Daniel Love: I share your fascination with dream characters, there is certainly something most uncanny and surprising in the level of apparent awareness they occasionally demonstrate.
However, I would caution jumping too quickly to the conclusion that they possess an independent self awareness (although, being philosophically inclined, I'd not wish to rule it out completely).
Let's look at a few things we know about the human brain. We humans are a social creature, like many social creatures a large portion of our brain is dedicated to the processing of the nuances and intricacies of social interaction. We are also a species with a highly developed language, again, very large areas of our brain are designed specifically for analysing, predicting and generating language.
Combine these factors with other specialities of the human mind, such as pattern finding, prediction, mimicry, modelling etc. and you have an amazing "software suite" running on an incredibly powerful organic computer: the brain, capable of all manner of fantastic and surprising processes. I believe that our experience of dream characters, are of highly detailed mental models, constructed using these and other processes of the mind.
Whilst it may shock us that, on occasion, our dream characters may act in unexpected ways that appear independent, we must remind ourselves that we are not in complete conscious control over many of our mental and biological processes. A simple psychological example would be when you have a word on the tip of your tongue, you may have decided to give up on trying to remember the answer, only for it to pop into your mind at a later time. We can assume, in these cases, that a part of the brain was working on the problem, even after you had given up conscious effort. Much of what happens within our mind, works along similar lines; outside of our awareness.
Now, the question as to whether these processes have an awareness of their own, is delving into the realms of philosophy. I will, however, add one last thought: The awareness with which we each associate ourselves, that which we call "I", is a series of patterns, of neural firings and pathways, happening within the brain. Is this experience of "I" the culmination of all the activity in the mind, or is it only a selected region? If it is the latter, could it be that a brain is capable of more than one instance of awareness?
It's a curious concept, one which our current understanding of consciousness is currently still exploring.
Rebecca Turner: My perception is that your dream characters only seem self aware. But they are not actually self aware. Based on our current understanding, to assume that a dream character has a separate consciousness of your own implies that their consciousness resides somewhere beyond your awareness. But where is that?
If we pursue this line of thinking unchecked, we end up talking about multiple consciousnesses or personalities that only awaken in your dreams. It's certainly a thought. Then we could go ever further and suggest other intelligences are infiltrating your mind via some kind of telepathy - quite a leap of logic! It seems that the much more likely solution is they are imaginary dream beings who present the illusion of self awareness.
Remember that, even in a highly conscious lucid dream, the dream itself is still co-created by an unconscious self. There are elements which are not consciously under your control: from subtleties like the light levels, to major features like sudden unexpected plot twists. So there is some other awareness guiding this dream. However modern theories suggest this awareness does not direct your dream characters - but rather, these are sub-personalities within your waking ego, as well as memories, projections and expectation-guided facets of your dream world. The fact that they appear self-aware is a reflection of the fact that other people appear self-aware in your waking experience, too.
However, saying that dream characters are projections of ourselves does not render them meaningless. Probing the "minds" of our dream characters offers endless opportunity for insight into our own unconscious beliefs and aspirations. I commend you for seeking conversation with these dream beings while lucid, and urge you to keep asking of them all the deep and meaningful questions you dare to dream up. You may even like put today's line of questioning to a dream character by asking them about their consciousness:
Got a burning question about consciousness and dreams?
In Ask The Experts, readers have the opportunity to probe the minds of long time lucid dreamers, Daniel Love and Rebecca Turner. With a combined 40 years of lucid dreaming experience, they aim to candidly answer your lucidity questions on demand.
Note: The opinions expressed here are our own, based on our scientific understanding of consciousness exploration. The pursuit of lucid dreaming often leads to personal interpretations, with which you may or may not agree, but we hope to unveil the most objective and best-fitting explanations available. We hope you find this segment to be informative, educational and inspirational for your dream life.
Rebecca Turner is a science writer, illustrator, explorer of consciousness - and founder of World of Lucid Dreaming. She is currently studying for a biology degree in Auckland and blogging at her site Science Me.
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