Inception is here: Researchers “talk” to lucid dreamers for the first time

New studies show that some people can hear and respond to questions while dreaming.

Inception is here: Researchers “talk” to lucid dreamers for the first time
Credit: slayer87 / Adobe Stock
  • Four research teams in four countries independently communicated with sleeping volunteers.
  • A total of 36 participants correctly responded to questions 18.6% of the time.
  • Researchers believe this could open up new avenues for treating anxiety, depression, and trauma.

From Leonardo DiCaprio to Freddie Krueger, pop culture has long been fascinated with the idea of entering someone else's dreams to influence their thoughts—or steal their souls. Of course, dreams have a much longer track record than blockbuster movies. We've long been enthralled with the possibilities of what occurs when we drift off into that "other" world.

But what if that world isn't as "other" as we believed?

Unlike many studies, which are conducted by one team of researchers, four teams in four labs in four countries (France, Germany, the Netherlands, and the United States) recently attempted to communicate through dreams. The results were published in the journal, Current Biology.

In total, 36 volunteers—a number of lucid dreamers and some novices who claim to remember at least one dream per week—were asked a total of 158 questions. Methods of replying ranged from smiling and frowning to eye movements. The German team went so far as to request Morse code tapped out with eye patterns in a display of, as the team writes, "interactive dreaming."

While lucid dreaming dates back to at least the writings of Aristotle, the term was coined in 1913 by Dutch psychiatrist Frederik van Eeden, who identified seven types of dreams. He believed lucid dreaming was "the most interesting and worthy of the most careful observation and study." Lucid dreaming is described as the ability to take control of elements of the dream due to an awareness that you're dreaming.

A link between lucid dreams and the rapid eye movement (REM) phase of sleep was first made in 1975 by Keith Hearne. Roughly half of the population experiences at least one lucid dream in their lives, though some people regularly have them—some even train for them.

Philosophy professor Evan Thompson investigates the intersection between Buddhism and lucid dreaming in consciousness studies. In his book "Waking, Dreaming, Being," he describes what occurs when you experience metacognition—in this case, an awareness that you're awake while asleep—while dreaming.

"Use your imagination to manipulate the dream. Be playful. Change things and transform them… Explore the plasticity of the dream. In this way, the mind's supple nature will manifest, and you'll gain a deeper understanding of the dreamscape as a mental construct, a product of imagination."

Dream Hacking: Watch 3 Groundbreaking Experiments on Decisions, Addictions, and Sleep I NOVA I PBS

Participants in this study certainly experienced their imagination stretching, with one volunteer "hearing" the math problem (what is eight minus six?) through a car radio while another dreamer was questioned by a movie narrator.

The results were not overwhelmingly positive mind you, yet still proved successful enough to warrant further research. One researcher called this "proof of concept" more than total confirmation. Over 60 percent of the questions went unanswered. Another 17.7 percent were unclear, while just over 3 percent answered wrong. Yet 18.6 percent of respondents were on the money, an impressive feat for the sleeping.

While the researchers aren't stealing secrets from the subconscious, they hope this discovery could open up new avenues of therapeutics in the treatment of anxiety, depression, and trauma. The idea of accessing "dream content" that they can inform with new content could lead to non-invasive forms of treatment—or "Inception."

As the team writes,

"The scientific investigation of dreaming, and of sleep more generally, could be beneficially explored using interactive dreaming. Specific cognitive and perceptual tasks could be assigned with instructions presented via softly spoken words, opening up a new frontier of research."

Of course, more research is needed, though volunteers will likely not be hard to find. Peeling back the layers of consciousness is both a philosophical pursuit and a nighttime hobby, one that continues to reveal possibilities as we evolve our understanding of the unconscious.

--

Stay in touch with Derek on Twitter and Facebook. His most recent book is "Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."

Were the ancient Egyptians black or white? Scientists now know

This is the first successful DNA sequencing on ancient Egyptian mummies, ever.

 

Ancient Egyptian Statues

Getty Images
Surprising Science

Egyptologists, writers, scholars, and others, have argued the race of the ancient Egyptians since at least the 1970's. Some today believe they were Sub-Saharan Africans. We can see this interpretation portrayed in Michael Jackson's 1991 music video for “Remember the Time" from his "Dangerous" album. The video, a 10-minute mini-film, includes performances by Eddie Murphy and Magic Johnson.

Keep reading Show less

Why professional soccer players choke during penalty kicks

A new study used functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) to measure brain activity as inexperienced and experienced soccer players took penalty kicks.

PORTLAND, OREGON - MAY 09: Diego Valeri #8 of Portland Timbers reacts after missing a penalty kick in the second half against the Seattle Sounders at Providence Park on May 09, 2021 in Portland, Oregon.

Abbie Parr via Getty Images
Mind & Brain
  • The new study is the first to use in-the-field imaging technology to measure brain activity as people delivered penalty kicks.
  • Participants were asked to kick a total of 15 penalty shots under three different scenarios, each designed to be increasingly stressful.
  • Kickers who missed shots showed higher activity in brain areas that were irrelevant to kicking a soccer ball, suggesting they were overthinking.
Keep reading Show less

Changing a brain to save a life: how far should rehabilitation go?

What's the difference between brainwashing and rehabilitation?

Credit: Roy Rochlin via Getty Images
Mind & Brain
  • The book and movie, A Clockwork Orange, powerfully asks us to consider the murky lines between rehabilitation, brainwashing, and dehumanization.
  • There are a variety of ways, from hormonal treatment to surgical lobotomies, to force a person to be more law abiding, calm, or moral.
  • Is a world with less free will but also with less suffering one in which we would want to live?
Keep reading Show less
Surprising Science

How to fool a shark using magnets

A simple trick allowed marine biologists to prove a long-held suspicion.

Quantcast