the First Virtual
5 Feb. 1997
For ages people have thought of dreams as curses or blessings that we could not prevent
nor manipulate. This "place" called our dreams has constantly puzzled us, because it is here
where all things are possible and seem to occur. In our dreams we perform superhuman and
wonderful feats that would normally be impossible in the "awake world". We find the men or
women of our dreams, depending on our sexual orientation. While we dream, these wonderful
things become our temporary reality. Yet sometimes while dreaming we may experience the most
horrifying events imaginable, called nightmares. Everyone has their own version of horror, my
most terrifying nightmare has been where my family and friends have been taken control of by
evil monsters that cannot be stopped. Rather than kill me they make me watch old 1970's
television shows over and over. For years, men have thought that there should be a way of
preventing or controlling these nightly events.
Humans must, like any animal, sleep. We do not fully understand why we must sleep. We
only know that if we are deprived of sleep long enough that we will most certainly die. The same
is true for dreams and dreaming(1). If we sleep long enough we will reach an advanced stage of
sleep where our body begins to experience rapid eye movement (REM). It is during this REM
period that we experience most of our dreams. Many scientists try to speculate the reasons for
dreaming through biological our psychological means. This proves to be very frustrating for
someone trying to find empirical meaning and truth about his or her dreams.
There are countless books written about dreams with just as many different
interpretations and meanings for specific dream references. For psychics, astrologists, or
psychologists who attempt to interpret dreams, there are numerous factors that must be
considered when endeavoring to find meaning in a dream. Because of these numerous factors that
contribute to the condition of dreaming, many different paths have been created for exploration.
From Freud's sexual symbolism to the current random recollection theories diversity in dream
interpretation abounds. However, there is a way to dream and not be at the mercy of your
For the past ten years a bright psychologist at Stanford University, by the name of Steven
Laberge, has been studying dreams and the physiology of the human body during the dream state.
His research may sound commonplace if it weren't for the added fact that he is training people to
control their dreams. His subjects are learning to become aware of their dream experience as it is
happening. Once they are aware of their dream they can simply take complete command of their
dream and can consciously cause anything to happen. To the semi-conscious mind the experience
is virtually identical to being awake. This concept is nothing new, in fact many of us will
experience at least one of these dreams in our lifetime.
There are a variety of stimuli that he uses to induce this state of mind. One method is
playing a tape recording of the phrase "This is a dream" during the sleeper's REM. He may also
use conditioned tactile stimuli. Light, however, appears to be the best stimulus means of
providing an external cue to the sleeper that they are dreaming. This is because environmental
light seems to be easily incorporated into dreams and, when properly conditioned, reminds
dreamers that they are dreaming(6). Use of a special light device has been promising: 55% of 44
subjects had at least one lucid dream during one study(5). The possibilities for human
progression that this concept creates seem to have no bounds.
For years psychologists and others have sought to find a perfect semi-conscious state of
mind where a subject will have a strong link with their subconscious and may even interact with
an interviewer using this frame of mind. Another name for this state of mind is called hypnosis.
Although the "lucid" state of mind that Dr. Laberge's patients experience is not completely
conscious or subconscious, they are still asleep, and the world that they are in is very detailed
and just as realistic as our waking world. That is what puzzles most people who look into his
research. Although not mentioned by Dr. Laberge in his studies, I think that there is a definite
opportunity for a great unlocking of the secrets of the human mind.
Many practical applications exist for lucid dreaming. There are of course the obvious,
nightmare therapy, self-confidence enhancing, and general mental health improvements, but there
are so many more ideas not yet explored. Some of these may include depression therapy for
physically handicapped people allowing them a very real sort of fantasy fulfillment. Paralytics
can walk, dance, fly, or do as they wish sexually whenever they choose. The possibilities for
creative problem solving seem to be obviously enhanced. There even seems to be a great amount
of possible sensorimotor practice that could possibly be used by stroke or other nerve damaged
patients. And finally to quote Dr. Laberge(1),
"lucid dreaming can function as a "world simulator." Just as a flight
simulator allows people to learn to fly in a safe environment, lucid dreaming could
allow people to learn to live in any imaginable world; to experience and better choose
among various possible futures."
What makes humans extraordinary in the animal kingdom is our awareness of being. It is
an awareness of our life and existence coupled with our advanced capacity to reason that makes
us different than the other animals of the Earth. I believe that it may not only be our awareness of
thought, but the exact capability of being aware somehow of our subconscious motivations. A
strong sense of our subconscious can be obtained in a state of sleep where the sleeper is fully
aware not only that he or she is dreaming, but that he or she is actually sleeping. Humans can
now do this regularly without any type of influencing hypnotic suggestion given by a hypnotist.
This state of mind seems to be more powerful than any kind of hypnosis, even self-hypnosis. I
believe that somewhere locked inside our minds is an empirical understanding of our existence
not just an awareness.
1. LaBerge, S.(1985). Lucid dreaming. Los Angeles: J. P. Tarcher.
2. LaBerge, S. & Rheingold, H. (1990). Exploring the world of lucid dreaming. New York:
3. Llinas, R. & Pare, D. (1991). Of dreaming and wakefulness. Neuroscience.
4. Watson, J. (1928). The ways of behaviorism. New York: Harper.
5. LaBerge, S., Kahan, T. & Levitan, L. (1995). Cognition in dreaming and waking. Sleep
Research, 24A, 239.
6. LaBerge, S. (1990). Lucid dreaming: Psychophysiological studies of consciousness during
REM sleep. In R.R. Bootsen, J.F. Kihlstrom, & D.L. Schacter (Eds.), Sleep and Cognition.
Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association (pp. 109-126).
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