RE: Anthropic dreams

From: Harvey Newstrom (
Date: Thu Sep 18 2003 - 17:46:43 MDT

Eliezer S. Yudkowsky wrote,
> I forget my dreams. When I'm suddenly woken up, for example, by an alarm
> clock or by my cellphone ringing, it seems - I'm not quite sure if this is

> what is happening, but it's the explanation that seems most likely - it
> seems as if the last fifteen seconds of mental imagery are still "in my
> loop" when I wake up, so I remember them too, just as if they were lucid.

>From my psychology training many years ago...
There are two types of memories. Short-term or temporary memories which are
never stored for long-term use, and long-term memory. Short-term memory is
used when you are driving a car and pass someone. You know they are there,
you pay attention to them, and safely pass them. A minute later, you may
not remember passing them. If there was nothing memorable about them, you
won't note it for long term storage. The brain does not store every single
experience with photographic precision for all time. Instead, it
accumulates important items, and condenses the rest. Even though you may
remember driving on a trip, you won't be able to recall every single mile
and describe what you observed on each.

Dreams are unimportant to most of us. You have them all the time, but don't
note them. Everybody can remember their dreams upon immediately waking, but
forgets them within minutes of waking up. The only thing that makes them
memorable is if you think about them. If you wake up suddenly, you recall
your dream and think about it to yourself. For example, when your cellphone
wakes you up, you think to yourself that you were just sitting in a class
and suddenly were jolted awake somewhere else to find that the class was
just a dream. That is a pretty dramatic thought, and you will probably
remember it. If you don't think about the entire dream, you will probably
only remember the last few seconds of your dream later. If you keep a dream
diary, or sequentially try to recall your dreams immediately upon waking,
you will be able to remember them later. I have done a lot of experimenting
with lucid dreams (where you know you are dreaming) and have had to figure
out how to remember my experiments later. If I don't recount the dream, I
forget it. Even if I remember that I had a dream, I can't recall the
details. If I recount the dream to myself, I can remember it later. I have
tested this theory by selectively recounting one dream to myself but not
others. Later, I can only recall the dream I chose and not the others. I
have even selected items to remember and items to forget. For example, I
had a dream about teaching a class. I deliberately repeated over and over
to myself the statement "I was teaching a class." I deliberately wanted to
focus on that item only and nothing else. Sure enough, later I could
remember teaching, but not what the subject was. I have also done the same
thing where I have had dreams about three objects, and tried to recall as
much detail about two of them trying to ignore the other one. Sure enough,
the ones I recalled to myself were remembered later, but the one I did not
focus on quickly faded.

> So the memory I actually have is of waking up, and then
> five seconds or
> fifteen seconds *later*, the phone rings. With an experience
> like that,

Dreams seems to be able to fit a lot of action in a small amount of time. I
have had long detailed dream sequences in the space of a few minutes. I
have nodded off for a few seconds and had a dream when other people insisted
I couldn't have been asleep long enough. I have even had a couple of rare
dreams that seemed to span months (with different "scenes" at different
points in time). This phenomenon also explains why people who awaken during
a few seconds of sleep-paralysis often dream about being paralyzed unable to
move for minutes at a time. This has been observed in the laboratory where
external stimuli is known to have been short while dreamers report longer

My explanation is that you actually heard the phone or alarm. Your brain
knows what it is and works it into your dream. During the seconds when you
wake up, you aren't conscious of the noise as you transition between dream
sensory input and outside (real-life) sensory input. The dream sounds fades
and it seems like a longer period of time before you realize that you are
hearing the external noise.

Certified InfoSec Manager, Certified IS Security Pro, Certified IS Auditor, 
NSA Cert. Infosec Assessor, IBM Cert. Security Consultant, SANS Cert. GSEC 
<> <> 

This archive was generated by hypermail 2.1.5 : Wed Jul 17 2013 - 04:00:42 MDT