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Dreams are defined as successions 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 definitively understood, they have been a topic of scientific speculation as well as philosophical and religious interest throughout many aspects of recorded history. There is also solid scientific evidence which clearly indicates that dreams are a common occurrence throughout the lives of most human beings and other mammals in general.[1] Although there may be many psychoactive substances which are capable of inducing realistic hallucinations, it is worth noting that these compounds are simply inducing a state of mind during waking consciousness which the brain is already adept at generating during normal sleep.[citation needed]

Subjective effects

Internally sourced sensory input

The most fundamental component of any dream or hallucinatory state can be defined as some form of perceivable sensory input. This differs from that of everyday sensory input in the way that it is received from an internal source created by one's own mind as opposed to an external source within the immediately perceivable surrounding environment. The dreamscape of a human being is capable of manifesting completely realistic, convincing and detailed equivalents of all five senses across varying degrees of vividness and intensity.

These themselves can be broken into 5 differing levels of clarity which are broken down and defined below.

  1. Imaginative visualization - The lowest level of a dream is extremely common and occurs frequently during waking consciousness on a daily basis. It can be defined as the heightened state of mental visualization that one drifts into when simply daydreaming or using the imagination. This state results in a level of visualization that is mostly felt internally within the mind's eye instead of visually perceived. 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 a visionary fantasy. The generation of the details of this internal visualization are partially autonomous in nature but mostly controlled by the content of one's current thought stream.
  2. Partially defined hypnagogia - As one begins to fall asleep, the experience of daydreaming and general imagination begins to progressively heighten and form into what is known in the literature as "hypnagogia". This is defined as the experience of the transitional state between wakefulness to sleep and generally consists of hearing indistinct noises and seeing faded imagery behind closed eyelids.
  3. Fully defined hypnagogia - As the vividness and intensity slightly increases, the spontaneous imagery becomes fully defined in its appearance/detail and is now seen within the person's direct line of sight under closed eyelids. Alongside of this, audible noises such as fleeting voices, music and general auditory hallucinations are often present.
  4. Partially defined dreams - As the ability to hallucinate increases, random flashes of spontaneous hallucinatory scenarios begin to show themselves. At this level, the hallucinations no longer consist of fleeting imagery on the back of one's closed eyelids but become sustained as all-encompassing settings which surround the dreamer as what feels like a sudden breakthrough into an alternate reality. In terms of sensory vividness the dreams are not completely defined in their appearance or sound. This means that they often display themselves as partially to completely blurred and transparent. Alongside of this the dreamer's physical body will also still feel at least partially connected to the real world. Other senses such as touch, taste and smell seem to be extremely vague or entirely absent altogether.
  5. Fully defined dreams - At this level, all five of the senses are replicated perfectly as the dream becomes completely realistic and indistinguishable from that of everyday reality in terms of the detail and sensory vividness which they provide. These sensations are equally capable of including both positive sensations such as sexual orgasm and negative sensations such as pain and physical bodily harm.

Externally sourced sensory input

While the majority of the perceived input in a dream is created from one's mind, some senses such as hearing always allow external input. In the dream, an externally sourced sound event may not be consciously perceived at all or not as directly as in waking life. Parts of it can manifest in the dream either as the original sound or as a distortion of it. For example, an airplane in the physical world could be perceived as a thunderstorm in the dream. This is, however, not limited to only hearing as other senses such as touch are also possible, and both the input and the manifestation can be multisensory.


Concerning the perspective in which dreams are perceived through, just like literary plots, dreams can be experienced through four alternative vantage points which are described and listed below.

  • 1st person - this is the most common form of dreaming and can be described as the perfectly normal experience of perceiving the scenario from the perspective of one's everyday self and body.
  • 2nd person - this 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 is essentially an out-of-body experience and can be described as perceiving the 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 party perspective.
  • 4th person - this is particularly rare but entirely possible and can be described as the experience of perceiving the dream from the viewpoint of multiple vantage points simultaneously.


At level 4 - 5 dreams consistently manifest themselves through the essential component of extremely detailed imagined landscapes, locations and sceneries of infinite variety. These exist for the purpose of acting 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 ever-changing layout which does not obey the rules of everyday physics. Regarding the chosen locations, appearance and style of these settings, they seem to be selected at random and are often entirely new and previously unseen areas. They do, however, play a heavy emphasis on replicating and combining real life locations stored within the dreamer's memories, especially those which are prominent in one's life and daily routine.

Within the settings themselves, relevant and irrelevant objects or props will be placed in appropriate but sometimes inappropriate locations throughout them. These can be interacted with in the same way that any real life object can and can often react in unexpected and spontaneous ways (but behave usually exactly as the dreamer expects them to).

Dream characters

Main article: Dream characters

Across the setting of almost any dream, the scenery is inhabited and populated by conscious dream characters who can be spoken to and communicated with in extreme amounts of detail. These entities appear to be the inhabitants of a perceived independent reality -- they are expectant of one's appearance and interact with the dreamer in various ways.

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.

There are distinctly different types of dream characters which one may encounter, each of which represents a particular subsection of one's consciousness through both their visible form and their personality. These can be broken down into three separate categories and include:

  • Representations of the self - The simplest form of dream character can be described as simply a mirror of one's personality. It can take any visible form but clearly adopts an obviously identical vocabulary and set of mannerisms to one's personality when conversed with.
  • Representations of specific concepts or people - This category of dream character is by far the most varied type in terms of its visual form and immediately perceivable personality. It can be identified as a simulated representation of any internally stored concept and adopts an appropriate personality to fit this to an unusual degree of accurate detail. For example this particular concept could include people one has met throughout their life, fictional characters or symbolic representations of abstract concepts such as emotions or essential parts of one's personality.
    • Representations of the subconscious - This category of dream character can take any visible form but adopts the personality of what seems to be a conscious controller behind the continuous generation of the details behind one's own dreamscape and internally stored model of reality. When conversed with it usually adopts an attitude which wants to teach or guide the dreamer and assumes that it knows what is best for them.

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:

  1. Silence - this level can be defined as a complete unresponsiveness from the side of the dream character and an incapability of speech despite their prominent presence within the dream.
  2. Partially defined incoherent speech - this level can be defined as audible linguistic conversational responses and noises which sound like words but do not contain any real content or meaning beyond a vague sense of emotional intent.
  3. Fully defined incoherent speech - this level can be defined as audible linguistic conversational responses and noises which contain fully defined and understandable words but often lack grammatical structure or general coherency.
  4. Partially defined coherent speech - this level can be defined as audible linguistic conversational responses and noises which contain fully defined and understandable words with a partially defined grammatical structure and general coherency which conveys its point on a level which may not always be entirely understandable but is still capable of expressing a general point.
  5. Fully defined coherent speech - this level can be defined as audible linguistic conversational responses and noises which contain fully defined and understandable words as well as fully defined grammatical structure and general coherency which conveys its point on a level which is on par with the dreamer's own intellect.

Scenarios and plots

Each of the above components is randomly shuffled and spliced into any number of an infinite variety of potential plots and scenarios. These may be positive or negative to experience and are difficult to define in a comprehensive manner in much the same way that we cannot predict the plot of abstract literature and films. They can, however, be broken down into extremely basic occurrences which entail visiting some setting, or a number of them which contain within them, interactive, multiple, or lone dream characters. Alongside these, completely unpredictable plot devices, events and occurrences, force the dreamer to become involved within the specific scenario of the particular dream.

These scenarios and plots can be linear and logical with events that occur in a logical sequence which lead onto each other through cause and effect. They are equally likely, however, to present themselves as completely nonsensical and incoherent. This means that the plot will occur with natural events which are capable of ending, starting and changing between each other repeatedly in quick succession and as they please. The plots themselves can either be entirely new experiences that are unlike anything experienced within the real world, old experiences such as accurate memory replays or a combination of the two.

In terms of the amount of time in which they are experienced, hallucinatory dream plots and scenarios usually feel as if they are being experienced in real-time. This means that when 20 seconds have been considered to have passed within the hallucination, the same amount of time will have elapsed in the real world. At other points, however, distortions of time can make themselves present, resulting in plots and scenarios that can feel as if they last days, weeks, months, years, or even infinitely extended periods of time.

An important part of any dream which entails apparently unlikely and absurd scenarios is a strong sense of uncontrollable and powerful plot acceptance. This feeling of plot acceptance allows the dreamer to accept any plot as it comes as an entirely real event in which the results of one's own actions will have genuine consequences regarding the dreamer's life. This delirium motivates the dreamer to avoid danger, solve puzzles and accept the scenario as reality even if it is clearly and undeniably more likely to be a dream than an event which could ever occur within real life.

Hypotheses for the mechanics of dreams

While the exact mechanics of dreams remain unknown, and the tulpa phenomenon remains scientifically unproven, the tulpa community has given rise to several popular speculative hypotheses that try to explain the mechanics that would allow people to experience the phenomenon, one of which is proposed below.

Simulatory mind hypothesis

The simulatory mind hypothesis suggests that basic thought, imagination and hallucinating or dreaming are all essentially a result of the same mechanism rendering data at different levels of detail within a neurological simulation framework system which exists to mirror the external environment by categorizing the sensory input it receives into a database of "separate" concepts and subconcepts in order to later use these for the processing of ideas and thoughts.

Assuming this is true, one's inner mind's eye could be thought of as a computer simulation framework which uses its internally stored memories to render concepts and ideas at varying levels of detail. Although the detail at which this renders concepts during everyday living is usually little, during dreams and hallucinations this system is capable of generating data that is detailed enough to be hyper-realistic and indistinguishable from waking life. This includes the ability to generate autonomous entities which are sufficiently capable of coherent conversations.

This suggests that dreams are merely a neurological computer simulation framework which becomes activated during sleep. Its database is comprised of internally stored concepts which one has encountered throughout their life. This randomizes, shuffles and splices its particular set of memories, concepts and variables together in a manner which places emphasis tags upon concepts with recency and personal emotional significance.

The question as to why such a system would exist within the brain at all is an interesting one. It perhaps exists for the straightforward and basic purpose of generating potential scenarios which one may encounter in life as a means of internal practice to encourage survival should the possible event occur in real life. This would explain why dreams play such a huge emphasis on one's own fears and desires and indicates that they, therefore, serve a fundamentally important evolutionary function.

See also