consciousness in the dream lab

Dream study has always been criticized for its flawed scientific methodology, concerned as it is with an experience that is, by nature, subjective. Indeed, this is a fact of dream experience. Dreams are completely private experiences, and there is no way to circumnavigate this feature. As a result, the field is criticized because its raw data are irreplicable—that it is impossible for anyone else to directly experience, examine and evaluate a subject’s dream. By extension then, all dream reports given by subjects are necessarily of questionable validity. Specifically, who really knows what went on in a dream? There is no way to externally corroborate the interior experience of a dream, and until some high-technology device comes along that will allow us to videotape our dreams, the field of dream study remains helpless before this obstacle. And while the EEG has helped to make the study of dreams more credible, the instrument can still yield only surface and exterior characteristics of the dream phenomenon. An EEG can tell us whether or not a person is dreaming, and it can tell us when and for how long a person dreamed. But for the real, inner experience we seek, we must rely on the subjective reports of dreamers.

Now add to this initial distance from the data the enormous difficulties that people characteristically have in recalling their dreams, and a researcher is faced with an equally troubling set of questions. What do dreamers remember and what do they forget? What do they invent and what do they confuse with other memories and experiences in their lives? Do dreamers modify their accounts to please themselves or the researcher? Do they leave out certain parts that they are embarrassed about? Do they fill in gaps in dream plot lines with new parts, so that the dream has better continuity and makes more sense?

Lucid dreaming, or lucidity, as it came to be called, was a newborn child on the horizon of research into the conscious-unconscious interface. Many in the scientific community began to speculate as to its significance. Lucidity was intriguing precisely because it broke down that barrier that had seemed to exist for so long between two discrete states of mind, of waking and dreaming. There now were so many questions to ask and answers to be found.

For instance, if an individual can consciously interact with his or her unconscious mind, as represented in the creation of the dream, is this a new level of communication between the two elements of the mind? If the ability can be harnessed, can it be a tool for increased awareness and understanding of the unconscious mind and of dreams? Will consciousness, in turn, learn more about itself? Can lucidity harmonize relations between the ego and the unconscious. Are there hazards to be avoided? Is it advisable to open up—to conscious interference—what up to now was an unconscious process? How broadly distributed a phenomenon is lucid dreaming in the general population? Can lucid dreaming be learned or taught? Who are these lucid dreamers, and what have they discovered?

©1995 Charles McPhee. Excerpted from Stop Sleeping Through Your Dreams: A Guide to Awakening Consciousness During Dream Sleep published by Henry Holt and Company, Inc.

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