Using lucid dreams to study consciousness

Two weeks ago, I posted about a psychologist studying whether videogames were good training for lucid dreaming. Of course, a lucid dream is one in which you're aware of the fact that you're dreaming and can often control what happens. This week, New Scientist looks at how understanding brain activity during lucid dreams may shed light on the mysteries of consciousness. For example, observing what regions of the brain light up during lucid dreams may give clues about where, and how, "self-awareness" emerges. From New Scientist (painting by Salvador Dalí):

 Wikipedia En D Df Dream Caused By The Flight Of A Bumblebee Around A Pomegranate A Second Before Awakening

In 1992, Gerald Edelman at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, proposed that there are two possible states of consciousness, which he called primary and secondary consciousness. Primary consciousness is the simple subjective experience of sensory perception and emotions, which could be applied to most animals. It's a state of "just being, feeling, floating", according to Ursula Voss at the University of Frankfurt in Germany…

The mental life of your common or garden human, however, is a lot more complicated. That's because we are "aware of being aware". This allows us to reflect upon ourselves and our feelings and, in an ideal world, make insightful decisions and judgements. This state, dubbed secondary consciousness, is thought to be unique to humans.

With their increased self-awareness, lucid dreams share certain aspects of secondary consciousness, so researchers are now vying to observe what happens in the brain when someone "wakes up" within their dream, and whether they exhibit any further signatures of consciousness. "It's a very interesting leap because it can show you exactly what occurs if you jump from limited consciousness to very high consciousness," says Victor Spoormaker of the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry, Munich, Germany. "This should be one of the main themes of lucid dream research."

"Want to find your mind? Learn to direct your dreams"