Tuesday, June 2, 2009


We 'lose' consciousness for eight hours (hopefully) every day. But our consciousness isn't lost strictly speaking. It's still present. We usually don't have control over it and we often don't remember it. But our conscious goes places and does things. With no sensory input, we (our consciousnesses) have dramatic experiences, do bold (and cowardly) deeds, and live wildly different lives from our waking selves. And we take these nightly vivid hallucinations in stride.

It seems when we don't sleep enough, our waking consciousness is diminished. I felt today, sleep deprived but forced awake chemically by caffeine, much like Bilbo. As he describes, being pulled toward the realm of shadow by the Ring, "I feel all….thin, sort of stretched, if you know what I mean: like butter that’s been scraped over too much bread. I need a change, or something."

Why? There is certainly physical fatigue, but this is not mental. There is also mental drowsiness, but this is countered directly by caffeine; after coffee I have no more difficulty staying awake in class. Though I am not as "present," as I would be well slept and uncaffeinated with an identical level of physiologic 'drowsiness'. What is the difference? There must be some other axis of wakefulness that can only be 'charged' by leaving the physical world.

And not just leaving it. Sleeping 8 hours but preventing stage IV ("REM") sleep, the phase in which we are said to dream, is not restorative of this new sleeping axis. It seems necessary for us that we go somewhere, and the only way we can is through a phase of sleep associated with dreaming. Some postulate that this is simply the random firing of neurons. But if that were true, then using hallucinogens would be as restorative as REM sleep. By all accounts, this is not the case.

More importantly, dreams are not chaotic; they are orderly. It is not a series of flashing lights and sounds. Dreams are a narrative. Certainly the 'rules' of the universe as we understand them are a bit different. Creatures exist there which we do not believe exist here. "Impossible" things like flying and laser vision occur (at least in my dreams). But they are not random in any sense. We recognize our friends, we interact with our families, we fight our enemies.

What happens when we don't sleep? Well, we do sleep. If we try to stay awake, we draw whatever place we go in dreaming to the wakeful world. When you keep someone awake for days at a time, hallucinations and all manner of craziness set in.

All these things seem to point to sleep being a non-chemical thing. But if it is non-chemical, what is it? Here is how a materialst must explain these observations:

Unknown chemicals act by unknown pathways to achieve a state (dreaming) which, though it can be imitated by chemicals (hallucinogens), cannot produce the effects of that same state. When this state is not achieved, fatigue sets in, all the effects of which can be antagonized chemically (sympathetic agonists, caffeine) save for 'wakefulness.' To put it another way, the one conscious effect which cannot be chemically countered (wakefullness) is the result lacking from the element of conscious experience which cannot be chemically induced (dreaming). This lack of any evidence for a chemical connection to this fundamental aspect of the human experience indicates it is a ripe area for research; we ought to search out which chemicals it is exactly that cause wakefullness and dreaming.

A materialist is forced by his faith (or to put it more euphemistically, his worldview) to hold to the baseless claim that all of dreaming and wakefullness is chemical. But, as with all faith, evidence (or lack thereof) does not affect the firmness of one's conviction. Nevertheless, I hope that fairminded people will have the sense to consider, perhaps, that we are not chemical robots, and that there is something higher than chemicals and deeper than Scientism.

Sweet dreams!

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