- Alcaraz-Sánchez, A. (2022) Is lucid dreamless sleep really lucid? , Review of Philosophy and Psychology.
- Alcaraz-Sánchez, A. et al. (2022) Nothingness is all what there is: an exploration of objectless awareness during sleep , Frontiers in Psychology.
- Alcaraz-Sánchez, A. (2021) Awareness in the void: a micro-phenomenological exploration of conscious dreamless sleep , Phenomenology and Cognitive Sciences.
My PhD project aims at developing a theoretical account of the experience of witnessing-sleep largely described by Indian philosophical traditions, such as the Advaita Vedanta and Indo-Tibetan Buddhism. According to these schools, by following the required meditative practices, during sleep, we can achieve a state of pure awareness, a state in which we encounter consciousness-as-such (see Gyatrul, 2008; Ponlop, 2002). More recently, some contemporary authors have tried to explain those experiences via the construct of ‘lucid dreamless sleep’ and appeal to a form of non-conceptual meta-awareness had during sleep that lacks any sort of ordinary content of awareness (see Thompson, 2014,2015; Windt et al. 2016).
In my research, I take the reports of the experience of witnessing-sleep at face value and undertake two major strands of investigation:
Some questions that I ask are the following: How should we better describe the experience of witnessing-sleep? Are those a type of dream experience or a sui generis type of experience? And how should they be situated within other sleep phenomena? Moreover, I explore the implications of the existence of a form of objectless and contentless awareness during sleep, as detailed by Indian philosophical traditions. Can this sort of experience be had? And if so, how does it look like? Can we explain consciousness without alluding to an ‘object’ of awareness?
To that aim, I’m currently preparing a paper that explores the notion of ‘lucidity’ in lucid dreaming research and examines how this notion can be applied to instances of awareness during deep sleep. I’m also working on two other papers where I examine the descriptions of contentless conscious sleep described by Indian philosophical traditions and I spell out the different ways in which those descriptions can be interpreted.
I aim to develop a theoretical account that draws from empirical research and as such, I’m collecting reports of minimal forms of awareness during sleep. I have carried out a qualitative study that aimed at finding the phenomenological blueprints of the experience of witnessing-sleep by interviewing participants using the micro-phenomenological interview method.
I’m currently preparing two articles with the results of this study. I have recently presented some of the preliminary results of this current study at the 'Dreams, Memory and Emotions workshop' by Laboratorio de Sueño y Memoria (Instituto Tecnológico de Buenos Aires, Argentina). You can check it out here.
The minimal phenomenal experience
As part of my research on witnessing-sleep, I am interested in investigating minimal forms of consciousness – states of awareness that do not usually involve an ordinary object of awareness or are said to lack a ‘content’ of awareness. Given the features of witnessing-sleep, a state of awareness in which one is said to be aware during deep sleep and nothing else, some authors have proposed that such a state could be an instance of a minimal phenomenal experience (see Windt, 2015; Metzinger, 2021). States sharing a similar phenomenology to that of witnessing-sleep can be found during meditative experiences, but also during drug-induced ego-dissolution experiences, or mystical experiences. I’d be keen on collaborating with other researchers working on investigating other forms of minimal phenomenal experience. I’m currently a collaboration partner for a research network investigating this sort of experience.
First-person methods for studying consciousness
I’m a firm advocate for combining philosophical and theoretical research on the nature of consciousness with phenomenological research. To that aim, I have followed training on the micro-phenomenological interview (MPI), a qualitative research tool that aims at gathering fine-grained reports of subjective experiences. The MPI method has recently gained a lot of interest in cognitive science given its fit with the neurophenomenology research programme, a research framework developed by Francisco Varela (1999) which encouraged the interdisciplinary collaboration between neuroscience and qualitative research methods to the study of the subjective experience. My current empirical research ascribes to this research method as well as to its theoretical framework. I’m preparing a couple of collaborative projects in which I will apply this research tool in experimental sleep research. I’m eager to hear from other experimental researchers that would be keen to collaborate (either by carrying out further empirical research or theoretical work).
The experience of dreaming
While at large, my main research focuses on instances of minimal awareness during sleep, I also investigate in detail the phenomenological features of experiencing a dream, in particular, in which way one experiences its state of consciousness during sleep. In my theoretical work, I have focused on developing an account of lucidity that can then be applied to states of minimal consciousness during deep sleep. However, I have a long-standing interest in the experience of dreaming, especially in the exploration of a disrupted sense of self during dreaming. Whilst I haven’t yet developed ideas in a form of academic papers, I would love to collaborate with other dream researchers on these topics.