Depending on how you view the world, consciousness can be a mind-bending subject. For centuries, philosophers, poets, artists and dreamers have pondered how—and why—we have consciousness.
Edgar Allen Poe once wrote that “All that we see or seem / Is but a dream within a dream.” If you’ve experienced a lucid dream, in which you’re fully aware that you’re dreaming, you might wonder just how much of life really is a dream within a dream. Many people who realize they’re asleep are then able to control the dream, opening them up to experiences like flying, visiting far-off places or talking to a loved one.
Scientists have been able to communicate with people who are in the midst of a lucid dream, which may give us the opportunity to explore the dream state even further. Whether you’re of the opinion we’re all living in a simulation and lucid dreams really are a dream within a dream, or lucid dreaming is just a cool mind trick, it seems that science is on the verge of discovering what dreams are made of.
Here’s a basic overview of lucid dreaming, and the new study that proves lucid dreamers can communicate with others while fast asleep.
Staying conscious within your dreams
Lucid dreaming occurs during the REM sleep cycle. About 55 percent of people have experienced at least one lucid dream during their lifetime. That means they’re aware of their dreams; some can control them.
If this sounds intriguing to you, you can learn to induce lucid dreams. Start by getting into the habit of constantly questioning whether you’re awake (even if you know you are). The idea is that you’ll question it in your dreams, too. Then, you can “test” your reality in a lucid dream. This helps you realize that you’re dreaming, so you can potentially control the dream.
Does this sound a little like Inception or the Matrix? We don’t blame you. Lucid dreaming and questions of consciousness can seem like the stuff of quasi-spiritual sci-fi blockbusters, but scientific research has shown it can help you reduce nightmares, anxiety and perhaps even help with physical rehabilitation. One 2014 study suggests that lucid dreamers tend to be more insightful than their “normal” counterparts. Since lucid dreaming requires you to discard preconceived notions about what’s possible, scientists suggest, it explains why lucid dreamers score better on puzzle games and other problem-solving activities. Because their minds are more open, they seem to be able to process information and come up with “outside of the box” solutions.
On the other hand, lucid can also leave you constantly questioning your reality and whether you exist—so use your new dream powers carefully.
Real-time communication with dreamers is possible
Recently, scientists have achieved real-time communication with people in lucid dreams. They specifically studied the outside stimuli that could potentially affect the dream—in this case, conversations and questions. Researchers had conversations with the dreamers, and the dreamers were able to respond in real time using facial contortions or eyeball movement sequences.
If you’ve ever had a “conversation” with someone talking in their sleep, it’s a little like that—although most sleep talkers have no recollection of those interactions unless they wake up soon afterward. Furthermore, sleep talkers often give nonsense answers, whereas a significant number of this study’s participants were able to correctly answer simple math questions.
According to Vice, “many participants were able to recall the interactions with the researchers after they woke up, with individuals reporting that the prompts sounded like a voiceover narrator or a radio speaker that was clearly coming from outside of their dream.”
Oddly enough, although participants were able to answer questions correctly and in real time, some of them had very different recollections of the questions and their answers. Although this may open up more questions than it answers, the researchers are excited about this new development.
They currently plan to develop more experiments with lucid dreamers, which should give us even more insight into dreams, consciousness and all the strange and wonderful things our brains can do.
Are you ready to explore your dream world?
If you’re fascinated by the concept of consciousness—or just want to take cheap, nightly vacations inside your own mind—you, too can learn to master your dream world. Experts suggest lowering your expectations and staying consistent with your practice to get the best results. What will you dream up next?