documented and described
Dreams are defined as the succession of hallucinatory images, scenarios, ideas, emotions, and sensations that occur involuntarily within the mind during certain stages of sleep. Although the content and purpose of dreams are not well understood, they have been a topic of philosophical and religious interest throughout much of recorded history. There is also solid scientific evidence that dreams are a common occurrence throughout the lives of not just most human beings, but many other animals as well.
This article is meant to serve as a companion piece to our lucid dreaming article, which focuses on serving as an informational guide for learning to consistently gain a stable sense of lucidity within one's own dreams, as well as the instructional techniques for utilizing and harnessing further control of the dream once this has been achieved. Instead of detailing lucid dreaming techniques, however, this article will attempt to comprehensively document the subjective effects that occur during dream states by breaking them down into their individual sub-components while providing detailed descriptions and leveling systems wherever possible.
At lower levels, dreams typically manifest as imagery on the back of a person's eyelids, which do not take up the entirety of one's visual field and are distinct from their background. These can be described as spontaneous moving or still images of scenes, concepts, places, or anything one could imagine. The imagery is manifested in varying levels of realism ranging from ill-defined and cartoon-like to wholly realistic. They rarely hold their form for more than a few seconds before fading or shifting into another image. This level typically occurs while the person is either in the process of falling asleep or waking up.
At higher levels, however, dreams become increasingly elaborate as they eventually become all-encompassing, fully-fledged 3D scenes that surround the person in a similar manner to that of the internal hallucinations that can occur under the influences of heavy dosages of hallucinogenic substances. This level typically occurs when the person is in deep sleep.
In a more comprehensive level of detail, the clarity and immersiveness at which dreams presents themselves can be broken down into the 5 different levels of intensity described below:
Enhancement of mental visualization
At the lowest level, dreams can be defined as the distinct enhancement of mental visualisation that a person drifts into while daydreaming or using their imagination. It can be described as a short-term detachment from one’s immediate surroundings; during which, a person’s contact with reality is blurred and partially substituted by an ill-defined fantasy. The details of this internal visualisation are chosen in a slightly spontaneous or autonomous nature, but are mostly consciously controlled by the content of one’s current thought stream.
This level is extremely common and often occurs while a person is falling asleep (hypnagogia), while a person is waking up (hypnapompia), and also during general waking consciousness.
Partially defined imagery
At this level, dreams consist of partially defined, blurred, and faded imagery within a person’s visual field. This is where the content of these dreams usually becomes more spontaneous in nature and out of the person’s conscious control.
This level is commonly experienced as a person begins to fall asleep. However, it is much less of a universal experience than that of fully fledged dream states.
Fully defined imagery
At this level, the vividness and intensity increases in a fashion that renders the imagery seen within one’s visual field as fully defined and realistic in its appearance.
This level is commonly experienced as a person begins to fall asleep. However, it is less of a universal experience than that of fully fledged dream states.
Partially defined immersion
At this level, the vividness, scope, and intensity of the dream becomes all-encompassing in a way that displays momentary flashes of scenes that surround the person in an immersive environment. Although all-encompassing, they are often very blurred and ill defined in appearance. Additionally, the dreamer's physical body will often still feel at least partially connected to the real world. Other senses, such as touch, taste, and smell, may also be extremely vague or entirely absent.
This level is commonly experienced during short naps, during the moments of lapsed consciousness that can occur as a result of sleep deprivation, and during states of shallow restless sleep that is being disturbed by suboptimal sleeping conditions.
Fully defined immersion
At the highest level, dreams further increase to become all-encompassing in a manner that displays long-lasting scenes surrounding the person with an explorable and fully immersive environment. This occurs in a fashion that is fully detailed and highly vivid in its appearance. Typically, it also occurs alongside relevant auditory and tactile sensations.
This level is commonly experienced during states of deep REM (rapid eye movement), which occurs after approximately 90 minutes of sleep.
The perception of time in hallucinatory dream scenarios typically feel as if they are being experienced in real-time, which means that if 20 seconds are perceived to have passed within the dream the same amount of time will have elapsed in the real world. However, it is also possible for time distortions to occur, resulting in scenarios and plots that can feel as if they last days, weeks, or even an infinite amount of time.
The content and behaviour of dreams can be further broken down into six distinct subcomponents. These are described and documented within their own dedicated subsections, each of which are listed below.
Scenarios and plots
The scenarios and plots that occur within dream are challenging to define in a truly comprehensive manner in much the same way that we cannot really predict the plot of literature or films. However, they generally involve a heavy emphasis on themes and concepts which hold some level of emotional significance to the dreamer or at least occurred within recent memory. However, despite this emphasis, there is also a powerful element of randomness to these plots which can lead these scenarios in a wild variety of directions.
In terms of coherency, scenarios and plots can be linear, with events that occur in a logical sequence and lead into each other through clear cause and effect. Equally likely, however, are scenarios and plots that present themselves as muddled, nonsensical, and incoherent. The plots themselves can also either be entirely new experiences that are unlike anything experienced within the real world, such as the visitation of fantastical worlds or the use of magical powers. Alternatively, old experiences such as the reliving of past memories are also entirely possible. Usually, however, dreams are some combination of these two extremes, such as the visitation of real life locations from the dreamers waking life, combined with meeting strangers, or experiencing fantastical events.
Regardless of thematic and situational content, dreams are usually accompanied by an uncontrollable sense of plot acceptance. This results in the dreamer almost always accepting any plot within their dream as an entirely real event in which the results of their actions are likely to have genuine consequences, regardless of how absurd and unrealistic the situation may be. When this sense of plot acceptance is overcome, it can result in state known as "lucid dreaming". Which is a well documented phenomena that involves the person becoming actively aware of the fact that they are dreaming and with practice, can even take full control of what happens inside of it.
At levels 4 and 5 dreams consistently manifest themselves through extremely detailed imaginary landscapes, locations, and sceneries of potentially infinite variety. These exist to act as the setting in which the plot of the dream occurs. The geography of these settings is capable of rendering itself as static and coherent in organization, but will usually result in a non-linear, nonsensical, and continuously changing layout which do not obey the laws of physics. The specific locations within these settings appear to be selected at random, and are often entirely new locations that have not been visited in real life. However, there is also often a heavy emphasis on replicating and combining real life locations stored within a person's memories, especially those which are prominent in their daily life or past.
Within these dreamscapes, relevant and irrelevant objects of any sort typically populate the setting in much the same way that they would in real life. These can usually be interacted with in the same way that any real life object can be, but may react in unexpected and spontaneous ways. Some common examples of this may include:
- Objects such as books, clocks, or anything with text on them being incapable of rendering static information that does not reset and change as soon as the dreamer double takes.
- Cars being driveable, but being extremely difficult to control in comparison to their real life equivalents.
- Bodies of water remaining breathable, even when the dreamer is completely submerged under them.
- Electronic devices such as computers and phones not being fully responsive or functional.
- Mirrors displaying incredibly distorted reflections which progressively shapeshift when stared upon.
Throughout the settings of almost any dream, the scenery is often inhabited and populated by dream characters. These are entities which act autonomous in their behaviour and are capable of communicating through spoken word. They are usually felt and presumed to be living inhabitants of the environment in which the dream is set. They also interact with the dreamer in various ways, are usually completely unaware that they are the inhabitants of a dream, and are typically unsurprised by the dreamers appearance.
In terms of their appearance, dream characters can show themselves as literally anything but will usually display themselves as perfectly ordinary people. These people are equally likely to be complete strangers or randomly selected people which the dreamer has encountered throughout their life. The more prominent and emotionally significant the person is, the more likely they are to be encountered within the dreamscape.
When communicated with through spoken word the level of coherency in which these entities can reply with is highly variable but can be broken down into 4 distinct levels of communication:
Partially defined incoherent speech
Fully defined incoherent speech
Partially defined coherent speech
Fully defined coherent speech
The perspective in which dreams are perceived through can be broken down into through the four alternative vantage points described below:
- 1st person - The most common dream perspective, which can be described as the standard experience of perceiving the scenario from the perspective of a person's everyday self and body.
- 2nd person - This perspective can be described as the experience of seeing the dream from the viewpoint of an external source of consciousness, such as another person, an animal, or an inanimate object.
- 3rd person - This perspective is similar to an out-of-body experience and can be described as perceiving a dream from a perspective which is floating above, below, behind, or in front of the dreamer's physical body. It is worth noting that for unknown reasons many people consistently and exclusively dream in the third person perspective.
Once a person has woken up from their dream, they will often find that their memory of what happened within the dream quickly begins to fade. This amnesia varies in its intensity from person to person, with some people never remembering their dreams and others remembering their dreams almost every single night. However, dream related amnesia can be combatted using techniques such as immediately writing in a dream journal upon waking up, and generally making a conscious effort to regularly pay more attention to one's own dreams.