I know that we didn’t really go into very much detail about consciousness, but I personally find the topic to be very interesting. The abstract train of thought and the arguments that can be held over how consciousness arises and where it originates have always kind of peaked my interests. We define consciousness as our sense of self-awareness, self-concept, the voice inside our heads that tells us who we are and what we are thinking at any given moment. The philosopher René Descartes is known for his statement “Cogito, ergo sum” meaning, “I think therefore I am.” Which is why I enjoy asking questions such as: Is consciousness a product of the brain and physical body or is it a separate entity altogether? I’ll leave that it for you to decide.
But Into my topic for the post, I found this article about lucid dreamers and a study done on them by researchers from Max Plank Institute of Psychiatry, while they are asleep. Within a lucid dream state, one is completely aware that they are in fact dreaming and through this realization they assume complete control over the dream itself. The test subjects were placed in an fMRI scanner and monitored under both the conditions of before becoming conscious in their dream state, essentially just while they are dreaming normally, and then after they have become aware that they are dreaming and enter the lucid dream state. The fMRI takes readings of the blood flowing throughout the brain; regions of the brain where the blood flows to and concentrates in are the areas that are being activated.
The study showed that the areas of the brain that became the most active after the transition from normal dreaming to the state of lucid dreaming are the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and the frontopolar regions of the brain. The dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is the area of the brain associated with self-assessment, and the frontopolar regions are responsible for the evaluation of one’s thoughts and feelings.
What I found most interesting about this article is that in previous studies done at the Max Plank Institute, they had asked lucid dreamers to replicate the same thoughts that they were having while in their lucid dream states while they were awake; and what they found is that the same regions of the brain were activated regardless of whether the subject was asleep or not.
I thought that this was pretty cool that such a study was done, and the results were interesting to find. But to simplify it all down to a sentence or two, lucid dreaming is essentially the same thing as being conscious… just at night while you have your eyes closed.