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Thinctanc :: the creative life

Christian Cook, Creative Consultant from Thinctanc, shares random thoughts and musings on creativity.

Monday, 25 January 2010

Dare to daydream

Sleeping beauty

My brother was talking to me on the phone a while ago about the fact he had been having lucid dreams. A lucid dream is one where the dreamer is aware that they are dreaming and can often move around at free will and manipulate the environment within the dream.

In one particular scenario, my brother found himself in an empty field and, having always wanted to experience flying, decided to charge about with his arms flapping at his side. Being unable to achieve take off he decided to consult the internet for some advice on flying.

Apparently the theory was that much of your behaviour during lucid dreaming is dictated to by your conscious brain. As a lucid dream involves your conscious awareness invading your subconscious mind, it also brings with it the restrictions of waking life, hence my brother’s inability to take off.

The way to get around this was supposedly to think to yourself during the day when you are awake that you can actually fly. You have to convince yourself that you can fly when awake so that this then implants into your head and is added to your toolbox of available actions during your next lucid dream.

I never did follow up on whether he got to fly or not but I did say at the time that I wasn’t sure if all this was a great idea. Certainly if someone was prone to sleep walking, convincing yourself that you can fly when asleep would not be a wise move.

But there is a deeper reason why I think that tampering with your dreams is not a good move and it is this – dreams play a very significant role in our psychological wellbeing.

When you copy a large file onto a computer, although you might have enough free space to hold the new data, your computer might not have a single block of space to put it in. This is because that when you delete old files, your computer does not close up the gap that the removed data leaves behind and so you end up with free space on your hard disc being in sporadic patches. In order to fit a larger file onto the disc, your computer will often split the file into smaller fragments and then place the file in several locations across the disc.

As this process repeats, more and more files become fragmented and so your computer will begin to slow down and lose performance. When reloading a fragmented file, the hard disc has to read from several locations at once and rebuild the file on the fly.

One solution to this problem is a process called ‘defragging’ which is where a small application is run that sorts through the hard drive and tidies up the allocation on the hard disc so that all files are allocated in single blocks.

This not only speeds up the processing time of opening these files, it can also open up more free space on the disc.

I believe that dreaming is the brain’s equivalent of doing a ‘defrag.’ The subconscious brain, freed from the restraints of our awake consciousness, whizzes through all the outstanding concerns and unfinished thoughts we never got round to resolving and completes them (or at least progresses them on further).

By invading our subconscious brain with our conscious self we interrupt a critical system process that our brain needs in order to maintain itself at optimum performance.

People often say it is a good idea to ‘sleep on a problem’ and the issue does seem to be less of a concern after a good night’s sleep. Is this just because we feel better for a night’s resting or is it more that our subconscious has been processing the issue away from our conscious brain?

So why do we experience all the surreal images and weird happenings when we dream? There is abundant research to show that our brain works best when dealing with images rather than ‘plain text.’

If a picture speaks a thousand words, then by processing issues as images our brains can race through larger abstract concepts at a quicker pace. Freed from our own logical understanding, the visual representation in our brain can look strange and jumbled.

The thought that then occurred to me was whether the power of this subconscious cognitive processing could be harnessed during our waking life? When we have an instantaneous gut-reaction that turns out to be a good decision, was this a lucky guess or the power of the subconscious at work?

The surrealists in their manifestos sought to bypass the conscious self and enable the subconscious spill out unhindered, but can the subconscious be harnessed as an engine to accelerate the conscious mind?

And how do you tap into the subconscious processing power of dreaming while awake without your consciousness overriding it? Hypnosis may be one suggestion but sending your brain into a trance-like state that is more disconnected than sleeping would be counterproductive.

Is it possible to fully ‘day dream’ or are the two states of mind too distinct and solely designed for their respective realms?

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