The Power of Rest

Why sleep alone is not enough–and how to reset your body

Waking Up to "Awake"

Is life just a dream?

La Vida Es Sueno

Is life a dream? Or do realities begin in dreams?
"Awake," NBC's new drama, premieres tonight,  March 1st, 2012. One night police detective Michael Britten, played by Jason Isaacs, survives a horrific car wreck—but not his family.

He becomes conscious and finds he's living two distinct realities. In one his son is alive, his wife gone. Yet when he next opens his eyes he enters a different world where his wife lives but his son is dead. In each "reality" he has a separate psychiatrist or psychologist. Both tell him the other doctor is a figment of his dreams.

Soon the two realities blend, cross, meld. Details of police cases from one reality charge into the other. Asked by one of his doctors to choose sanity and the loss of his family, Britten declares he cannot leave either his son or his wife. He pain is too great. He must live fully in both worlds.


Many people live one life but would prefer a different existence. Are they like Britten?

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Could a Situation Like "Awake" Actually Occur?


Strangely, yes. It can and does happen—in dreams themselves.

Dreams are not always "single." As in the movie "Inception," dreams can proceed from one to yet another and another. You can dream that you are asleep and inside a dream and find that your next dream within a dream—or the one that comes after— is equally credible. Some people will tell you they've experienced dreams that processed months or years of life.

Can We Always Tell We Are Awake or Asleep?


No. People often have microsleeps in the day—falling asleep for several seconds or longer. This may occur because sleep itself causes amnesia. We often do not remember the last few minutes before we fall asleep.

We also often get confused about when we're truly asleep. Leon Rosenthal once did a study while at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, letting people fall into light, stage 1 sleep for 10 minutes.
They were completely asleep. Yet 50% thought they were awake the whole time.


Do People Prefer Dreams to Reality?


Some people do find their dreams more vibrant and enjoyable than waking reality. In my experience, very few want to dream all their lives.

Do People Live Within Dream Realities?


Quite often. In Japan's Otaku culture, young people try to live life as if they are characters from manga comics or anime TV and film.

Can People Prefer Artificial Realities When Conscious?

Happens all the time - look at the immense popularity of videos and multiplayer games. According to the February 17th isssue of  "The Week," one young Taiwanese was approached by the attendant in an Internet café. His 23 hours paid gaming time was now up. The attendant had watched the player for hours, thinking he was "snoozing."

Sadly, he was dead. According to the police, when his body was carried out the 10 people still playing in the café seemed not to notice.

Why Do Shows Like "Awake" Seem Plausible?


Today is in many ways like the 1930's. Even our economic policies—witness fiscal austerity in Europe - imitate actions of that time. In stressful periods entertainment often engages themes of fantasy and impossible wish fulfillment.


And our "accepted" version of physical reality has changed a lot. Look at physics. Now 96% of the universe is said to be dark matter and dark energy, of which we know virtually nothing. To explain that density of matter and energy, many theoretical physicists invoke multiple multiverses—separate universes—with between 6 and 14 dimensions. Some describe the process as trying to understand "phantom energy and a bunch more." With such theoretical flights, thinking that your daily life might be a Matrix like computer simulation appears less of a stretch.

Can We Dream Like Britten Does in "Awake"?
It might not be advisable, but dreaming within dreaming is doable. Pre-dreaming, where you visualize the dreams you want to have, can certainly change dream content—even creating dreams within dreams.


And lucid dreaming can make your dream content go anywhere. You might even conceive a dream where you are a producer creating a television series about a family which lives in overlapping, alternate dream worlds—where you also play the star.
In dreams begin realities.

 

Matthew Edlund, M.D. researches rest, sleep, performance, and public health; he is the author of Healthy Without Health Insurance and The Power of Rest.

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