This paper reflects the research and thoughts of a student at the time the paper was written for a course at Bryn Mawr College. Like other materials on Serendip, it is not intended to be "authoritative" but rather to help others further develop their own explorations. Web links were active as of the time the paper was posted but are not updated.

Contribute Thoughts | Search Serendip for Other Papers | Serendip Home Page

Biology 202
2001 Third Web Report
On Serendip

Does the I-Function Control Dreaming?

Matt Fisher

Imagine you are in a dream. The world is different from the way it normally appears. Things that would normally be impossible are happening. You have no clue this is a dream. All of a sudden things start falling into place within your brain. You realize you are dreaming. By exerting your will you can alter the scene. You can do all of the things you always wanted to do. With a bounding leap you are flying. You are controlling this and you know no harm can come from it. This is lucid dreaming. Does the I-function control this? It would appear that it does because it is creating everything and you can direct what happens.

Everyone dreams. It is a natural part of the sleep cycle. It occurs during the rapid eye movement (REM) stage. Do dreams stem from the brain going through normal activity or do they come from a controlled portion of the brain? This question raises continual debate among people. However, both sides may be correct. Most of the time a person dreams and is not aware of it occurring. There are other times when a person becomes aware they are dreaming and can influence it. This is lucid dreaming. It appears that the I-function plays a more active role during lucid dreaming. This could be a new outlet where the I-function is allowed to run without constraints and produces more influences than it normally does. Regular dreaming occurs without one being aware of it whereas the I-function brings consciousness and control to lucid dreaming that does not occur at any other time during sleep.

An introduction to sleep provides important background to understanding when dreaming occurs and the state of the brain. The whole process is initiated by the release of various chemicals in the brain. They cause particular areas to shut down and this is sleep. There are various stages to the sleep cycle. They are NREM, Stages 1-4, and REM. During the first five stages, NREM and 1-4, brain activity continually decreases. An electroencephalogram (EEG) reveals this by measuring all action in the neocortex. However, during REM abnormal activity begins to take place and the brain function resembles that of a person who is awake. The EEG shows fast, random waves indicating increased activity (6). Typically a person goes through many cycles of this process during a normal sleep pattern. They will experience REM approximately every ninety minutes (6). Another quality of sleep is the increase of sensory thresholds. It takes more intense stimuli to make the nervous system respond. As a result the body also produces fewer outputs. The I-function shuts down during sleep and does nothing.

Dreams occur during REM sleep and result in increased neocortical activity. It is possible for them to occur during all stages of sleep as people awakened at different times have reported the interruption of dreaming (6). The images in a dream are derived from previous experiences. They are created by the nervous system and are not altered or chosen by the I-function. The dream works with what is present and does not really have control over selection of pictures. As a result most dreams are "typically mundane, realistic experiences in which the dreamer has modest feelings" (6). Thus it is unoriginal repetition of life. The I-function does not formulate new material. There is the possibility for nightmares and other abnormal occurrences, but they are not the norm. The only thing that can be determined about normal dreaming is the involvement of the neocortex and this implies a role for the I-function to a certain extent.

A dream becomes lucid when one key factor occurs; the dreamer becomes aware they are dreaming. This can happen in two different ways: wake initiated (WILD) or dream initiated (DILD) (1). In the first instance the person is in the middle of a dream and momentarily awakens. Immediately the person falls back to sleep, but this time they consciously feel themselves fall asleep and start dreaming. In DILD a person will be dreaming and the events trigger their memory. As a result they become conscious. All of a sudden memories will be connected to the dream and it will gain greater depth. However, the person still knows they are sleeping and can do things not possible in normal life.

A dreamer can experience different levels of lucidity. In high cases the person is completely aware they are dreaming and are safe in bed (1). It is in these cases that the I-function operates most extensively. In low level lucidity the person is not fully aware they are dreaming and in bed. The I-function can alter the dream slightly (1). The different intensities affect how the person reacts within the dream and reports after waking.

There is a correlation of activity between lucid dreaming and regular dreaming. Rapid eye movement is visible in both cases, but when lucidity occurs their eyes move at a greater rate. An EEG also reveals a greater signal because of increased scalp skin-potential (1). The brain becomes more active and the neocortex behaves ever closer to how it does when awake. The activity implies the I-function, which could be the neocortex, has heightened operation. The data clearly indicates the lucid dreamer is in a more conscious state of mind.

It is possible to induce a lucid dream in people by having them follow certain steps as they fall asleep. The Mnemonic Induction of Lucid Dreams (MILD) includes four steps. They are setting the mind to awaken and recall a dream as soon as it finishes, going to sleep concentrating on being aware of dreams, imagining being back in the last dream or a recent one, and repeating the two previous steps until asleep (3). MILD allows a person to focus their mind. It is an assertion of the I-function over the rest of the nervous system. MILD requires specifically thinking about certain things in order to influence what will happen during sleep. When this works it is a clear sign the I-function is able to assert itself in dreaming.

Another method for self-induction of lucid dreaming requires a more spiritual approach. It involves raising one's energy and chakra, energy transformers, to gain a type of awareness that MILD creates (2). By concentrating a person relaxes and can make their energy flow up to the different chakra points charging their body. As a result the mind is open to self-suggestion (2). At this point using MILD will be particularly effective. The rest of the nervous system is calmed by the meditation allowing for the dominance of the I-function.

Practicing either of these methods increases the likelihood of lucid dreaming. The I-function is learning to exert control over the body. Writing everything down immediately after waking improves one's ability to recognize a dream. There are also reality tests that can be done so the I-function can determine whether or not a dream is occurring. The tests include looking at a text and figuring out if it is readable or looking at a watch to see if the numbers change (1). These easily check the presence of known reality. The I-function consciously does these things and shows it is functioning during the dream. It is not just a random firing like a normal dream. Here the I-function commands the scene and tells the rest of the nervous system what is going on instead of the opposite.

Lucid dreaming provides the I-function an opportunity to loosen restraints and imagine all kinds of new settings and actions. These dreams commonly involve adventure and fantasy instead of representing ordinary life (1). They are more vivid and the images more striking (5). The I-function participates in the creation of the images and adding interesting elements. All of this indicates a more active I-function that is the command center of the dream. It is not a passive actor letting it occur, but runs the dream and determines its direction. The I-function helps a person overcome nightmares because it is aware the imagined threat is not real (1). The I-function knows there is no danger and helps get rid of the fear. Another use the I-function gets out of lucid dreaming is to rehearse expected real life success (1). The I-function prepares the person in advance of the event and helps determine future success.

The nervous system becomes subordinate to the I-function in a lucid dream and supports it as a second nervous system. However, in this instance the secondary one takes control and produces effects in the primary one. Studies show physiological responses in people during lucid dreams. The responses correspond directly to the real action (1). One experiment specifically targeted sexual responses. The subjects reported dreaming about sex and becoming aroused, even attaining orgasm in their dreams. At the same time their bodies actually became aroused and had an orgasm in response to the dream situation (1). Again, it is fantasy from the I-function and its awareness produces changes in the body. It is capable of eliciting responses from the sleeping body in the absence of any other input.

Lucid dreaming is a rare phenomenon that most people report only having once in their lifetime. However, it is an event that indicates the I-function can control the body and make it respond to imaginary stimuli. It causes consciousness during a normally unconscious state and simulates a person being awake. This is important because it raises questions of what reality really is and the extent to which the I-function controls functions when a person is not sleeping. Lucid dreaming allows the I-function to roam free and not be bound by anything. It is capable of taking over the system and creating lucid dreams in a person either through internal or external suggestion. Lucid dreaming allows fantasy to come alive and demonstrates the far-reaching power of the I-function.

WWW Sources

1) Lucid Dreaming, Home Page for Lucidity Institute

2) SpiritWeb: Lucid Dreaming, information on lucid dreaming

3) Through the Mirror, professional and anecdotal information on lucid dreaming

4) Cerebral Institute of Discovery, page about lucid dreaming

5) Alternative Education: Lucid Dreams, facts about lucid dreaming

6) Sleep Syllabus, Basics of Sleep Behavior

7) Current Ideas about REM Sleep, Dreams, and Dreaming, information on dreaming