Awareness in the void: a micro-phenomenological exploration of dreamless sleep

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This paper presents a pilot study that explores instances of objectless awareness during sleep: conscious experiences had during sleep that prima facie lack 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 diferent names in the literature, such as ‘witnessing-sleep’ and ‘clear light sleep’ among others, the specifc phenomenological profle 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. Five participants experiencing objectless consciousness during sleep were interviewed following the Micro-phenomenological Interview technique (MPI; Petitmengin, 2005, 2006). All participants reported an experience they had during sleep in which there was no scenery and no dream. This period labelled as ‘No Scenery/Void’ was either preceded by the dissolution of a lucid dream or by other forms of conscious mentation. The analysis of the results advances four experiential dimensions during this state of void, namely (1) Perception of absence, (2) Self-perception, (3) Perception of emotions, and (4) Perception of awareness. While the results are primarily explorative, they refer to themes found in the literature to describe objectless sleep and point at potential avenues of research. The results from this study are taken as indications to guide future operationalisations of this phenomenon.
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Archival date: 2021-08-03
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