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11:14am on Thursday, 19th January, 2006:

Dream Experiment


Well, last night I decided to see if I could do that dream-like-reality thing again.

I could, and it was pretty damned good, too, although I don't think I'd be making a habit of it as I actually prefer my dreams not to appear as if they were real — I can get some unreal things in them that way, which don't map onto the senses (images that can't be rendered in 3D, senses that my body doesn't have, that sort of thing). Still, it was refreshing to find myself in a dream world that looked, sounded, felt and smelt/tasted just like the real one. I wish I could have taken some photographs to show you guys.

There were a couple of things I'd hoped beforehand to be able to try out, but this being a dream and all I only managed to arrange one of them. The result was not at all what I was expecting.

The thing I wanted to try that I didn't manage to was to patch the senses I was getting in the same way that I can patch them when awake. I wanted to know whether this would be possible (effectively giving me semi-conscious control over my environment) or impossible (because the patching system was being used to sustain the environment). I didn't find myself doing it, though, so I'll maybe have another go another day.

The thing I did manage to do was switch off my senses.

I've mentioned before that I can switch off my senses if I want, on a sense-by-sense basis (not quite organ-by-organ). I do it infrequently, but when I resort to it it's usually with my hearing; occasionally, I'll do smell or taste if it's something vile but I know it's not dangerous (eg. marzipan. Actually, marzipan probably is dangerous; it's certainly evil). So, I wanted to know what would happen if I switched off a sense in the dream world.

I reasoned before I went to sleep that one of two things would occur when I tried it:
1) I wouldn't be able to do it, because the switch-off mechanism is a filter that operates on a sense as a whole before the patch mechanism gets to touch it.
2) I would be able to do it, because either the two systems use the same mechanism or the switch-off (filtering) mechanism comes after the patch mechanism.

Well, as it happened, the answer was 2). What happened after I switched off a sense, though, was very alarming!

Normally, when I switch a sense off, I just lose that sense until I want it back again (although the lurking fear that I may not be able to switch it on quite as easily as I switched it off is one of the reasons I don't do it too often). What happened in my dream-construct world last night was I switched off hearing and I lost vision too, probably smell and feeling but I wasn't aware of smelling or "physically" feeling anything at the time. This would seem to indicate that the whole system was integrated, in that I was only able to create the visual aspect because I was also creating the other sensory aspects. Maybe this is why I never had any dreams with full sense-surround until yesterday? Also, the fact that I was unaware of whether I could smell or feel anything would suggest that there's still a filtering system involved so that I'm not exposed to sensory overload; this implicates the filtering system itself as the mechanism for creating the imagery and, most probably, the patches too.

Anyway, the loss of all my senses when I only switched off one was not the "whoa there!" moment. It's what I got in their place that caught me by surprise.

If I were to switch my vision off right now, I'd just get a black void. That seems to be the natural state of rest for my visual system in the absence of information. When I did it in the dream, though, I didn't get a black void. What I got was what I would have got in a regular dream.

Look around you. Take in your surroundings. OK, now for about three seconds close your eyes and remember what you saw, visually. Done that? There was probably a computer screen and a keyboard involved and some kind of work surface. In your imagination, you could visualise them easily enough, but they didn't look remotely as vivid as they do when you look at them directly.

That's what happened to me. It was as if I was looking at the real world then suddenly — yaaghh! — I was looking at a memory of it. It was very disconcerting! If the screen you're looking at now were suddenly flick out of existence and be replaced by the memory of it you have, well, you'd get some idea of what happened to me. It was an absolutely remarkable experience, but not one I'd care to repeat in a hurry. It was like seeing a ghost world.

Earlier today, after being awake for a few hours, I tried to use my patching system on my memory, on the grounds that this is what might have been happening in the dream. It didn't work, though, or maybe it did work but I can only patch a sense with the stuff of that sense, and my image memory is made up of memory images. If I want to imagine a table with a vase on it, then patching the vase with an image just puts another imaginary vase there. What was happening in my dream is that my memory/imagination workspace was somehow directing my patch system to give me the sensations that matched its own images, thereby bringing them to life to the same standards as reality. Incredible stuff, but not a great deal of use to the conscious me.

I don't know what I can figure out for sure from all this regarding the workings of the human (well, at least my) brain, but I've certainly had insights that I didn't have before. I'll be pondering on them long and hard before I ask for another such reality-quality dream, though, and if I get one without asking then I'm going to wake up as soon as I realise it.

Of course, it could be that since I don't remember many dreams at all, I've been having such experiences for decades and this is the first time I've become aware of it. Or maybe everyone else dreams like this anyway and I've only just caught up with the great mass of the population?

You stopped reading several paragraphs ago, I know...

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Copyright © 2006 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).