Consciousness has differences in intensity. There are different levels of awareness and conscience. We can be very activated and concerned at certain times and in certain situations, and little in others. There are obvious differences between sleep and relaxation states, on the one hand, and states of emergency and activation on the other. Consciousness reaches more lively in times of crisis, when we hesitate between two or more decisions we know they are important, where we understand that much is at stake, which can be decisive for our adjustment, even for our survival, when we choose something really new, unforeseen, and anticipate possibilities that we had not thought of. The more we create or decide the future, the stronger consciousness and the greater intelligence we mobilize.
Moreover, low activation states of consciousness that are dreams, according to Bergson, appear when memory and sensations converge. They obey to something we remember but that is just a feeling, that is 'empty' by a manner of speaking, that does not have a concrete and real reference in the world, and there isn't therefore an urgent situation nor even the need for a more or less adequate response.
"The remembrance is sharp and accurate, but lifeless inside. The sensation would find a form on which to set indecision of its contours. The remembrance would get a subject to fill, load itself, in order to upgrade itself."
In dreams what matters is the memory, it is what provides most of the information to the experience, not the sensation, which is very blurred. Sensations are more blurred than in wakefulness, but the basic mechanism would be the same. "In wakefulness the knowledge we acquire of an object implies a similar operation which it is performed in the dream. We only perceive the draft of the thing; this launches an appeal to the memory of the whole thing; and the complete remembrance, our spirit was not aware of it, takes the opportunity to throw out. Is this kind of hallucination, inserted in a real framework, what we realize when we 'see' the thing."
Both in dreams and in waking, consciousness manifests real impressions made on the organs of senses and also memories that are recovered. But what then is the difference between perceiving and dreaming? Although the mechanism is the same, it should not work exactly in the same way in dream and in waking.
To sleep, as we see, is not simply to be isolated from outside world. Sleep does not close our senses to outside impressions, since many of them are incorporated into dreams; dream takes away part of the material from there, as we all have seen sometime. Sleep is not simply a rest of the higher functions of thought, a suspension of reasoning. We are not incapable of logic in dreams; dreams have their own logic, follow their own reasoning. They can even be seen as an excess of reasoning, of incoherent images, poorly linked ones to others, without a common nexus that unites and holds them, but instead they flow much more easily than in waking... associating of different mode, more labile.
Bergson says that "our life, in the waking state, is a life of work, even if we do nothing, since at any time we choose, and at any time we must exclude. Always we choose between our feelings and sensations, because we chase from our consciousness thousands of 'subjective' feelings that reappear as soon as we fall asleep. We chose, with extreme precision and delicacy, between our memories, since we aside all remembrance not conform to our present state. This choice we make constantly, this constantly renewed adaptation, is the essential condition of what we call good sense. But election and adaptation they keep us in a state of uninterrupted 'stress'. We do not realize at the time, as we do not feel the pressure of the atmosphere. But eventually we toil. Having good sense is very fatiguing."
When we sleep, on the contrary, we really 'do nothing', we do not work at all, we are unattached to life. Everything is indifferent to us. We desinterest all. "Sleep is to disinterest. One sleeps on the exact extent that he is not interested. A mother sleeping next to her child can not hear thunder, while a sigh of her child awakes her. Does she really slept for her child? We do not sleep for what continues interesting us.” We sleep when we forget to focus on one point, when we stop willing something, "to wake and to will are one and the same thing."
In short, "the same faculties are exercised, whether we are awake, whether we dream, but in one case they are tense and the other relaxed. Dream is the whole mental life, less stress concentration. Still we perceive, still we remember, still we reason: perception, memory and reasoning can abound in the dreamer, because abundance, in the domain of the spirit, does not mean effort. What requires effort is 'the precision of fit'."
The instability of dreams, how quickly they develop, and the preference in them by insignificant memories compared to wakefulness, tend to confirm that, indeed, the mechanism of dreams and of perceptions is the same.
In dreams the same sensation may correspond to very different information and memories, which we travel very easily from one content to another, which we would consider very different in the waking state; and we do it as easily as fast, in seconds, when we would occupy for days to get to relate all these thoughts awake. Dreams are usually developed as images, which quickly precipitate, loosely, since it is a feature of the images that many of them can be given at once ('in panoramic' says Bergson). In the dream the visual memory does not have to take up with the visual sense as happens in the external reality. Almost everything is memory. The images of the visual memory flow much more freely and can precipitate with dizzying rapidity. "In waking state, visual memory that serves to interpret the visual sensation is bound to settle exactly on it; then continues its development, occupies the same time; in short, the recognized perception of external events lasts just the same as them". When is required for some reason 'the precision of fit', the effort appears. interpretive memory is strained, it pays attention to life again, goes of the dream finally, it slows down, "outside events will pattern their flow and decrease their speed".
The preference of dreams to insignificant memories are also due to the inattention and indifference to life which defines in general terms the dream, indeed the simple fact of recover that attention and that interest leads us to wake up quickly, it is incompatible with sleep. This happens when we detect any disturbing external event (the crying of child to the mother), when we realize that something important is about to do, or when the logic of the dream itself leads us to wake up because it is produced any unacceptable situation or incompatible with our life, which strains our attention instantly. The latter happens when we dream that we fall from high altitude or a murderer or a predator is about to catch us, for example. At that moment we awoke.
Sleep is only compatible with insignificant memories or thoughts. Another example of the same is that when we try to focus, by some form of obligation, an activity that we feel uninteresting (a reading, an exhibition, a movie...) when we get bored, we sleep and our mind wanders to equally irrelevant content; unless we make a great effort to regain concentration and get to connect with something significant... Or said in reverse: when sleep naturally comes, what we were doing awake no longer seems interesting and we get bored, if we did not sleep before.
As Bergson says "dreaming ego is a distracted ego, it is distended. The memories that best harmonize with him are the memories of distraction, which do not involve the brand of effort".
At least once a day, every 24 hours, we go from wakefulness to sleep and from sleep to waking state again. But also our consciousness fluctuates in a continuum of intensity. We have a body, variable itself, we are not 'pure spirits', to put it in the words of Bergson. Our body, life, follows its own rules. Inevitably we slept, however interesting is what we are doing; or what normally had little interest may be sometime will enter intensely in our consciousness. Sometimes nothing happens in our environment nor is there any reason to think our memories have been significantly altered and, instead, our conscious radically change; but we can not find out why. Our moods and our conscience can be highly variable from one moment to another.
As we have seen is our consciousness what creates our reality, which is not given objectively; memories and perceptions are nothing fixed but quite the opposite. Awareness not only integrates the energy or stimuli from the external environment but also from the internal environment, which occur inside the body, in its organs, tissues, its organic matter, in life processes. The body is terribly unstable, constantly working to maintain homeostasis. While we must recognize that some processes or physiological conditions may not manifest in the states of consciousness, we know, because of our experience, which many do. So many that we may doubt whether not all, as life and consciousness, as we've seen following the Bergsonian reasoning, are inseparable.
This is the 'immediate consciousness', as Bergson calls, completely fluid and continuous consciousness "that is inherent in the inner life, which feels more than sees; but it feels like a movement, as a continuous overlay with a constantly receding future". It is in this immediate consciousness that 'elan vital' acts, producing the 'impulse of consciousness', which is instinctive and inseparable from life, and escapes the analysis because of its simplicity.
Then there is the 'reflexive consciousness' ''that offers the vision of our inner life as a state that is going to another state, starting each of these states at one point, ending in another. Reflexive consciousness prepares language pathways; it distinguishes, separates and juxtaposes; It is only confortable with what is defined yet and with the immobility; it clings to a static conception of reality”. It is the consciousness that subjects reality to language, we talked about before, which manifests itself in verbal reasoning, replacing the immediate and continuous personal experience by discrete linguistic discourse.
Reflexive consciousness reasons with the essentiall of immediate consciousness through language, in order to retain the moment, to represent it and argue it to communicate, to give some kind of explanation or justification of the behavior of oneself to himself and to others... With this mission, it creates abstract representations with the language, it relationships what we experience in the successive presents to attempt to give them a logic and unity beyond their mere existence.
The language is abstract, the same words can represent different things, it has a slower time adapting well to the events of reality and allows to communicate with others, that is, allows to influence other people and create new situations in the main scope of our action that is the social. Social groups, of whatever kind, are essentially sensitive to verbal communication, so as we are each of us individually. Any action of our communication quickly finds a reaction of other or the group, while we are always at the expectation of the actions of others. The social is our playground, and the main way is language and reflexive consciousness.
Henri Bergson, L'energie spirituelle.