Oneironaut: lucid dreaming through Waking Life and Schopenhauer


Dreaming is a phenomenon that every man on the face of this planet experiences. Recent studies tell us that on average a man dreams for a total of six years during his life. The manifestation of the dream during the sleep phase is one of the most common phenomena and that most characterize us, in short, nothing special, nothing abnormal, yet they are so strange and mysterious. There are times, however, that their strangeness in normality increases even more. It happens, and without regularity, that you are aware of dreaming, and other times even rarer, and events that do not happen to everyone, not only know you are dreaming but also be able to “control” the dream and change it almost to your liking, just as a writer changes to his taste the plot of a story. These dreams are called lucid dreams, and there are several studies about them, but the answer to the question of what meaning they have, still eludes us. What is the meaning of these phenomena? We will try to make a small journey into this dream context while awake, through the film Waking Life and the philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer. 

Waking life: a lucid dream with existential contours

A few weeks ago I dealt with the film “2001: A Space Odyssey”, the work of Kubrick I called the greatest anthropocentric vision that had ever been represented. Humanity in that case I defined it with its vision and evolution as a species, not about the sphere of the individual, its intimacy, and its personal history. Waking life I would define it as the biggest story (in animation) of any individual, in which at the end it tries to investigate the simplest but at the same time most complex of questions: where am I and why am I here? The question that only in our state of maximum lucidity we ask ourselves, first in one way or another, we are always inside a dream, more or less conscious. The film directed by Richard Linklater tells the story of an entire dream journey, in which the protagonist, who is initially unaware that he is dreaming, as the story progresses becomes aware of his state, transforming it into a lucid dream. As the narrative progresses, he meets various characters of different gender, age, and social status, with each of them engaging in philosophical conversations ranging from existentialism, free will, time to the social alienation of the modern era. During this dreamlike journey, the protagonist lets us enter the personal sphere that concerns us all. The investigation of the human condition in which we all live and find ourselves, trying to give answers to the phenomenon that we experience every day, trying to explain that dichotomy that binds our consciousness with the external world of actions and multiplicity. The film tries to explain this phenomenon that we experience during wakefulness most cunningly and oppositely possible, the dream journey. This leads us to ask a question, what can the dream tell us about the phenomenology of life? 

Waking and dreaming: different pages of the same book

Throughout human history, there have been many thinkers who have dealt with the dream, until, as we all know, Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, saw the dream as the door to the unconscious. In this part of the article we will not focus so much on the psychological function of the dream, but more on its phenomenological function, reporting the thought of Arthur Schopenhauer. The German philosopher puts all his thought on the subject, conceiving life itself as a long dream, interspersed with shorter dreams. The distinction between dream and reality, he argues, is impossible to determine with certainty, if it were not for the empirical fact of waking up. If we think of the dream we do not have a direct comparison with the real world, but only the comparison of the memory, an image already mediated and not clear and sharp. Schopenhauer widens his views by integrating the dream as an active part of real life, he conceives the waking and the dream as different pages of the same book that is real life. Oneiricity is an active part of the phenomenology of life. 

Lucid dreaming: wakefulness during sleep

Oneironautics is the study of dream activity. It studies lucid dreaming, i.e. when you are aware that you are dreaming. There are three levels of lucidity: the first one is defined as “pre-lucid” and indicates the knowledge of being dreaming, but one remains a spectator of the dream. The second level is defined as “partially controlled lucid”, in which only for brief moments of the dream you have voluntary control and then return to a simple spectator. Then there is the third level, called “fully lucid dream” in which you have complete control of the sleep. In Waking life, as the story progresses, you go through all three stages. The intriguing perspective of the film concerns the fact that the construction of the dream space itself is used by the character to ask himself the questions we will call universal. He depicts himself as the traveler of this dream world, and all the other characters are always him, transformed into a confrontation with himself in which he questions his role in the world and the possibilities that have determined who he is and his becoming. The dream, which questions the phenomena of the daytime, creates a bridge connecting the “pages” of the book of his life. Various sleep research indicates that it is possible to induce the manifestation of lucid dreaming, through various techniques and exercises over time. And if Schopenhauer’s vision were correct, is dreaming just a continuous part of life and not an interaction of it between one waking phase and another? What would our other “selves” reveal about ourselves and our most intimate questions? To future oneironauts the word. 

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