Some time ago in Western society rehabilitated meditation, which was previously considered an occupation more suitable for hippies than for serious people. Today it is being mastered with the help of mobile applications, recommended for educational institutions and actively studied in the framework of brain research. Perhaps, other practices of mindfulness await us further - and not only in reality, but also in a dream. There is a concept of lucid, or lucid, dreams - those in which a person understands that he is sleeping and can, to one degree or another, control what is happening. We figure out what science says about such dreams, is it true that you can cause them purposefully, and is it worth doing.
Text: Asya Pototskaya
Traditionally, dreams and human behavior in them have always been of great importance. This also affected religious traditions. For example, in the Tibetan religion Bon practice "yoga of sleep" (it is described, for example, in the teachings of Lama Tendzin Wangyal Rinpoche), and in Taoism there is a direction of "mastery of sleep". Shamanism even considers dreams and borderline states of consciousness to be the main instrument of communication with spirits. Many religions in the past, in principle, did not know the division into the "real" waking world and the "fake" world of dreams.
In the West, lucid dreaming has become more often talked about against the background of interest in Eastern religions and mysticism. In many ways, the popularization of the topic is associated with the name of the thinker and writer Carlos Castaneda. In the book The Art of Dreaming, he describes practices that can be practiced in dreams from Native American shamanism. According to Castaneda's teachings, lucid dreaming is a way to comprehend "absolute energetic reality."
The fact that the topic of lucid dreaming can often coexist in conversations with extrasensory perception, reality transurfing or dianetics (pseudoscientific and, according to many, destructive teachings of Ron Hubbard), creates an ambiguous reputation for it. Nevertheless, today this phenomenon is being studied by the advanced sciences of the brain and consciousness - and many people passionate about the issue seek this experience for their own purposes.
It is believed that the term “lucid dreaming” was coined in 1913 by the Dutch psychiatrist and writer Frederick van Eden. For a long time, he kept a dream diary, as a result of which he achieved the experience of being aware of himself in a dream. He expounded his theory in the article "Research of Dreams". The founder of a truly scientific study of sleep (which today helps to investigate lucid dreams) is already called the neurophysiologist Nathaniel Kleitman, who described polyphasic sleep in the 1950s - this is the name for a situation when sleep is unevenly distributed during the day and is added to the night, for example, daytime. He also developed a method of polysomnography - a hardware study of the state of the sleeping person. By analyzing indicators (breathing, snoring, body position, body movements, and so on), the method allows you to create a hypnogram - a visual display of the structure of sleep.
Psychophysiologist Stephen LaBerge, who in 1987 created an entire institute to study them, came to grips with lucid dreaming. He also confirmed that this phenomenon exists. During his experiments back in the seventies, participants gave signals using eye movements directly from sleep - devices at this time confirmed that a person was really sleeping. This also happened because during the REM sleep phase, a person can move the eye muscles - in contrast to other, immobilized muscles of the body.
Research continues to this day. In 2011, scientists at the Max Planck Society for Scientific Research used MRI and electroencephalography to examine the state of a sleeping person.The main goal of the study was to establish a link between brain activity and dream content. The search was made difficult by the fact that sleeping people cannot report anything - so volunteers who said they were capable of lucid dreams were invited to participate in the study. During their lucid dream, they were asked to give the specified signals - to imagine that they are clenching their fists in a certain order. Brain scans showed that the participants in the study activated the sensorimotor area of the cerebral cortex, which is responsible for planning movements - as in cases when a person moves his arms while awake.
It is known that normal human sleep is divided into two phases - slow and fast - which alternate with each other, on average, every 90-110 minutes. The fast, or REM phase ("rapid eye movements"), is associated with dreams - the lucid is also usually talked about at this stage. The capabilities of brain scanning today make it possible to draw conclusions about what happens to it in a dream. In particular, the popularizer of science Michio Kaku talks about these studies in the book "The Future of Mind". During sleep, the visual part of the cerebral cortex is activated - while the dorsolateral part of the prefrontal cortex and the orbitofrontal cortex, which usually help to maintain attention and "filter" thoughts, and are also responsible for self-control, are inactive in sleeping people. This is related to how often images jump in dreams and how we are uncritical to what we see - the strangest plots can be perceived as something that goes without saying. During lucid dreaming, the dorsolateral cortex is active - its increased work distinguishes this state from the usual phase of REM sleep. This suggests that in such moments, awareness is indeed maintained.
How Lucid Dreaming Is Achieved
To talk about mindfulness, it’s a good idea to first understand what our “I” is - and it’s not that easy. Science cannot yet find a solution to the "difficult problem of consciousness" formulated by David Chalmers: it is unclear why we get sensory, conscious experience and in general are ourselves. Simply put, it is not clear how we understand that we are really us, and where the first-person experience comes from.
The cognitive philosopher Thomas Metzinger suggests that we are incapable of perceiving the means by which we obtain information. This means that consciousness is a simulation created by the brain: "We do not see the neurons discharging in our brain, but we perceive only the representation created by them." Sleep creates believable sensory impressions and seems very real. Lucid dreaming is a very interesting topic for the philosophy of mind. The experience of lucid dreaming allows you to find the catch and expose the simulation - to understand that we are sleeping.
Research by scientists from the Max Planck Society, for example, shows that people experiencing lucid dreaming have an increased volume of gray matter in the anterior prefrontal cortex. According to their assumptions, during lucid dreams, processes similar to metacognitive processes occur - that is, they resemble our ability to think about our own thinking.
There are many resources and forums, including Russian-speaking ones, where people practicing guided dreaming, or, as they are also called, "phase", talk about their experiences, ask for advice and share techniques. Of course, there are coaches and trainers who produce video courses with stories about reaching the "phase" and undertake to teach the "astral" for money. However, the Institute of Lucid Dreaming also has training courses, which adheres to a scientific approach to the issue.
There are many techniques that recommend what to do to enter a lucid dream. One of the main problems on the way to this is called the inability of the sleeper to understand that he is sleeping.To resolve this paradox, “reality” tests are used - they should help to start thinking more critically in a dream. Such checks include looking at your hands or looking in the mirror, trying to pinch yourself, assessing the density of objects, reading a text more than once or looking at a watch, recalling the recent past and reconstructing a chain of events. Stephen LaBerge talks about cognitive techniques in detail in his book "The Practice of Lucid Dreaming" or videos.
There are also technical methods, and they are available not only in laboratories, but also for ordinary users. The Institute for Lucid Dreaming recommends DreamLight and NovaDreamer devices (the latter, however, are no longer on sale), equipped with LEDs and eye movement sensors - when the device detects eye movement, it turns on light signals to help a person feel and make sure that he is sleeping. There are also Reme masks, without sensors - if you wish, you can even buy them on Ozon. The general idea of such devices is to give the sleeping person a sign that he is asleep and help bring the dream into a lucid state.
Although Stephen LaBerge recommends such masks, Thomas Metzinger left a rather disappointing description of exercises with NovaDreamer. According to the philosopher, the signals from the device did not help him realize that he was asleep, but instead intertwined with the narrative of dreams. For example, the red flashes of diodes brought a nightmare where he was an astronaut, in whose shuttle emergency lights came on. In another story, he was chased by American police with red flashing lights.
Why do people seek lucid dreaming?
The "lucid dreamer" is able to understand that he is in a dream - which means that he can influence the plot, taking advantage of the fact that he has not lost the feeling of his own will. While researchers are figuring out how the process works, practitioners are concerned about how to enter a state of lucid dreaming and use the opportunities that have opened up.
People who teach guided dreams to those who want to believe that the technique is of practical use. Among the bonuses, they name, for example, the ability to influence the physiology of the body, simulate meetings with "desirable but inaccessible or hard-to-reach people" (for example, celebrities or deceased relatives), rehabilitation of people with disabilities, the opportunity to work out sports skills, study, get all kinds of pleasure and even promote compliance with diets - in a dream you can not deny yourself anything. “In lucid dreaming. - Ed. Approx.) We feel everything the same way as in real life: body weight, smell, touch, taste of food, and it is much tastier. It will be the most delicious food you have ever eaten,”says one of the practitioners in the thematic group.
Despite the fact that the words about training or rehabilitation in a dream seem too loud, people who practice lucid dreaming on resources and forums claim that they achieve impressive results. But while the American Academy of Sleep Medicine recommends lucid dreaming in the fight against nightmares, the current research base for high-profile conclusions about therapeutic effects is not enough. So it's hard to say how true the success stories are - and in principle, the stories about the frequency of controlled dreams. Stephen LaBerge points out that when studying mental images, hallucinations and dreams, researchers inevitably find the data difficult to verify. When the main source of information is subjective reports, we are very likely to be dealing with an "unreliable storyteller."
People use lucid dreaming for a variety of reasons. For some, the practice of lucid dreaming is a way to get a new state of consciousness that is not available in ordinary life. Someone thus plays out real and hypothetical situations.It should be mentioned that many practitioners perceive lucid dreams in an esoteric manner - they believe that they come into contact not with their own psyche, but with the "subtle worlds" and their inhabitants.
Some expect in the plot of the dream to restore contact with those structures of the psyche that are usually not in sight, but exist hidden from ourselves. But whether such an experience will be useful and safe is a big question. During psychotherapy, a person is accompanied by a specialist - here he finds himself face to face with the products of the unconscious.
Psychoanalytic psychotherapist and clinical psychologist Margarita Kornilova criticizes the “healing power” of guided dreams in self-therapy: “There are reasons to doubt that these practices bring a real transformative effect. As a rule, psychological defenses are reactivated upon awakening and neutralize the result. And even in the dream itself, although their action weakens, it does not completely stop. And not in vain, because for the integration of the split-off parts of the psyche, you need a kind of transitional space, a container, another - someone who will help to digest and realize this experience. Without this space, the psyche is simply not ready for the cognitive-affective “hail” that floods it”. According to the expert, the practice of lucid dreaming can facilitate contact with split-off parts of the psyche, but then the material obtained needs to be integrated, and this will require a psychotherapist. Kornilova notes that in the absence of therapy in such a situation, three options are possible. Real contact with these parts of the psyche either will not happen, because the defenses will work, or it will happen, but in the form of a breakthrough that can lead to a state of psychosis, or upon awakening, it will be gradually repressed, distorted and forgotten.
Are Lucid Dreaming Safe
The main evangelist of lucid dreaming, LaBerge, is optimistic about the question, arguing, however, that the main thing here is personal responsibility. According to him, most of lucid dreams are colored much more positively than simple dreams. “Nevertheless, we admit that there are people who can be frightened or very disturbed by lucid dreaming, therefore we do not recommend doing them all in a row. On the other hand, we are absolutely sure that lucid dreams are completely harmless for people of a normal mental make-up. Lucid dreaming is used by different people for different purposes and not always in the best way, but this should not distract sleep researchers from working on the problem,”writes LaBerge.
At the same time, Doctor of Biological Sciences Vladimir Kovalzon does not recommend practicing lucid dreaming at home, despite their potential benefits. “It has been shown to be a very interesting model for a number of things, it can be practiced in certain situations, in particular in victims of terrorist attacks, accidents, post-traumatic syndromes, which are also now being intensively studied,” he says. Kovalson adds that neuropsychiatric specialists object to the recommendations of this technique only for experiencing unusual sensations: “Lucid dreams are a special form of altered consciousness, not identical with dreams. If you constantly practice this state, you deprive yourself of normal sleep with dreams, and what this is connected with, what it is fraught with, we cannot fully understand. But it’s clear that there’s nothing good about it.”
In such opinions, one can see the desire to control what a person does with his consciousness, as well as the anxiety that any altered, borderline states of the psyche cause in society. Still, there is a reason for the fears. Sleep performs a number of important functions, including facilitating the transfer of information from short-term memory to long-term memory - depriving ourselves of it, we also lose these valuable properties.Another thing is that lucid dreams are not always purposeful - there is evidence that they occur spontaneously. So, this can also be a variant of the norm.
Whether to strive for lucid dreaming is everyone's personal business. But their very phenomenon is associated with important questions, to which the modern science of thinking and consciousness is just beginning to approach the answers. Is there a clear line between sleep and wakefulness? Is it true that living, clear and vivid experience implies that we are experiencing something real? Where is our "I" hiding?
Practitioners argue that lucid dreams are "not visualization, not self-hypnosis, not imagination, not hallucinations, but another reality, as real and real as ours." It sounds esoteric, but today we understand that we study reality only within the framework of our own sensory experience. It is possible that with the development of technology and brain science, humanity will indeed be able to open the "doors of perception" - and the study of lucid dreaming will become an important tool for this.