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Psychological Viewpoint

What is consciousness?

The words conscious, subconscious, and unconscious are very frequently used and most people don't think about their actual meaning. Consciousness is the level of awareness to internal and external conditions, stimuli, and events. There is a continuum of conscious.

Continuum of Consciousness

"Continuum of Conscious" refers to the degree of awareness, or the progression from total alertness to total unresponsiveness. They are as follows:

1. Controlled processes - This is the state in which we are the most alert and aware. We are in this processing state when we are fully concentrating on a task. For example, when we are learning how to do something new or doing a difficult math problem. All of our attention is dedicated to the task at hand and we are fully aware of ourselves and our environment. The mind is sharp and it is processing information quickly and efficiently.
2. Automatic processes - The task at hand requires little awareness and we can do two things at a time. When you are driving a car, singing a song that's on the radio, and chewing gum, you are in a automatic processing stage. You are aware of your environment and of your own activity, but no one thing requires your full attention or concentration.
3. Day dreaming - This is something that we all do and it occurs during automatic processing, when the level of awareness is considered to be low. This is a level of consciousness that can be placed between sleep and full wakefulness. Men and woman engage in equal amounts of fantasizing and the content of their day dreams is similar.
4. Altered states of consciousness - Much research and discussion has been dedicated to altered states of awareness. It is a change from normal levels of awareness induced by external or internal factors, such as meditation, drugs, hypnosis, or sensory isolation and/or depravation. When in an altered state of consciousness normal perceptions are not possible.
5. Sleep and dreams Scientists - believe that sleep is controlled by specific areas of the brain, body temperature, neurotransmitters, and chemicals in the blood. Currently there are two theories, Repair theory and Adoptive theory, that are given serious consideration in regard to why we sleep.

Repair theory - This is biologically based and states that during the night we replenish and repair those things that we use up during the day.

Adoptive theory - This theory states that sleep has evolved into an intrinsic part of human behavior. Sleeping enabled early man to conserve his energies and avoid nocturnal predators.

States of Consciousness

One may achieve a higher performance of the mind via meditation or non-intrusive tools like light & sound machines or biofeedback devices. Light & sound machines safely combines various audio and visual technologies to enhance mental states or brainwave patterns. Scientific studies have shown that such devices can improve hemispheric syncronization and deeper states of consciousness. I have utilized these tools and wrote extensively about them in my master thesis. They are wonderful! I have also provided links below for more details regarding these tools and the effects of various brainwave patterns.

The study of "brainwaves" has played a vital role in the understanding of how the brain and mind function. Discovered in the 1920s by German researcher Hans Berger, these tiny electrical signals mirror the shifting patterns of mental activity. They are measured by attaching special sensors, called electrodes, to the scalp; these pick up brainwave activity which is then measured by an instrument called an electroencephalograph, or EEG. Brainwave activity tends to fall into four groups: beta, alpha, theta and delta. These categories are associated with the rapidity of oscillation (frequency) of brainwaves. As it turns out, certain patterns of brainwave activity are also associated with specific mental states.

Beta is associated with normal, waking consciousness; attention directed towards the external environment. You are most likely in the "beta state" as you read this. Beta waves oscillate between approximately 14 and 30 times per second (Hz).

Alpha is relaxed, not thinking about anything in particular, sometimes a pleasurable feeling of "floating". Often dominant in certain kinds of meditation, alpha waves have for the past twenty years been associated with calm, lucid mental states (the "alpha state"). They are also often detected during dream sleep. Alpha waves oscillate between 9 and 13 times per second.

Theta Found in states of deep relaxation, theta activity is also associated with bursts of creative insight, twilight ("sleep") learning and vivid mental imagery. It is also found in more advanced meditators. Theta waves oscillate between 4 and 8 times per second.

Delta This slowest of brainwave activity, is found during deep dreamless sleep and sometimes in very experienced meditators. They oscillate between 1 and 3 Hz.

Your brainwave activity is constantly shifting and changing during the day and night. Virtually every form of mental and physical activity will cause changes in this activity. Abrupt, unexpected noises or other events will quickly alter your brainwave patterns. Even watching TV can dramatically alter brainwave activity in an undirected manner.

Over the years many techniques have been developed to allow you to enter these states, particularly alpha and theta, at will. Most methods, such as meditation, require years of regular practice to master. Alpha wave biofeedback, quite popular in the 70s, requires the sometimes awkward placement of electrodes as well as considerable practice. More recently, light and sound machines have been utilized to entrain the brainwave patterns into a variety of states. I have found them to be extremely useful, especially the trauma victim (or PTSD patient), to learn how to experience altered states of consciousness.

It must be made clear from the start that anyone who is interested in remembering their dreams, and understanding them, is free to do so. You are not required to possess any psychic abilities, or prestigious degrees! Interpreting dreams can be done by anyone willing to simply learn how. It is not very hard to do and does not require much of your time, nor is there any really intense study to do. The method I am about to outline for you is perhaps one of the easiest and effective ways to remember and analyze your own dreams. As you follow this outline you will grow more effective in time, as practice increases your success rate rather dramatically. There is nothing spooky or ritualistic to do; in fact I believe you will find it quite logical!

Anna Wise is one of the world's leading authorities on EEG and Higher States of Consciousness and explains how to acheive greater states of consciousness and helps one understand the brainwave patterns in laymans terms. (details here).

Enhance Your Abilities and States of Mind with Light & Sound Machines (details here).

Introduction to dream interpretation by Robert Winer, M.D. (details here).

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