Back to the blog

Blog 9: De-differentiation…..

22nd June 2020

… a big word for a waking dream. But the concept is simple: a few of us, including, in the past, Keats, may, more or less permanently, be in a hybrid wake-dream state.  How could this happen? If the boundary between waking and dreaming became porous or leaky this would tip you into a de-differentiated state. Not an actual dream. Not completely awake. An in-between zone.

In the last post I compared this to the area between the conscious tip of an iceberg and the great mass of unconscious brain activity below. In this in-between zone you would have hybrid waking/dreaming consciousness. Or, in other words,  you would have more access to your unconscious mind.

We know this can happen because we all daydream- our default state when we aren’t engaged in tasks requiring concentration. Such as when we gaze out of a window.

Window gazing: A default state

As its name suggests daydreaming is a  hybrid wake/dream state where the mind wanders and makes non-obvious associations.  Daydreaming is not identical to dreaming proper but it bears a close resemblance. We also know we’re more creative during daydreaming- in the sense of having the “Aha!’ moments that come with creative insights. Creative people often speak of waiting for ideas to “come up” from their unconscious.

A de-differentiated state, where the boundary between wakefulness and dreaming is leaky, would allow a dream-like state to permeate waking consciousness.  Aristotle, Kant, Schopenhauer, Freud and Jung have all suggested this possibility. Unlike daydreaming, this de-differentiated state would be more enduring, in some cases permanent. During normal day-dreaming, say I was gazing out of a plane window, as in the above photo, if a task requiring attention presents itself, say, my dinner arrives with those fiddly packets of plastic cutlery, I can immediately focus and attend to opening the packets. But, in a de-differentiated state, I may struggle to focus, have trouble with the awkward plastic cutlery and lose patience or drift back to staring out the window, while the dinner goes cold.   So although, de-differentiation may make us more creative, it may also lead to impatience and absent-mindedness.

Also de-differentiation has two sides: dreaming would permeate waking but the awake state of mind would also suffuse into dreaming.  We know this can happen because a more wake-like state of mind during dreams produces lucid dreaming.  The main marker for lucid dreaming is that the dreamer realises they are dreaming. In other words, they have insight into their state of mind.

The dreamer will think something like, “I’m driving up a bare vertical rock face, this can’t be happening- I must be dreaming.” Also, sometimes, in lucid dreaming, the top-down control required for task concentration in wakefulness is restored. This means that the dreamer can control the dream plot, which some find enjoyable. Sex and flying are the most popular choices.

We can fly when we’re lucid

Sadly, the sex or flying doesn’t usually last long – the dreamer either wakes up or falls back into a normal non-lucid dream.

Although both a more dream-like state during waking hours, what we call daydreaming, and a more wake-like state during dreaming, producing lucid dreaming are possible, both are transient. Especially lucid dreaming, which is hard to maintain- even with the training some people undertake because they enjoy being lucid.  Daydreaming is much more  common than lucid dreaming, it’s thought to be our natural “default” state- what we do when we aren’t doing anything else. One survey revealed people daydream for half of their waking hours, but if they need to- there is loud knock at the front door- they can snap back into alert wakefulness.  If you remember, I started this blog saying that a few of us may be more or less permanently in a hybrid wake-dream state- meaning that you can’t get out of it- in effect you are trapped in this in-between state. Would this be good or bad?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *