Dreams are some of the most odd, and sometimes most uncomfortable, experiences for us. They can sometimes also be so realistic that we do not even know if we are awake or still dreaming. One can feel the same after a false awakening, where one dreams of having been awakened. In a false awakening, the room in which a person becomes awake is commonly similar to the room in which he fell asleep. This feeling may end with a sign during a dream and then it suddenly dawns on the person that he is experiencing a dream instead of reality. This is called lucid dreaming, which can be described as being aware that you are dreaming and are in control of your dreams. A person can also enter the dream state while he is conscious and can control the dream. Before exploring the endless possibilities of lucid dreaming, we will start with the physical nature of dreams. The spiritual nature and interpretation of dreams from a metaphysical standpoint are discussed in previous articles [1-4] of The Fountain Magazine.
Dreaming is a state of consciousness in which one can experience anything imaginable . What you can do or experience in dreams is usually not limited to physical boundaries. We walk, run, fly, and even pass through walls. We see many symbols that may represent multiple meanings. Dreams can relate to the past, present, and the future of a person. They can help us to remember our pasts, understand the present, and shed light upon the future. Dreaming is an interesting part of our lives and the contents of our dreams are usually fed from our daily experiences.
Dreams are defined as a succession of thoughts, images, sounds, or emotions which the mind experiences during sleep . It is also described differently in many areas: physiologically as a response to neural processes during sleep; psychologically as reflections of the subconscious; and spiritually as messages from God, the deceased, or predictions of the future . Dreaming is not only unique to humans. Studies show that some animals, and even plants, have high brain activity while they sleep which could mean that they dream. However, remembering dreams is unique to humans. It enables communication with the inner mind, helps self-knowledge, and advances an individual and society .
Dreams are also an important source of inspirations in history. We know many examples of inventions that were inspired by, and problems that were solved with, the help of dreams. Niels Bohr, famous Danish physicist, got the Nobel Prize in physics in 1922 due to a dream that enlightened him to figure out the structure of an atom. George Frideric Handel, German-English Baroque composer, heard the last pieces of his most popular work, The Messiah, in a dream he had. Elias Howe was inspired with a dream for his famous needle design that was required for a lock-stitch sewing machine. Famous chemist, Friedreick Kekule’s (1829–1896) dream helped him to make one of the amazing discoveries of his time , the discovery of benzene ring. After spending so much time on scientific problems, they become a part of their subconscious and feed their dreams.
There are mental blocks that prevent us from thinking creatively such as "a problem can't be solved by using a specific method” or "a scientific approach against our current understanding of the theory". Ray Kurzweil, one of the world's leading inventors, thinks that these assumptions and limitations are relaxed in our dream state and so we can think about new ways of solving problems without limiting ourselves with these constraints . Also, during dreaming our rational faculties are not evaluating whether an idea is reasonable or not, which helps us to think outside-of-the-box and produce creative solutions. Another constraint with these scientific problems is time. Repetitive experiments take quite some time with many unfruitful results. Thomas Edison, the inventor of the practical electric light bulb, literally tested thousands of different substances as filaments that would work in his experiments. Dreams can provide an opportunity to rapidly work on time consuming problems within a relatively short time span.
A common misconception regarding dreams is that we experience hours’ worth of events and activities in a matter of seconds. Despite this common belief about the expansion of time in dreams, they seem to flow at the same rate as time does in the real world . Five minutes of activity in our dreams probably would take about five minutes in our daily life. In that case, how can we explain that some of our dreams seem to last hours, days or even longer? The answer to this perception of time seems to be that dreams are cinematic. Movies generally cover a longer time period than the two hours that we spent in front of the screen. Just like these movies, we concentrate on the interesting parts of the dreams and leave out the rest. If you are trying to solve a scientific problem in your dream, wouldn’t it be nice to skip all the repetitive, unproductive, and time-consuming parts such as planning, research, experiment design, decision making, and analysis of the results?
All of these advantages of dreams for solving problems requires being awake and even in control of your dreams as is the case with lucid dreaming. Lucid dreaming is not a new term, as it was coined by the Dutch psychiatrist and writer Frederik van Eeden (1860–1932). The existence of lucid dreaming is well established and has been researched scientifically . During a lucid dream, a person can actively be in control and change experiences in the dream environment. Lucid dreams can start as a normal dream when the person realizes that he or she is dreaming (DILD, Dream-Initiated Lucid Dream), or a person can go from a normal state to dream state while preserving the consciousness (WILD, Wake Induced Lucid Dream). There are many techniques to induce lucid dreaming such as dream-recall, reality testing, identifying dream-signs, mnemonic induction, and napping. Many people experience lucid dreaming, but it is a skill one can develop. With proper training and exercise, one can increase lucid dreaming frequency from once per month to once per night.
A common method to determine if you are in a dream is called reality testing. The test simply includes performing an action and checking whether the expected results are consistent with real life. An unexpected result of the test lets the person realize that they are in a dream. When the person is lucid and aware in a dream, then he can exercise control and practice basic tasks, even the actions that contradict with known physical rules. A new world opens its doors to endless possibilities where all the actions are bound only with imagination. Flying, jumping from a plane without a parachute and landing safely, walking on water, teleportation between distant locations, transforming scenes, and telekinesis would be your everyday activities. You may feel how limiting our daily life is and that you are meant to live in a world where you can use your unlimited imagination.
An obvious benefit of lucid dreaming is being the basis of the most effective therapy for nightmares . If you are aware that you are dreaming then there is no need to fear anything, including even the most horrifying monsters, because nothing can cause you physical harm. This may encourage you to face the threat rather than avoiding it. Lucid dreams feel extremely realistic and it is not easy to differentiate from real life. Many people use lucid dreaming for rehearsals. It can be used to improve public speaking, artistic performance, athletic activities, and courage for competitions. Realistic features of lucid dreaming can be used to fulfill one's longing for his loved ones, relatives living abroad, or even for ones passed away. Lucid dreaming can be used as a meeting place for the ones living apart and do not have a chance to meet regularly. This will be a virtual meeting not only in the sense of telepresence but also the ones you meet will be a construct of your brain.
The brain is highly active during dreaming and not constrained by physical senses. This contributes to creative thinking and novel combinations of events and objects in our dreams. When combined with the cinematic behavior of dreams, lucid dreams can provide a platform for creative thinking and ideas for scientific issues by skipping the repetitive and time-consuming steps. There are other ways to use lucid dreaming for educational purposes. A quickly scanned book can be recalled from memory and read thoroughly. One can practice memorization of scriptures or even dictionaries. It can be used for learning and practicing a foreign language and all other repetitive learning processes.
Another area of application for lucid dreaming is healing. Patients can use dreams to enhance waking performance, improve physical health, alleviate and soothe pain, overcome phobias, achieve self-confidence, practice physical skills, recover neuromuscular functions, recover from injuries, and an increased sense of freedom for the disabled. Our last example but maybe the most exciting application area of lucid dreaming is entertainment. The movies and computer games cannot provide the experience as realistic as you can get in your dreams including even movies with a budget of hundreds of millions of dollars and the latest projection technologies. You can create your own big budget movie and be the main actor in your lucid dream. How would you design your new Jurassic Park or Matrix movie?
The realistic experience in dreams leads us to the question, "If this is not real, what is?” What if the world we think and live in is another construct and that we are waiting to wake up into another “real” world? We need to look beyond our daily lives and question the nature of reality and our purpose in this life. Are we living in this world to be a small actor in a dream or to take back the control and get ready to wake up into the “real” world? Maybe it is time for a reality check…
Acknowledgment: This article was produced by using MERGEOUS , an online article and project development platform for authors and publishers dedicated to the advancement of technologies in the merging realm of science and religion.