The Meaning of Dreamless Sleep

Dreamless Sleep and the Whole of Life: An Ontological Exposition

by Corey Anton

“How are we to understand the whole of our being when part of our existence opens to that which has never been present for us but which we are? We all spend a great part of our lives in the vegetative state of dreamless sleep but because we can reduce ourselves to our awake existences, we easily deny the ambiguity of the whole of who we are. As Ramesh Kumar Sharma (2001) writes, “Sleep would not pose the kind of problem it does if we were not, besides other things, sleeping beings. It also would not pose much of a problem if we were not waking beings too. It poses a problem precisely because we are both” (1). The bulk of the problem is that we tend to think of ourselves as primarily or even exclusively conscious, thinking beings (i.e. awake beings) who admittedly do sometimes “need to get some sleep.” Such an awakist bias fails to grasp the degree to which we are sleeping beings for whom awakeness is a periodic achievement. Such a bias also fails to grasp how dreamless sleep is a complement and corrective to the generally accepted idea that death serves as sufficient grounding for disclosing a person’s “being-a-whole.” Only by adequate exposition of dreamless sleep, I argue, can we recover an authentic–even if ambiguous–sense of the whole of our being…

…Gaps, lapses, fissures where and when Dasein is not: something is among the living. Here we are part of that whole that is as much cosmologically-biological as worldly-historical. Our being is therefore ambiguous: as open to our own-most death, each and every person is radically individuated in historical existence. But open to our own-most sleep, we collectively share in the anonymity of organic and vegetative life. Authentically being-toward-sleep, we learn that the truth of humanity is that we are ambiguously both individuated and the undifferentiated. There are countless holes in the whole of that awake and individuated person who, although authentically reckoning with death, fails to reckon with the meaning of dreamless sleep.

Awake, I am but one unique body related to many others in a public world. With authentic being-toward-death my oneness, my self-relation, intensifies into angst and anticipatory resoluteness. But as individuation recovers its roots in universally shared sleep, we learn to exist with eyes half-focused on our common living ground. Authentically being-toward-sleep, we learn to dwell in the ambiguous fact that existence is a limited and only partial project of living. Wide awake but seeing the world through our own-most dreamless sleep, we live in the truth of never being completely resolute, and, joyfully, of already being more and less than we ever could be in existence.”

Sharma, R. K. (2001) Dreamless Sleep and Some Related Philosophical Issues, Philosophy East and West. 51: (1-27 on InfoTrac)

Go to: Anton, C. (2006). “Dreamless Sleep and the Whole of Human Life: An ontological exposition,” Human Studies: A Journal for Philosophy and the Social Sciences, 29, (2), 181-202.