Spontaneous Thought Across the Sleep-Wake-Cycle
Manu Kirberg (Monash Centre for Consciousness and Contemplative Studies)

March 21, 2023, 11:00am - 12:00pm
Monash Centre for Consciousness and Contemplative Studies (M3CS)

Seminar Space, M3CS, Level 4, 29 Ancora Imparo Way, Clayton

This event is available both online and in-person


Description: Whether we are awake or asleep is believed to influence the content and subjective quality of our conscious experiences. This relationship between dreaming and waking consciousness has been widely debated in the fields of cognitive science and philosophy. Recent years have witnessed renewed efforts to understand how dreaming and conscious wake states, such as mind wandering, are related. In this presentation, I will discuss the main findings of my PhD project, which aims to develop an integrative framework of spontaneous cognition across wakefulness and sleep by applying conceptual ideas and empirical methods from dream research to mind wandering experiences and vice versa.

The talk will cover three major topics:

1)    I will present the results of a comprehensive comparison of 340 dreaming and mind wandering questionnaires, highlighting differences and similarities in cognitive features, phenomenology, and thought contents.

2)    A particular focus is on examining bizarreness in dreaming and mind wandering. Bizarreness is a particularly good candidate for analyzing the relationship between dreaming and mind wandering because it has long been thought to be a distinctive feature of dreaming. I will present the findings of a new empirical approach analyzing the content of 380 dreaming and mind wandering reports with a fine-grained bizarreness scale. The results suggest that bizarreness in spontaneous thought is multi-faceted, and the way in which dreaming and mind wandering overlap and differ depends on the perspective taken to consider and measure what is more or less bizarre.

3)    Innovations in the study of dreams and mind wandering have brought increasing awareness of the impact that different methodologies can have on findings. Here, I will focus on a comparison between self-ratings and external ratings, as well as coarse-grained and fine-grained modes of analysis, and discuss the effect of these rating methods on results.

Throughout the talk I will reflect on the empirical findings in the light of the simulation view of dreaming and the dynamic framework of mind wandering.

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