What if at one point in our evolutionary history, our “consciousness” was characterized by a perpetual dream state? This sounds vaguely like the notion of Julian Jayne’s Bicameral mind theory, but according to Jaak Panksepp, the “Rat Tickler” and Affective Neuroscientist (he wrote the book), it is possible that at one time in our evolutionary history, this was the case.
In his research, Panksepp determined that neurons that contribute to the dream state are responsible also for some orienting reflex function in the waking state. This discovery encouraged him to further attempt to understand the original purpose of the dream state of mind.
Dreaming is a higher brain function than REM sleep and at one time may even been a primitive form of consciousness. Now relegated to the background, dreaming nonetheless serves an important function in integrating our multiple daily doses of information into the more primitive areas of the brain. It is in this state that we have a sense of the perception of the world from the standpoint of the reptilian brain. The co-creation of the neocortex attempting to make sense of the processes within the basal ganglia is dream.
So, it may be that the odd nature of dream imagery are a way of translating information that our basic functionality can understand and use to keep us alive another day.
But what does this imply for our further understanding of our own brains? How does this impact our understanding of our dreams? If we consider the purposes of the reptilian brain, whose survival-level functions are often mentioned in conjunction with trauma – fight, flight, freeze or approach, and that this area of the brain is the seat of the most primitive emotions governing our survival – fear, rage and lust, then it could be our dreams are giving us clues as to how our relationship with the world is impacting our actual nature in terms of raw primary emotional processes.
For example, a feeling of entrapment in a job one hates may metaphorically translate into the embodied feeling physiological inhibition and in our dream, we may feel a strong desire to run – even if we live the most sedentary of lives. Or that a long dormant sexual desire will seem to emerge “out of the cracks” like a horny little gecko. Our reptilian brain is interaction with what we have learned during the day. It speaks a different language than us, but our cognition does its best to understand what it is trying to say.
So, maybe nest time you are interpreting your dreams, along with engaging in complex, meandering, cognitive interpretations (if that is your inclination)…also, ask your “inner reptile” what it thinks. After all, that guy has been around for hundreds of millions of years, so let’s give him some say in the matter. After all, he’s going to keep you alive!