Thursday, 15 December 2011

A short introduction to lucid dreaming

A lucid dream is simply a state during which a person (X) is aware that they are dreaming. The term was coined by Dutch psychiatrist Frederick van Eeden (1860-1932). There are two types of lucid dream:
  1. Dream-initiated lucid dream (DILD) which starts as a normal dream and X eventually concludes it is a dream; and 
  2. Wake-initiated lucid dream (WILD) where X goes from a normal wakeful state directly into the dream state with no apparent lapse in consciousness.
    My personal (and quite limited) experience of lucid dreaming has been DILD although I have also had one recollected dream involving a false awakening (see below). I will discuss my personal experiences at a later stage.

    Those involved in the study of the dream world are known as ‘Oneironauts’. Lucid dreaming has been researched scientifically and its existence is well-established as a result of empirical work by scientists such as Stephen LaBerge (a psycho-physiologist) and Allan Hobson (who developed a neuro-physiological approach to dream research), who have helped to enhance our understanding of lucid dreaming, pushing research into a much less speculative realm.

    The first text recognising the academic potential of lucid dreaming was  Celia Green’s study Lucid Dreams (1968) in which the author analysed the main characteristics of the phenomenon, reviewed previous published literature on the subject and incorporated new empirical data from her own subjects. She concluded that there is a category of dream experience which is quite distinct from ordinary dreams and hypothesised that this dream state would be associated with rapid eye movement (REM sleep). Green was also the first scientist to link lucid dreams to the phenomenon of false awakenings.

    In the early 1970s, Daniel Oldis of the University of South Dakota experimented with the scientific principle of external sensory incorporation in an attempt to influence dream content and induce lucid dreaming in subjects. He employed three psychological techniques – subconscious suggestion (using a tape played before and during sleep); associative signalling (using a muffled bell alarm timed to go off during REM sleep); and classical conditioning (using a REM detection circuit and a bright eye-light). The results of his research indicated that lucid dreaming can be facilitated using eternal cues and psychological methods as those described above.

    The philosopher Norman Malcolm’s text, Dreaming (1959) had argued against the possibility of checking the accuracy of dream reports. However, the realisation that eye movements performed in dreams affected the dreamer’s physical eyes, tended to support the argument that actions agreed upon in s wakeful state could be recalled and performed once the dreamer was lucid in a dream. The first proof of this was offered by British para-psychologist Keith Hearne in the late 1970s – a volunteer named Alan Worsley used eye movements to signal the onset of lucidity, which were recorded by a polysomnagraph machine. However, Hearne’s results were not widely distributed.

    The first peer reviewed article was published some years later by Stephen LaBerge at Stanford University. LaBerge independently developed a similar technique to that of Hearne as part of his doctoral thesis. During the 1980s, further scientific research confirming the existence of lucid dreaming was published – with subjects able to demonstrate that they were consciously aware of being in a lucid dream state (primarily by use of eye signals). Additionally, techniques have been developed which have been empirically proven to enhance the likelihood of inducing a lucid dream state. Research on the techniques and effects of lucid dreaming continues at a number of universities and scientific institutions, including LaBerge’s Lucidity Institute (est. 1987) in California.

    I will post further background information on the study of lucid dreaming by way of further updates, but for now that’s the history of lucid dream research in a nutshell :) 

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