I’ve been interested in lucid dreaming for a long time, and I like to keep up with news about it. A recent podcast from Radio National’s Dreams — the Lucid experience rekindled my interest, because it showed how research into lucid dreaming is now on a solid scientific footing, and because it offered practical suggestions for how to enter into lucid dreams, and because these suggestions were particularly relevant to me.
If you aren’t familiar with the concept of lucid dreaming, it’s basically the idea that you can inhabit your dreams and exert some control over them, rather than just experiencing them as a sort of movie. Many people report being capable of lucid dreaming, and many of these are scientists and other serious folk.
I’ve heard of similar phenomena, such as OBE’s (out-of-body experiences) and astral travelling, in which an observer, often identified as the soul, leaves the body and moves throughout the real world as a sort of balloon tethered to the body by a “silver cord” or some such. I accept the idea of lucid dreaming more than these other phenomena, since lucid dreaming takes place entirely inside the human head and doesn’t require any mystical hand-waving to explain it, nor does it submit to such falsifiable experiments as reading a message only visible from a floating balloon. The world experienced in lucid dreaming is decidedly a dream world and therefore congruent with ordinary dreams and not with ordinary reality.
Lucid dreaming researchers have discovered quite a few facts about the phenomenon, for example that lucid dreams occur during REM sleep, and that dreamers can signal to the outside world that they are in a lucid dream by moving their eyes in a particular pattern that was agreed upon by them while awake.
One observation that intrigued me greatly was that successful lucid dreamers can recognize aspects of their dreams that alert them to the fact that they are dreaming. These are called dream triggers. People can train themselves to recognize these triggers, and essentially take the reins of their own dreams at that point.
I have a recurrent dream about my former workplace, and this dream is often full of such triggers. For example, if I notice in my dream that I am on a staircase that I know didn’t exist in that building, this can be a trigger. The other night I was in just such a situation, perched on a very steep staircase which as usual didn’t reach the floor. I was able to say to myself “OK, if I’m in a dream, I can just launch myself and start flying.” I couldn’t bring myself to do it, though, out of fear of hurtling to the floor. However, a moment later, a woman appeared before me, and I told her, “OK, if I’m in a dream, I should be able to make you laugh.” whereupon she immediately burst out laughing. I’m hooked now, and I can’t wait to fall asleep most nights and continue the adventure.
The All in the Mind podcast talks about one experiment that flows out of lucid dreaming research, in which the duration of “dream time” can be roughly measured, and compared with the duration of “real time”. In other words, how long does ten seconds of dream time take in real time? I’ll let you discover the answer to this by listening to the podcast.