I believe the reason we are motionless is a important clue to what separates the mentation processes of our unconscious mind from our conscious mind.
I think the reason for sleep atonia
is well-understood enough by neuroscience that we can conclude that it isn’t due to conscious or unconscious thought, but rather by a more primitive, brainstem function.
Self-quoting from a thread in the “FullDive Technology” forum, one dedicated to brain-computer interfaces inspired by an animated TV series:
Though not fully understood, we know from experiments going back more than 65 years that a well-defined brainstem structure, the pontine tegmentum, is responsible for inhibiting our muscles during sleep. If this structure is physically damaged or chemically suppressed, a dreaming animal physically acts out its dreams, walking, jumping, etc. This video is from one such experiment, I think by Michel Jouvet ca 1960. Malfunctions of this system are suspected to cause disorders such as sleepwalking and sleep paralysis.
Is it fair to suggest that specific functional differences in the brain between its waking and dreaming states reveal the neurological nature of the differences between the conscious and unconscious mind?
It’s an interesting suggestion, but I think the dichotomy of conscious vs. unconscious mind is a relic of psychodynamic theories
of psychology, such as Freud’s, not something supported by neuroscience.
After more than 30 years of study, I've learned a few things about the nature of dreams and the dreaming brain.
I was born in 1960, and studied psychology as an undergraduate in the late 1970s and early 1980s, so may have a similar experience to your’s DrmDoc. I’ve not studied psych on a graduate or professional level, though I married a clinical social worker with clinical psych education and experience, and an interest in psychology literature beginning in her childhood, especially in “dreamy” therapeutic approaches such as Gestalt
. I also had the good fortune to intern in an inpatient mental hospital, and work on a project involving writing computer programs used in therapy for brain injured people.
A good thing about studying psych when I did is that I learned Freudian and Jungian dream analysis at a time that many therapists took it seriously, which now only a few do, and being introduced to later approaches like Calvin Hall’s
when it was still an “alternative” to the older approaches. Present day students often have only short exposures to the psychodynamic theories as discredited historical footnotes.
Freudians and Jungians considered the unconscious to be a very real, likely neurologically tangible thing, and viewed dreams as a way of probing it more readily than waking psychoanalysis. Jung was less dismissive of “manifest content” in dream analysis than Freud was, and Hall developed an approach that focused on practically exclusively of Feud’s highly symbolic approach, proposing that dreaming and waking thought are similar, cognitive processes.
My views on dreams is close to those of Hall and later dream psychologists: in short, I think dreaming thought are simply continuations of waking thought, distinct from it primarily due to the usual waking sensations being nearly completely suppressed.
This is not to say that dreams are not often very useful, fun, even numinous
. However, my years of keeping a dream journal, and the evolution of my views on dreams have lead me to see them as more a feature of a category of modes of consciousness on a continuum including those experienced when awake.
One functional distinction is hypofrontality. However, this state of low prefrontal activation is not unique to the unconscious state of dreaming. Hypofrontality is also a condition of the conscious schizophrenic brain. This appears to suggest that the dreaming brain experiences schizophrenia.
Even though the literature on it goes back decades, I wasn’t familiar with the condition of hypofrontality
until you mentioned it, DrmDoc. From a quick read of its Wikipedia article, however, I gather that it’s a long-term, treatable but currently irreversible neurophysiological condition, usually associated with gross anatomical brain abnormalities, in particular reduced volume of various brain regions, such as the frontal cortex. Since dreaming occurs in people with normal brains, I don’t think the condition usually called hypofrontality is much related to dreaming. It does appear to be strongly related to, and very likely a cause, of various mental illnesses, including some schizophrenias
A web search for “hypofrontality dreams”
finds many relevant references, many referring to the “%5BArne%5D Dietrich’s 2003 transient hypofrontality hypothesis”, which refer to ideas in Dietrich’s Functional neuroanatomy of altered states of consciousness: The transient hypofrontality hypothesis
. I think it’s important to note that, though they share a word, the chronic
hypofrontality associated with schizophrenia and transient
hypofrontality associated with dreaming aren’t the same state/condition.
For this and other reasons, I don’t think dreaming much resembles schizophrenias. Especially, dreams lack a key feature of most schizophrenias: they’re not dominated by a persistent delusional system. In my experience with schizophrenics, I’ve been more impressed by how strongly and constantly they adhere to often very complex, yet rigid delusional ideology than their less frequent florid hallucination. Schizophrenics are schizophrenic both awake and dreaming, and impress me as experiencing both waking and dreaming live very different from non-schizophrenic people.