P1. To answer the question “Is Lucid Dreaming Real?” we need to look at the three aspects that question raises. Firstly, what does “real” look like, then whether any form of dreaming can be considered to be real in any sense of the word. Then, finally, whether lucid dreaming is really lucid or maybe just a trick.
What is Real?
This is a really interesting question although most people would say the answer is obvious because we experience reality every day. But it is clear from psychological experiments that the reality we think we see is not perhaps as clear cut as we think.
It seems to me that from the parts of the brain that deal with presenting reality to us don’t just simply take lots of information from our senses as a video camera might do, and present this information as visual reality. But instead, our brain sends out messages on what it is expecting to see and these data are compared with actual the sense data that our eyes receive, and only the differences are transmitted back to our conscious brain.
So in reality, our brain is seeing only what it expects to see and then that is updated a only a little by the information from our eyes. The whole process is far from perfect in terms of real images and we miss a lot of what is actually happening in the outside world. For example, this is how magicians make things disappear before our very eyes.
Similar processes happen for all our senses and so we build up an experience of the reality that is mostly internally generated by our brains and only partly and poorly updated by our sense organs.
Also to make things worse, our memories are not as good as we think and so even what we expect from the world is rather confused in the first place. It’s as if our brains have lots of fragments of data that it fits together all the time to create reality. Most of it is generated internally but updates from our senses do provide maybe about 20% of the information at any one time.
So what is real is largely a figment of our imagination in the first place, although it doesn’t seem like that. But we are easily tricked as we know by magicians, by optical illusions, by surround sound speakers, etc.
What Aspects of Dreams can be Real?
I want to continue to answer the question “Is Lucid Dreaming Real?” by looking at normal dreams.
From the reality discussion above it is an easy step to realize that if our brain is experiencing the sensation of the outside world then that sensation is real as far as we are concerned in that moment.
I think psychology has shown that the internal framework of building our reality is the same framework that we use in normal dreaming. The main difference is that the input from our senses is not used (much) in a dream and the electrical impulses we use to move our muscles in a dream are blocked through a mechanism referred to as sleep paralysis.
My point is that dreams are as real as reality at the moment we are experiencing that dream.
If that is hard to accept, let me give you a small example. When people see an optical illusion such as Kanizsa’s Triangle they “see” a white triangle (apex down). The strange thing is that in their brain you could not tell the difference between them seeing an illusory white triangle (as in Kanizsa’s Triangle) and any materially real white triangle presented to them. The same neurons in the brain fire in both cases, ie in “reality” there is a white triangle in both cases even though one is an illusion.
A Different Approach
It’s time to take a different approach to the question “Is Lucid Dreaming Real?” by looking at a more artistic rather than scientific approach.
J. R. R. Tolkien who invented fantasy world in his mind during the writing of The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings and many other books. He discussed the Faerie Realm with full seriousness and began as follows:
“Faerie is a perilous land, and in it are pitfalls for the unwary and dungeons for the overbold…In that realm a man may, perhaps, count himself fortunate to have wandered, but its very richness and strangeness tie the tongue of a traveler who would report them. And while he is there it is dangerous for him to ask too many questions, lest the gates should be shut and the keys be lost.”
While Tolkien did distinguish between dream and fantasy, he did acknowledge that there was some overlap between the two. The interesting thing about a dream is that while it is being dreamed and one is in that enchanted state in the dream, it is as real as real can be. Then indeed you could be in the Faerie Realm too, but when one becomes lucid or wake up then everything in that dream is framed in a different way and you are no longer in the Faerie Realm, for faerie requires the experience of awe and wonder, independently and extending beyond one’s personal concept systems.
Bringing in consciousness in to the picture brings an explanatory force around the very things that must remain unexplained for enchantment or fantasy to exist. True enchantment must be it’s own driving force that exists outside oneself. And that raises more interesting questions about reality that is not relevant just here.
Let me quote the poet Novalis here where he says:
“It depends only on the weakness of our organs and of our self-excitement, that we do not see ourselves in a Fairy-world. All Fabulous Tales are merely dreams of that home world, which is everywhere and nowhere”
Is Lucid Dreaming Real?
It is easy now to answer this important question. The only thing added to dreaming by Lucid Dreaming is consciousness, and correspondingly, some level of rational thought.
I believe dreams are real, so I believe lucid dreams are real too. My definition of real here is that they can and do affect the real world we live in day-to-day. Any dream, whether you remember it or not, can affect your mood for the rest of the day. Lucid dreams can further be used to perform all kinds of activities that affect real life.
For example, people claim to have solved problems in lucid dreams; can practice their golf swing in lucid dreams; can learn new things in lucid dreams. Artists often use lucid dreams to help create paintings, sculptures and other art works. Engineers can design buildings and bridges in lucid dreams; Health professionals have used lucid dreams to help PTSD sufferers; Tibetan monks have used lucid dreaming for meditation practice for 800 years and more. There are many examples of lucid dreams being used to change reality and I believe that makes them real.