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Mavericks of the Mind and Voices from the Edge contain thought-provoking interviews by David Jay Brown with over forty of the leading thinkers of our time on the subject of consciousness.

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Mavericks of Medicine: Conversations on the Frontiers of Medical Research: Exploring the Future of Medicine with Andrew Weil, Jack Kevorkian, Bernie Siegel and Ray Kurzweil and Others

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Conversations on the Edge of the Apocalypse

 

In his latest interview collection, David Jay Brown has once again gathered some of the most interesting minds of today to consider the future of the human race, the mystery of consciousness, the evolution of technology, psychic phenomena, and more. The book includes conversations with celebrated visionaries and inspirational figures such as Ram Dass, Noam Chomsky, Deepak Chopra, and George Carlin. Part scientific exploration, part philosophical speculation, and part intellectual rollercoaster, the free-form discussions are original and captivating, and offer surprising revelations. Conversations on the Edge of the Apocalpyse is a new look into the minds of some of our groundbreaking leaders and is the perfect gift for science fiction and philosophy fans alike.

 
 

 

Waking the Dreamer

"In the lucid dream you look around and realize that the whole world... is all something that your mind is creating."

with Stephen La Berge

 

Stephen LaBerge is the first scientist to empirically prove the existence of the phenomena of lucid dreaming. His work has developed this technique into a powerful tool for studying mind-body relationships in the dream state and he has demonstrated the considerable potential for lucid dreaming in the fields of psychotherapy and psychosomatic medicine. His book on the subject, Lucid Dreaming, Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming and his more academic Conscious Mind, Sleeping Brain have received enormous popular interest

Born in 1947, he obtained a B.S. in mathematics from the University of Arizona. At the age of 19 he began graduate studies in chemistry at Stanford University, but in 1968 took a leave of absence to pursue his research interest in psychopharmacology. In 1977 he returned to Stanford to begin studies on dreaming, consciousness and sleep, and received his Ph.D. in Psychophysiology from Stanford's Graduate Special Program in 1980.

He has taught courses on sleep and dreaming, psychobiology and altered states of consciousness at Stanford University, the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco, and San Francisco State University. Currently, Stephen is a Research Associate in the Department of Psychology at Stanford University, and Director of Research at the Lucidity Institute; a center he founded to further explore the potential of lucid dreaming. Here he is developing user-friendly technologies such as the DreamLightģ to help people to learn the art of lucid dreaming and disseminating information on the conscious dream-state through a quarterly newsletter.

Stephen 's energy and enthusiasm for his work is highly contagious and he has a way of dissecting information so as to always speak to the heart of the matter. His large eyes and animated features reveal an impish, child-like spirit and at the same time, an extremely sharp and analytical mind.

This interview began at the Lucidity Institute on July 8, 1992, and was completed on the evening of the same day, in the impressive grounds of Stanford University. In the evening after-sunset glow, Stephen addressed the questions of why we sleep, where we really are when we think we 're out of our body, and the spiritual implications of taking responsibility for our dreams.

RMN

 

(The following is a somewhat longer version than the one printed in the book.)

DJB: What was it that originally inspired your interest in lucid dreaming?

Stephen: I had been interested in lucid dreaming, in a way, since my childhood experience. When I was five years old they had these adventure serials and I would go to the matinees. I had the idea, after a particularly fun dream where I was an undersea pirate, wouldnít it be fun to go back to that same dream and continue it as in the serial? Nobody told me you couldnít do that sort of thing, so that night I was back in the same dream, and I remember doing that for weeks. I would have the experience of seeing the surface of the ocean far above me and thinking, I canít hold my breath this long! Then Iíd think, but in these dreams I can breathe dream-water. (child-like laughter) That was all, at that point, that I made of the lucidity, in the sense that I knew it was a dream and that I could have fun in it. It wasnít until my early twenties that I became interested in the mind. At that point I was interested in the natural world and assumed I was going to become a chemist or something like that, and when I came to Stanford in 1967 I was a graduate student in chemical physics. Being in the Bay Area in those days, you can imagine what kinds of things I got interested in (sly laughter) which told me that there was a world inside that was of as much interest as the world out there. I took a workshop from Tarthang Tulku, a Tibetan Buddhist, at Esalen and I was surprised at the topic of the workshop, which was essentially asking us to maintain consciousness throughout the twenty-four hours. Tarthangís English was limited at the time, heíd just arrived from India, and he would repeatedly say nothing more than, "This dream!" and laugh. He was trying to get us to think of our current experience as a dream and to see what it had in common with the nocturnal experiences and the day experiences. After focusing my mind in that way over the course of this weekend, I noticed on my way back to San Francisco, that I felt high. I associated it with the exercise and the expansion of awareness that came from thinking of my waking experiences as a dream and trying to maintain a continuity. A few nights after I came back from the workshop at Esalen, I had the first lucid dream I could remember since my childhood. I was climbing K2 dressed in short sleeves, going up the mountain through the snow drifts. I had the thought, look how Iím dressed, how could I be doing this? Itís because this is a dream. And at that point in my youthful folly, I decided to fly off the mountain and dream big. Personally, sitting here now, I would like to see what itís like to climb to the top of the second highest mountain in the world. So that piqued my interest in the topic of lucid dreaming and it gradually developed over the next five years and along the way I had an experience that convinced me that developing lucid dream- ing could be something of great value to me. I had a dream in which I was going up a mountain path, and had been hiking for miles and miles. I came to a very narrow bridge across an immensely deep chasm, and looking down I was afraid to go across the bridge. My companion said, "Oh you donít have to go that way, you can go back the way you came," and he points back an immense distance to the long way around. And somehow that just seemed the hard way of doing this, and I had the thought, if I were to become lucid, I would have no fear in crossing that bridge. Then I sort of noticed the thought, became lucid and crossed the bridge to the other side. When I woke up I thought about the meaning of that and saw that it had an application to life in general. Life is, in a sense, a kind of bridge, and what causes us to lose our balance is fear of the unknown, death, the meaninglessness around us, whatever it might be. Yet if we maintain the right awareness and context, it is possible to cross the bridge. About that same time I decided that Iíd finished my seven years in search of the Holy Grail in hippydom and that I should get back to being a scientist. It occurred to me that lucid dreaming could be a dissertation project and that it could be scientifically researched. The experts at the time said it was impossible but I had thought of a way which it could be proven that it was possible.

RMN: Tell us about the experiment you did with Lynn Nagel, which first empirically proved that lucid dreaming existed.

Stephen: Lynn Nagel was a research associate at Stanford in the sleep center when I had the idea of doing something with lucid dreaming. Without Lynn, it might never have happened. He helped me set it up, and taught me how to do sleep recordings. In our first studies Lynn stayed up all night while I slept as the subject. The basic idea of proving lucid dreaming was a simple one. It was based on earlier studies that showed that, if a person in their dream happened to be watching a ping-pong game and theyíre looking from left to right, the eyes of their sleeping body would show a corresponding pattern of eye-movement activity. So I had thought that, since in a lucid dream I can volitionally do whatever I want, why not make a signal that we could agree upon in advance; a pattern of eye-movement signals that could then be used to prove that I had a lucid dream and that I knew I was dreaming while I was in the dream? We could also use that to establish what stage of sleep lucid dreaming occurred. I thought it would be REM sleep just because that was when most dreaming occurs.

DJB: Are the eyes the only part of the body that will correspond to physical movements in a dream?

Stephen: No. What happens is that for any muscle group that you move, there will be small twitching activity. Some parts of the body are much more paralyzed than others and the main muscles that are strongly paralyzed are the muscles of vocalization and locomotion. The large muscles of locomotion could cause you to fall out of a tree while youíre in the midst of a dream. Also you obviously want to suppress vocalization in the middle of the forest at night, so that you donít cry out, "Hungry tiger, come and get me!" things like that. Or, "Iím glad there are no tigers around here!" (suppressed laughter) So those muscles are very strongly paralyzed, but the eye muscles can do us no harm. You canít wake up by moving your eyes and evolution hasnít developed any connections to inhibit them. There are a few other muscles that are not very inhibited and some that are not at all, for example, respiration. You donít want voluntary respiration muscles inhibited during REM or you donít wake up! So, anyway, Lynn and I did experiments in the beginning where we were trying to press a micro-switch. So in my dream I would be pressing my dream-thumb down "here," (disembodied laughter) but there wasnít any micro-switch in my dream-hand so it was a little funny and I could never do that. We did find muscle twitches in the arm that corresponded to that effort, but the problem is that most of the muscle fibers are not firing when my brain commands them to and only a few impulses get through in the same pattern. So we made up some eye movement signals; the one that we use now, most typically, is two pairs of left-right eye movements which are very easy to see in the context of other eye movements and itís also easy to do. After a few false starts where we did things like waking me up at the beginning of the REM period to remind me that I wanted to be lucid, (foolish laughter) we finally let me alone. Then I had the first lucid dream in the laboratory in which I made eye movement signals, and sure enough, there they were on the polygraph.

RMN: You say you had a hard time getting your results published, let alone accepted. Why do you think there is so much skepticism in this field?

Stephen: Basically, people were thinking of the dream as a product of the unconscious mind, and of Freudís idea that the dream is the royal road to the unconscious. From that they seemed to develop the mistaken idea that dreams are themselves unconscious somehow, but theyíre not, theyíre conscious experiences, otherwise you couldnít report them. Itís true that the source of dreams is largely unconscious and we donít know why things happen in the typical dream. In that sense much of the dream content is unconsciously determined but that doesnít mean that the experience is unconscious. One is given to speaking very loosely about saying somebodyís conscious or unconscious and we would sometimes hear people describing sleep as being unconscious. If you tighten up the language a little, youíd say what you mean is, a sleeping person is unconscious of the environment. Itís not the same thing as being absolutely unconscious. When we say, a person is "conscious", that is a shorthand for is "conscious of x." Whatís the "x"? What is consciousness? Thatís a very difficult question. A much better way of putting it is, what is the difference bet-ween a conscious and an unconscious mental process? So itís kind of a philosophical problem that people were having. They just thought it was plain impossible. So when we brought forward scientific evidence, in 1980, their first conclusion was that we obviously must have made some mistake because it just doesnít make sense. I think where peopleís minds had a change was from presenting the material at conferences to the colleagues who had the opinions about these things. There they see it, and have their opportunity to say, "well what about that?" And you answer, or you donít, to their satisfaction. So most people by 1983 who were going to believe it, believed it, and then there were some people who werenít going to believe it no matter what. One skeptic, when he saw the data in 1983 said, "Well, itís all very nice, but itís not dreaming." So I said, "What kind of evidence which you havenít seen so far could prove this to you?" and he said, "There isnít any kind of evidence." (stunned silence, followed by laughter) Admittedly this was after a few beers that he said that.

DJB: What was his definition of dreaming then?

Stephen: Something thatís not lucid dreaming. In other words the problem was that peopleís concept of what dreaming and what sleep was, was too limited. In fact when REM sleep was first discovered it was called paradoxical sleep in Europe because the characteristics of it were so unexpected, and itís still called that. Basically it looks like wakefulness, and in my view weíre seeing the same story all over with lucid dreaming. Lucid dreaming shows that under some circumstances the sleeping brain can sustain very high levels of reflective awareness and function very much like in the waking state. Thatís not the typical dream to be sure, but it shows it is possible, and therefore one shouldnít say dreams are necessarily single-minded, non-reflective and hallucinatory.

DJB: What do you think the function of a dream is and why did it evolve?

Stephen: I donít know whether dreaming has a special or unique evolutionary function. Iíd say the answer to why we dream is simple, itís the same reason that weíve got brains. Brains are primarily evolved to produce models of the world, to be able to simulate the environment and to predict whatís going to happen so that we can get what we want and avoid what we donít want. Thatís a strong pressure driving the evolution of nervous systems, in particular primates and humans, to a very high level at which we simulate the environment so well that weíre unaware that weíre simulating. We look out and we see the world. Thatís the common sense way of viewing reality; but what I see when I look out at the two of you and the tape-recorder on the table and the room that weíre sitting in here, is not the world, unless Iím referring to my world, my mental world. Iím seeing a simulation of my brain that is based on sensory input that Iím receiving, plus other patterns of expectation having to do with all kinds of other things I expect to see and am ready to see. Sensory input is great evidence but also memory and expectation is good evidence too.

RMN: So youíre saying that we dream as a habitual function of what we do during our waking state and dreams donít have any particular purpose?

Stephen: Right. Itís the same constructive process that weíre using now under the special conditions of sleep. So if the brain is activated in REM sleep, if itís turned on enough to be making a world model, it makes a world model, but itís not making it out of sensory input anymore. Now it draws on the other sources that may have been secondary in the waking state, the expectation, motivational, those biases that bias perception. So it constructs a world that shows us what we expect, fear, wish for, need and all that.

RMN: So itís not necessarily a way to assimilate our experience?

Stephen: No. It may serve a value, but we didnít evolve a dream in order to do something, we evolved brains in order to do something. Surely, dreaming serves some function, but in a way, almost accidental to the evolution of the brain. Thereís no doubt that REM sleep facilitates memory consolidation but we donít know for sure whether that has anything to do with the dream content or not.

RMN: What do you think is the purpose of sleep?

Stephen: No one knows for sure, but there may be multiple purposes served by sleep. On this planet we have a strong 24-hour dark-light cycle, and almost all creatures are adapted to being active in one of those two phases. Humans are active in the light as we are strongly dependent on vision but suppose you didnít sleep, instead youíre awake in the middle of the night in the jungle. Are you more likely to get what you want or what you donít want, wandering around the jungle in the dark? You see? So it makes more sense to have an enforced period of inactivity during the phase of the dark-light cycle at which youíre at a clear disadvantage. There are perhaps other energy conservation purposes and other specific functions that sleep serves, but that seems a sufficient argument to me of accounting for why it happens. So one idea about REM sleep is that itís something thatís designed to maintain active enough brains so that if you need to get up for some reason, you can, and when itís time to get up in the morning you can do that. Thatís perhaps one of the reasons why REM sleep increases later in the night and becomes more frequent and more active. So given that weíve got an active brain in the context of sleep and no sensory input, then you get dreams, not because it serves a function, but because - why not?

RMN: Youíve talked about using fear and anxiety in a dream as a catalyst to propel you into a lucid state. Tell us more about this.

Stephen: Anxiety certainly seems to stimulate reflectiveness and there may be a biological basis for that, that conscious processing in general seems to have evolved as a special problem-solving feature. Itís not just fear, by the way, fear is not enough for you to become conscious. Fear is, here you are in the jungle and thereís a tiger. What do you do? You run. Thatís what fear motivates you to do - avoid and escape. So letís say you climb a tree and the tiger starts to climb up after you. Now you feel something new, which is anxiety, which is fear plus uncertainty and that causes an increased scanning of the environment for alternative actions. What else can I do? What new combination of things? Oh yeah, look, a coconut! Which you throw at the tiger, you see? So in the origins you can see the rudimentary consciousness being very strongly associated with anxiety and the re-framing, the re-formulation, the re-scanning of the environment for new ways of getting out of a problem youíre in. You see that same thing in less threatening ways in everyday life.

RMN: So when youíre dreaming and you experience anxiety, itís an opportunity then to check out your options and change the outcome. What, to your knowledge, was the earliest documented account of lucid dreaming?

Stephen: Aristotle talks about lucid dreaming. He doesnít use that term but he says, sometimes during sleep thereís something that clearly says to us, this is in your mind, this isnít really happening. Then you see accounts here and there throughout history where somebody talks about this, usually a philosopher. Yet thereís very little research in the West until the nineteenth century when Hervey de Saint-Denis published a book on dreams and how to guide them based on thousands of lucid dreams he had. Fredrik van Eeden, in the late nineteenth century coined the term Ďlucid dreamí, largely from the psychiatric sense of lucid as in Ďlucid intervalí, where an otherwise normally mad person will come to his senses for a moment.

RMN: What about other cultural awareness of lucid dreaming, the Hawaiians and Native Americans and the dream-time of the Australian aborigines?

Stephen: In regard to the Aborigines there may well be a correlation. In terms of primal cultures in general, dreaming is usually the business of the professionals, your everyday person doesnít get involved in these things. I have wondered to what extent shamanistic experiences are related to lucid dreaming, they sound similar in many ways. In Native American cultures you see something like what Iíd call the opposite of the lucid under- standing of the dream. Letís suppose, I had a dream last night in which the two of you wrecked my Porsche, so I now expect reparations, so pay up. (silence)

RMN: They took dreams completely literally.

Stephen: Right. In other words they viewed the dream as the supernatural version of what must be, and that, in my view, is the worst way to take dreams because it takes the freedom of them away. Instead of being able to imagine anything with no constraints from physical reality, whatever you imagine you have to make physically true. On the other hand, in this culture, dreams are considered nothings, you know, things to be forgotten and ignored.

DJB: Just a dream.

Stephen: Right. Where you do see this developed to high levels however, is in Tibetan Buddhism, since theyíve been practicing lucid dreaming probably for a thousand years.

RMN: It seems that the criteria for a successful lucid dreamer is similar to that for being a successful Buddhist. But Dzoghen, one of the branches of Buddhism which practises lucid dreaming, sees it as a very advanced technique only to be embarked upon after a great deal of preparation.

Stephen: Some practises of Buddhism indeed regard it in that way. The Nyingmapas donít tend to. They tend to say, "Well, give it a try!" So in some cultures this had been taken to great extremes and today we still donít know how far Buddhist practitioners of this art are able to take lucid dreaming. Iím hoping to be able to do some research on that some time in the future.

RMN: Have you found any correlation between people who practice some kind of meditation and the ability to have lucid dreams?

Stephen: Thereís a study by Henry Reed based on some ten thousand dream reports, in which people were asked whether or not they had meditated the day before the night that they collect those dreams on. Then the percentage of lucid dreams occurring on nights following meditation the day before was measured. The difference was seven per cent versus five per cent, so thatís two per cent difference with people who meditated the day before. We donít know what kind of meditation, how much or anything of that nature, so there are a lot of questions about it, but the point is there is a small difference.

DJB: It can also be the type of person. The type of person who would be interested in meditation would be more aware of alternative realities and that sort of thing.

RMN: Have you found any other criteria such as age, creativity or even sex which affects how successful someone is at lucid dreaming?

Stephen: Weíve asked about all of those things and have not found any way of predicting to any large extent whether or not a person will report lucid dreams, except for one thing, and that is, how often you remember your dreams. Frequent dream recallers are more likely to have lucid dreams. If you ask do you recall your dreams at least once a night, or find the median split on dream recall, then youíll find twice as many lucid dreams in the group that reports more dreams in general. You can see why that makes sense, because if people donít remember their dreams they donít ever reflect on them in the waking state. Also, what determines dream recall has a lot to do with the habits of what you do in bed. So if you wake up while lucid dreaming, thatís one thing, if you wake up thinking, itís time to get out of bed then youíre not going to remember dreams.

RMN: You talk in your book about a woman, Mary Arnold Forster, who was teaching lucid dreaming to children at the beginning of this century. Do you think that children may be more receptive partly because they donít have so many fixed beliefs about what can be?

Stephen: Exactly. Thatís something Iíd very much like to see - more children learning about this. I think it could be of great value to them considering that most children have extremely little power; theyíre basically at the mercy of what everybody else tells them to do. So hereís a world in which they can be the master. Also, in this society, we have various problems with drugs that are associated with children. I think children as adolescents are the people least likely to benefit from drugs. Certainly psychedelics can be useful to some people at some circumstances in their lives but Iíd say that hardly ever applies to adolescents who already have plenty of change and structures that are in flux going on. Itís most valuable for people who have rigid structures that have built up over the years and who need them loosened up. So the problem is that our current approach to this seems to be ĎJust Say Noí, and the idea that the only reason that kids ever take drugs is peer pressure.(knowing laughter) Letís realize that there may be other reasons. They may want something else, something new, something thatís fun, something other than the routine theyíre used to, and lucid dreaming could provide that for them, in a way that is safe and legal and harmonious with their development. So I think that there could be real value in developing lucid dreaming as a kind of drug-abuse inoculation.

DJB: What kind of techniques, do you think, are the most effective for dream recall and actually producing lucid dreams?

Stephen: If you were to say, I want to become a lucid dreamer, how should I go about it? I would say that means youíve got some extra time and energy in your life, some unallocated attention that you could apply to working on this. If youíre somebody thatís so busy that you have hardly time to take a walk, youíre not going to have the time and energy to do this. We have developed a course in lucid dreaming that is designed for people to use at home. The first lesson in there is about how you develop dream recall. After youíve got a sufficient level of dream recall you start studying your dreams for the dream signs; whatís dream-like about them? You then start doing exercises that use your focus in your mind on your typical dream content, becoming more reflective and developing your ability to have specific intentions that you carry out in the future and so on. The course in lucid dreaming right now is something you can use either with or without a DreamLightģ which is a device we developed primarily in response to peopleís requests for methods to help them have lucid dreams. Itís a mask that you wear while youíre asleep and it flashes a light during REM, not so much as to wake you up but enough to remind you in your dream that you are dreaming.

RMN: A lot of people hear about this phenomena and then have a lucid dream for the first time; it happened to me when I first read your book. How much do you think that realizing this is possible is linked to the ability to lucid dream?

Stephen: Thatís clearly important, and what youíve just described happens very frequently. Part of what you learn when you learn how to have lucid dreams is that you can do it. However, if youíre thinking, "Iím not sure I can", that ĎIím not sure I caní is a barrier. The problem is, since it rarely happens for most people, then it gives you the idea that it must be difficult, instead of thinking that it rarely happens simply because you never have the mental set where youíre thinking I want this to happen, and Iím intending to do this.

RMN: What are some of the benefits that youíve observed and experienced from developing this skill?

Stephen: The applications of lucid dreaming range from the poor manís Tahiti, the adventure and exploration and thrill part of it, to the mental rehearsal, the practice, trying things out in the dream state that youíve learned. You can also develop motor skills or work on overcoming shyness, overcoming nightmares, dealing with fears and of course thereís the mental health aspect of it that might have extensions into a broader sense of health. On the basis of mind-body experiments that weíve done at Stanford using the signaling technique, weíve found that when you dream, you do something to your brain thatís as if youíve actually done it. So there are very strong relationships between dream content and physiological response which we think could be used for facilitating healing, facilitating the function of the immune system in some way.

DJB: Have you done any studies on that?

Stephen: No but in the book Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming, we published anecdotes of people doing some kinds of healing. These are all uncontrolled in that they decide at some point in time that theyíre going have a lucid dream in which something is healed and sure enough it gets better, but we donít know if it would have got better on itís own or at what rate and so on.

RMN: What about the potential for incorporating lucid dreaming into an educational program in the sense of sleep-learning?

Stephen: The most important kind of sleep-learning that you can do is not having a tape-recording and trying to pipe more factual information into you. Sleep time is not a very good time for taking in information, but lucid dreams are an excellent opportunity for experiential learning, for finding out about the wisdom of life. Having an encounter with a dragon, for example, which you wonít ever have the opportunity for in the waking state. You have to have the courage to resist the fear that youíll actually feel, to say this dragon is a mental image - a mental image canít hurt me, and then to act on that. I would advise having a conversation, making friends with the dragon. The point is, is that what you can learn from your experiences in the lucid dream state are things that can apply to your waking state. When you learn that when you face your problems and fears you overcome them, and things turn out better than they do when you simply try to avoid them, that generalizes and you have more sense of self-confidence that you can do things. Your security can improve as you realize that you can handle difficult situations if you keep your head about you.

DJB: It actually sounds real similar to Virtual Reality.

Stephen: Right. To put it in terms of Virtual Reality, I would say that lucid dreaming is high resolution (actual laughter) Virtual Reality with appropriate technology now. The best computers we can get are our brains. If you look at the pluses and minuses of the two approaches, you see with lucid dreaming that you have something which is not directly shareable; I canít record a lucid dream and say here, you try it. The Virtual Reality with an external computer that generates everything has the potential of doing that, but itís just like a playback, itís more like watching a video-tape than it is actually doing something. Jaron Lanier has complained about VR not having that unexpectedness and intuitive suprise, and of course thereís plenty of that in lucid dreaming. Clearly the lucid dream state has much more felt reality. At this point no one has anything near to a solution of how you can be embodied in VR. If youíre driving a car, or flying, you know, thatís easy to represent because all you see is, hereís the wheel and thereís the picture out there - and that feels real. Yet the moment that you want your body to be walking, you see the picture move, but you donít feel like your doing it.

DJB: Well in North Carolina theyíve developed treadmills that simulate the sensation of walking with tactile sensors.

Stephen: Okay, suppose you want to go to the lab? (pointed laughter) Sorry you canít, you can only walk this way.

DJB: It actually has a steering column that allows you to change direction.

Stephen: Well, okay (virtual laughter) the point is, at this stage the technology is limited.

RMN: In terms of the difference in the potential for empathy between VR and lucid dreaming, have you explored the possibility of conscious dream sharing with another person? Iíve read about Alaskan shamans who claim to be able to visit their shaman buddies in their sleep.

Stephen: I havenít really experimented with that. I consider to it be theoretically possible, but itís not something that I felt was of developmental value first of all. There are many aspects of dream control that I havenít pursued. Iíve emphasized instead controlling myself and my responses to what happens, instead of making it magically different, because Iíve wanted something that would generalize the waking state. In this world we donít have the power to magically make other people appear and disappear. There have been a few people whoíve said, "I can visit you in your dream" and Iíve said, "Okay do so." But Iíve never experienced an unequivocal success that I remember. I think the problem is that we tend to bring mental models from the waking state into the dream state. So we have expectations in the dream, especially in a lucid dream. Here it is, itís all so real, and so hey! you two people look perfectly real to me so youíll remember this conversation later, right? Now why would I think youíd do that, any more that I would think this table would remember this conversation? One of the things you have to do in developing skill with lucid dreaming is to be critical of your state of mind. So you wake up from a lucid dream and you think, did I make some assumptions that were inappropriate or do something that didnít make sense? So you can therefore refine and clarify your thinking and build up mental models that are appropriate to the dream world. I dreamt in a lucid dream that I was flying above the San Francisco Bay, and I had the thought, my body is asleep over there, Iíll go visit it. (inappropriate laughter) And I woke and said, what? This is a dream! Your bodyís not in there or youíd be in trouble if your bodyís asleep in your own dream, how could you wake up? People who donít make that extra effort donít tend to learn.

RMN: Some inventions have come about through lucid dreaming-- for example, the sewing machine and part of Einsteinís equations. Have you found a link between creativity and lucid dreaming?

Stephen: We have anecdotes from people whoíve used lucid dreaming for creative problem-solving or artistic creation of some kind. Itís surely a state where you can get a great many ideas, the problem is that not every idea you get is good. I think the major value of lucid dreaming is in giving people the sense that we live in a much wider world than we might imagine.

DJB: So becoming lucid in a dream can be analogous to what people call a spiritual awakening?

Stephen: Yeah. Giving people the idea of what life would be like if we realize that everyday life is sleep-walking and that there can be a further kind of awakening.

RMN: It seems that lucid dreaming can do much to help people broaden and develop their sense of themselves. Do you see lucid dreaming becoming a successful part of a psychotherapeutic program?

Stephen: Oh yes, very clearly. I think thatís one of the strongest applications we have, what I think has the most definite proved value so far. There are a few psychotherapists who are using it, but it has been slow to catch on. Lucid dreaming is the most obvious approach to overcoming nightmares, telling people that they are imagining fears and they just have to exercise courage to face it somehow. Iíd say that the great value of lucid dreaming is as a means of self-development, a sort of self-therapy. This would apply to people that have an interest in getting to know themselves better and becoming more whole. I would think that people who are interested in something like Jungian analysis would be good candidates for this kind of thing, where they can take responsibility for the individuation process and help to further it in the dream state.

DJB: Has your experience with psychedelics influenced your research?

Stephen: In a way. It was one of the things that inspired me to take an interest in the mind and before that, as I said earlier, I had no interest in the mind, I was interested only in the outside world. At first I wanted to be making analogs of tryptamines because I was thinking we just need to modify these molecules and then theyíll really work instead of almost telling you all. That was my naivetť, not realizing that the problem wasnít the molecule, the problem was the mind. From going from the ordinary state of perceiving the world to an extraordinary state of perceiving the world, I would think, so this is what itís really like! Of course the next day when I was back in the usual state, comparing the two, I realized, of course, that wasnít what it was like and this is not what itís like. Theyíre both mental models or simulations. Itís something that was very important for me in terms of understanding the power of the mind and seeing how just changing some of the operations parameters in the perceptual system could lead to a radically different view of the world. I think itís shocking and a tragedy whatís happened with the illegality of these substances, preventing scientific research and therapeutic use and I look forward to the day when that changes.

RMN: There seems to be a correlation between psychedelic consciousness and lucid consciousness in the dream state.

Stephen: Thereís a lot in common between the two states. In fact people can in the dream state, take a dream "psychedelic" and have it produce an effect.

DJB: Terence McKenna says that he smokes DMT in his dreams and then has the full experience.

Stephen: And what that shows is that what prevents us from having these experiences is not the chemical, itís the mental framework. So in a way psychedelics can be a kind of guide in revealing some of the potential in the mind. I think they have limitations in terms of taking us to the visions they show us. One can take the mistaken path of saying, well since I had the taste of it with the substance, if I keep taking it Iíll eventually get the whole thing because more of the same should help. It doesnít seem to work that way.

RMN: Do you think that lucid dreaming is a more valid approach to personal development than psychedelics in as much as it can become more of a yoga, or do you think theyíre equally likely to have a long-lasting beneficial effect on someoneís life?

Stephen: Well, I would say almost any experience can be valuable to a person if theyíre prepared to make use of it, and psychedelics or lucid dreams can be very useful if a person heeds the lessons that experience brings. Itís not what happens to a person that matters, itís what they make of it. In a way lucid dreaming requires more of your own responsibility in making it happen and dealing with it. Itís easy enough to take a pill and that can put you in a relatively passive role.

DJB: But you can take an active role in it.

Stephen: Thatís right, the question is: what do you do with this state? Do you direct it in a way where you seek for what youíre looking for inside yourself? So it can be used in the same way.

DJB: Have you noticed any correlation between people who use psychedelics and a propensity towards lucid dreaming? Every time Iíve done a psychedelic, within a couple of days Iíll amost always have a lucid dream.

Stephen: Yes, that is probably due to biochemical changes. Taking psychedelics will produce changes of neurochemical levels which will intensify REM sleep. Basically what youíve done is youíve altered the regulation of the system and so youíve pushed it away from the equilibrium and itís going to come back and perhaps oscillate for a while until it gets back into itís new equilibrium. So itís not surprising that in the next couple of nights youíre going to have variations in REM sleep.

RMN: What is known about the chemicals given off by the brain in REM sleep?

Stephen: Relatively low levels of norepinephrene and serotonin, high levels of acetylcholine.

DJB: How in the world did they figure that out?

Stephen: Cat brains.

DJB: How about out-of-the-body-experiences. Do you think theyíre related to lucid dreaming?

Stephen: Itís a complicated topic and I devoted an entire chapter to it in Lucid Dreaming because itís something you have to deal with carefully. I think theyíre not what people naively think they are; which is literally that youíre leaving your physical body in some ghost body in the physical world. Letís take what happens in an out-of-the-body experience. Typically a person is lying in bed, awake - at least they think they are. Next thing they know, they feel themselves separating from that body as if they have a second body that floats out of the first one, and then they may look back down and see what they take to be their physical body. So letís just examine that idea for consistency. Now, Iím floating up here, and then I look around at the bedroom and I notice that thereís a window where there shouldnít be or thereís no window whereís there should be. So I say, "Oh, I guess that wall there is not exactly a physical wall, maybe itís an "astral" wall, and of course then thatís an astral floor, an astral bed - and whatís that down on the astral bed that a moment ago I thought was my physical body?" Itís an astral-body or a dream-body. Therefore, what happened to the assumption that Iím moving in physical space? Itís suddenly evaporated. The reason people find it so compelling is that it feels like you leave your body, and since it feels like it, thatís what you believe is happening. In our experiments in the laboratory, out of about 100 lucid dreams that were recorded, about 10% of those had out-of-body phenomenologies. So we analyzed the physiology associated with the out-of-the-body experience type lucid dream compared to the other lucid dreams to see if thereís some characteristic that predicts that a person is likely to have a dream in which they think theyíre out of their body. And what we found was that there was much more likeliness of a brief awakening before the experience. Now, I think the way the OBE takes place - in the typical form, which is in association with sleep - is, youíre lying in bed, you wake up, youíre awake. Itís from REM sleep, so youíre now in the context of going back into REM sleep and what happens is that you fall asleep without knowing it. Suddenly the sensory input is cut off and youíve got now the memory of the body instead of the sensory perception of the body. A moment ago your body had weight but now that gravitational force has been cut off; thereís not sensory input for it, so it suddenly disappears and, I propose, that the same thing happens as when you pick up an empty carton of milk. Suddenly your body flies upwards and you feel as if as thereís a force going up that compensates for your mental model of your body-weight. When you perceive that the weight is less than expected by your mental model you explain that as an upward force.

DJB: What do you think about near-death experiences, when people feel theyíre leaving their body?

Stephen: Another factor that can produce an OBE is the capacity tp dissociate. There are some people who can much more readily than others detach themselves from their current experience. Once you detach itís possible then to reconstruct a view of reality that involves you outside the situation somehow. For most people, for that to happen, they either need the context of REM sleep, or theyíre falling off a mountain, or theyíve just been declared dead, or something. Thatís quite an emotional shock and itís enough to produce dissociation which then allows you to reorganize the experience. Now you hear stories about people in near-death experiences seeing things that they shouldnít be able to see and that sort of thing. Well, I donít deny them that, there may be some paranormal information transfer occasionally in these experiences, but I think we underestimate how much knowledge we have about our surroundings through other senses. I donít buy the account that we leave in some second body. That second body, does it have a brain in there? What are the fingers for? If you pulled an eye out, would it look like an eye or is it just a mental model of an eye? (nervous laughter) It seems clear that thatís what it is. Itís one of those ideas that people are very attached to for some reason and I think itís a misplaced sense of the value of individual survival. They think "this proves that I survive death because I was there!" Yet I donít think thatís what we want to survive death. Why would we want these funky monkey forms to persist forever?

DJB: What do you think happens after biological death and has your experience with lucid dreaming influenced your thoughts in this area and about the nature of God?

Stephen: Letís suppose Iím having a lucid dream. The first thing I think is, "Oh this is a dream, here I am." Now the "I" here is who I think Stephen is. Now whatís happening in fact is that Stephen is asleep in bed somewhere, not in this world at all, and heís having a dream that heís in this room talking to you. With a little bit of lucidity Iíd say, "this is a dream, and youíre all in my dream." A little more lucidity and Iíd know youíre a dream figure and this is a dream-table, and this must be a dream-shirt and a dream-watch and whatís this? Itís got to be a dream-hand and well, so whatís this? Itís a dream-Stephen! So a moment ago I thought this is who I am and now I know that itís just a mental model of who I am. So reasoning along those lines, I thought, Iíd like to have a sense of what my deepest identity is, whatís my highest potential, which level is the realest in a sense? With that in mind at the beginning of a lucid dream, I was driving in my sports car down through the green, Spring countryside. I see an attractive hitchhiker at the side of the road, thought of picking her up but said, "No, Iíve already had that dream, I want this to be a representation of my highest potential. So the moment I had that thought and decided to forgo the immediate pleasure, the car started to fly into the air and the car disappeared and my body, also. There were symbols of traditional religions in the clouds, the Star of David and the cross and the steeple and near-eastern symbols. As I passed through that realm, higher beyond the clouds, I entered into a vast emptiness of space that was infinite and it was filled with potential and love. And the feeling I had was-- this is home! This is where Iím from and Iíd forgotten that it was here. I was overwhelmed with joy about the fact that this source of being was immediately present, that it was always here, and I had not been seeing it because of what was in my way. So I started singing for joy with a voice that spanned three or four octaves and resonated with the cosmos with words like, "I Praise Thee, O Lord!" There wasnít any I, there was no thee, no Lord, no duality somehow but sort of, ĎPraise Beí was the feeling of it. My belief is that the experience I had of this void, thatís what you get if you take away the brain. When I thought about the meaning of that, I recognized that the deepest identity I had there was the source of being, the all and nothing that was here right now, that was what I was too, in addition to being Stephen. So the analogy that I use for understanding this is that we have these separate snowflake identities. Every snowflake is different in the same sense that each one of us is, in fact, distinct. So here is death, and hereís the snowflake and weíre falling into the infinite ocean. So what do we fear? We fear that weíre going to lose our identity, weíll be melted, dissolved in that ocean and weíll be gone; but what may happen is that the snowflake hits the ocean and feels an infinite expansion of identity and realizes, what I was in essence, was water! So weíre each one of these little frozen droplets and we feel only our individuality, but not our substance, but our essential substance is common to everything in that sense, so now God is the ocean. So weíre each a little droplet of that ocean, identifying only with the form of the droplet and not with the majesty and the unity.

RMN: Do you believe that the soul then reincarnates into another form?

Stephen: There may be intermediate states where "to press the metaphor" the seed crystal is recycled and makes another snowflake in a similar form or something like that, but thatís not my concern. My concern is with the ocean, thatís what I care about. So whether or not Stephen, or some deeper identity of Stephen survives, well thatíd be nice if that were so, but how can one not be satisfied with being the ocean?

DJB: If I was able to, through nanotechnology, completely replicate every atom in your brain, identical down to every little trace-- would that be you?

Stephen: That would be "Stephen", if thatís what you mean. I donít see a reason why we couldnít transfer the information in our brain to some other structure. It may be, for example, if you had something like you just described with nanotechnology, or a digital computer that was sufficiently complex, youíd still need some kind of substrate to sustain the different informational states. For all we know the vacuum of space itself may have an infinite amount of structure in it that could easily sustain a mind.

DJB: We interviewed Nick Herbert, the quantum physicist, and he described how there are mathematical models that leave a lot of latitude for things like parallel universes and other dimensions. Have you ever entertained this as a model for lucid dreaming, that there actually really are other dimensions or places that are not just mental simulations or constructs?

Stephen: I think of those as skew, not parallel, universes. (extra-dimensional laughter) Seriously, Iíve never liked that model, it seems tremendously inelegant to require every time you make a quantum decision the thing you didnít decide is still there in some way. It seems like a reductio ad absurdum of quantum theory. People think quantum theory is about the world but itís not, itís about descriptions of the world. Whatís the world really like if you donít make a measurement? Well, making the measurement is making the world - the world is interaction. In other words, as a thought experiment, letís think about an object. Here it is right here on the table. I just pointed as if the space encloses it. Well, letís say, not only is it invisible as you can see but it doesnít interact in any way with any other thing in the world - is it a part of the world? No. What is the universe? The universe is a collection of objects that interact in some form with the other objects of the world.

DJB: Can you tell us about the Lucidity Institute and any current projects youíre working on?

Stephen: The purpose of the Lucidity Institute is to sponsor and support research on human consciousness and what weíre focusing on now is primarily lucid dreaming because that is one capacity of the mind that we feel is useful. If we knew more about the physiology of lucid dreaming we will be able to make it happen more readily. We could find other mental techniques or physiological interventions, perhaps some drug effects that could make the state much more accessible and stable. The idea is to help people make more viable decisions about what theyíre going to do in life, to get more experience out of the world, but basically to understand that life can have many more possibilities than we ordinarily think of. In the lucid dream you look around and realize that the whole world that youíre seeing all something that your mind is creating. It tells you that you have much more power than youíd ever believed before - or dreamt - for changing the world, starting with yourself.

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