My PhD project aims to develop a philosophical account of conscious dreamless sleep – conscious phenomena had during sleep that don’t fit within a description of dreams. In particular, my investigation focused on the so-called experience of witnessing-sleep (Fort, 1980; Chatterje, 1982; Gupta, 1998).
The experience of witnessing-sleep has been largely described by contemplative traditions, including the Indian philosophical school of Advaita Vedanta. These traditions describe witnessing-sleep as an awareness had during dreamless sleep that is objectless and contentless (that’s it, that it lacks any object or content of awareness). For the Advaitns, witnessing-sleep is sushupti (Sanskrit: सुषुप्ति); one of the four states of consciousness (Mandukya Upanishad, Olivelle, 1998: 475). Other traditions, like Tibetan Buddhism, refer to this experience under the name of ‘Yoga Nidra’ or ‘Sleep Yoga’(Norbu, 1983; Wangyal Tenzin, 1998; Gyatrul, Khandro, & Wallace, 2002). More recently, some more contemporary authors have referred to it as 'lucid dreamless sleep' (Thompson, 2014, 2015; Windt, 2015; Windt, Nielsen and Thompson, 2016).
My PhD project is divided into two major strands of research:
- Conceptual work
Some questions that I ask are the following: How should we better describe dreamless sleep experiences? Are those dreams or a sui generis class of experiences? And, if we aren’t dreams, why aren’t they?
Can we have an objectless sort of dreamless sleep experience? How would this look like? And if we can, which implications would its existence has to other accounts on the nature of consciousness? Can we explain consciousness without alluding to an ‘object’ of awareness?
- Empirical work
I’m also collecting new evidence on the experience of witnessing-sleep. With that purpose, I’m carrying out a new qualitative study where I’ll interview participants reporting awareness during dreamless sleep. You can check the information on this study to find out more.
Awareness in the void: a micro-phenomenological exploration of conscious dreamless sleep, Forthcoming in Phenomenology and Cognitive Sciences
- Abstract– This paper presents a pilot study that explores instances of objectless awareness during sleep: conscious experiences had during sleep that prima facie lacks an object of awareness. This state of objectless awareness during sleep has been widely described by Indian contemplative traditions and has been characterised as a state of consciousness-as-such; while in it, there is nothing to be aware of, one is merely conscious (cf. Evans-Wentz 1960; Fremantle 2001; Ponlop 2006). While this phenomenon has received different names in the literature, such as ‘witnessing-sleep’ and ‘clear light sleep’ among others, the specific phenomenological profile of this state has not yet been rigorously studied. This paper aims at presenting a preliminary investigation of objectless consciousness during sleep using a novel tool in qualitative research that can guide future research.
- December 2020– Invited talk at the HONR 19903 CENSORSHIP, DECEPTION, PARANOIA, STYLE seminar in the Honors College at Purdue University (online)
- November 2020- Postgraduate Seminar, Department of Philosophy, University of Glasgow (online)
- May 2020 - MPE research group mini-workshop (online)
- September 2019- Philosophy Café, Coatbridge Library
- May 2019 – First-Person Science of Consciousness. Witten/Herdecke University, Germany.
- March 2019 – Sleep and Consciousness: A Dyadic Life. Universita degli Studi di Milano, Milan
‘Looking for the minimal Phenomenal experience. The case of lucid dreamless sleep'
- October 2019 – Selfless Minds: Radical disruptions of Self-Consciousness. Frankfurt Institute of Advanced Studies (FIAS), Frankfurt.
- July 2018- Annual BPPA Conference, University of Birmingham.