Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Lucid dreaming

Recently, at a party, I got into a conversation about lucid dreaming. A lucid dream is a dream in which you know you're dreaming.

I first became fascinated by this subject when I started to wonder why you always know that you're not dreaming when you aren't but why you don't when you are. Then I actually experienced a dream where I realized that I was dreaming and that really spooked me.

Why aren't all dreams lucid?

I didn't feel like I was dreaming when I was dreaming. Maybe I'm doing something equivalent to dreaming all the time - spending my life in a daze and not really knowing it. I decided that I was going to work on making all my dreams lucid dreams.

Talking to the guy at the party I was reminded that many people don't remember their dreams at all. Other have never had a lucid dream. Others don't believe it's possible.

Yeah, lucid dreaming is possible. It's not as fun as you might think but it's possible.

After practicing for a few years I managed to have lucid dreams about one every other night.

Many people seem to think that if they knew they were dreaming they'd be able to do all sorts of stuff they've always wanted to do. In practice, my experience is the dream already has an agenda and if you don't play along you wake up. That's not to say you can't do some cool things in dreams, it's just a lucid dream isn't your own personal holodeck.

Dreams are manifestations of your expectations.

Let's say you built a computer. This computer makes up models of the world. It tries to find patterns and guess what's going to happen. This computer is very good at it and after some amount of training develops a whole bunch of models of how things work. It knows when lunch is. It knows you like coffee at the start of the day. It knows if you let go of something in mid-air it falls. It's got a fairly good view of the world.

Now you want to take it to the next level. You want to make this computer interact with the world very quickly; without having to think about what's going to happen. You essentially want it to figure out that if I drop something fragile it should attempt to catch it! Fast! There's no time to think about what's going to happen when you let go then figure out it's going to fall then figure out that it's fragile then figure out that it will break and that you will get mad and yell at it. It needs to know the rule that: If fragile item falls you (the computer) catch it.

How do you do that?

Well, as I said, the computer knows about how the world works. So if you bring up its memory of the lab and then ask it: "What sort of things could happen in the lab?" it will know: the same few people tend to walk in, in the morning. Lots of these people have coffee. Coffee is always in cups. The sun shines through the window in the morning. People occasional brush past things and push things onto the floor. etc.. blah blah.

Really, you don't need to teach the computer about the world, you can simply run it's models of the world against itself and it will figure out (eventually) most of what it needs to know. So long as you take more or less random branches out of the possible scenarios you'll end up producing experiences that have never happened. This is useful to train against.

The human brain is a bit like this. It makes models of the world and builds up expectations. Dreams just run these expectations against one another... presumably to help you react better if this situation should come up in real life.

Actually, there's another important factor: emotion.

If dreams were only about expectations you would have really boring dreams. Most of the stuff we expect to happen is fairly dull. The thing with dreams is they often choose which expectation wins based on emotional response.

Here's an example. Let's say you were in high school and you're standing in the cafeteria. Consider these events:
- Someone you're friends with waves at you from across the crowd.
- Someone drops their tray.
- There's a good seat available for you a few feet away.

Not much emotional response. How about these:
- You buy some lunch but discover that your pocket has a hole in it and all the money is gone!
- All the seats are somehow taken.
- A teacher walks up an casually mentions you just got an A on a test you were worried about.
- Terrorists!

Dreams go for the big emotional responses.

If you become lucid you can't suddenly start trying to make things happen that are just "neat". "neat" doesn't play well in dreams. "Dangerous" is fine. "Angry" is fine. "Really totally awsome" is fine.. "neat" isn't.

.. and don't try things just to find out what will happen. It's a dream! Trying stuff in a dream just to see what will happen is like having the following conversation with yourself:

"So.. what will happen if I do this?"
"I dunno. What do you think?"
"No, I'm asking you."
"Well, what do you think the answer should be?"
"Actually, I'm just curious about what you think should happen."
"Well what do you think should happen?"

If you do this enough, you dream will go "ah, screw this" and wake you up.

In a dream your job is to react to things not make stuff happen. You can make stuff happen but you have to go along with the flow of the dream. Try to make it a reaction to something.

Oh no a tiger! Good thing I'm in a dream since that means I can fly away! (model of how thing works goes "yeah ok".. so you fly.. Good thing your instinctual brain never took physics).

That's about the long and short of it.

In the end I started having weird semi-lucid dreams. In this semi-lucid dreams I know on some level that I'm in a dream because I know that all the things I used to do in lucid dreams will work.. I also know I can just escape by waking up. Well, unless I have a really bad nightmare in which case I an usually so focused on the moment I don't get that strange "this place follows dream logic" feeling. What I think happened is my behavior adapted to included the fact that, in dreams, the rules are different.

Sometimes I think my brain has built its own parallel universe. I have a "dream montreal" that doesn't look like real montreal but is more-or-less consistent every night. I have a map of my home town that includes things which are completely wrong but very consistent between dreams. They aren't spatially correct but they are emotionally correct. That is, the distance between two buildings is a "short" or "long" walk. That the main street contains an "annoying" amount of traffic. That buildings in the new art of town are "taller" and "newer" than the old part. That some buildings are "tall" while others are "scary tall". It's hard to describe. It's not montreal. It's obviously not montreal.. but it feels like it.

.. oh and all the elevators are dangerous and unreliable. I know that if the elevator doesn't work it's because I'm dreaming :-)..

So how do you get into a lucid dreaming state?
Read this link:

The most important thing is to remember that you can never tell you're dreaming! Especially if you've woken up from a dream! Your body doesn't like waking you up for no reason so it will tend to fake waking you up. When waking up from lucid dreaming always make sure you're not still dreaming.

.. checking for dream signs requires excellent self control.. Actually I think the ability to extract yourself from the moment is the primary benefits to pursuing lucid dreams.

So read all that stuff and you will have a lucid dream tonight. Seriously. (Go flying in reaction to something. It's scary fun.).. good luck having a second lucid dream but the first one usually comes easy. :-)

good book:
The Head Trip - It deals with various states of consciousness including lucid dreaming. No LSD or drugs here. All these states are natural ones.

If you like lucid dreaming you might like to experience the watch. Another fun altered state of consciousness easily accessible by messing with your sleep patterns. :-)