TED Conversations

Jonathan Huang

Zeta Psi Fraternity of North America

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What good is being able to control our dreams?

This week in my Bioelectricity class, we discussed electrical stimulation and extracellular fields. We learned about how voltages far away from electrical sources in the body (eg the brain and heart) are directly linked to voltages across cell membranes.

We learned that in 1924, a German physiologist and psychiatrist Hans Berger recorded the first human electroencephalogram (EEG). From our discussion in class, it was evident that EEG activity for awake humans is quite similar to EEG activity during REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. An intriguing correlation arrises as lucid dreaming, the act of controlling ones dreams or at least being aware of dreaming, occurs during the REM cycle of sleep.

My question is what does controlling our dreams mean to us as humans? Beyond treating those who suffer from night terrors, is there some correlation between the ability to control our dreams and having more control of our brains during our awake phase? Since people are able to "teach" themselves to lucid dream, does that mean we can use our brains in other ways that we don't yet know of? Or should we allow our dreams to remain "free..."

We can even talk about different forms of dreaming. Shilo Shiv Suleman shows in her INK talk (http://www.ted.com/talks/shilo_shiv_suleman_using_tech_to_enable_dreaming.html) an iPad app that enables the user to enter a fantasy world of dreaming. She says that this form of dreaming is missing from todays youth.

In Daniel Wopert's "The Real Reason for Brains" he says that brains exist solely to control movement. Does this mean that dreaming has no meaning? (http://www.ted.com/talks/daniel_wolpert_the_real_reason_for_brains.html)

Lastly, we can even ask what exists between the lines of dreaming and consciousness? Antonio Damasio shines light into this question in his TED talk "The Quest To Understand Consciousness" by looking at the living brain. (http://www.ted.com/talks/antonio_damasio_the_quest_to_understand_consciousness.html)


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    Mar 28 2013: Can anyone tell me what lucid dreaming is? And what is the opposite of it?
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      Mar 29 2013: In a lucid dream you are aware that you are dreaming. I've had two and they were the most remarkable experiences. When I first became aware that I was dreaming the world around me began to fade out of focus. I felt a lack of sensation; only weightlessness as if I was being pulled up and backwards at the same time. I tried to focus on the elements around me and after what felt like a few seconds all sensations from the world around me returned at once. I can remember feeling temperature, smelling the air, and touching objects around me. The only difference from reality was that I had complete control over my environment. In a lucid dream you can fly, control objects with your mind, and make people, objects and places appear and disappear. It's neat.

      The opposite of a lucid dream then is any dream where you're not aware that you're dreaming.
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          Mar 30 2013: I'm only speaking from experience. I'm completely ignorant of the subject otherwise.
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        Mar 29 2013: Thanks, Mark.
        While I'm at it, is there a term or phrase for things outside your dreams that effects what happens in your dreams? For instance, a water bottle falls off of the nighgstand next to me. The sound of thhe impact is heard in my dream but as the sound of something else.
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          Mar 30 2013: Couldn't tell you. I've never had an experience like that. I've had the occasional nightmare where I wake up from the dream but I'm still in the dream. I call that a double-dream.
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        Mar 29 2013: Hi Mark, Thank you so much for sharing your experiences and I think your definitions are great. I offer my interpretation as a lucid dreamer...

        What often happens, especially to first time lucid dreamers, is that when you realize you are dreaming, you get so excited and interested in what is going on, that you start to wake yourself up and fall out of the dream. Your description matches this exactly, in my experience. Some people wake up and that's the end of the lucid dream. Other people, like you, fall back into the lucid dream. Still a third path, is that you can fall back into a non-lucid dream. Sounds like you went down the path of falling back into a lucid dream which is excellent!

        Here is a tip: If you discover that you are falling out of a lucid dream and want to stay in it, try spinning around in a counter clockwise direction. (Some say clockwise, I say counterclockwise - some debate about the spiritual dimension of the direction of rotation, for some.)
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          Mar 30 2013: Both of the dreams came right after a run of final exams. I've often wondered if the hours of studying I put in might have been the cause. My brain had been in overdrive for almost 3 weeks.

          I've had an experience like the third scenario you've described where I became aware of the dream and then fell back into a non lucid state. I didn't think that counted so I didn't mention it before.

          I've always had very elaborate and nonsensical dreams. I once had a 4 month stretch of nightmares that got progressively worse until the night they ended; after the first couple of weeks I got used to fighting back and thereafter sleeping became comparable to playing a video game. Sometimes I would win; most times I would lose. Losing was not fun.

          Back to the matter at hand I don't think it would be beneficial for people to be choose to dream lucidly. In my experience I became a deity in my own mind; none of my decisions had any consequences in the real world. A person repeatedly exposed to that circumstance might be tempted to experiment. You could play murderer or rapist or torturer with no restrictions or restraint. I think that's a slippery slope.

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