Dreaming, Consciousness and Virtual Reality

Antti Revonsuo is a cognitive neuroscientist, psychologist, and philosopher of mind. He is best known for his Threat Simulation Theory, which states that dreams serve the biological function of rehearsing possibly threatening situations in order to aid survival. In this exclusive interview he discusses the dreaming brain as a model of consciousness.

Antti Revosuo

Antti Revosuo

Richard Bright:  Can we begin by you saying something about your background?

Antti Revonsuo: I have studied Psychology, Philosophy, Biology, and Neurology at the University of Turku, Finland, and graduated from Psychology, as well as did my PhD in Psychology there in 1995. Currently I am Full Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Skövde, Sweden, and part-time Professor of Psychology, University of Turku, Finland. I have done research on consciousness since the 1990’s, and currently there are about 10 people working in my research group on different topics relating to consciousness.

RB: Your research focusses on altered states of consciousness, and sleep and dreaming in particular. First of all, how does current neuroscience define an altered state of consciousness and, secondly, what function does dreaming serve in that definition?

AR: Altered State of Consciousness (ASC) is one of those terms that is difficult to define; it has at least 3 different definitions in the literature. In my own work, I have defined it as a state in which the subjects experience of the world or of themselves temporarily misrepresents reality (e.g. in the form of illusions, distortions, hallucinations, delusions), and this can be recognized by outsiders or by the subject of the ASC themselves during or after the experience. An ASC is thus a temporary, recognizable distortion of (some aspects of) reality in the subject’s conscious experience, in brief.

Dreaming is the most commonly occurring and completely, natural, normal, non-pathological ASC. It clearly fulfills the definition of an ASC, as during dreaming what we experience does not represent reality, but is an immersive hallucination of an entire reality, a simulated world, that we can recognize for a dream after we wake up (and in lucid dreams, even during the dream).

RB: The idea that dreaming is a simulation of the waking world is currently becoming an accepted view among dream researchers. There are 3 major theories, Social Simulation Theory (SST), Continuity Hypothesis (CH) and the Threat Simulation Theory (TST). What are the main differences between these theories? Are there any convergences?


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