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How to dream lucidly


Despite my criticism, I admire and respect John Horgan. I think he’s one of the best science journos around and he’s also better at philosophy than most of the academic philosophers I studied under (sadly, this is rather faint praise). I particularly like his skepticism, especially when he directs it at himself, which is often. He’s even skeptical of his skepticism. Like me, Horgan is into meta.

I’m currently reading the online version of his recent book Mind Body Problems. It’s not a systematic or exhaustive examination of the questions about the relationship between mind and body that have perplexed thinkers since Socrates was in short pants, but more a grab bag of contemporary ideas on the subject, which he elucidates largely by reference to nine very diverse thinkers. It works as journalism by telling the story via real people, their lives and their personalities but I also think it works as rigorous inquiry because on this topic, perhaps more than any other, there can be no objectivity. You can’t separate the theories from the theorists.

In chapter four Horgan mentions that he used to have regular lucid dreams when he was young (i.e. dreams in which you know you’re dreaming; more meta) but no longer does. He tries to induce some in preparation for a workshop on lucid dreaming, but fails. I know at least one acquaintance of his reads this blog, so I’m posting the method that sort of works for me. If this gets back to you John, it’s for you. In any case it’s for anyone out there who wants to increase their chances of lucid dreaming.

I guess it would surprise no-one to learn I was into dinosaurs as a kid. Big time. For years my standard answer to ‘What do you want for your birthday/Christmas?’ was ‘Another dinosaur book’, followed by a long list of the ones I already had. I was obsessive enough to spark concerned conversations between my parents and teachers about it. I read dinosaurs, I talked dinosaurs, I thought dinosaurs and I dreamed dinosaurs. Hence my earliest remembered lucid dream.

When I awoke from my dreams of dinosaurs lumbering around my home town it was always to disappointment. The dinosaurs were long gone. I’d never see one in real life. That response eventually became habitual and ingrained. Then one night, deep in REM sleep, as I watched an Allosaurus chasing sunbathers along a local beach, I had the same thought. Dinosaurs are dead. I’ll never see one in real life. The next thought was as obvious as it was revelatory. Therefore I must be dreaming. That changed the game.

Suddenly I was the god of my own universe. Anything I cared to imagine manifested immediately. I could ride the Allosaurus without fear. I could conjure dinosaurs, dragons or anything else I could think of. I could shoot flame from my fingertips. I could fly, to Mars if I wanted. Dreaming had just become a lot more interesting. Every dinosaur dream I’ve had since then (and there was once a lot of them) was lucid.

But it didn’t stop there. I also had pretty regular flying dreams (and still do). When I awoke from them I deliberately thought ‘But I can only fly in dreams’. Soon my flying dreams became lucid the same way. And the previously disturbing dreams I was having about the Frankenstein monster (thanks Boris).

It doesn’t always turn out the way I’d like though. Since my grandfather died in 2003 I’ve had recurrent dreams that I’m fishing with him. In the dream I always know he’s dead and he usually does too. Nonetheless I found his company deeply comforting, especially during the despair I fell into a few months after he died. Then they became lucid (‘I’m fishing with my dead grandfather. I must be dreaming again’). He was no longer my grandfather who said and did things independently of me. He was a mind marionette, only acting in accordance with my thoughts. I had swapped one kind of magic for another far less satisfying kind.

So here’s the recipe, if you still want it. Take note of any recurring dreams you have of impossible things. Upon awakening from them, cultivate the habit of thinking ‘That only happens when I’m dreaming’. See if it works for you. If you don’t mind spoiling some of your best dreams that is.

From → unclassified

  1. Mourning the lost of a love one changes us…for me dreaming helps to process what I might not do while I’m awake…and I don’t always dream…sometimes its night frights…but always my mind processing…sending you magic Neurodrooling ☺️💫 hugs hedy 🤗

    Liked by 1 person

    • There’s some fairly recent research suggesting traumatic memories are processed during communication between the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex via the dopamine D2 pathways that go through the ventral tegmental area. Under fMRI these pathways light up during REM sleep (i.e. when you’re dreaming).

      This suggests to me that dreaming is an important way of coming to terms with traumatic memories. It also suggests to me that in giving psychosis patients drugs that block that pathway, psychiatry is doing precisely the wrong thing by preventing patients from dealing with the traumas that have far more evidence linking them to psychosis than the biological theories espoused by shrinks.

      People on antipsychotics often report that they no longer dream. Sometimes they’re grateful, as their dreams can be very disturbing. But perhaps blocking their dreams also blocks their recovery.

      But I call this blog Neurodrooling in part because I think most neurological theories grounding mind in meat lack a valid ontological basis. They’re just-so stories. But even if they’re not scientific they can still offer insights. Maybe.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Dreams can be healing, insightful and comforting, unless you’re having nightmares, but they can also be insightful and valuable too. I’ve been infactuated and besotted by dinosaurs from an early age too. I have all the Jurassic Park movies but they are very poor subsititute for the older dinosaur movies that I binge on, almost…yearly, like Journey To The Centre Of The Earth. From the age of about five, I have loved One Million Years B.C but I think my dad liked it more. I wonder why…


    • I think my dad liked it more. I wonder why…

      It was kinda jaw-dropping how big things could get back then.

      The asteroid theory is redundant. Those dinos would have taken one look at Raquel in her furkini and gone “Oh. So that’s what you mean by ‘mammal'” and just given up the fight. They’d probably seen advanced lifeforms before, but nothing that far out in front.

      Then they microminituarised her for Fantastic Voyage and gave her the tiniest tits in Hollywood. Fashion is a bitch.

      Liked by 1 person

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