Monday, 10 November 2014

Dream Telepathy - Can we share the same dream with someone else?

I have never experienced the phenomenon of dream telepathy - telepathic communication with another person through a shared dream. Telepathy (mind-to-mind communication is a form of extra-sensory perception - a form of experience which is beyond the normal sensory capacity to perceive. ESP also includes the heavily-disputed and non-proven phenomena of clairvoyance (visual perception of remote events or objects) and precognition (knowledge of a future event). These phenomena are categorised as a form of parapsychology and have been dismissed by many as pseudo-science.

I am very sceptical as to the veracity of reported dream telepathy experiences, as well as the 'evidence' on which other forms of parapsychology or ESP are based. Many people on social networking or in my personal life have questioned my belief in dream telepathy, and my answer is always the same - I cannot vouch for anything that I have not witnessed or found solid empirical evidence in support of. The same people also tend to ask my views on out-of-body experiences (OBEs). This is a topic I am even more clear on - I cannot believe in OBES or near-death experiences because I am of the opinion that our brain is responsible for our consciousness and mind, and as an atheist, hold the belief that we do not have a soul. Therefore it is impossible for me to support the notion that our consciousness can be separated from our physical body. I think that the difference between a lucid dream/false awakening and an OBE is the fact that lucid dreamers are aware they are dreaming and those thinking they are having an OBE are in fact experiencing a form of false awakening, but believe that they are awake. From what I have read, near-death experiences occur as a result of the brain reacting to anaesthetic during surgery. I do not approach my dream research with any concept of spirituality, faith or religious belief and assert that supernatural or paranormal phenomena can be explained by alterations on consciousness created in the brain. I hope to post further articles on these topics at a later stage

However, since a recent conversation turned my mind to the subject of dream telepathy, I thought it might be useful to conduct some research into the idea that we can share a mutual dream with other people and see what I could find out about this controversial subject.

However, despite the (lack of) empirical data on dream telepathy, there have been numerous reports of shared or group dreaming. The concept was popularised in the film Inception (2010) in which a group of 'extractors' seeking to commit corporate espionage, are able to use experimental military technology (PASIV) to infiltrate the subconscious of a target and extract information while experiencing a shared dream.  Other films have explored the phenomenon of telepathic/shared dreams - for example, Dreamscape (1984) and the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise series.

Some advocates suggest that the best mechanism for testing the existence of shared dreaming is the lucid dream. Although it is possible to incubate certain dream themes, it is very difficult for inexperienced or non-lucid dreamers to plan their dreams in advance, and impossible to alter the course of a dream in progress without becoming lucid. 

Lucid dreamers are able to manipulate and influence their dreams, suggesting that the lucid dreaming experience is the most fertile ground for experimentation and research into shared dreaming. There are various forms of shared dreaming reported. 

The most commonly reported type of telepathic dream are meshing dreams which is where Dreamer A shares certain parts or elements of his dream with Dreamer B. This phenomenon can be explained by the fact that often the hypothetical Dreamers A and B will have a close or intimate relationship - certainly their relationship is intimate enough for them to have a waking conversation about their dream experiences. Therefore, the shared dream may be a coincidence as a result of shared waking experiences and events. 

Another frequently reported form of mutual dream are meeting dreams - these are the 'true form' of telepathic/shared dreams, in which Dreamer A and Dreamer B meet in the dream world and are able to communicate with one another. Stephen LaBerge of the Lucidity Institute believes that mutual/shared dream experiments in the sleep laboratory can test the objective reality of shared dream worlds - i.e, test whether the dream world is a genuine alternative reality. In Lucid Dreams (1968), Celia Green describes the experience of Oliver Fox who was able to 'meet' his friends in planned locations within a dream, by setting an intention to do so. Fox was able to counter allegations that he experienced a successful 'meeting dream' because he had simply incubated the dream and the intention to meet his friends, Elkington and Slade, by claiming that Slade (who had later disclosed that he had not had a dream that night), failed to turn up in the set location. Both Fox and Elkington, had met in the dream as planned, and expected to also see the absent Slade, with both reporting afterwards that he was not present. Fox argued that if this was simply a case of dream incubation - because both he and Elkington expected to see Slade - it made no sense that both (separately) experienced him as missing during their respective dreams.

The first person to document the phenomenon of dream telepathy in the modern age was Sigmund Freud, who produced a model which expressed his ideas. In Dreams and Telepathy (1922) which is reproduced in Psychoanalysis and the Occult (1953), Freud considered that a connection between dreams and telepathy could neither be proven nor disproven. Like myself, he was deeply suspicious about the notion and stated that he had never experienced a telepathic dream himself, nor in the accounts of any of his patients. Two dreams which would fit within the definition of a telepathic dream (the death of a son and a sister-in-law) were labelled as 'purely subjective anticipations'. His ideas on telepathic dreaming were not widely accepted at the time, yet he continued to communicate them. 

In the 1940s, the subject was tackled by Jule Eisenbud, Geraldine Pederson-King and Nandor Fodor, who described alleged cases of dream telepathy. Albert Ellis regarded their evidence to have been based on flimsy, insubstantial evidence which could be better explained by bias, coincidence and unconscious cues and accused them of emotional involvement in their research, resulting in observations and judgements being clouded by a desire to prove that dream telepathy existed (see A Ellis, 'Telepathy and Psychoanalysis: A Critique of Recent Findings' (1947) Psychiatric Quarterly 21 and 'Re-analysis of an Alleged Telepathic Dream' (1949) Psychiatric Quarterly 23).

There have been many experiments conducted to test the theory of dream telepathy and its effectiveness, but with significant issues of blinding. Many of the test subjects found ways to communicate with their peers to make it appear that they were telepathic and attempts to cut off communication between the agent, sender and receiver of information failed because subjects were able to get around blindfolds, despite best attempts to make the empirical studies rigorous and reliable (see P McBroom, 'Dreams, Art and Mental Telepathy' (1967) Science News 92). In studies commenced in 1962, which took place at Maimonides Medical Centre in Brooklyn, New York, and led by researchers Montague Ullman and Stanley Krippner, subjects were monitored and awakened after a period of REM sleep and separated to study the claimed ability to communicate telepathically. The results, published in 'Dream Telepathy: Experimental and Clinical Findings' in N Totten, Psychoanalysis and the Paranormal: Lands of Darkness (2003), suggested that there was some evidence of dream telepathy. Krippner and Cheryl Stanley also analysed the phenomenon in studies published in 'Dreams, Telepathy and Various States of Consciousness' (2011) NeuroQuantology 9(1). 

During the Maimonides experiments, Ullman stated that one of his subjects recalled a dream in which he had given a chromium soap dish to someone who was building a house. Unbeknown to the subject, Ullman had recently been mistakenly given a chromium soap dish while he was building his own house, and had retained the dish as an act of belligerent dishonesty due to his annoyance at the rising building costs. Ullman thought that the 'dream telepathy' of the subject was a symbol of his distrust for therapists. 

A further 'example' of a successful dream telepathy experiment between a telepathic sender and telepathic receiver, involved a target painting, Dance Class (sometimes referred to as School of Dance) (1871) by Edgar Degas. The receiver recalled a dream in which 'I was in a class made up of maybe half a dozen people, it felt like a school...there was one little girl who was trying to dance with me.' The problem with the interpretation of this dream telepathy dream as successful lies in the fact that the definition of a target match between the sender and receiver is very broad and subjective in nature - indeed, the dream recalled by the receiver does not match particularly accurately with the actual image in the Degas painting, and is very vague on specific details, such as the presence of young female ballerinas wearing tutus (and one facing the wall, crying); the mirror and green watering-can; or the old man seated at a piano playing the violin. Even on the face of it, the description given by the receiver and the actual Degas painting does not appear to be a positive match. 

In another of Ullman and Krippner's Maimonides experiments, reported in the 1970s, a local artist gave a projector show at a rock concert, turning the whole audience into a group of telepathic senders. Firstly, they watched a short colour film about eagles and their nesting habits, then about birds from all around the world an mythical birds, such as the phoenix. Throughout the screening of the film footage, the Holy Modal Rounder's played their song, If You Want to be a Bird (1968) Located in a 100 mile radius of the rock concert, 5 telepathic receivers were told about the event and asked to record their dreams at midnight, around the time of the 'exposure'. The following dreams were reported:

Receiver 1: '...something mythological, like a griffin or a phoenix'
Receiver 2: 'a snake'
Receiver 3: 'grapes'
Receiver 4: 'an embryo in flames'
Receiver 5: did not sleep, but visualised 'a number of seagulls flying over water'

While 2 out of 5 receivers dreaming (or visualising) birds seems like an excellent result, one must beware cherry-picking results which leads to flaws in the test. The target material of birds is very broad  and unspecific - it wasn't a solitary species of bird, which would have made a correct answer more impressive, but all types of birds, which could render the correct answers of 'phoenix' and 'seagulls' as nothing more than mere coincidence. A more specific and measurable target transmission is required in order to produce more reliable results. Further, it may be that the receivers were aware of the likelihood that the Holy Modal Rounders would play one of their most successful recently released songs. If You Want to be a Bird (or 'Birdsong' as it is otherwise known) because it featured prominently in the incredibly popular film, Easy Rider (1969). This knowledge may have influenced the receivers dreaming/visualising birds after being made aware that the band would be performing at a rock concert during which the target transmission would be made.

The experiments by Krippner and Ullman (which were known as 'picture target tests') were criticised by CEM Hansel in 'The Search for a Demonstration of ESP' in P Kuntz, A Skeptics Handbook of Parapsychology (1985) who argued that there was a weakness in the design, in the way in which the agent become aware of the target pictures. The agent should have been the only person who should have known the target until all judging of the targets had been completed, however an experimenter was with the agent when the target envelope was opened. As the experimenter was able to communicate with the subjects of the test, Hansel concluded that there were poor controls in place. An attempt to replicate the experiments was conducted by David Foulkes and Edward Belvedere, who found that neither the subject nor the judges matched the targets with the dreams above chance level (see E Belvedere & D Foulkes, 'Telepathy and Dreams: A Failure to Replicate' (1971) Perceptual & Motor Skills 33). Other results from Foulkes and Belvedere were negative (see CEM Hansel, The Search for Psychic Power, ESP and Parapsychology Revisited (1989) for criticism and analysis of these studies). In S Sherwood & C Roe, 'A Review of Dream ESP Studies Conducted Since the Maimonides Dream ESP Programme' (2003) Journal of Consciousness Studies 10, the authors reviewed the literature on dream telepathy and claimed that there was some evidence for its existence. However in J Alcock, 'Give the Null Hypothesis a Chance: Reasons to Remain Doubtful About the Existence of Psi' (2003) Journal of Consciousness Studies 10, it was argued that Sherwood and Roes' review was based on an 'extreme messiness' of data, the experiments at Maimonides had failed to prove the existence of dream telepathy and 'lack of replication is rampant'. 

Robert Waggoner (see Lucid Dreaming: Gateway to the Inner Self (2008)), the author - an expert in lucid dreaming points to the recurrence of the phenomenon within psychiatric therapy sessions where patients refer to 'psychic glimpses' of their psychiatrist which were communicated to them from within a dream. However, Waggoner's secondary source material cites the Maimonides experiments and Ullman's anecdotal evidence (referred to above) as support for the phenomenon and therefore is an unreliable source in itself. Waggoner also recounts a personal experience of dream teleaphy. He states that a simple, yet unpredictable action which took place in his own lucid dream was implanted into the subconscious of a friend. His dream was recalled as follows:

'I'm inside [a restaurant/bar], enjoying a feeling of lucid euphoria, when I see my friend Moe come inside...Trying to make some impact on her, I get the idea to make a peace sign with my fingers. I say: 'Look Moe, do you see this peace sign? Every time you see it, it can make you become lucid - you'll know you're dreaming'. Again, I put the peace sign in front of her face.'

Four months later, Waggoner was travelling for business and met Moe for lunch. As he stood outside the restaurant, he saw her approach with a curious look in her eyes and suddenly, she reached up and made a peace sign in front of his face. Waggoner asked why she had done this, to which Moe replied: 'I don't know, just felt like it'. This may be a simple coincidence - one would need to ask whether the peace sign was a common gesture or greeting amongst the local population which had been adopted by Moe/anyone with whom she had recent contact in her waking reality. If using the peace sign was prevalent in the time and place during which this experience took place (for example, a two-finger peace sign was popular during the 1960s and is also a common gesture in Oriental youth cultures today), this may have inadvertently influenced Waggoner's decision to make the peace sign in his lucid dream, quite coincidental to Moe's use of the gesture in his waking reality. The peace sign is a very common gesture after all, particularly following Winston Churchill's iconic usage and also, celebrities such as Paul McCartney, often being pictured making it. Therefore, this anecdotal evidence cannot be taken as evidence that Waggoner used his lucid dream to telepathically implant the impulse in Moe, particularly as in waking reality, she made no mention of lucidity nor confirmed anything else said/done by Waggoner in his lucid dream. 

We should be cautious before reaching conclusions which sound attractive, but are only supported by anecdotal 'evidence' which comes from those with a vested interest in, or desire, to prove the phenomenon exists, and has failed to be proven by empirical studies, subject to peer-review and equally unsuccessful attempts to replicate. Indeed, no para-psychological experimentations into dream telepathy have produced replicable results. 

If you are interested in the phenomenon of telepathic/shared dreaming, you may wish to take part in the ongoing global experiment led by Dr Rory Mac Sweeney (@TheMutualDream on Twitter) of 'Wake Up in Your Dreams' website. In the study, which is known as the 'Mutual Dream Experiment', dreamers are asked to conduct a monthly global dream share attempt, using an integrated online password system. Dreamers are asked to record a secret password online, and on the last Saturday of each month, attempt to exchange the password with another dreamer, using an anonymous email to verify the results. If you would like to take participate, click on the link above to be directed to Dr Sweeney's website and the homepage for the experiment. 

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