States of Consciousness, Hallucination
and Mind-Body Interaction
--- A Theory of Dreams, Meridians and Other Related Phenomena
National Cheng-Kung Univ., TAIWAN
A popular view in today's science is that dreams are resulted from brain's off-line processing of information, hence they have little to do with the dreamer's deep desire. While there has been no experiment to prove or disprove it, I suggest a very intuitive and simple theory that can explain not only how dreams are actually a product of imagination, but also a wide array of unusual phenomena which can not be explained by the popular theory of dreams.
The major independent hypotheses in this article are threefold:
(1) Dissociation Hypothesis - Inside each brain, there is an ubiquitous (i.e. distributed over the entire conscious brain) program "I", or conscious self, which coordinates various kinds of mental functions (cortices), such as thinking, imagining, sensing, moving, reasoning, etc. (see Fig. I). "I" also supervises memory storage (not retrieval). Many bizarre phenomena (states of consciousness), including hypnosis, multi-personality and those frequently attributed to gods and spirits, are actually the results of the dissociation of certain mental functions from "I" ("mind dissociation", e.g. thought dissociation, sense or movement dissociation, etc.) There are clues suggesting that there might be more than one set of thinking (and imagining).
(2) Simulation Hypothesis - The autonomous nerves receive not only the real signals from the sensory nerves but also the simulated signals from imagination, which draws the needed material from the sensory memory. However, the receiving channels for imaginative signals are open only in the state of "imagination dissociation". Before the reception of these signals, there is a "sensory feedback", which results in hallucination such as dreams, the hearing or sighting of spirits (or UFO’s), the sensation of "Tsigong" (氣功), etc. (see Fig. II ). In dreams, the part of thoughts still associated with "I" will interprete by itself whatever it sees or hears (who, what, where, when). Feedback can guide, strengthen or stabilize the imagination (mainly for dreaming). It also stimulates mood responses such as fear, anger or joy as in real situation, and hence once more affects the autonomous nerves in an indirect way. Since the dissociated imagination has the function of driving the autonomous nerves, it might be able to decipher some "extra" sensory signals which are normally only responded by the autonomous nerves but not taken in by consciousness. Hence, the existence of some limited and nerve-based extra sensory perception (ESP) is reasonable and possible. Some people seem to be able to manipulate the autonomous nerves, they do so through hallucination.
(3) Meridian Hypothesis - When a body part is inflicted, its repair involves not only the automatic release of some biochemicals, but also some actions from the autonomous nerves. The "repair nerves" (one of whose actions is to expand the blood capillaries by relaxing the precapillary sphincters) inside the central autonomous system connect with the compression nerves and the pain nerves. The connection with compression (to keep the blood flowing) can explain the purpose of dreams and why "Tsigong" hallucination can cure bodily disorders. The repair nerves in the brain (and spine?) are grouped into many serpentine chains which are called "meridians" (Dzingluo or Zingluo經絡) by the Chinese school of medicine. When some repair nerves are prodded by pain or compression from some part of the body to send out their repair signals, a chain reaction spreads out to set other repair nerves in the same meridian into action, hence other parts of the body can also be benefited. A purpose of this chain reaction is to allow the muscular movement and compression on the outer parts of the body, especially on the palms and soles, to bring along the daily nourishment of internal organs. As a result, physical exercises would also make healthier organs.
And dreams (rapid eye movements, REMs) actually employ meridians to repair and maintain the body, or help the body grow and develop, by simulating very intensive movement-compression signals to expand the blood vessels when the level of growth enzymes go high. This explains why the heart beat and breathing rates are higher in REMs, why REMs last longer in the later stages of sleep, and why babies have longer REM sleep. Simulation can ensure that the expansion of blood vessels in different parts of body are in right proportions, not uniformly. The purposes of dreams are: (a) to regularly speed up the blood circulation for body’s repair and maintenance without the need to wake up, and (b) to effect mind-body interaction. Mind dissociation and meridians exist mainly for the making and function of dreams respectively. Although it is possible that long term memory is consolidated during the dream period, it has nothing to do with the appearance of dreams. Body repair and memory consolidation are conducted at the same time. The meridian chain reaction was utilized by ancient Chinese who began, without knowing the reason, the seemingly bizarre practices like acupuncture, scratching (刮痧) and massage. The so called "Tsi" (or Qi) by Chinese is a hallucinative sensation of swollenness (compression) or tingling (pain), which can cause the expansion of blood vessels. The "pulse-feeling" diagnosis can also be explained as that a change in the distribution of resistance, caused by the expansion or constriction of blood vessels along meridians, will change the wrist pulse pattern when the heart pumps.
Notes added in 2015:
(1) The author strongly support the idea first proposed by D. Maurice in 1998 that rapid eye movements is, by shaking the anterior aqueous humour, to bring oxigen to the corneal endothelial cells to pump out excessive liquid from the cornea. The luiquid needed to be pumped out in an 8-hr night sleep, about 0.08 cc, is nearly twice the volume of cornea itself. Another possibility is to keep the eyeballs lubricated. Eyeballs are lubricated only by tear containing proteins, and are not closed systems, not moving for too long time might cause problems.
(2) Here I lonely celebrate the 20th anniversary of my theory. The world might ignore it for another 20 years, but not forever.
P.S. Some points for those who can not read Chinese:
(a) "I" Doesn't Think, yet "I" Exists
Some Buddhist monks can experience a state in which they lose all senses and have no thought, yet they are not asleep and feel themselves melted with the universe (have no sense of body boundary), and they remember this experience. This is the pure state of "I", which exists as these monks can attest. "I" is the conscious self or awareness.
(b) Examples of Mind-Body Interaction through Hallucinations or Dreams
Some monks can voluntarily change their body’s temperatures as follows: First they imagine themselves in some very cold or hot environments, then their imaginations are dissociated to create hallucinations and their body’s metabolic rates are changed.
Another example is the pseudo-pregnancy in some women. Women with an extremely strong desire to have babies often have dreams or hallucinations of being pregnant, and their autonomous nerves respond to these hallucinative sensory signals to prepare their bodies, hence they experience the true pregnancy symptoms such as widening of the abdomen, enlargement of the breasts, etc.
(c) An Explanation of Hypnosis
When a person is hypnotized, it might be that his/her imagination is dissociated and sends the imagined content back to the sensory cortex, resulting in dreams or hallucinations; or some of senses are dissociated, resulting in hypnotic anesthesia; or motor function is dissociated, resulting in immobility; or reason is dissociated and he/she obeys the hypnotist’s orders; or thought is dissociated and not controlled by reason, hence strives to straighten out his/her body between two chairs. A command can also be planted into the hypnotized mind and acted out accordingly long after the session of hypnosis, as follows: A person obeys the orders of reason in normal state, but when hypnotized, his/her reason is replaced by the hypnotist's command to make decisions or believes, and he/she will be very uneasy if he/she does not do things as decided or his/her belief is contradicted. Hypnotherapy is also based on this principle.
(d) An Explanation of Multi-Personality
Every cerebral cortex area has its own function and associated memory. The thought area has the memory of events and emotions. At some stage of his/her life, a patient of multi-personality disorder created a new thought subsystem and dissociated the others, and then grew up with multiple subsystems alternatedly.