Sunday, 17 March 2013

Counting Your Fingers in Dreams

Many of Salvador Dali's were inspired from his dreams
 ‘Did you know you can’t count your fingers properly in a dream?’ Monkeybuns asked me, as she drove home from school this week. Yes, the twins have their L’s (Learners license) and here in Queensland they need to obtain a recorded 100 hours of driving in a 12 month period before they can sit their drivers test. This is a challenge at the best of times but with twins it’s doubly so. We have negotiated that Monkeybuns will drive to school in the mornings and Lion boy will drive home giving them each at least 1 hour and 15 minutes per week.
‘Really?’ I asked ‘How interesting! Where did you hear that?’
‘I saw it on this really cool YouTube channel, so I tried it in my dream last night and I counted my first and second finger fine and when I got to the third I said that it was number eight. I couldn't speak at all after that, isn’t that amazing?!’ Monkeybuns enthused.
Precisely my sentiments so I tried it last night and the fingers kept fading in and out of my vision and the numbers kept changing as I was trying to count my fingers. I was actually aware of what I was trying to do in my dream and this is something called ‘Lucid dreaming’. If you are able to lucid dream, something you can train yourself to do, you can then control what happens in your dream. Whilst I don’t think this is as much fun as letting the dream develop on its own (it’s kind of like writing a book compared to reading a book where you’re not familiar with the plot) apparently it can be useful as a self-development technique. You guide the dream to the outcome you want and this is used as a reinforcement of desired outcomes much the same as visualisation techniques are used. If you’re a sports person lucid dreaming you might dream yourself consistently winning for example.
Here are some examples of people trying to count their fingers in a dream:
  • I counted my fingers. It looked as though I had the right amount, but as I actually counted them, I discovered that I had seven the first count, and six the next.
  • I noticed something strange so I counted my fingers. I counted them several times because the number I counted kept changing between five and six. Eventually I was certain that I saw six fingers, and I realized I was dreaming.
  • I remembered to do a reality check. So I looked at my hands and realized that they're actually claws!
  • My fingers appeared jumbled up as if I had no bones.
  • Spiders and ants were crawling across my hand in a continuous line.
  • My fingers appear floating off the palm of my hand.
  • I looked at my hand, and it looked like I had two or three extra fingers. When I counted them, each one disappeared when I pointed to it.
  • My hand seemed fuzzy, gray, and partially translucent. Something seemed to be wrong with them. When I pressed my fingers into my left palm, I could feel them pushing through like my hand was clay.
  • When I looked at my hands, one was normal but the other hand had several fingers growing off my other fingers making it appear mutated. Immediately I knew I was dreaming.  (extracted from Lucid Dreaming
Chagall's La Mariée; Things that would seem absurd in real life are often perfectly natural in our dreams. Of course the goat is playing the violin.
 Dreams have been the inspiration for some of the world’s most famous novels and one of my favourite novels, Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Mary Shelly wrote Frankenstein after a dream:
 “I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life, and stir with an uneasy, half-vital motion.”
Edgar Allen Poe saw large luminous eyes in a dream inspiring him to write Lady Ligea.  Stephenie Meyer had an intense dream in 2003 in which two young lovers were lying together in a meadow, discussing why their love could never work.
 “One of these people was just your average girl. The other person was fantastically beautiful, sparkly, and a vampire. They were discussing the difficulties inherent in the facts that A) they were falling in love with each other while B) the vampire was particularly attracted to the scent of her blood, and was having a difficult time restraining himself from killing her immediately.”
She ended up writing this dream into the world-wide bestseller Twilight.  Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde was written by Robert Louis Stevenson after he dreamt about a doctor with split personality disorder and woke up gripped by a creative frenzy. Stevenson quickly documented the scenes from his dream and then went on to write a first draft of his novel in less than three days. He always got his wife to review his drafts and, using her suggestions, edited and rewrote sections of the work, allegedly fuelled by copious amounts of cocaine which is no doubt why he was able to finish the whole thing in 10 days!  Drugs in fact can make dreams more vivid and scary and patients with Parkinson’s disease taking L-dopa (dopamine precursor) often experience this.
Jonathon Livingstone Seagull  was written in 1959 by Richard Bach, an avid aviator, heard what he called a “disembodied voice” whisper the title of this novella into his ear. He immediately wrote the first few chapters of the work before running out of inspiration. It wasn’t until he was inspired by a dream eight years later that he finished writing his novella which went on to become one of the most profound and philosophically-moving stories ever written.
You might think Frida Kahlo's painting is taken from her dream but in fact she stated 'I never paint my dreams, only my reality'
 Of course it’s not only writers that have been inspired by their dreams but also artists and inventors.
Kekule, the German chemist who discovered the structure of the benzene molecule, worked for ages on it trying to figure it out and it wasn’t until he had a dream about snakes forming circles with their tails in their mouths (our famous Ouroboros that I talked about in last week’s blog post) that he realized that the benzene molecule, unlike all other known organic compounds, had a circular structure rather than a linear one. Elias Howe invented the sewing machine in 1884 after struggling for ages with how the needle could work. He dreamt about a group of cannibals that were preparing to cook him. They were dancing around a fire waving their spears up and down. Howe noticed that in the head of each spear there was a small hole, which ultimately gave him the idea of passing the thread through the needle close to the point, not at the other end.  James Watson and Francis Crick discovered the structure of DNA in 1953 after Watson dreamt of a series of spiral staircases.  
Hitchcock's Spellbound 1945 has fantastic dream sequences based on Dali's work
 Most dreaming happens during REM sleep when signals are broadcasted from the pons at the base of the brain to the thalamus and on to the cerebral cortex. The cerebral cortex is the area of the brain responsible for learning, thinking, and organizing information. The pons also sends signals that shut off the neurons in the spinal cord, causing temporary paralysis during REM sleep. This paralysis is caused by the release of glycine, an amino acid, from the brain stem into the motor neurons (nerves that control our muscle movement).  Interestingly from a Functional medicine point of view, REM sleep is associated with increased protein in the brain. As REM sleep is associated with learning mental skills we could assume insufficient protein in the diet might cause reduced REM sleep and therefore impair learning. In fact, recent studies show that people who were low dream recallers were very low on visuospatial skills.
So what about people who are born totally blind or who lost all of their sight very early in childhood? These people usually have little or no visual imagery, but show the same detailed attention to sound, smell, touch, and taste in their dreams as they do in waking life. There is a very close relationship between vision and touch, both of which rely on edges, junctures, and contours to make discriminations and develop an overall conception of an object.
In a series of interviews conducted at the University of California by C. Hall in 1948 with an 18-year-old blind student about her sense of objects in her dreams she recounts how she was sitting around a table with her family in a very nice restaurant, she reported that "I knew we were at a table by kinaesthetic sense and knew it was a nice place by auditory sense (thick carpets, quiet atmosphere, etc.)." Then she went on to explain: "I have a picture of a table because I know what a table felt like, not because I have seen one". In another dream she described a beautiful table with two big silver candelabras on it. When asked how she knew the candelabras were silver, she replied it was because they were "very smooth to touch."
'Dream' by Ruth Malloch
 So when you go to bed tonight make sure you’ve had a high protein dinner beforehand (and taken some digestive enzymes so can actually absorb it properly) and remind yourself to count your fingers in your dreams several times before going to sleep (one of the ‘lucid dreaming’ training techniques) and let me know what happens!

1 comment:

  1. Saw this post as I was searching for answers as to why we can't count our fingers during a lucid dream. Our brain only projects the information that we have already in our brain. Like looking at a watch that we wear habitually. When we see 'it' the watch tells us the time. So in a dream we do not know this information as we rely on the watch to tell it to us. Makes sense right? But we know how many fingers we have and we count them or with them daily. Why can't we count them in a dream? My theory is that our brains are operating in a state that emphasizes the grandness of everything. Like how amazing this house is, or the mountain side it's built on. The big details capture our attention while we dream but we never care to see the small things. So when we try to place our attention on the little details the brain has not rendered an accurate depiction of such rather it's only given us enough to not question it's reality. I lucid dreamed for the first time tonight. They say it takes 2 week for beginner but this was my first attempt. Maybe I'm a prodigy or something, but I'm already a hyper-aware person that questions my feelings and motives and that of others on a continual daily basis. My personal technique was to use a bineural beat track off youtube while repeating my own phrase: "I will fall asleep and awaken in a dream. But I will have control because I am the architect." This seemed to work.