nine Billion Names of God.”  If so, you’ll understand why, as I work on developing new database technologies for dream research, I meditate on the phrase, “The Nine Billion Dreams of God.”

 

 

 

Dystopian Films and TV: Blade Runner, 12 Monkeys, Children of Men, Logan’s Run, The Matrix, Soylent Green, V for Vendetta, Battlestar Galactica, The Prisoner, Gattica, Terminator, Alien, Total Recall, 28 Days

 

Dystopian Novels: The Hunger Games, Fahrenheit 451, Neuromancer, 1984, Brave New World, The Time Machine

 

 

What I Learned at the 2012 IASD Conference

What I Learned at the 2012 IASD Conference by Kelly BulkeleyHere are excerpts from notes I took during the recent conference of the International Association for the Study of Dreams, held in Berkeley, California, June 22-26.  In parentheses I’ve put the names of the people who were presenting or commenting at the time.

 

Jung’s focus on the number 4 is “dangerous” and promises a “seductive wholeness.”  (John Beebe)

 

In electrophysiological terms, as measured by the EEG, lucid dreaming can be described as meditation in sleep. (Jim Pagel)

 

A challenge for lucid dreamers: How to distinguish a failed lucidity technique from a sage warning from the unconscious. (Jeremy Taylor)

 

The pioneering French filmmaker George Meliere drew upon the fantastically creative, compelling illusions of dream experience to create a tradition of visionary cinema that we see today in “The Matrix” and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” (Bernard Welt)

 

In a sample of 170 German school children, those who talk with their parents, siblings, and friends about dreams tend to have higher dream recall, suggesting a positive relationship between dream socialization and recall. (Michael Schredl)

 

People who are high dream recallers seem to have more activity in the brain’s tempero-parietal junction and medial prefrontal cortex, in both waking and sleep conditions.  These brain areas have been associated in waking with mental imagery and mind attributions (theory of mind), respectively. (Jean-Baptiste Eichenlaub, et al.)

 

Sleep laboratory researchers are perfecting a method of awakening a person several times during the night at precise moments in the sleep cycle in order to induce an experience of sleep paralysis. (Elizaveta Solomonova)

 

Neuroscientists are experimenting with the use of transcranial direct current stimulation to directly affect the brain activity underlying dream experiences.  (Katja Valli)

 

Reflective awareness in dreaming can give humans an adaptive edge because in dreams we have the ability to anticipate, explore, and practice possible selves and possible worlds.  This ability can be cultivated through disciplined intentional mental practice.  We can change our brain anatomy simply by using our imaginations.  (Tracey Kahan, quoting Norman Doidge in the last sentence)

 

The “Inception” app is “worth a free download.” (David Kahn)

 

The mantra of the quantified self: If you track it, it improves. (Ryan Hurd)

 

In dream education with adolescents and young adults, the most relevant aspect of dreaming to their waking lives may be relational skills and emotional intelligence, helping them better navigate the complex currents of friendship, romance, and family life. (Phil King and Bernard Welt)

 

Shakespeare Dream Quotes

Shakespeare Dream Quotes by Kelly BulkeleyIn honor of the April 26, 1564 baptism of William Shakespeare and his death on April 23, 1616, I have gathered a few of the best quotes about dreams from characters in his plays.  Let me know if you’ve got other good ones!

 

Prospero: “We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep.”

The Tempest, IV.i.156-158

 

“All days are nights to see till I see thee/And nights bright days when dreams do show me thee.”

Sonnet 43, 13-14

 

Gloucester: “My troublous dreams this night doth make me sad.”

Duchess: “What dreamed my lord? Tell me, and I’ll requite it with sweet rehearsal of my morning’s dream.”

Henry VI, Part II, I.ii.22-24

 

Romeo: “I dreamt a dream tonight.”

Mercutio: “And so did I.”

Romeo: “Well, what was yours?”

Mercutio: “That dreamers often lie.”

Romeo: “In bed asleep, while they do dream things true.”

Mercutio: “Oh, then I see Queen Mab hath been with you.  She is the fairies’ midwife…”

Romeo and Juliet, I.iv.52-58

 

Horatio: “O day and night, but this is wondrous strange!”

Hamlet: “And therefore as a stranger give it welcome.  There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

Hamlet, I.v.164-167

Shakespeare Dream Quotes by Kelly Bulkeley

Hamlet: “To die, to sleep–No more–and by a sleep to say we end the heartache, and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to.  ‘Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished.  To die, to sleep–To sleep–perchance to dream: ay, there’s the rub, for in that sleep of death what dreams may come when we have shuffled off this mortal coil, must give us pause.”

Hamlet, III.i.60-68

 

Puck: “If we shadows have offended, think but this and all is mended, that you have but slumber’d here, while these visions did appear. And this weak and idle theme, no more yielding but a dream.”

Midsummer Night’s Dream, V.i.425-430

 

Here’s a link to the search page for the OpenSource Shakespeare website, where you can type in “dream” and find all references to dreaming in Shakespeare’s works.

 

 

 

 

Dreaming of Nature and the Nature of Dreams

Dreaming of Nature and the Nature of Dreams by Kelly BulkeleyThe First Australian Regional Conference of the International Association for the Study of Dreams starts on April 19, and I have prepared a video talk for the conference titled “Dreaming of Nature and the Nature of Dreams.”  The talk can be found on Youtube, and the statistical data I reference can be found in Google docs.  More info about the IASD and the Australia conference is here.

I start the talk by briefly mentioning some of my early writings about the interplay of dreaming and nature: a 1991 article “Quest for Transformational Experience: Dreams and Environmental Ethics,” my doctoral dissertation/1994 book The Wilderness of Dreams and its notion of “root metaphors,” Herbert Schroeder’s chapter on dreams and natural resource management in my edited 1996 book Among All These Dreamers, the study of politically conservative and liberal people’s dreams and views of the environment in 2008’s American Dreamers, and Dreaming in the World’s Religions, also in 2008, with several stories of the inspirational roles that dreaming play in the nature awareness of indigenous cultures in the Americas, Africa, and Oceania.

The main focus of the talk is the findings I’ve made about the statistical frequency of nature references in dream content, using the word search methods of the Sleep and Dream Database (SDDb).  For this presentation I created a baseline sample of 2087 dream reports of more than 50 words but less than 300 words in length, from a total of 1232 females and 855 males.  The sample includes children, college students, and adults.  All are American and all are educated and/or computer literate.

Using tools on the SDDb that anyone can access, I studied these 2087 dream reports for references to the following categories of nature content: Weather, fire, air, water, earth, flying, falling, and animals.  (Can you guess which of the four classic elements (fire, air, water, earth) appears most often in dreams?  Can you guess which animals appear most frequently?) After laying out my findings I discuss the technological and political issues involved in bringing the insights of dreaming to bear on waking world environmental problems.

About halfway through the talk, our cat Strauss makes an appearance over my right shoulder.  It was a sunny day by Portland, Oregon standards, and the local birds were very active outside my window.  It was hard not to look at what he was looking at!

 

New Issue of the Journal DREAMING

New Issue of the Journal DREAMING by Kelly BulkeleyThe latest issue of Dreaming: Journal of the Association for the Study of Dreams (volume 20, number 4; December 2010) came out recently with several excellent articles.  G. Halliday of Mohican Juvenile Correctional Facility in Perrysville, Ohio, reconsiders the psychoanalyst Wilhelm Stekel’s dream theory in “Reflections on the Meanings of Dreams Prompted by Reading Stekel.”  Don Kuiken, Michelle Chudleigh, and Devon Racher look at the connections between dreaming and EMDR (eye movement desensitization reprocessing) in “Bilateral Eye Movements, Attentional Flexibility and Metaphor Comprehension: The Sustrate of REM Dreaming?”  Michael Schredl of the Central Institute of Mental Health in Mannheim, Germany reports on a study of demographics and interest in dreams in “Reading Books about Dream Interpretation: Gender Differences.”   Calvin Kai-Ching Yu of Hong Kong Shue Yan University continues his investigations of patterns in dream content in “Recurrence of Typical Dreams and the Instinctual and Delusional Predispositions of Dreams.”  Mark Blagrove, Emma Bell, and Amy Wilkinson of Swansea University in Wales, U.K., add new data to the study of lucid dreaming and its psychophysiological correlates in “Association of Lucid Dreaming Frequency with Stroop Task Performance.”  The issue’s final article comes from anthropologist Raymond L.M. Lee of University of Malaya, who considers dreaming as a means of “reenchanting” secular modernity in “Forgotten Fantasies? Modernity, Reenchantment, and Dream Consciousness.” 

The creative diversity of contemporary dream research is well represented by these articles.

Proud to Be a Primate

Proud to Be a Primate by Kelly Bulkeley“Our goodness is as deep as our darkness”—that was Kimberley Patton’s gloss on the findings of Franz de Waal, a primatologist who spoke on Saturday at the American Academy of Religion conference in Atlanta.  De Waal’s new book, Age of Empathy (2010), shows that cooperation, reciprocity, and conflict-resolution are just as natural in primates as are aggression and competition.  Contrary to the Social Darwinist assumption that nature is bloody “red in tooth and claw,” de Waal’s research proves that non-human animals have all the basic building blocks of morality.  This means that human morality is not just a matter of controlling our violent, selfish instincts, but rather enhancing and refining our other instincts for empathy, compassion, and sociability.

 Also commenting on de Waal’s research was Armin Geertz, who highlighted the core idea of evolutionary biology that “all life is continuous.”  What seems unique about humans is actually an extension of abilities and behaviors we find in other animals.  Looking ahead to the future of primate research, de Waal said, “the trend is toward the continuity of humans and animals.”

 Is this true of religion? When elephants mourn their dead, chimpanzees dance in rainstorms, and wolves howl at the moon, are we seeing the building blocks of spirituality? Can animals have mystical experiences?   De Waal said it was difficult as a biologist to address such questions, but he did not rule out the possibility of affirmative answers. 

 Score a point for scientific open-mindedness.  

 What about dreaming? Both Patton and Geertz, professors of religious studies, mentioned dreaming as a universal human experience that factors into all religious traditions.  De Waal did not talk about dreams directly, but the cognitive abilities he has identified in non-human primates (empathy, imagination, pretend play, etc.), combined with the similarities in brain functioning across all primate species, strongly suggest that humans are not the only dreamers in nature.

 In his earlier book Chimpanzee Politics (1998) de Waal talked about the dreams of people who study primates:

 “That chimpanzees are experienced in the first place as personalities is evident from the dreams of those of us who work with them.  We dream about these apes as individuals, in the same way that other people dream about their fellow human beings as individuals.  If a student were to say that he or she had dreamed of an ape I would be no less surprised than if someone claimed to have dreamed of a human.

 “I clearly remember the first dream I had about the chimpanzees.  In it my preoccupation with the distance between them and me was apparent.  During this dream the large door to their quarters was opened for me from the inside.  The apes were pushing each other aside in order to get a good look at me.  Yeroen, the oldest male, stepped forward and shook my hand.  Rather impatiently he listened to my request to come in.  He refused point blank.  That was out of the question, he said, and besides, their society would not suit me: it was much too harsh for a human being.” (41)