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← Awakening in Dreams | Nicola De Pisapia | TEDxMantova

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Showing Revision 6 created 09/17/2019 by Nicoletta Pedrana.

  1. Let's start with a seemingly
    easy question.
  2. Who, here, is convinced
    to be dreaming, right now?
  3. Raise your hand, one, two -
  4. not many, thankfully.
  5. (Laughter)
  6. Another question, linked to the first -
    even though it doesn't seem so.
  7. Who of you would trust someone
  8. who betrays you every day?
  9. Every day, every night actually,
    it fools you into believing false things.
  10. Is there someone
    who would trust that person?
  11. No, we all agree on this.
  12. Yet this is what we do:
  13. we trust someone
    who deceives us every day.
  14. This is what we all do,
    because our mind fools us
  15. every day, every night, when we sleep,
    for about an hour and a half.
  16. That is the duration
    of the so-called REM phases,
  17. the sleep's dreaming phase.
  18. Which kind of experience is dream?
  19. We all know that, we believe what we see.
  20. If we're having a nightmare,
    we are afraid,
  21. because that monster is chasing us,
    we believe it is true.
  22. If we have a love affair
    with someone, we believe it.
  23. And the experience we are living,
    we live it intensely.
  24. Our mind deceives us
    in an extremely convincing way,
  25. involving all our senses.
  26. It involves sight, involves hearing,
  27. involves touch, involves emotions.
  28. Our brain and our mind
    create for us, when we dream,
  29. some sort of movie,
    natural virtual reality.
  30. Some of you may have tried
    to use virtual reality, right?
  31. We are immersed in it, we believe in it.
    Even more so in a dream.
  32. It is a "natural" technology, so to say,
    and it's even more effective.
  33. Yet during the day, when we are awake,
  34. we trust our mind,
  35. which is the same
    that betrayed us in the night,
  36. the same that deceived us,
  37. that perhaps inspired us during the night,
  38. but still generating something
    that just is not true.
  39. It is fake, it is illusory,
    it is a shadow.
  40. This idea that our mind deceives us
  41. has deeply crossed
    our entire Western culture
  42. generating two approaches,
    two ways of thinking
  43. extremely important for all of us.
  44. We could not be here now
  45. if we had not reconsidered
    the deceptive nature of our senses.
  46. One approach is science.
  47. With the scientific method,
  48. science wants to go beyond the limits
    of the individual mind,
  49. the deception of our senses,
  50. That's why we use a meter.
  51. If I guess by naked eye,
    something is five feet meter long,
  52. I know I can deceive myself,
    my mind is not that accurate,
  53. I need to use a tool
  54. to objectively measure that length.
  55. This holds true for everything in science.
  56. We set up models,
    but we do not trust them.
  57. We must run experiments,
    we must take measures
  58. so that our idea, our fantasy,
  59. is somehow confirmed
    by the external reality.
  60. So the scientific method
  61. is totally aware
    of how deceptive our mind is.
  62. And it doesn't count
    a single scientist's opinion,
  63. because she may have made a mistake,
  64. she might have made experiments,
    let's say, only in a certain direction.
  65. Another scientist is needed
  66. who questions, tries to falsify,
  67. what the first scientist stated.
  68. Another discipline
    that strongly takes into account
  69. the deceptive nature of our senses
  70. is Western philosophy.
  71. There's also the Eastern one,
  72. but we are more familiar
    with the Western one.
  73. Think of Descartes, René Descartes,
  74. a great French philosopher,
    one of the fathers of modern thought.
  75. He starts his philosophical study,
    his philosophical exploration,
  76. precisely from the fundamental doubt
    about the relatability of his senses
  77. and tried to find
    a sounder base than his senses,
  78. one that a philosophical system
    can later be built upon.
  79. And so he starts saying
    "I think therefore I am",
  80. which is well known.
  81. You see, science and philosophy,
  82. and various philosophical approaches
    that we do not explore now,
  83. are fully aware of our senses'
    deluding nature.
  84. But we, as individuals,
  85. we rarely ask ourselves during the day:
  86. am I dreaming or not?
  87. Instead, we believe
    in what our senses, all the time,
  88. make us see, hear, feel, touch.
  89. But I'd like to stress with you now
  90. a particular method we can use
  91. to become more aware
  92. of our senses' deceptive nature.
  93. And this happens just while we dream.
  94. That is, while we are having
    a normal dream,
  95. trying to nurture the ability
  96. to wonder if that is a dream or not.
  97. Let's assume I'm chased
    by a nightmare's monster;
  98. while I'm running away,
    I contemplate the situation
  99. and ask myself: is this a dream or not?
  100. And I turn my face to the monster.
  101. It is an extremely difficult
    change of conscience, it is not easy,
  102. but perhaps some of you
    will have experienced it.
  103. Some of you may have had a dream
  104. where you felt it was a dream
    and maybe you guided it a little bit.
  105. Those are called "pre-lucid dreams".
  106. A lucid dream is an extremely
    intense experience,
  107. where we are fully aware
    of the fact that we are dreaming.
  108. You see, as a teenager
    I had that experience
  109. as I clumsily practiced
  110. meditation techniques during the day
  111. and one night I happened
    to have a lucid dream
  112. of this extremely intense type,
  113. which shaped a bit, let's say,
  114. the way I saw, and still see,
  115. consciousness and awareness.
  116. With the first dream then,
  117. immediately reported
    on the lucid dreams's book,
  118. was the first in a series
    of hundreds and hundreds of lucid dreams
  119. that I had in my life
    and still continue to have.
  120. And they have a great
    transformative power.
  121. Initially with the first dreams,
    you learn a little to play.
  122. One thing I did, for example,
  123. was to get up a few inches off the ground.
  124. So I tried to challenge
    the laws of physics
  125. and move from one place to another
  126. of that extremely detailed
    dream reality, by sliding.
  127. But then, why stop at that?
  128. So in later dreams I elevated myself more,
  129. and even passed through walls.
  130. I had the chance to fly over a city,
  131. to go from one city to another,
  132. always with extreme realism.
  133. Meeting people generated for us
    by our dream world -
  134. we cannot control the people in the dream,
  135. they have a strange
    independence of thought;
  136. but we can decide to go to them.
  137. We can transform our body,
  138. because we have a dream body,
  139. which is the same one
    of when we are awake,
  140. but if we look at our dream hands
  141. we can transform them, with an effort
    of lucidity and awareness,
  142. giving them six or ten fingers,
  143. or the hands of an animal,
    to become a wolf.
  144. One can become an eagle,
  145. not only to fly but also
    to have the body of an eagle.
  146. It is possible to become a dog,
  147. a woman if you are a man,
    or the other way around.
  148. It is possible to be
    in two places simultaneously,
  149. being aware of that -
    and why not, even three places.
  150. Once it happened to me
    to be in three different places,
  151. I was flying in one, walking in another,
  152. and melted with the floor
    in the third one.
  153. Not so pleasant but interesting.
  154. And anyway, you're in control.
    You can wake up at any time.
  155. So, we said about philosophy.
  156. There are various traces
    of our awareness' ability
  157. to move into the world of shadows.
  158. And the best allegory for this idea
    is a very famous one
  159. I am sure that many of you
    will have heard or studied.
  160. It is the Plato's Cave,
  161. or the Allegory of the Cave,
    as it is also known.
  162. It's a story, I recapitulate here,
  163. written by Plato 2,400 years ago
    in his Republic,
  164. staged in a cave deep within the Earth.
  165. There are prisoners in chains
  166. who are forced to look
    only at the bottom of the cave,
  167. with no chance to move or look back.
  168. That is their world.
  169. Behind them, unbeknownst to them,
    there is a huge fire
  170. and between fire and prisoners
  171. there are people passing with objects.
  172. So the prisoners see,
    at the bottom of the cave.
  173. a number of moving shadows.
  174. That is their reality,
  175. and they therefore believe
    that this is the only reality.
  176. Those shadows are all that is there.
  177. It just so happens, one day,
  178. one of those prisoners
    is released from the chains.
  179. He is able to get out
    of his limited world.
  180. The first thing he does,
    he sees that there is a huge fire
  181. and he sees there are
    three-dimensional objects
  182. he had absolutely no idea of before,
  183. And he understands that shadows,
  184. once thought to be
    the objects of the world,
  185. are only a projection
    of the actual three-dimensional reality.
  186. Then, at a distance, he sees a light,
  187. which is the entrance to the cave
    he had lived in until then,
  188. he goes there, he comes out
  189. and sees that the world
    is much more complex
  190. and very rich, colorful, full of light
  191. and there is a large fire,
    much larger than that of the cave,
  192. which is the sun,
    which enlightens everything.
  193. And he can interact with these objects,
    he can run, he can touch them.
  194. Awakened as it is - you see,
    this is a metaphor for awakening -
  195. but there is another passage,
  196. which is what also happens
    in lucid dreaming,
  197. that is, he decides to get back
    to the world of shadows.
  198. He returns down inside the cave
  199. where his inmates are still prisoners,
  200. and he wants to tell them
  201. that the reality of the shadows
    is not the real reality
  202. but there is a much more complex reality,
    much richer, much finer,
  203. much more true, out there.
  204. As you can see, allegories
    describe mental processes,
  205. just as dreams.
  206. indeed allegories and dreams overlap,
    they have a close connection.
  207. In this allegory of Plato
  208. there is this mental process of awakening,
  209. A hard process,
  210. also because initially
    it's hard to wake up,
  211. blinded as we are by light;
  212. but little by little,
    we wake up completely.
  213. But then you see,
    there's this second passage,
  214. the return to the world of shadows,
  215. the return to sleep,
    the return to the illusory condition
  216. where we try to interact
    but from an awakened standpoint.
  217. So you see how it is like
    to wake up in a dream.
  218. Recent neuroscientific research
  219. has focused on this phenomenon.
  220. It used to be the exclusive
    realm of philosophy
  221. or maybe some anecdote
    told here and there.
  222. Then it became a mostly
    psychological field,
  223. and now even of neuroscience.
  224. So what happens
    in a lucidly dreaming brain?
  225. Well, the message is this,
  226. we have a part of the brain
    that is critically important,
  227. called the prefrontal cortex,
  228. the one we have behind the forehead.
  229. And you can imagine its role
  230. as a sort of conductor
    of all of our mental abilities.
  231. It directs the vision,
  232. which decides when to pay attention,
  233. what we must pay attention to
    in our visual range.
  234. So the conductor -
  235. as it doesn’t play an instrument itself
  236. but regulates, let's say, the productions
    of all the other instruments.
  237. Thus it is a kind of boss of our mind.
  238. That's when we have normal,
    ordinary dreams,
  239. the prefrontal cortex is off,
  240. while the rest of the brain
    is normally active
  241. almost as if we were awake.
  242. So it's a very active brain,
    but in the prefrontal cortex.
  243. What has been discovered is,
    when we have a lucid dream -
  244. a very rare event,
    very hard to reproduce in labs,
  245. prefrontal cortex gets activated,
  246. not just as completely
    as if we were awake,
  247. but in many substantial parts
    it's more active, consumes more oxygen.
  248. It was also found,
  249. those who are most prone to lucid dreaming
  250. or developed this ability
    to be conscious in their dreams,
  251. have a thicker prefrontal cortex,
  252. we can measure it with an MRI,
  253. which signals a greater predisposition
  254. to be the conductor,
  255. to have an active conductor in their mind.
  256. Many studies - and many are still ongoing,
  257. is an extremely recent research topic.
  258. The prefrontal cortex
    is my favorite research topic,
  259. so I started dealing many years ago
  260. on how the prefrontal cortex
    regulates and directs our behavior.
  261. So what can we do, in order to increase
  262. our ability to be aware
    while sleeping, in the dream?
  263. Well one technique is that
    of asking yourself, even when awake,
  264. if we are dreaming or not.
  265. I mean, all of a sudden,
    am I dreaming or not?
  266. Asking the question,
    rather than giving the answer,
  267. casting some doubt
  268. on how actually real is what we see.
  269. If it is our projection
    or is an objective fact.
  270. Repeating it several times during the day
    makes us, say, create a kind of habit.
  271. And it may happen, one of these times
    we ask that ourselves,
  272. that we are actually dreaming.
  273. And so I'm talking to someone
    in my dream world,
  274. and I stop for a moment, saying,
  275. am I really talking with this person,
    am I really watching a TED talk
  276. or is it a dream?
  277. And try to give youself a valid answer.
  278. Doing this several times during the day -
  279. but let me get this straight,
    not to escape in a dream world!
  280. Exactly for the opposite purpose:
  281. enhance awareness, lucidity and presence
  282. in what we are experiencing.
  283. By doing so, we can become
    experienced lucid dreamers.
  284. And which advantage do we have
    in our conscious world?
  285. Think of a situation when you're hit
    by a negative event:
  286. for example, you're fired.
  287. Bad, objectively bad.
  288. But how much negative projection we create
    around such an objectively bad event?
  289. We began to underestimate ourselves:
    why have they fired me?
  290. I didn't deserve that job,
  291. I never showed that I was good at it,
    or at that other thing,
  292. I have no more chances left.
    What will my family think about me?
  293. All this, you see, is dream-like:
  294. it is a dream dress
  295. we put on real and concrete facts.
  296. Training to lucid dreaming
  297. helps us to tell objective reality
    from our projection.
  298. In this way we can live better.
  299. Not to escape in a distant world,
  300. but to be more present in reality.
  301. Thus getting closer
  302. to the freed prisoner of Plato's Cave
  303. and be able to go around,
    out in the outside world,
  304. in light of the sun,
  305. or even return to the world of shadows
    and not let them to capture us again.
  306. So I say goodbye to you with a wish
    for a good awakening in dreams.
  307. (Applause)