Relationship between the hypnagogic/hypnopompic states and reports of anomalous experiencesSimon J. Sherwood
A whole range of anomalous experiences have been reported during the borderline hypnagogic or hypnopompic states which surround periods of sleep (e.g., Gurney, Myers, & Podmore, 1886; Rose, Hogan, & Blackmore, 1997). The question is whether these states are conducive to anomalous processes or agencies, whether normal features are being misinterpreted, or both. This paper outlines the main physiological and psychological features of these hypnagogic/hypnopompic states and considers some of the evidence to address this question.
Although the hypnagogic (and probably the hypnopompic) state has unique behavioural, electrophysiological and subjective characteristics, it is also highly variable and there are large individual differences (Rechtschaffen, 1994). During these borderline states, people can experience brief and vivid imagery in one or more sensory modalities, and also temporary paralysis. People may find these kinds of experiences rather puzzling and may be keen to find an explanation for them, particularly if they have not come across them before. Evidence for the possible conduciveness of these states to anomalous experiences is discussed with reference to experimental studies (e.g., ganzfeld), spontaneous cases and surveys. Evidence for the possible misinterpretation of hypnagogic/hypnopompic experiences is discussed with reference to experiences with anomalous interpretations found in different cultures (e.g., Old Hag attacks) which have similar phenomenology to sleep paralysis plus accompanying imagery. A number of features of hypnagogic/hypnopompic experiences are very similar to features of reported anomalous experiences, such as ESP, apparitions, and OBEs (Mavromatis, 1983, 1987).
It is concluded that hypnagogic/hypnopompic features may be both conducive to anomalous experiences and misinterpreted as involving anomalous processes or agencies (e.g., deceased persons). Either way, the experiences may be interpreted correctly or incorrectly. The interpretation may depend on the specific hypnagogic/hypnopompic features experienced, on individual knowledge and beliefs, and on the context in which the phenomena occur. Further research which addresses the decision-making processes involved in interpreting these kinds of experiences would also be useful.
What is being proposed then is that, although hypnagogic/hypnopompic imagery and sleep paralysis are relatively normal experiences, occasionally they may be influenced by anomalous processes (e.g., ESP) or may facilitate anomalous experiences. More attention to the stages, features, contents, and physiology of the hypnagogic/hypnopompic states may enable us to identify, perhaps with a greater degree of accuracy, if and when anomalous processes are operating.
The question is: are the hypnagogic/hypnopompic states conducive to anomalous processes and events or are normal hypnagogic/hypnopompic features being misinterpreted? Perhaps both statements are true? The aim of this paper is to consider evidence for each of these possibilities. Firstly, it is necessary to outline of the characteristics of the hypnagogic/ hypnopompic states and the features of some of the experiences which can occur within them.