Alex Enescu

From Dream Intrusion To Oneiric Release: Phenomenological Origin of Hallucinations.

Background: Hallucinatory disorders (e.g., psychosis and schizophrenia) have long been noted to share a similar phenomenology with oneiric states (i.e., dream states). For example, both dreaming and hallucinatory psychosis are characterized by either fully developed, and/or partially immersive, hallucinatory environments—experienced in multiple, and/or singular, sensory modalities (e.g., auditory and/or visual hallucinations)—and various degrees of cognitive impairment (e.g., lack of insight and meta-awareness). In addition, both states appear to encourage delusional thinking (i.e., accepting unusual narratives, even in the presence of persistent incongruities). With the advent discovery of rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep in the 1960’s, and its close relationship to dreaming, a number of researchers, such as William Dement and Vincent Zarcone, began to hypothesize that the various components of psychiatric disorders may be caused by periodic REM (i.e., dream) intrusion events during wakefulness. Unfortunately, the hypothesis failed to produce any meaningful results, primarily because the physiological components of REM sleep were never detected in psychiatric patients. However, recent data has revealed that dreams are not invariably tied to the physiological characteristics of REM sleep; they can occur throughout all stages of sleep.

Objectives: My project accounts for the current gap of knowledge in this area, by determining whether a reformulated and expanded version of Dement’s original REM intrusion model is sufficient to account for the physiological discrepancies between sleep, dreaming, and waking hallucinations, while still accounting for their phenomenological similarities. I hypothesize that a revised dream intrusion model will show that the physiological characteristics of waking hallucinations correspond with multiple stages of sleep and not just those of REM. If my hypothesis proves to be correct, it would strongly suggest that dreams are the phenomenological origin of most, if not all, hallucinatory disorders.

Methods: To determine this, I have analyzed the current literature on non-REM (NREM) sleep, REM sleep, dreaming and waking hallucination. In particular, I have studied Allan Hobson’s recent empirical research at the Harvard Medical School on dream intrusion, in addition to Louis Jolyon West’s and Vincent Zarcone’s work on the perceptual release theory of hallucinations and REM intrusion. I have also looked at research done in this area by Claude Gottesmann, Armando D’Agostino, William Domhoff, Martin Dresler, Irwin Feinberg, Nancy Andreasen, Gordon Claridge, Ivan Limosani, Sue Llewellyn, Christian Gillin and Ernest Hartmann among other studies.

Results/Potential Outcomes: By building on this data, in addition to Louis West’ perceptual release theory of hallucinations, and Rodolfo Llinás’ formulation of wakefulness as sensory modulated dreaming, I argue that psychiatric disorders are better understood as periodic collapses of wakefulness (i.e., sensory demodulation), or brief/sustained episodes of “oneiric release”, rather than periodic intruding dream episodes during wakefulness.

Discussion/Implications: If hallucinations are in fact oneiric phenomena, then future psychotherapeutic and pharmaceutical treatment methods can be devised for people who suffer from hallucinatory disorders and schizophrenia, in particular, by targeting dreams as the root cause of the condition rather than its symptoms.