Perception of consciousness as the awareness of our own actions and existence transcends, to some degree, from our awake state into the realms of the dream states. Often after waking up from sleep for instance, we can recall a particularly vivid set of dreams and recollect the emotions, people, and scenery we experienced and interacted with.
However, a vast majority of the time, we tend to experience these dreams as observers, following ourselves as we carry out various actions that we do not directly control of. Lucid dreaming, on the contrary, is the awareness that we are dreaming while we are dreaming.
Imagine walking down the sidewalk of an urban neighborhood. A constant stream of yellow taxi cabs and congested city pollution from the surrounding restaurants, kiosks, and vehicles pervade your senses as you walk past a set of people who appear to be minding their own business. You look at your wrist-watch to check the time, and all of a sudden you see that you have 15 fingers on your left hand. With the knowledge that you must have five fingers, you come to the realization that the world you are experiencing is actually part of a dream.
“When you observe that times, places and persons change without notice, bizarre events which never occur in waking, you will know that you are dreaming,” said Mary Arnold-Foster in her book, “Studies in Dreams.” After taking note of this realization, you proceed to visit the ancient ruins of Egypt, climb K2, or simply ride a bike down Ocean Avenue, guided by your own free will.
This concept of lucid dreaming appears to bridge the gap between the consciousness of non-lucid dreaming and awake states. The proof of this third state of consciousness, according to Allan Hobson of Harvard Medical School, is empirical. In a 2009 study at the University of Frankfurt in Germany, Ursula Voss and her colleagues showed that lucid dreaming was associated with the resolving power of an electroencephalogram (EEG) and the difference in its coherence with non-lucid dreaming and awake states was statistically significant.
An EEG allows brain activity to be quantitatively mapped and analyzed. It does so by recording electrical activity along the scalp to measure the fluctuations in voltage arising from dynamic ion currents of neurons relaying messages throughout the brain. Voss and her team found that lucid dreaming characterizes itself by 40 Hz power more than non-lucid dreaming, an occurrence that is especially prevalent in the frontal region of the brain – an area associated with higher order cognitive skills such as problem solving, self-awareness, and social interaction.
Voss proceeded to measure the correlation of EEG patterns between frontal and occipital (visual processing) parts of the brain and found that there was more coherence of EEG patterns among subjects while they experienced lucid dreaming than while they did not, and even less so while awake.
In his article published in the International Journal of Dream Research, Allan Hobson interpreted this finding as the following: “Dreaming is the result of posterior brain activation while waking requires frontal activation as well.” Hobson argues that while lucid dreaming, subjects are teetering on the edges of both states, giving evidence to why lucid dreams are often given way to waking or are simply lost to non-lucid dreams.
The concept of lucid dreaming became suspect as a phenomenon, according to Hobson, because researchers who often lacked an adequate sample of normal subjects were tempted to test themselves and their colleagues for their studies. This behavior raised the suspicion of their peers and took credibility away from the phenomenon as a result.
Lucid dreaming is susceptible to pre-sleep suggestions and the frequency of the phenomenon has shown to be able to increase with due training. People can increase their susceptibility by routinely performing reality checks and maintaining a dream journal to document and analyze their dreams to recognize dream cues.
Two senior biology majors at the University expressed their sentiment. Kandria Ledesma said, “Lucid dreaming is a very interesting phenomenon which I would like to experience since many of my friends have already done so. It sounds crazy but I believe it.”
Shivam Patel was a little more skeptical. “There are some things that are unexplained, which is why I do believe in lucid dreaming. The pineal gland has not been fully understood for instance. I may not have had a lucid dream myself, but I have had experiences that are unexplained such as déjà vu,” said Patel.
John Karins, adjunct philosophy professor at the University, said, “I’m not an expert in the field, so I can’t make any concrete statements about their possible use, but understanding dreams is a key to understanding one’s waking life. Carl Jung made great strides in using them as a tool to help people in mental distress.”
Karins continued, “Unlike behaviorists, [Carl Jung] thinks that consciousness expansion can lead to understanding one’s own nature. Lucid dreams could allow one to enter dreams and pose questions not available to waking consciousness.”
After all, we spend a third of our lives sleeping. What if that time could be used productively, even in part, to work on developing sustainable solutions to important problems facing the world? Free of the limitations of the present, one could envision, plan, implement and test these solutions in the lucid dream states and in the awake state thereafter, see them unfold. With more research, this modality of lucid dreaming could be better analyzed and understood, possibly transforming the studies of consciousness in the upcoming future.
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