This is another chapter in the book titled The Psychology of Consciousness. This chapter examines the variations in consciousness. Ornstein proposes that an individuals consciousness goes through numerous changes each day. There are daily changes in biological rhythms, borderline states between sleep and dreams, sleep and wakefulness, and daydreams.
Each day we each experience a basic biologic rhythm referred to as circadian. Many factors influence this rhythm: light-dark cycle, sun position, work hours, and mealtimes. If these factors are altered then our circadian rhythm can be altered.
Daydreams usually occur when outside events are boring, automatized, or unchanging. It is then that our consciousness tunes out the outside world and tunes in an inside world. During daydreams we lose consciousness of the external world, and therefore our effectiveness is altered. During daydreaming our thoughts are more free flowing and unaltered. This makes us more receptive to new ideas and courses of actions as well as more able to reflect on our faults and mistakes.
Each of us undergoes a radical alteration in our consciousness each day during sleep. The outside world is shut off and our consciousness is generated from within. During sleep we continue to have conscious experiences called dreams.
There are four stages of sleep that can be studied by the use of three different physiological measures: The EEG, the EOG (electro-oculogram, records movement of the eye), and the EMG (electromyogram, measures muscle tension).
The first stage of sleep is referred to as relaxed wakefulness. It last only a few minutes.
The second stage of sleep is marked by sleep spindles. Movement of the eyes is minimal. There is an increase of delta waves on the EEG.
When 20 to 50 percent of the waves recorded during sleep are delta waves, stage three of sleep has been reached. When delta waves reach over 50 percent, the deepest stage of sleep, stage four, has been reached. During these stages there are no eye movements and EMG activity is normally low.
After about an hour and a half the sequence of the sleep stages is reversed. When stage one sleep again occurs, we begin to observe what is referred to as REM, rapid eye movement, sleep. During this time the eyes move rapidly, breathing and heart rate become irregular, erections occur, vaginal engorgement occurs, and vestibular activation is observed.
REM sleep provides an external indicator of the occurrence of dreaming. Everyone dreams each night even if we can not recall our dreams. Dream periods occur four to five times each night. Most dreams are more frequently recalled if the sleeper is awakened immediately after a REM period.
Sometimes we know we are dreaming while we are dreaming. It seems that some individuals are able to think and act consciously while dreaming; however, dreaming and wakefulness are very different.
Evidence for communication between the dreamer and the outside world has been discovered. Researchers have been able to train subjects to signal dreaming be moving their eyes voluntarily during dreams.
What do dreams mean There are several theories which deal with addressing such a question. One of the most famous, and likely most controversial, theory was proposed by Freud.
Freud believed that dreams allowed unconscious wishes to be expressed directly. Dreaming is one of the few times that normally forbidden desires rise to the surface of consciousness. A hungry person might dream of food, a sexually frustrated person might dream of sex.
Freud felt that dreams also guard sleep, or allow us to sleep even during frightening events, by transforming the unconscious desires into disguised symbols. It was the aim of psychoanalysis to uncover the disguised symbols and discover their true meanings.
Another theory, the activation synthesis, proposes that dreams are a conscious interpretation or synthesis of the information in consciousness during dreams. In dreams, therefore, mental processes attempt to organize material or information being fed to our brain by the activation of our vestibular system. If this theory is correct, then dreams can be understood as a product of the nature of the mental operating system when the brain is generating its own raw material.
When information is processed below the normal threshold of awareness or consciousness, it is subliminal. There is evidence that we can react to information at a level below consciousness. Subliminal perception is very controversial and many believe that subliminal stimuli are very weak stimuli. It appears that subliminal messages are unlikely to persuade us or greatly influence our behavior.
A popular means of altering our consciousness if through the use of drugs. These can be dispensed and used legally or illegally. Popular accepted drugs used in our culture include coffee, tobacco, and alcohol. Drugs that are more difficult to manage include marijuana, opiates, and psychedelic drugs such as LSD.
Since we are considering these drugs as they are used to change our consciousness, the social aspects are very relevant. As these drugs are used, they all take maximum advantage of the placebo effect. While each drug has a specific pharmacological effect, they all share a certain deautomatization of experience. It is this effect that people so greatly desire.