Feyerabend and the Transition to the Dream State



I return to the roots of PlaneTalk and talk about altered states of consciousness.  I was surprised to discover that Paul Feyerabend knew how to get to the astral plane!

“Please Allow Me To Introduce Myself…”
While reading Feyerabend’s Against Method, I was surprised to see he knew the basics of lucid dreaming! What I will discuss is not a new revelation to people who have read DO_OBE, or otherwise know how to project, but there it is still some novelty to be gotten.

Very brief background: Feyerabend is a philosopher of science. Against Method argues there is no general method or prescription for doing science. The “what”, “why”, and “WTF??” of all this is something I will likely discuss in future posts because his ideas are interesting, sensible, and have value. In this post however, we will just focus on a small part of the book related to lucid dreaming.

A Tale of Two Cultures
Let me start by giving a little of the context of what he was discussing. At the end of the book, he discusses the mind-set one should take when analyzing science. He suggests one should become an anthropologist and pretend one is studying an unknown tribe by trying to understand their language, culture, and ways of perceiving the world. To bolster this position, he gives a brief anthropological account of ancient Greece.

He compares the more ancient form of Greek culture found in the works of Homer to the later “Classical” period more familiar to school boys and philosophers. He argues that the Homeric Greek saw the world much different from the later Classical Greeks who gave us philosophy and democracy.

His distinction of these two historical periods is illuminating even with respect to our modern concepts. We’ll get into this a bit below. However, what struck me enough to write this post occurred when he discussed how Homeric Greeks interpreted dream experiences.

The Dream Had Me
The crucial idea was that the Homeric Greek did not have an ego or personal sense of “I” the way we think of ourselves now. Instead, people in that culture had a different sense of being. Let’s let Feyerabend explain (this is all on pg 182):

“Actions are initiated not by an ‘autonomous I’, but by further actions, events, occurrences, including divine interference. And this is precisely how mental events are experienced. Dreams, unusual psychological feats such as sudden remembering, sudden acts of recognition, sudden increase of vital energy, during battle, during a strenuous escape, sudden fits of anger are not only explained by reference to gods and demons, they are also felt as such…”

“Agamemnon’s dream ‘listened to his [Zeus’] words and descended’ (Iliad, 2. 1 6) – the dream descends, not a figure in it – ‘and it stood then beside his [Agamemnon’s] head in the likeness of Nestor’ (Iliad, 2.20). One does not have a dream (a dream is not a ‘subjective’ event), one sees it (it is an ‘objective’ event) and one also sees how it approaches and moves away.59

This is all very interesting. As he states, a person in that culture would not say, “I had a dream”. They would say “A dream happened”. But this is not my main point. The superscript to footnote 59 was left in intentionally. My main point is found by going down to footnote 59 and reading:

“59. With some effort this experience can be repeated even today. Step 1: lie down, close your eyes, and attend to your hypnagogic hallucinations. Step 2: permit the hallucinations to proceed on their own and according to their own tendencies. They will then change from events in front of the eyes into events that gradually surround the viewer but without yet making him an active participant of an action in a three dimensional dream-space. Step 3: switch over from viewing the hallucinatory event to being part of a complex of real events which act on the viewer and can be acted upon by him. Step 3 can be reversed either by the act of an almost non-existent will or by an outside noise. The three-dimensional scenery becomes two-dimensional, runs together into an area in front of the eyes, and moves away. It would be interesting to see how such formal elements change from culture to culture.”

Hello! This is pretty much exactly the “trance method” I describe in DO_OBE!

Obviously, it’s in a much abbreviated form, but all the steps are there. Further, his description of the content is correct. First comes the hypnagogic images. Then comes the “dreamer as observer”, in which the dreamer is outside of the dream looking at it as if watching TV. Finally is the full immersion “dreamer as participant” experience. If you are having trouble sleeping, you can read me discussing this in painful detail in my global workspace and dreams article.

So, that is the main point of this post, just to point out this footnote! It’s like the Grateful Dead said: “You can find it in the strangest of places if you look at it right”.

Who would have thought: Feyerabend knew how to lucid dream (or astral project or have OBEs).

Seriously Relative
Now, aside from this weird little find, his overall context is novel and I want to say a few words about it.

His comparison of the mind-set of the Homeric vs. the Classical Greek is very interesting. I can’t do it full justice here. Hopefully I can pique your interest enough that you go read what he says. He illustrates how to understand the world-views of the people of these two cultures, while minimizing the tendency of superimposing how we see the world over our interpretation of other cultures.

Since our modern culture is so permeated with Classical Greek influence, we can understand the Classical Greek person easier. We have inherited their perceptions of things and their assumptions.

One such assumption is that “I” exist. The very idea of being an individual “I”, a “soul”, a unique center who acts, makes decisions, to whom “things happen”, was present in Classical Greece, but apparently not present in the Homeric Greek culture.

In an effective manner, Feyerabend gets you to see that the Homeric Greek did not see his or her self as an “I”. The Homeric Greek did not have an individual personality who initiated actions and who was the agent to whom things happened. Instead, the person was, to use Feyerabend’s term a “puppet without a soul”. The Homeric Greek was the subject of a completely predetermined Fate, a cog in a series of processes that just “happened”, and were not initiated by the decisions of individual people, but were the outcome of the actions of Gods and other forces that used humans as puppets, the way the wind blows leaves around.

The very idea sounds repugnant to us today. But such a feeling of repugnance only reveals how strong is the tendency to superimpose our way of experiencing the world on others. It is precisely this Feyerabend is trying to teach us to avoid.

It is a useful exercise to perform. Whether it is literally true with respect to these long dead cultures doesn’t really matter. But he gets us to step out of our comfortable (and often invisible) assumptions and thereby expand our own intellectual and perceptual horizons. No matter how you look at it, that is a good thing in my estimation.

I’ll be back with more on Feyerabend because, frankly, this guy is a trip and his work needs to be better known.


12 thoughts on “Feyerabend and the Transition to the Dream State

  1. This is quite awesome Don. Thanks for posting and especially for the link to Feyerabend’s book. I am looking forward to reading your OBE essay too.

    Okay if I reblog this one?

    • Hi Ptero9

      Thanks for popping by! Of course, by all means reblog as you wish. Thank you!

      And please let me know what you think of F’s book. I’m going to be posting another one soon. He has a doozey of a paragraph near the end I want to get out into the open.

      Thanks again for stopping by!


  2. PeterJ

    I wish I could write so well, Don. Have you read Heidegger’s ‘Introduction to Metaphysics’? From memory he see the transition from Homeric to Classical as the loss of the concept of unity and perhaps also the sense or intuition of it. Monstrously wordy but very good (and v, opinionated) on the Greeks.

    • Haha – I just mentioned this in another comment to you w/resp to Feyerabend. Not read Heidegger. Weyl mentioned him occasionally, which suggests he may be worth looking at. The most I know of him is through Tasic’s book. There I got the impression that Heidegger tried the impossible task of explaining the ineffable, as well as putting a dent or two in Kant’s viewpoint. Will have to put H on my reading list. This line of thought about the negatives of classical Greek thought is new to me. Already I see some interesting implications of it towards Westerners interpreting ancient Hindu thought. Nice hearing from you, Pete! -Don

  3. Reblogged this on The Ptero Card and commented:
    Don DeGracia blogs at Plane Talk, a fantastic blog featuring his works, studies and experiences in consciousness studies, metaphysics, Raja Yoga, the philosophy of science, lucid dreaming, OBE and much more. He is well-versed in everything from astrology to history. He generously shares his talents and experience giving free access to his e-books. He has even more stuff at his other website http://www.dondeg.com/.

    He is an Associate Professor at Wayne State University and has also appeared on Alex Tsakiris’ online talk show Skeptiko: http://www.skeptiko.com/256-don-degracia-what-is-science/


  4. Bostjan K.

    Lovely writing Don. What you are saying is very much in tune with mythos vs. historical way of perceiving self and reality as such. It also has a bit to do with that denominator called the axial age by Karl Jaspers – 800 bc to 200 bc, however many disagree on that label of this transition period to classical.

  5. Just wandered into your blog so not familiar with everything you have written.

    The contrast between Homeric and Classical Greek “minds” seems very similar to Julian Jaynes argument in The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind.

    Was perhaps Feyerabend perhaps familiar with Jaynes or did he arrive at the idea on his own?

    • Hi James

      Thank you for wandering by! And thanks for offering up conversation. I think I recall Feyerbend mentioning the bicameral mind idea in a footnote, so he was aware of it. I’ve only heard of Jaynes book but not read it. This was years ago and the idea sounded ridiculous to me. Thank God we grow up. At least now I’m mature enough to give the idea a listen. But boy, it really is a foreign idea and very hard to accept. We are always so prone to project how we see the world as some kind of absolute truth, and it’s ideas like Jaynes’ that throw a big monkey wrench into such thinking. Feyerabend drew on a variety of sources to make his point, and it was quite convincing. I mean, something like this must have happened over the past 100,000 years, otherwise Neanderthals would have invented cars, FOX News, and corporate monopolies.

      Again, Sir, thanks for popping by. Hope we talk more.



  6. George

    Ah, Feyerabend, he’s great.

    Something I found interesting in that footnote was his observation that one switches between modes “by the act of an almost non-existent will”. I’ve come to think that this is how we actually operate even in waking life – and then the “experiences of doing” we have are not causal, but are instead effects from such an “almost non-existent” willing, perhaps even ones from long ago.

    This additional “efforting” is part of what fools us into thinking we are a section of our sensory experience, and therefore a do-er “here” that makes changes “over there”, rather than all of sensory experience being “in us”.

    In truth, we can’t really detect ourselves causing things at all. Feyerabend’s experience of “almost non-existent will” isn’t a “doing” either, it is itself a result, just a very subtle one, of the real cause – which is “the whole thing” changing its own shape. But it is on the right track…

    With practice one can come to realise that body motion, such as standing from sitting, needs no tensing in order to happen. The tension is an extra thing we do to make ourselves “feel that we are doing”. If you gradually “do” less and less and simply wait for movement to happen, you’ll find that simple expectation is enough for physical motion to occur, effortlessly and “by itself”. (In retrospect, trying to make thing happen by “doing” turns out to be an obstruction, a gradual fixing of shape, opposing movement.)

    At this point, it starts sounding very much like how we manipulate things in a lucid dream, and how Homer is described in Feyerabend and Julian Jaynes’ accounts.

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