Dreams, movement and experience

consciousnessThe body of your dreams

Anil Ananthaswamy

New Scientist, 13 August 2011

This article, based on research by Alan Hobson at Harvard and Ursula Voss at Bonn University, discusses recent dream research. The suggestion here is that in addition to the conventional view that dreams relate to everyday waking life, there is a segment of dreaming that connects to representations of the body that may not be currently realistic.

This latter hypothesis is derived from dream research with paraplegics and with the deaf. Dream reports of subjects born with paralysis had them walking, running and swimming as frequently as control groups of normally active subjects. About 80% of deaf subjects could speak and hear in their dreams. Voss notes the possibility that this dreaming was simply based on observing people with normal movement and hearing, but argues for a genetically determined ability to mimic activities such as movement and speech in dreams. The lack of difference in experience of movement between paraplegics and controls also appears to argue for this, given that something that was only seen as being done by others would be expected to manifest less frequently than something directly experienced as a part of waking life.

These findings would appear to place a question mark over some versions of embodiment theory, which tend towards consciousness arising mainly from bodily movement. While it is likely that feedback from the body plays an important role, these findings suggest that conscious experiences of movement are also hard wired into the brain.

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