Cosmic Consciousness and Lucid Dreaming
Mason LI, Orme-Johnson DW. Transcendental consciousness wakes up in dreaming and deep sleep. International Journal of Dream Research 2010 3(1): 28-32. PDF
This paper reviews EEG research supporting Maharishi's model of the development of higher states of consciousness. It summarizes the EEG evidence for transcendental consciousness during the Transcendental Meditation technique, waking, dreaming, and deep sleep, and contrasts witnessing sleep with lucid dreaming.
Cosmic Consciousness. Witnessing sleep is the principle indicator of the development of cosmic consciousness. It is experienced as transcendental consciousness maintained during deep sleep, as silent inner awareness at all times. The EEG evidence supporting the reality of witnessing is that people having these experiences exhibit one of the EEG signatures of transcendental consciousness, which is theta/alpha (7-9 Hz) EEG relative power, along with the signature of deep sleep, which is delta EEG (1-4 Hz).
Lucid Dreaming. Lucid dreaming, on the other hand, is the experience of being aware that one is dreaming and, in some cases, being able to voluntarily manipulate the dream content. The EEG associated with lucid dreaming appears to be the coexistence of gamma EEG (30-50 Hz), which is associated with waking cognitive activity, along with the EEG of dreaming (REM sleep).
Basic EEG Research. Basic research has shown that gamma EEG is found during voluntary cognitive functions, such as mental calculations and perception. The functional significance of gamma is that it coordinates the activities of neural groups that are near to each other (proximal) in the cerebral cortex. Alpha coherence and synchrony, on the other hand, coordinate the activities of cortical areas that are far apart from each other, such as on the left and right sides of the brain, as well as executive areas in the front of the brain and perceptual areas in the back of the brain. Moreover, the different EEG frequencies play different roles, and they are coordinated with each other during cognitive activity. The role of alpha EEG is to create the background screen of conscious awareness on which thinking occurs and the other frequencies are organized around the alpha rhythm. Gamma and other frequencies appear to be responsible for carrying out the details of the specific thought processes. When one transcends, the gamma decreases, corresponding to the quieting of thinking, and alpha remains, corresponding to the maintenance of the screen of awareness by itself in transcendental consciousness. In EEG terms, the "transcendental" part of "Transcendental Meditation" refers to the decrease in or "transcending" of gamma. We might humorously say the "Transcending Gamma Meditation technique". By contrast, mindfulness meditation, which involves an active mental process of maintaining a non-judgmental attitude toward the flow of experience in and out of meditation, is associated with increased gamma, a correlate of active thinking (Cahn, et al., 2010).
Significantly, during transcendental consciousness, as indicated by respiratory suspension, coherence increases in all EEG frequencies. Even though the activities in other frequencies besides alpha are greatly reduced, they are coherent. This means that the coordinating functions of the EEG are now set to work together in harmony when activity is initiated. This is the science behind the ancient prescription of transcending as preparation for more effective dynamic activity. Many studies have documented improved sensory motor and cognitive functioning due to practice of the Transcendental Meditation technique, and well as decreased negative emotions. For example, three random assignment studies on 362 students have found that six months to a year of TM practice improves: creative thinking (“whole-brained creativity," which requires balanced use of thinking, feeling, and intention); practical intelligence (nonintellectual abilities and attitudes that predict success in work, love, social relationships, and in achieving and maintaining emotional and physical well-being); field independence (the ability to find an object that is concealed in a intricate background, like finding a needle in a haystack); anxiety (which is arguably the most basic measure of mental health); inspection time (a paradigm for assessing the speed of information processing at the stage in which the stimulus is encoded in memory); and culture fair intelligence (a measure of "fluid intelligence," the ability to successfully reason in novel situations. Fluid intelligence is correlated with the executive control functions of the frontal lobes, which involve keeping attention on task requirements that are understood and remembered) (So & Orme-Johnson, 2001).
Not mentioned in our review is that increased coherence in all EEG frequencies is also seen during the moment of take off during Yogic Flying (Travis & Orme-Johnson,1990). This indicates that the sidhis manifest when intention and the flow of the mind settle to unite with transcendental consciousness. The difference between total EEG coherence during respiratory suspension and during Yogic Flying is that during respiratory suspension total brain integration is achieved during profound silence, whereas in Yogic Flying that integration and profound inner silence is brought out into dynamic activity. This research shows how Yogic Flying, and other TM sidhis, bring transcendental consciousness into activity, which Maharishi has referred to as Total Brain Functioning. Increasingly, new developments in neuroscience are showing that Maharishi's characterization of the changes produced by the Transcendental Meditation and Transcendental Meditation Sidhi programs are highly accurate and precise.
Falling Awake. Another point of interpretation brought out by recent basic EEG research is that when one falls asleep, transitioning from waking to drowsiness to dreaming, frontal EEG alpha coherence progressively decreases, corresponding to the progressive loss of conscious awareness and the screen of awareness. By contrast, during the transition from waking to transcendental consciousness, frontal EEG alpha coherence increases. In light of the correspondence of frontal alpha EEG with wakefulness, the increase of coherence during the Transcendental Meditation technique can be interpreted as falling awake. Like falling asleep, it is effortless. Like falling asleep, any effort actually interferes with the process. And like falling asleep, metabolic processes decrease. The difference is that in sleep (without witnessing), awareness fades away as the body gains deep rest, while in TM practice awareness is enhanced while the body gains deep rest. It could be said to be a state of "restful alertness". Sound familiar?
Witnessing sleep, of course, is different from experiencing ordinary sleep. In witnessing sleep, awareness is maintained during sleep, and at all other times during waking and dreaming as well. Thus, once one achieves cosmic consciousness, there is no more “falling”. Not in sleep. Not in meditation. Pure consciousness is always maintained 24 hours a day as the witness to the coming and going of the three relative states of consciousness, the cycles of waking, dreaming, and sleeping.
Default Mode Network. Interestingly, the areas of the brain in which EEG theta/alpha coherence and synchrony increase during the Transcendental Meditation technique overlap with the default mode network (DMN). Basic research has found that the DMN is active when one is not thinking about anything specific, but just ruminating or daydreaming. This network appears to underlie our sense of self, small "s". For example, when asked to imagine how one would react in a situation or asked for biographical information, the DMN becomes active. Researchers have found that the DMN primarily is in the frontal and parietal areas, but ultimately it involves the whole brain. When the network becomes coherent during the Transcendental Meditation program, particularly during periods of transcendental consciousness, then the small, relative self evolves to the large, cosmic Self (big "S"). The whole brain becomes totally integrated as specific activities in all the different brain areas settle into their basic ground state of integration with all other areas in the state of transcendental consciousness.
Knowledge is Structured in Consciousness. Maharishi sometimes translated the famous richo akshare verse of the Rig Veda (1.164.39) as “knowledge is structured in consciousness”, further elaborating that “knowledge is different in different states of consciousness”. Recent developments in neuroscience show just how appropriate these sayings are. There are about 100 billion nerve cells in the brain, and each cell is connected to about 10,000 others, so there are approximately 1000 trillions connections in the brain, about the number of leaves there are in the Amazon rain forest. The vast majority of these connections, over 90%, are internal connections among the neurons, with less than 10% of the connections devoted to sensory processing. Research shows that our experience of the world has more to do with internal connections than with the senses. For example, in the visual system, about 10 billion bits of information per second arrive at the retina. However, the stream of information going from the retina to the visual cortex gets reduced 1 million times to only 10,000 bits per second because the retina only has a million output connections and because of other factors that reduce the flow of information. After further processing, the visual information that feeds into brain regions responsible for forming conscious perception gets reduced yet another 100 times to only 100 bits of information per second. Remarkably, our perception of the 10 billion bit of information per second “out there” in the world gets formed by a tiny stream of only 100 bits of information per second. “Such a thin stream of data probably could not produce a perception if that were all the brain took into account; the intrinsic activity must play a part….The finding suggests that the brain probably makes constant predictions about the outside environment in anticipation of paltry sensory inputs reaching it from the outside world.”( Raichle, 2010, p 47).
Neuroscience knows that the brain we are born with is like an all-purpose computer, which gets programmed by experience. Learning and conditioning history form how the vast array of internal connections are wired together and how we perceive the world. Each person has a unique history, a unique internal order, and hence, ascribes unique meaning to experience. “Knowledge is structured in consciousness and knowledge is different in different states of consciousness.” Stresses in the system distort perception, and increasing coherence in the system produces a more accurate perception, improving harmony with other people. Ultimately, a coherent brain puts the individual in harmony with all the laws of nature, enables insight into the fundamental mechanics of natural law in Vedic cognition, and creates a wave of coherence in society through collective consciousness. How the vast internal neural network of the brain in its coherent state reflects total natural law is the frontier of science, but it could only occur on the most fundamental quantum mechanical level where consciousness is primary, as Maharishi has explained and as physicist John Hagelin has elaborated.
Cahn BR, Delorme, A, & Polich J. Occipital gamma activation during Vipassana meditation. Journal of Cognitive Processing 2010 11(1):39-56
Raichele, ME. The brain’s dark energy. Scientific American 2010 March:44-49
So KT, Orme-Johnson DW. Three randomized experiments on the holistic longitudinal effects of the Transcendental Meditation technique on cognition. Intelligence 2001 29(5):419-440
Travis FT, Orme-Johnson DW. EEG coherence and power during Yogic Flying: investigating the mechanics of the TM-Sidhi program. International Journal of Neuroscience 1990 54(1/2):1-12
References to other points made in this summary can be found in the PDF of the paper by Mason & Orme-Johnson, 2010.