The Nature of Consciousness

Piero Scaruffi

(Copyright © 2013 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions )
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These are excerpts and elaborations from my book "The Nature of Consciousness"

The Origin of Dreaming

The US psychiatrist Fred Snyder advanced the hypothesis that, from an evolutionary perspective, REM sleep came first and dreams came later. First bodies developed the brain state of REM sleep, which was retained because it had a useful function for survival (for example, because it kept the brain alert and ready to react to emergencies even during sleep), and then dreams were engrafted upon REM sleep.  REM sleep was available and was used to host dreams.  Dreaming evolved after a physical feature made them possible, just like language evolved after an anatomical apparatus that was born for whatever other reason. Dreaming, just like language, is an "epiphenomenon".  The real purpose of REM sleep was to act as a “sentinel”.

The psychologist Anthony Stevens has provided a practical explanation for why some animals started dreaming: dreaming emerged when oviparous animals evolved into viviparous animals. By dreaming, the brain could augment its performance with some “off-line” processing. This made it possible to limit the size of the brain while leaving brain activity free to grow. Brains, and thus heads, would remain small enough to pass through the maternal pelvis.

In Winson's scenario, dreams helped us survive a long time before our mind was capable of providing any help at all. And dreams, unlike higher consciousness, are likely to be common to many species.

The mind could well be an evolution of dreaming, which happened in humans and not in other species. First the brain started dreaming, and then dreams took over the brain and became the mind, which could be viewed as a continuous dream of the universe that we inhabit.

This hypothetical history of the mind does not differ too much from the one in which the mind was created by “memes” (concepts that spread from mind to mind). The relationship between memes and dreams is intuitive, and the psychologist Joseph Campbell indirectly summarized it with his celebrated aphorism that “a myth is a public dream, a dream is a private myth”.


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