From Abracadabra to Zombies
reader comments: lucid dreaming
27 Oct 1999
If you can dream that you are seeing, hearing, feeling, etc. things that you really are not, isn't it possible that you could dream that you have control of your dream when really you do not? How would a person be able to tell the difference between lucid dreaming (if there is such a thing) and dreaming that they were lucid dreaming?
I'm not claiming that the above refutes lucid dreaming, but I do believe that someone claiming lucid dreaming exists would have to somehow demonstrate that they really have control, rather than merely the dream playing a trick on the mind making you believe that you had control.
21 Jul 1999
I have thoroughly enjoyed your Skeptic's Dictionary. I'd like to add a thought or two about lucid dreams. I've had this experience three or four times in my life, and I only wish it were more often! Usually, the trigger is a nightmare so severe that I become extremely frightened and agitated. Suddenly I realize that I am dreaming and that I can control events. In one instance I caused a lock to appear on a door that I had been unable to close -- I locked the door and then woke up. Another time I was being chased by threatening people when I realized it was a dream. I turned my back on them, decided that they were no longer there, and went flying over the city at night, then on an undersea adventure, "flying" through water. It was one of the most euphoric experiences in my life. I have tried to induce lucidity, but without success -- it happens independently of any efforts on my part.
Interestingly, many of the other commenting on lucid dreams also mentioned nightmares -- could the stress be a trigger? Or maybe that "nightmare" feeling is so distinctive that we recognize it, even in a dream, and it tips us off that we're not awake. The other trigger I have noticed is that I have had several lucid dreams while feverish. Once when running a fever and dozing, I became very distressed when I realized I was dreaming but was unable to wake up. It was a panicky feeling, quite unlike my other experiences.
The other thing I found interesting was your speculation that lucid dreams might be caused by a frontal lobe that isn't quite shut off. This would certainly be corroborated by my experiences, because even when not dreaming "lucidly," I will often become perplexed and agitated in the middle of a dream when I realize that the circumstances of my real life do not match the situation in the dream -- I can't remember committing the murder I am accused of, or my cat has kittens and I become very confused because I know that she has been spayed, that sort of thing. Even while dreaming, I question the premises and inconsistencies in the dream. Maybe those of prone to lucid dreams do have some kind of mild prefrontal lobe glitch? At any rate, I've always assumed it was a nice little bonus for those of us so inclined -- certainly not a spiritual message or anything of that sort.
Is there such a thing as lucid dreaming? It depends on how you define it. Anyone who has had a dream in which he realized he was asleep and could control events will tell you that it is a unique and unforgettable experience, quite unlike normal dreaming. In this sense, lucid dreaming unquestionably exists. If it is defined as somehow getting in touch with something outside of one's body -- I really doubt it.
05 Jul 1996
Since I have Lucid dreamed, I must tell all skeptics out there that they're being utter and complete rationalists and are probably afraid of their own power. That's why they're skeptics, I guess.
reply: There's nothing more nightmarish than an utter and complete rationalist who's afraid of his own power!
Lucid dreaming simply allows the subconscious realization of what the various faiths have been saying all along, the thought came before the deed, and "as within, so it is without".
reply: I thought it was something like that but I am glad you said it for me. This way I can't be accused of treating this subject lightly. (Actually, though, I think the proper aphorism is "as it is without, so it is within, unless you are within six paces of a Taco Bell.")
Nevertheless, there is a need for skeptics, those who are "faith-challenged". Just as there's a need for this computer, and my fingers, etc., etc..
reply: Is this the famous argumentum ad needium of the scholastics? There is a need for everything under the sun, except for the things that aren't needed?
I'm glad you're getting this out there! Any spur to thought is most welcome.
reply: It depends on whose horse is getting spurred, I think.
Oh, and Lucid dreaming scared the fuck out of me, so of late, I haven't done much of it. Pity.
reply: Well, it certainly has fouled your mouth! Maybe you should lay off the luciferous lucidity and wash out your mouth with soap!
Do you TRY anything before you skepicize it? Experience, finally, is the greatest truth.
reply: I try not to skepicize anything...at least not without a consenting adult. I have tried some of the things I've written about, but generally I do not try silly or immoral acts before I write about them, skeptically or otherwise. Experience is neither a small nor a great truth. Experience can lead one to the truth, but it can also lead one to falsehood and error. Any sentient creature can have experience. If it's truth you want, it's not experience that counts but who has the experience and how critically he or she can think about it.
09 Dec 1996
I have to respond to your comments regarding lucid dreaming, if for no other reason than you may be missing out on one of life's free treats. I have been doing this for years and it is wonderful. Does it give me any profound spiritual insights? No, I am still a devout atheist when I wake up. Did I spend lots of money to learn how to do that? No, I bought a skinny little book about 20 years ago, that instructed me to remember and write down all my dreams every morning until I began to have lucid dreams. That's all, and it worked. Took about three weeks. Now I can fly, breathe under water, have sex with movie stars and bedazzle villagers with my magical powers. Wheee! It doesn't change anything, it's just fun. Try it!
11 Jan 1997
Yes, I am a skeptic. So much so that my ex-husband's nickname for me was "linear, logical, literal-minded." There, that said, let me add that I am a lucid dreamer. There are two types of lucid dreams, those that are deliberately induced prior to falling asleep and those that simply occur while dreaming. I belong to the latter group and I have never made an attempt to belong to the former group. Do I believe that lucid dreaming is a good thing? Yup, it's saved me from more than a few nightmares (in fact, I don't have nightmares anymore).
Do I feel privileged? No, just grateful. What does it feel like? Well,
it's kind of like observing yourself while you dream. If you believe that consciousness is
a one-track tape then obviously lucid dreaming is a tough concept to grasp. Did I teach
myself to dream lucidly? Nope, it just happened. BTW, Bob Dylan was wrong, you don't have
to be asleep in order to dream...just ask any narcoleptic, they'll tell you all about it.
reply: Bob Dylan was wrong about something!
Unbelievable. Next you'll tell me there's no Easter Bunny.
7 Apr 1998
I started attempting to "guide" my dreams when I was a teenager. Why? Because it would help avoid recurring nightmares or bad dreams. This was not always successful, and I didn't even start out knowing what I was doing, but I would sometimes get to a point in the dream where I realized I was dreaming and recognized the same pattern. Usually, I would wake up and then have to deal with trying to get back to sleep, and hopefully dream of something more pleasant. But sometimes if I could just change one little thing in the dream, the story would shift and not be so bad or scary.
Hey, it didn't always work, but sometimes it did. Later on, I realized that I could try it when a dream wasn't so bad, just to see what would happen. But usually you just wake up because you become too aware of what is going on. I can't imagine "controlling" a dream, because when you are that conscious it is pretty much impossible to stay asleep.