Category Archives: Science

LUCID DREAMS: When Conscious Meets Subconscious ~ g. kinyon

Standing on a polished wood floor, I looked across the length of a room in which I’d never been. I didn’t know what the outside of the house looked like; this room, in fact, was all I knew. It was appointed cozily enough: three standard pieces of white cloth furniture plus a shaggy white throw rug in the center, wood paneling, artistic wall hangings, light entering from a patio door to my right. Another room was beyond an arched passageway on the far side of this one. I stood behind the sofa, which was positioned width-wise and in my way. Rather than walk around it, I did what I usually do in these situations: I levitated about head-high and propelled myself forward, not a skill everyone enjoys. The next room had black walls and red leather furniture with brass stays. The table tops were glass. Along the left wall at the top extended a room-length sheetrock box where ductwork had apparently been covered. At the far side, carpeted stairs rose six steps to a landing and cut 180 degrees before ascending to the next floor from there. I wanted to see the upstairs, naturally, but another interest delayed that proposition. The ceiling of this black room was not itself black, but white with a bluish tint. I flew higher and closer. In burnt-red, images straight off of bowls and vases from ancient Greece were scattered as overhead décor. Paper trim with representations of Doric columns added to the classical effect. I studied this to my heart’s content. But before shooting to the staircase, I alighted. I announced with my arms spread wide that I was the designer of all I surveyed. I added, so there’d be no mistake, that I was fully aware of the paradox. “I don’t know what will be up those stairs, but I will have created it.” And onward I flew, the paradox blowing my mind to atoms.

For the second time in my life, I had intentionally pulled off a lucid dream. I’d had lucid dreams before—several times—I just didn’t know they had a name. Nor did I know a person could will them to happen. But like any of the things that make living a positive, lucid dreams take effort. Conjuring them requires practice, study, repetition, and determination. I am only in the apprenticeship stages of this conceit, and I fully intend to tack on a part two after I’ve got a better handle on it all.

When the human mind becomes aware that it is existing in the course of a dream, the fantastic happens. One realizes he need only imagine earthly or heavenly delights for them to appear. The senses are intact. The universe in this plane is at the dreamer’s fingertips. And at his caprice. The three things LD beginners will inevitably do once they know what’s going on are 1) Jump up and down and shout to the world that they’re dreaming and they know it. 2) Fly—if they can figure out how, anyway. 3) Have sex. Again, all the senses are intact. It’s a natural, primal impulse. To make that person materialize, though—the person you want to do it with the most—requires a few spins around the block. Early on you’ll have to settle with what shows up, which seems instructive of real life in some vague fashion. Remaining in a conscious dream long enough to get much out of it takes practice too, by the way. The initial excitement of having accomplished it on purpose, the jumping around and shouting, will often be enough to ruin it. To scare it off, if you will. You’ll either wake up or slip into a standard dream, lucky if you can remember later it happened at all.

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The dream I described above is an example of having a slight amount of experience. Rather than getting overexcited and carried away with controlling everything around me by way of conscious intent (as I did the first time), I allowed my subconscious to have its head. I explored the world of my imagination, let it come to me on its own, show me things it wanted me to see. This approach earned a reward—that of recognizing the paradox. Before I flew up the steps, I knew that in the insignificant span of time it would take me to round a corner, I would have designed and built a complete environment, with all the detail that can be imagined–but I wouldn’t know what was there until I arrived. And I was in awe of my abilities when I saw what I could do. Today’s leaders of lucid dream experimentation report employing their skills to better understand the universe. A master can go forward or backward in time and observe, shrink to explore the infinitesimal, or examine distant solar systems.

Tibetan Buddhism probably represents the oldest known culture to gain a true understanding of lucid dreaming. The Tibetan monks have apparently devised techniques of dream yoga that can send the adept to deeper levels of conscious dreaming than the typical practitioner can reach. In fact, in lucid dreaming one can find a nexus of many of the Eastern spiritual philosophies. Lucid dreaming is a goal of meditation and proper breathing. The goal of kundalini yoga is called, interestingly, the kundalini awakening. As with kundalini and the chakras, achieving lucidity may follow the course of visualization of colors and focal points of the body. Certain sounds and even chants, along with control of the breathe cycle, can help one dive into a dream with full consciousness. The same is used with qigong, practiced by Taoists to achieve the Tao, or the divine emptiness—a superior state of being. Dream lucidity can be as frivolous, as spiritual, or as empirical as one wants to make it. While there is no harm in using it to placate the id, (even kundalini and qigong are consciously libido-friendly) there seems to be a saturation point with conscious dreaming where temporal thrills lose their luster. In the material realm, we often hear of the person who has it all (Kurt Cobain comes to mind) committing suicide. Wealth, fame, and sex are no longer fulfilling. The accomplished lucid dreamer need never get bored, but simply move on to the next grand adventure. The options are limitless. As to how often the LD old-timers–the for-the-sake-of-science masters–take a dream-world break from study to get laid…that’s anybody’s guess.

You can cheat your way to…well, if not to lucid dreams, at least to some wild ones, via dream herbs and chemicals. These are easily found online. The first dream chemical I discovered was in a nicotine patch. The warnings on nicotine patches even mention disturbing dreams. I like disturbing. I’ve tried them solely for the sake of a short cut to lucidity, but to no avail. I’ll order some of the other goodies before it’s all over, I can pretty well promise. Part two.

As a point of further interest, Paul McCartney famously found the music for “Yesterday” in a dream. Srinivasa Ramanujan, the mathematical genius, claimed he received his formulae from a Hindu Goddess in his dreams. The Jekyll/Hyde story came from the dream world. So did Frankenstein. Philosopher Renee Descartes was a lucid dreamer, as were/are a host of other famous names. Like Goethe and Tesla.

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The one critical tool for becoming a lucid dreamer is maintaining a personal dream journal. This is not easy to do and it proves you’re serious. Imagine you fail to check your inbox for a few days. When you do check it, let’s say you have a hundred messages. Now imagine deleting them all without reading. Once you start keeping a dream log, you’ll know you’ve deleted a hell of a lot of unread messages over the years. Your dream journal speaks to you–it sends you messages. It shows you patterns with your dreams you never knew existed. You’ll read it and think…wow. The number of false awakenings–where you dream you wake up, think you’re awake, and then dream you awaken again and again–the number of those I’ve recorded is astounding. As for help in accomplishing lucidity, it’s the act of waking up in the dark and scribbling shit on paper that habituates you to moving from the dream to the temporal worlds and back. The sooner one gets comfortable manipulating things in the hypnagogic state, the sooner one masters LD.  Also, in your journal you’ll find dream signs you can learn to recognize to verify you’re dreaming. But I’ve come across something else by way of the journal, something that has validated–for me, at least–the concept of synchronicity. I’ve given Freud his due here, and now it’s Jung’s turn.

Two nights ago as I write, March 8, 2014, I went to a poetry reading in an eatery/drinkery I’d never heard of, in a town where I don’t reside: Grandview, MO. On my way out of the place, Cafe Main, I passed by this big glass pastry case, loaded with some of the finest-looking, most tempting bakery products I’d ever seen. I hesitated. I wanted one. But I knew those things were bad for me. I watch what I eat for the most part and I dragged myself out of there. The following morning, yesterday, I woke up with no dreams to record. I was disappointingly blank. Of a sudden, something triggered my memory, and I commenced to setting a dream journal record by packing four legal-size notebook pages tight with the description of a single dream. I usually wait a week or so before I go over what I’ve recently written–it’s more interesting that way: I forget what I’ve recorded just as completely as I forget what I’ve dreamt. After I transcribed my marathon dream, I decided to read over the last few entries. Here’s what I see as if for the first time: I’m in some kind of retail establishment in Grandview. Floor to ceiling glass walls. I have an item to buy, a rolled-up mattress. A salesman takes it from me and disappears. I go to look for him. I pass a big glass pastry case full of delicious-looking treats. They look wonderful, but I know they’re bad for me and I leave. Date: Friday morning, March 7, 2014.

Make of it what you will.  

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THERE IS NO GOD

The evidence is in and the debate is over. The Science Channel and physicist Stephen Hawking have laid out proof in one hour of cable programming that there can be no God. Here is how the story goes:

The universe is expanding. As far as I’m aware, everyone agrees with that. I’ve heard no competing theories or offers of evidence to the contrary. So, if the universe is indeed expanding, then we must trace it all back in time—some 14 billion years—to when the expanding began. Just as the universe is infinitely huge today, it was infinitesimally tiny back then—sub-atomic, in fact. We continue to contract, back and back in time, tinier and tinier. Now, keep in mind Einstein calculated that time and space are of one fabric; they are not separate and independent of each other. When the totality of energy and matter was sub-atomic, so was that of time and space. We are told science has proved that the laws of physics do not apply at the sub-atomic level. We are told that energy and matter actually do appear out of nothingness when we explore the nano-world. Before the Big Bang, when all hell broke loose and the universe blew into existence from nothingness, time and space did not exist. Therefore, God (perhaps we can use the little g now) had no time to create anything. WHAM! At the end of the programming hour, the narrator hits us upside the head with this apparent fact. Stephen Hawking adds that he certainly doesn’t wish to offend religious sensibilities, but that we each have one shot at life and that’s it. It’s over when it’s over. It has taken mankind until the 21st century after the birth of Christ to figure it out, but the uncaused first cause has been uncovered. 

If this is true, then I have to wonder if I will lose my incentive. What’s the point? When a loved one dies, most of us are buoyed by the belief, or at least the hope, that we will meet again. If we remove a creator from the picture, it seems that we remove heaven, and we take away any possibility that things will be made right. If we have proved that this life is all there is—that there were no past lives to call our own and that there will be no more shots at doing it better someday, and that there will be no eternity spent in a state of rapture with the spirits of people we know and love—then what difference would it ultimately make if we were Hitler or Stalin or Mother Theresa? Also, when we ponder our own insignificance in the universe, the idea of God being aware of us as individuals is comforting.

Then again, most religions tell us that a preponderance of souls will spend the afterlife burning alive. If we don’t behave in a perfect manner—essentially in ways that are anything but natural to us—we are doomed to unfathomable, and often endless, torment. If there is no creator, then we can breathe a sigh of relief that there will be no more pain. No more sleepless nights of internal grappling over angry or sexual thoughts that are consequential to our humanly existence.

These are all things we think about when contemplating the absence of a supreme, omnipotent being. Atheists have already accepted that what we see is what we get, and they seem to get along all right. If humanity has proved there is no God, then the other 90% of us can learn from the Atheists. We can learn how to remain motivated to live our lives as fully as possible. We can learn why we should be good people and listen to our consciences rather than trouncing on our fellow humans to get our way. Maybe consciences themselves are programmed into us with the recently-discovered God gene as a tool for perpetuating our existence as a species.

But it seems to me that Stephen Hawking is missing something—or dismissing something. Has he proved that there can be no alternate planes of existence?—dimensions, such as at the sub-atomic level, where our known laws of physics do not apply? Is it not a leap of faith to believe that energy and matter can and do appear out of nothing? Is it not possible that this so-called nothingness is really another dimension that remains undetectable by scientific instrumentation and calculation? At the level where neutrinos gambol about, why is it more likely that matter forms out of nothing than it is that portals exist between our material plane and another, unseen realm? Why is it more likely that matter and energy form from nothing than it is that they enter our world through one of these thresholds?

Friends and family have confided in me stories that point to just such a possibility—stories of being clinically dead and traveling to alternate realms, of leaving the body or being visited, even harassed, by other-worldly entities, ghosts, I mean. Spirits of deceased family members have come to convey that things would be all right. I’ve lost count of such confidences. The inexplicable bombards our earthly existence now as it has for ages. I could shrug these things off and assign them to over-active imaginations had I not had such experiences myself. As far as God and Heaven and the Devil and Hell, I don’t know, but I’m ever convinced something else is out there. 

And now scientists themselves have admitted to a belief in the invisible—or what some might call faith. It is pure faith on the part of science to conclude that infinity is formed from zero. The Science Channel motto is “Question everything.” And so we should. I’ve seen more evidence of a spiritual plane than I have that nothingness creates. It has been said that every atom passes through all possible histories, or, in other words: Alexander the Great died at birth and the Moors defeated Charles Martel while your uncle watched from an oak tree. Every alternate history has transpired and will continue to do so. This could be true, as could reincarnation, as could one parallel universe, as could a multi-verse, as could string theory and the theory that the Big Bang was really a Big Collision that happens over and over. It seems to me there is a greater chance that any of these are true than that nothingness produces something.

Something comes from nothing. Another way of saying that would be, “We have no idea where matter and energy and time and space originate, but we’re too tired to go any farther.”

ANESTHESIA

The word rings sweet in our ears. Women scream for it in the delivery room. It has made previously-unthinkable surgeries routine. It keeps us from living our lives in fear. It is more indispensible than air conditioning. And it leaves us with this question: How did civilization manage for millennia without it?

Napoleon’s military surgeons had an advantage in the winter that they did not have during the warm months, and particularly in Russia: the anesthetizing effect of frigid temperatures and snow. Surgeons packed snow around doomed limbs to numb them before amputation. Women, including camp followers such as prostitutes, cantinieres, vivandieres, and actresses, plied men with brandy when it was available before surgery, but it was the cold that did the most to render amputations bearable. Surgery without anything to numb the affected areas, such as during the warm months, must have been indescribably horrific. Sometimes the patients were mere youths, too: drummer boys or civilian children caught in the crossfire. It’s not something most of us care to think about. If you ever suffer surgery without anesthesia, you will not soon forget it.

I have done many things for the sake of the experience, sometimes so that I could write about it. I have had many experiences for reasons of necessity. I wouldn’t volunteer to undergo surgery without anesthesia just to know first-hand what it was like, and not so that I could write about it. But I would do it in order to continue living.

You cannot expect doctors to be square with patients when doing so would mean inciting terror, and I wouldn’t hold that against them. I had a tracheostomy recently, and not only did the surgeons avoid telling me what I was in for, but they lied, for which I am grateful. They did let me know I would have to remain conscious during the procedure. Breathing on my own was crucial, at least until the aperture was made. If I were knocked out, I might stop breathing and suffocate. The lie came when the head surgeon told me the anesthesiologists would inject me with a cocktail that would send me to heaven, figuratively speaking. She said she’d never known a patient to remember the operation.

If that last part was true, then I ruined her streak, but I’m reasonably sure it wasn’t. My first clue that something bad was in store came when they flopped me onto the operating table and started putting my arms into restraints. I told myself this was surely just an emergency precaution. (I would hear later that surgical team members sometimes had to lie across a patient to keep the poor sap in place during a tracheostomy.) The crew fitted a strap around my head and installed a mask over my face so that I couldn’t see. The anesthesiologist announced that he was now injecting me and I would soon be happy and at one with the universe. I looked forward to that. Just the same, that Zen-like tranquility never came. The words were a placebo. The doctors told me lots of placebos. (I now notice that placebo has the same root as placate.) The doctor said that if by any chance I felt pain, to let them know and they would administer a local anesthetic.

If by “let us know” she meant scream, then we were on the same page. And if I was at one with anything, it was with a tiny buzz saw. I couldn’t see the critter, but I could hear and feel it. ZZZZ, ZZZZ, ZZZZ. Into my flesh it went. I gritted my teeth and clenched my sphincter; I didn’t want to be a baby about it. I could only make it a matter of seconds, however, before I called for that local. The anesthesiologist, or somebody, obliged me with a long needle to the sliced-up Adam’s apple. I felt fluid stream into the tissue, riding the current of pain that the needle generated. A numbing sensation—a welcome, appreciated, and wholly inadequate numbing sensation—followed. And the buzz saw followed that. ZZZZ, ZZZZ,ZZZZ went the implement. When you visit torture chamber museums, I was thinking, you see implements. I balled my hands into fists and squeezed my eyes closed. The mask, I realized, was to keep meat and blood from flying into my face. I imagined what was being flung onto the team as they stood around me.

The lead surgeon spoke to her assistant—her trainee—describing what they were seeing, what level they had reached, as she drilled. I asked as calmly as I could for another shot. Again the needle pierced my skin and plunged far too deeply into my neck tissue. Again the burn of fluid under pressure followed the pain of the needle. I felt the touch of air against the exposed nerve endings within the new crater. And then the buzzing resumed. The local gave me maybe a minute of arguably-tolerable pain before I was clenching and grinding and squeezing. The lead surgeon nudged her assistant for agreement that they were at the correct place in my throat. I couldn’t tell if the question was just part of the training, or if somebody was lost. The assistant agreed, but without the confidence in her voice that I longed for. And I asked for another shot. The routine had been established. That terrible blade whirled through me, its power-device producing resistance sounds, its RPMs slowing intermittently as it hit tougher material. I knew if I fought in any way that I’d make things worse. It burned me like a hot iron, but I had to take it. I thought of those soldiers in the tents losing their arms and legs to the stroke of a bone-saw. Again, I requested a shot, and I was lucky to have it, what good it did. I requested lots of shots before it was all over.

At long last—and I honestly don’t know how long it took, but I guessed about twenty minutes—I felt the sensation of fresh oxygen and nitrogen streaming directly into my lungs from my neck. I heard positive exclamations, reminiscent of the eurekas you might hear when gold or oil is struck. I was as relieved as a person could be under the circumstances. I’d thought for a moment I wasn’t going to make it, the pain having been so intense. But no one had secured me to the table with the weight of his body. That was something, anyway. After the surgeon asked the assistant to verify the hole had been drilled in the right place—which the assistant was pretty sure was the case—she told me I could now be drifted off to sleep.

And my trifling operation was nothing compared to a field amputation. Someone had discovered ether by the time the War Between the States came around, but I shudder to imagine life before that. The existence of anesthesia allows us to carry on without fretting over the likely event of an unbearable surgery. We, in our modern times, have no conception of what it was like to have such a thought lurking in our minds, the probability hanging over our heads. I’m surprised that that fear was not written about more often. I will forever feel a debt of gratitude for the people who worked so hard to bring anesthesia to the masses.