Lucid Dreaming (long)

Harvey Newstrom (
Sat, 8 Aug 1998 00:19:54 -0400

> Subject: Re: Artificial Environment Compute Power
> From: Terry Donaghe <>
> To: <>
> Date: Fri, 7 Aug 1998 04:19:30 -0700 (PDT)
> How about the studies into lucid dreaming? I have had a few lucid
> dreams in which I was totally in control. It is very similar to what
> we think of as virtual reality. There are studies that seem to
> indicate that lucid dreaming can be learned. Those of you who have
> never experienced this might ought to look into it.

I frequently have lucid dreams. For those who don't know, lucid dreams occur when you realize that you are dreaming. This is very much like VR, in that everything seems real, even though you know it isn't.

Lucid dreams seem very real to me. I have devised tests to tell if I am lucidly dreaming, because the dreams are realistic. I almost always have realistic dreams. I am surprised when some people here say dreams are not realistic enough to be VR.

It is very easy to learn to have lucid dreams. I have taught some techniques in the past, and people seem to have good results. First, one must learn to remember your dreams. Everybody dreams, but they often are not remembered. The reason for this is that the mind discards dreams as unimportant. If you have had the experience of waking up from a nightmare or a strange dream, and then after a few minutes not being able to remember what it was about, you have experienced this temporary memory function. The brain normally does not transfer dreams into medium-term storage or mark them for long-term storage. The way to make yourself remember the dreams is to write them down as soon as you wake up. If you don't write them down, at least go through them in your mind trying to memorize the details. If you doubt this practice, test it for yourself. As soon as you wake up, try to count the dreams you remember and memorize that number. Later in the day, you probably will remember the number, but have no memory of ever dreaming. With practice, you can learn to remember your dreams. Most people don't, because they don't care about the dreams. An interest in dreams makes them rememberable.

After one starts regularly dreaming, the trick is to start having lucid dreams. This is easy. Invent a test for determining if you are dreaming. My test is to trace my memory back throughout the day. I am typing at my computer now, I remember coming into the room, I watched the news on TV before that, I had sushi out with my lover before that.... etc. I have a chain of memory stretching back in time. In dreams, there is no chain of memory because you start a dream from scratch. If you find that you are in a room, but can't remember how you got there, it could be a lucid dream. Trying to make objects float by staring at them is good. Try closing your eyes and visualizing another locations, and then opening your eyes to see if the dream changed. Or invent an object or person to be found behind you, and turn around to see if it really appears. It is much more difficult to make things move or change while you are looking at them, even in a dream. Some part of the mind tries to hold the dream realistic and consistent.

One you determine a test to see if you are dreaming, the next step is to perform this test inside a dream. The trick here is to test yourself to see if you are dreaming all the time. Do this many times a day, and as often as you think about it. After a day or two, this habit will appear in a dream. You will dream that you are performing this random test. Inside the dream, you will perform the test and hopefully realize that you are dreaming.

Once you realize you are dreaming, you can try to take control of the dream. Trying to float up or fly is a common dream. Sexual dreams are also popular with lucid dreamers. Anything you would like to experience in VR, can be simulated in a dream. For safety reasons, and sheer cowardice, I never risk bodily injury in a dream, even if I am sure I am dreaming. For example, I would never jump off a cliff. I would float up in the air, and after I verify my ability to levitate, I would fly over a cliff. Although it sounds like dreams and reality can become confused, I have never thought that I was dreaming when I was really awake. Likewise, I have never dreamed that I tested my dream and determined that it was not a dream.

There are many interesting tests to do while dreaming. One is to communicate to the outside world while you are dreaming. This is very hard to do because sleep paralysis keeps the body immobile while dreaming. The eyes can move, however, and creating code signals with eyes is very possible. One note about sleep paralysis, is that some people can remain conscious between dreaming and waking up. They become aware of their body before the sleep paralysis fully goes away. This causes semi-dreams where you are scared and can't move. This is a normal part of dreaming and sleep that most people don't experience. Lucid dreamers sometimes can wake up (by regaining consciousness prematurely) and experience their body in sleep-paralysis.

One trick reported in Omni (I think) for lucid dreaming, is that if you start to wake up and want to remain asleep, they suggested spinning. They said they did not know why it worked. My theory is that spinning changes your field of view, and that the portions of the brain producing the VR image must kick in to create new images. I find that any movement of changing of dream images will help me slip back into the dream state when I am waking up.

Outside noises or lights can be incorporated into the dream. Telephone ringing or alarm clock noises will be heard inside the dream and incorporated into the dream. Sometimes someone can talk to you, and you can hear what they are saying inside your dream. Sometimes you can answer, but due to sleep paralysis, your words are usually garbled. The fact that outside influences can be incorporated into a dream makes me think that it might be possible to have a VR simulation in a dream, with the dream design being fed in from an outside source. How many people have become so engrossed in a book, that you look up and realize that you are reading a book, although for a while you were almost living the story? This is common, because the brain presents all data to the consciousness as "reality". The brain can also take its data from other sources and present it to the brain, also as "reality". I also find that it takes no conscious effort to keep a dream going. Once I create an object in a dream, it continues on in my experience without any conscious effort on my part to continue visualizing it. I am very interested in using the dream state as VR.

Real work and thoughts can be organized inside a dream. I once tested this by creating a new story plot in a dream. I invented characters, outline of the plot, and some specific points for the story. When I woke up, I indeed remembered my creation, which I had never thought up before. Lucid dreaming is too unpredictable for me to regularly do work or planning. I have had emergency situations where I was working around the clock, and when I finally had to get some sleep, I finished solving some design problems in my head, and had a working design fix when I woke up.

Sometimes dreams are distorted. Sometimes a good solution worked up in a dream will appear stupid when you wake up. I also tested my "photographic memory" capability in a dream. I looked at some sine tables and randomly memorized some values. When I work up, the numbers were totally random and nonsensical. I did not remember the correct tables, even though I have seen them many times. I have performed complex mathematical problems in my head, imagining working on paper in a dream, and found the result to be correct when I woke up. I once multiplied 1234567890 by 987654321 on paper in a dream and memorized the result. When I woke up, I wrote down the answer and worked it out to find that I was correct. So, sometimes dreams are distorted, but at other times the lucidity seems to be the realistic consciousness capable of logical and regular thought.

Sorry for all the rambling. As you can guess, I have been lucid dreaming all my life. Although this borders on new-age mysticism, I assure you that dreams are real, and realizing that you are dreaming is a normal and logical possibility for the brain. I started lucid dreaming as a child. I used to watch horror movies and then have nightmares about them. Often, I would recognize the monster and remember the movie, and often even the book the movie was based on. I would instantly realize that I was dreaming and the monster wasn't real. Although I usually just woke myself up from nightmares, I soon learned to recognize other dreams, or change nightmares into pleasant dreams. I believe that nightmares are a common way for some lucid dreamers to recognize their dreams. Many people have had nightmares where they realized it was just a nightmare.

Sometimes dreams get strange. I have only had a few non realistic dreams, like on TV, with fog and distorted views. All my dreams are in color and normal looking. There is a type of dreaming, when you first fall asleep, where there are random images and sounds that are incoherent. Dream researchers think that these random flashes are neurons randomly firing during sleep, and that the brain later starts sorting them out into a coherent theme. I have had a few dreams that I swear lasted for days or weeks, and woke up with very little time having passed. Most researchers think dreams progress at normal time speed, although the dream often skips scenes, like on TV, so that you skip into a future scene remembering that time has passed, even though you didn't experience the time passage directly. Some people will swear that you cannot feel pain in a dream. I have done it and insist that you can. Some people have reported being killed in their dream. I have never dreamed that I was killed or dead. On researcher tried to tell me that you can't see changes in brightness in a dream, but I tried it and insist that there are light intensity differences. It is reported that some people dream in black and white. I always have dreamed in color. Durk Pearson and Sandy Shaw reported that 1 milligram of vitamin B12 a half hour before bedtime increases dream color intensity. I have seen some effect of this, but rarely. (I take B-12 regularly anyway.) Some people report that melatonin causes more violent dreams or more nightmares or disturbing dreams. My own (unscientific) studies shows that melatonin helps people remember their dreams, but that the content of the dreams don't change much. The people who reported such dreams, who later reported that they went away after ceasing melatonin supplementation, would report the same kinds of dreams if I asked them about their dreams immediately upon awaking. They usually just forget their dreams.

That's my ramblings and comments about lucid dreams. I don't know if they are useful for anything. They are fun to play around with. I have a great respect for the brain's ability to do amazing things. Running a VR inside one's own brain by using lucid dreaming techniques, seems an extropian thing to do. Since we cannot do it consciously, it implies that we still have much to learn about the brain and how to tap into it.

Harvey Newstrom                                   <>
Author, Engineer, Entrepreneur,              <>
Consultant, Researcher, Scientist.           <ldap://>