• The Technology of Lucid Dreaming

    This post is part of a series of guest posts on GPS by the undergraduate and graduate students in my Science vs. Pseudoscience course. As part of their work for the course, each student had to demonstrate mastery of the skill of “Educating the Public about Pseudoscience.” To that end, each student has to prepare a 1,000ish word post on a particular pseudoscience topic, as well as run a booth on-campus to help reach people physically about the topic.

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    The Technology of Lucid Dreaming by Cody Boatman

    The idea of delving into a world with limitless possibilities is incredibly enticing. In such a world, there are no codes of ethics or morality, no physical limitations, and the creative depth of your subconscious mind abounds. This is, to many, the world of lucid dreaming. Lucid dreaming is the awareness that you are dreaming while you are in a dream state. This dream awareness is often coupled with a sense of clear, rational thought, giving you control over your dreams, allowing you to become the master of your sleep world!

    However, there is a problem…

    While lucid dreaming – meaning being aware of that you are dreaming – is quite well established, many people try and couple this with an unproven idea – that of dream control. As detailed in an earlier post, one of the issues is our current inability to measure its full breadth through experimentation. Although the phenomenon is often accepted by the masses as being real in one sense or another, there are several key elements of this dream state that are purely pseudoscience.

    The most widely posited claims are those dealing with the technology used to induce lucid dreaming and dream control. The classic and most commonly used techniques are reality checks, markers, and triggers. There are practitioners who claim that touch is key to inducing lucid dreaming. For example, if you touch the side framing of every door that you pass through, asking yourself if you are awake or dreaming, and critically evaluate your senses, you will carry this practice with you into your nightly dreaming. While in your dream, your sense of touch will be lacking or nonexistent, allowing you to realize that you are dreaming.

    chakotayUsing the thought of an object in place of the door touching to trigger a lucid dream is also said to be a useful technique. For an example of this method all we have to do is turn to sci-fi (which, lets face it, is always a good place for awesome anecdotal examples). There is an episode of Star Trek: Voyager in which one of the characters, Chacotay, chooses the moon as his marker. After he went to sleep, or was put to sleep, he notices the Earth’s moon, which induces the realization that he is in a dream world.

    These things are all well and good if you want to spice up your non-awake hours for personal entertainment purposes, but when lucid dreaming is being used as a platform to sell “tools” for up to $600 a pop, issues begin to arise. The things being hawked as scientific tools for dream induction are sound machines, headbands, and full lucid dreaming masks. The makers of these tools make claims that are flatly false and cite data that lacks the original context. There is very little effort currently being put in to the verification or falsification of the data used to support claims made about these products and related literature.

    Warning – this product may induce loss of money with no benefit.

    REM Dreamer: Lucid Dream Induction Mask is a sleep mask that currently sells for up to $300. It is designed to measure your eye and head movements in order to determine when you are is REM sleep. The actual science behind this device is legitimate. Known as actigraphy, the sensors measure minute muscular responses associated with different sleep stages. When the mask determines the appropriate sleep level has been reached, LED lights located in the mask and centered above each eye are activated in a pattern meant to trigger dream realization. This mask was invented and produced by Dr. Stephen LaBerge and the Lucidity Institute at Stanford University. The issue with this product is the source of the studies used to bolster the legitimacy and reliability of the mask. A conflict of interest and a concern only for the confirmation of lucid dreaming inception arise from the use of Dr. LaBerge’s own studies in association with the REM Dreamer.

    Smart phones and tablets offer a more accessible and cheaper tool that claims to accomplish the same goal. Free applications for your personal device such as Dream:On promise to help you into dream awareness by way of gyroscopic measurements and audio-hypnotic suggestion. The idea is that you set your phone on the corner of your bed with the app running. As you move, the phone picks up these disturbances through its gyroscope and determines when REM sleep is most likely. When the conditions are right, a voice or song begins to play. These audio cues are supposed to act as the triggers. The app is free to download and contains several tracks for general use during sleep, but the lucid dreaming tools cost extra and can be attained by way of in-app purchases.

    All of this pseudoscientific tomfoolery is made worse when so-called therapists prop up these claims for their own gains. There are a lot of people who employ the use of lucid dreaming techniques and all of the associated trappings as a way to heal psychological issues or to improve life quality. Patients pay large sums of money with the expectation of using LD as a universe to work out their depression, find the answers to their real world struggles, and regain a sense of control that they may have lost at some point.

    There is no way to verify that the technological methodology works in the way it is claimed. How do you prove that someone was in a lucid dream? Personal account and recollections are not enough to prove the ability to control your dreams. It is within reason to speculate that lucid dreaming is simply dreaming that you are controlling a dream. Maybe your sense of control is a product of the dream itself.

    What was once an interesting offshoot of the natural sleep process has been transformed into the foundation of a multi-million dollar industry. I personally really like the idea of using a “dream” state to explore the depths of the human imagination. If these “tools” really worked and had supportive scientific data I would be saving my money to make the big purchase. But alas, the science simply is not there to support the statements and guarantees that these companies make in regards to achieving a state of controllable, reliable lucid dreaming. Maybe someday things will change and we will all fade into sleep with the satisfaction of knowing that our dream will be lucid, wonderful, and limitless.

    Category: HealthPseudosciencePsychologyScienceSkepticismTeaching

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    Article by: Caleb Lack

    Caleb Lack is the author of "Great Plains Skeptic" on SIN, as well as a clinical psychologist, professor, and researcher. His website contains many more exciting details, visit it at www.caleblack.com
    • CRTorres

      I liked that you added the definition of lucid dreaming. I also liked how you tied this in with the subject of pseudo science. I have to ask, why would you want to control your dreams? Controlling it would make it reality. In reality, “the real world” is where you must take control and are held responsible for what happens. I do not understand why people would purchases products to control or to “make” lucid dreams. “…to work out their depression…” this sounds like hypnosis theory. I like how your research has shown that some people are making money on selling your dreams to you.
      Controlling your dreams/ lucid dreaming, is like knowing what is wrapped up under the Christmas tree. It takes all the fun out of dreaming (if you ask me).

      • CodyB

        I think a lot of people want to have control in their dreams in order to be something along the lines of “the superhero in their own movie”.

        I also agree that most of the intrigue of a dream is it’s randomness or mystery, but then again some people may just be control freaks!

      • CatherineD

        That is such an interesting way to look at it, CRTorres! “Like knowing what is wrapped under the Christmas tree.” So true!

        Great post, Cody! It makes me wonder if the people making this actually believe in their product, or if they know it is all hype.

    • jordannpyle

      I never would have thought about lucid dreams in this type of setting before! I can see why so many would want to be able to control their dreams and spending countless dollars in the process. For example, wanting to interact with loved ones who have passed away and being able to with the help of a small device. I do think it could end badly for many, such as wanting their “lucid dream reality” instead of what is actual reality. Very interesting topic, especially since so many rely on these devices when their is no solid proof in favor of them!

    • Kaitie McElroy

      I had no idea that lucid dreaming had “technology”! This was a very interesting post about how people us science talk to sell products without actual science behind them. The idea of dream control is such a fun one that it is easy to see how people would get pulled in but its awful that others take advantage for their own gain.

    • Kylerdean

      This was a fun read because I have never heard of this before the pseudoscience fair. It’s funny that we as a culture figure out any way to capitalize on any given possibility, such as lucid dreaming. The concept of having control over our dreams seems a bit weary to me. I typically enjoy chatting with my friends if I have a strange dream. Controlling my dreams would take the fun out of this….or would it?!?!

    • XxLR_JORDANxX

      I especially appreciated your sentiment at the end about liking the idea of induced lucid dreaming. That is an important distinction of truly critical thinking that, it seems, many people just don’t understand. One can appreciate the “idea of” a great many things (aliens, ghosts, etc.) without having to claim actual belief in those things.

      • CodyB

        If a product was ever scientifically shown to induce lucid dreaming with significant reliability, I would throw my whole paycheck at it…! I have always liked dreams, and the idea of being aware in the moment it very tantalizing.
        But as they say, shit in one hand and hope in another. Unsubstantiated claims regarding these LD machines have no weight and should be discarded.
        I don’t think there is any harm in wanting or wishing something to be real. If you are intrigued by aliens, then read and watch whatever you can find that furthers your fascination with ET… just don’t go around making up data and spouting off a bunch of anecdotal fluff in an attempt to persuade people that you know for a fact aliens exist (and that they should buy this sweet alien-attention-getting beacon… it works.. trust me).

    • hellokitty69

      I guess it should come as no surprise to find that pseudoscience profiteers have managed to profit from lucid dreaming. It’s another solid example of them taking something based in science, tweaking it, then selling it to people who either don’t understand the material
      or are just so eager for the results that they are willing to believe. The part about actigraphy was interesting. The notion that lucid dreaming can treat depression seems like a
      really shitty – and expensive – way to take advantage of people who clearly
      must be desperate for results. More so, if lucid dreaming is not backed by
      solid studies which yielded unequivocal results, it seems unethical for
      psychologists/psychiatrists to employ it as a technique. Lastly, why would the
      guy in Star Trek use the moon as a marker? You could just walk up to him at
      night and rob him and then be like, “There’s the moon. You won’t miss this money, you’re dreaming.”

    • Lauren Gaudreau

      There seems to be a common link in the pseudoscience world about “touch.” Maybe that’s why these practices keep getting used, it’s become so common. Just another scam to swindle money from unsuspecting people. I think that in our society we seek entertainment in just about any form, including sleep. Personally, I like to sleep without all of the excitement and distraction. Makes for a better morning. There’s always an app for everything these days. It really is a great way to entice someone into the idea by making it “free,” then having the in app purchases. Great job of educating the public on this BS!

    • Christina Smith

      Wow, very interesting. I’m actually not super surprised that someone is trying to make money off of selling “lucid dreaming”. This was very informative. Great job!

    • Scott Sims

      Isn’t the body paralyzed during normal REM sleep? I’m not sure how a phones gyroscope would use movements to determine REM since you’re not supposed to be moving during REM sleep. As with all of these pseudosciences, it would be fantastic if they were real, but unfortunately they are not. It’s just too bad that people who know better are able to take advantage of people who do not.

    • Amanda Beck

      This was a well written and informative post. One thing I found particularly interesting were the supposed studies used by the sleep mask designer to test the effectiveness of his product. Dreams are deeply personal and the fair majority of the time we forget them within the first few minutes of waking, so I wonder how these things would even be measured. If it’s simply self-report, there are a plethora of issues that could arise from such a method (namely- people lie. A lot.). With no real (read: accurate) way to test a persons “lucid dream” outside of magically jumping into their dream world yourself, I can’t see how any of these products could have any kind of reliability in testing. The concept is nice, but as of now it seems as though we are a few magical light years away from that.