The conscious during the time that we

The full understanding and definition of what are dreams and consciousness is still not complete. In fact only relatively recently studies started to be done on both of these topics. There are a number of theories from neurologists, psychologists and philosophers attempting to fully discover dreams. Especially important is to note the work of french neurophysiologist and professor of experimental medicine Michel Jouvet. Michel Jouvet is most renowned for his discovery and the definition of REM sleep as well as his experiments on effects of sleep. In this paper we will take as basis the discoveries and conclusions reached by Michel Juvet, as his work is consistent with both physiological aspects of sleep and dreams, as well philosophical meaning of dreams.The question of consciousness’ presence during the phenomenon of dreaming will be discussed.

The connection between dreams and consciousness is obvious. Dreams and consciousness are interconnected however their relation is not too trivial to discuss as the understanding of either is not full. There are many questions related to  dreams and consciousness. For instance are we conscious during the time that we are dreaming? Does our consciousness affect our dreams? If we are conscious during a dream, then how do we separate dreams from reality? What’s the difference of remembering a real memory from a memory of a dream. Giving a definitive answer to these questions is a rather difficult task, in this paper we will attempt to reach a certain hypothesis that might attempt at answering these questions. In order to be able to address these question we will first try to understand what constitutes a dream, then in a similar manner we will discuss what is consciousness. Later having some foundation to base on we will finally discuss the relationship between consciousness and dreams, where an attempt will be given at answering above mentioned questions.

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Dreams are uncontrolled brain activities that take place during sleep. It is accounted that humans spend on average near 10% of their life’s dreaming. The actual meaning of dreams fascinated scientists, theologists, philosophers since time unknown yet this phenomenon remained afar from all experimental and actual scientific approach. Currently we dispose of a biochemical theory of the sleeping cycle during which the dream takes place.

Current neurophysiological research is aimed at discovering the function of dreams. It was Michel Jouvet that brought forward the notion of REM, rapid eye movement phase of sleep. The term REM although the name suggests is distinguished by rapid eye movement, there are also many other factors that separate REM sleep from non REM sleep. For instance eyes do not move constantly, but instead for a few minutes only. During REM sleep a noticeable escalation of heart rate and breathing rate, muscle relaxation takes place. Males usually have an erection while females have increased vaginal blood flow, which is unrelated to sexual content of dreams.

Jouvet discovered REM sleep during his research on cats, where he was examining biological mechanisms of sleep. Jouvet named this phase paradoxical phase of sleep, as according to his research during this period of sleep, biological signs of both humans and animals were almost indistinguishable from those during the time awake. While examining the sleeping behaviour of cats Jouvet discovered that during a specific period of sleep cats’ heart rate would go up, eyes would start to doing quick jerky movements. On the other hand the body of the cat was deeply relaxed, although their paws would do sudden movements, and their whiskers would twitch. The Electroencephalography which is the electrical activity of their brain, were identical to an alert pattern.Despite the similarity to the awaken state during the REM sleep, waking the cats up was difficult. An important fact that lead to later rather shocking discovery was the fact that while the paws of the cats were twitching, they never would enter REM sleep in upright positions.

In this phase of sleep the major muscles of the cats would be completely relaxed and were suspected to even be paralyzed. This leads to an assumption that deep muscle relaxation was necessary in order to prevent cats from acting the dreams out in reality. Hence deep muscle relaxation that cats would experience during dreams is synonymous to cats dreaming. To analyze this assumption Jouvet found the brain area which was responsible for muscle relaxation which was the locus coeruleus, and surgically disabled it. The results of this experiment were at the very least shocking.

All the cats that were operated on, went to sleep normally, however during the periods of REM sleep they would hiss and scratch violently, in some case would run around the cage as if they were attacking some invisible animal. This experiment was a solid evidence to a conclusion that animals do dream, just like humans. Another important discovery was the fact that the sole reason that dreams aren’t acted out is the physical paralyzation of the main muscle groups below the neck. Further research into this discovery should that transition from non REM sleep to REM sleep is directly correlated to the muscle relaxations. In the case of cats, it is even more trivial to understand whether they are in the REM stage, solely by examining the pose of their sleep. For instance if the cat is sleeping upright then it isn’t in the REM stage, on the other hand if it later falls on its side, then we can assume that the cat has entered the REM stage, and is probably dreaming.

Similar experiments were done in other mammals and the conclusion was the same for all of them. It is important to note, that while REM is deeply correlated with dreaming, in order to dream REM is not required. That is if we choose the definition of a dream as the appearance of mental processes during sleep that an individual can report after waking up.


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