by Stephen LaBerge1 and
Donald J. DeGracia2
1 The Lucidity Institute, Stanford CA 94309
2 Department of Emergency Medicine, and the Center for Molecular
Medicine and Genetics, Wayne State University, Detroit, Michigan,
LaBerge, S. & DeGracia, D.J. (2000). Varieties of lucid dreaming
experience. In R.G. Kunzendorf & B. Wallace (Eds.), Individual
Differences in Conscious Experience (pp. 269-307). Amsterdam: John
Realization that one is dreaming brings a wonderful sense of
freedom–freedom to try anything in the extended range of experience.
… The nature of lucid dream experience may range up to the mystical,
whilst there seems to be an inherent resistance to anything erotic.
(McCreery, 1973: 114)
When lucid dreams endure beyond a certain point, at least for me,
orgasm is almost inevitable… in fully two-thirds of my lucid dreams,
I feel the flow of sexual energy; this arousal culminates in an
orgasmic burst on about half of these occasions.
What can we conclude from the above quotations? Certainly nothing
regarding the nature of eroticism in the lucid dream state. Rather,
they illustrate that the experience of lucid dreaming is subject to
individual variation. This should not be surprising, since lucid
dreaming, like all forms of conscious experience, is comprised of a
flow of subjective events created by brain processes using input
from sensory-perceptual modalities, internal algorithms or schemata
and, perhaps, poorly understood neuronal activity associated with
central nervous system homeostatic maintenance.
individual experience is inherent at all levels: anatomical in the
form of limitations imposed by breath and sensory system
development, physiological as sleep and REM sleep needs, inborn
activation and damping tendencies, and psychological variation
caused by recent and long-term experiences, the development of
habits of interaction with the environment, and assumptions about
the way the world works.
The range of subjective experiences reported to occur during
dreaming appears wider and more variable than those typical of
waking. In this chapter we will focus on the nature of experience in
lucid dreams. We begin by showing that lucidity in dreams is not a
discrete phenomenon, but that reflective consciousness exists in all
dreams and can be measured on a continuum with “lucidity” and
“non-lucidity” representing two ends of the spectrum.
of the chapter will explore the substantial individual variation in
lucid dreams, illustrated with examples derived from the authors’
The discussion will focus on two primary themes: the
role played by belief systems and learning in shaping lucid dream
experiences, and the role played by factors which appear to be
independent of the dreamer’s beliefs and learning.
II. The Meaning of “Lucid Dreaming”
The distinction between nonlucid and lucid dreams represents perhaps
the broadest level of variation in dream experiences presently
recognized. The contemporary notion of a lucid dream is a “dream in
which one knows one is dreaming” (Green, 1968). This is in contrast
to the nonlucid dream, in which dreamers are not aware of being in
the dream state. Some dream theorists treat the lucid/nonlucid
distinction in a way we consider too rigid, arguing these are two
completely distinct types of phenomena (Hobson, 1988, 1994; Tart,
1984; Tholey, 1988).
In our view, the distinction between lucid and
nonlucid dreams is not as clear-cut as the definition suggests and
fails to do justice to the subtlety of the actual experience. We
feel the contemporary distinction has misplaced focus away from what
we consider the essential variations in dream cognition underlying
We have recently developed a psychological model that we believe
captures the experiential essence of the differences between lucid
and nonlucid dreams (DeGracia and LaBerge, 1998). In brief, our
model hinges on the relationship of the waking self and the identity
of the dreamer, and addresses the question: at what psychological
levels do changes in self-awareness in the dream state occur that
correspond to the onset of dream lucidity? Or stated somewhat
differently, what exactly is dream lucidity?
Our basis for answering this question involved a systematic
comparison of waking, lucid and nonlucid dreaming within the
framework of the Global Workspace (GW) model of consciousness
developed by Bernard Baars (1988). Recognizing that dreams in
general are an expression of consciousness during sleep, the
critical feature of Baars’s GW model we used was his formulation
that conscious processes are molded and framed by unconscious
processes. Baars formulates unconscious processes as contexts.
Contexts are operationally defined as “a system (or set of systems)
that constrains conscious contents without itself being conscious” (Baars,
Accordingly, we compared the unconscious contextual
structures underlying waking, nonlucid and lucid dream
Baars’ GW model provides a model of waking consciousness. The GW
model posits that waking consciousness is framed by a nested
hierarchy of unconscious elements which Baars terms a context
hierarchy. The context hierarchy is a relatively stable global
construct that transforms through time as a function of learning and
The context hierarchy of the waking personality is
composed of many relatively distinct contexts which correspond to,
or are a computational way to model, the sensory, perceptual, attentional, mnemonic, cognitive, metacognitive, goal and effector
operations carried out unconsciously by the nervous system, but
which in turn condition conscious experience. Contexts can be
relatively more innate (such as the topographic organization of
conscious perceptions) or relatively more learned (such as language
A context strongly dependent on learning can involve
situation-dependent forms of cognition, in which the context remains
latent until external circumstances dictate its full expression. An
example of a situation-dependent context would be the knowledge and
skills associated with piano playing. The full expression of a
“piano playing context” is situationally dependent on the presence
of an actual piano. When confronted with a piano, the “piano playing
context” expresses itself as a nested hierarchy of effectors: the
desire (or goal) to play triggers the necessary declarative
knowledge (of notes and music, etc) which in turn triggers the
necessary motor effectors (eye motions for reading music, hand
motions for striking keys) resulting in the act of playing the
According to Baars, context formation initially requires
conscious participation. But, once established, contexts are
unconscious factors framing conscious experience. Many such contexts
accumulate within the waking personality as a function of learning
and life experiences, and mold and frame the conscious aspects of
B. Nonlucid Dreams
During nonlucid dreams, the consciousness of the dreamer is
similarly constrained by unconscious contextual elements. These
elements combine to form relatively transient global contexts that
last only for a dream’s duration, or possibly through a series of
sequential dreams. The transience of global contextual structures in
dreams contrasts to the relatively stable context hierarchy framing
waking consciousness. One factor contributing to the transient
quality of dream contexts involves the dreamer operating “in the
moment” in response to the dream context with no conscious memory of
precedents or antecedents to the events occurring in the dream.
unconscious global context framing nonlucid dream consciousness may
or may not use elements from the waking context hierarchy.
Typically, dream contextual elements related to explicit memories do
not necessarily correlate to elements of the waking personality,
while contexts related to non-explicit memories do. For example, the
dreamer’s sense of identity (a declarative context) may be
significantly different from the waking sense of identity (LaBerge,
1985). Likewise, the conceptual situation of the nonlucid dream
(e.g. the “dream plot”) may have little to do with the episodic
experiences of the waking personality.
This “incongruency of
contexts” between waking and nonlucid dreaming perhaps contributes
to the view of some theorists that the nonlucid dream state is akin
to madness (Hobson, 1994). However, contexts defining non-explicit
behaviors, when expressed in nonlucid dreams, are closely similar to
waking. Such non-explicit behaviors include, for example, conscious
perceptual representation (DeGracia and LaBerge, 1998), speech
production (Salzarulo and Cipolli, 1974), or metacognitive
monitoring (Kahan and LaBerge, 1994).
The carry over of waking habits of metacognitive monitoring has a
particular significance in nonlucid dreams. We typically do not
metacognitively monitor our state of consciousness when awake. The
general set of expectancies guiding our ordinary waking experience
also governs our ordinary dream state. Since we tacitly assume, in
both cases, that we are awake, our cognition during dreaming is
distorted to fit the assumption that we are awake.
dream events occur, as they frequently do during REM sleep, they are
simply assimilated into the contextual structure of the dream in a
consistent fashion (DeGracia and LaBerge, 1998). Again, some
theorists have used this assimilation by the dreamer of unusual
dream events as evidence that dreaming cognition is akin to madness.
From our view, however, we are simply observing the adoption of the
waking self’s habitual form of metacognitive monitoring by the
Importantly, the contextual structures and conscious experiences of
nonlucid dreams tend not to contribute episodic memories to the
waking personality; a condition recognized as dream amnesia (Hobson,
1988). Although it is common to recall fragments of dreams upon
awakening, it is likely that the great majority of our nightly
dreams are not remembered at all (Diamond, 1963). For most
individuals there is only a piecemeal conscious recollection of
However, as stated above, the nonlucid dreamer
can access both explicit and non-explicit memories of waking
experience. Nonlucid dreaming therefore tends to be a one-way street
with respect to memory transfer between states: from waking to
dreaming, but not the reverse. The result of this relatively
one-sided transfer of memories between states means that elements of
the waking personality can contribute to the identity of the dreamer
as building blocks in the global (albeit temporary) contextual
structure of the dream. But, dreams rarely contribute to the
consciously accessible memories of the waking personality.
Because of the transient nature of the global contexts in nonlucid
dreams, we suggest nonlucid dreams may function, among other things,
to recombine unconscious elements within consciousness on a
temporary basis. We call this process “mental recombination” (cf.
Hunt, 1989) by analogy with genetic recombination. From the
viewpoint of biocomputation, mental recombination likely contributes
to maintaining an optimal information processing flexibility in
brain neuronal networks. This notion is practically identical with
Greenberg and Pearlman’s (1974) conclusion that the evolutionary
development of the dream state “has made possible the increasingly
flexible use of information in the mammalian family”. The notion of
dreaming as mental recombination is also consistent with the role of
REM sleep in learning and assimilation of new knowledge (reviewed in
C. Lucid Dreams
Lucid dream consciousness, like
waking and nonlucid dreams, is also
framed by unconscious contextual elements. To understand the
contextual structure of lucid dreams, we must look at the role
played by consciously accessible memory across lucid dreams and
waking. Lucid dreamers are able to freely recall details of waking
life, to a greater or lesser extent, while within a lucid dream
(LaBerge, 1985). Just as important, lucid dreams are remembered
after awakening with a much higher frequency than nonlucid dreams,
probably due to the presence of a mental set to remember in lucid
Although it would be difficult to empirically ascertain, the
anecdotal evidence suggests that at least some lucid dreamers
remember their lucid dreams during waking at least as well as their
waking experiences (LaBerge, 1985). In other words, lucid dreams
contribute to the episodic memories of the waking personality.
Therefore, in contrast to nonlucid dreams, there is a two-way
transfer of consciously accessible memory between waking and lucid
dream experiences. Thus, there is a relative continuity of
consciously accessible memory linking lucid dreams and waking
With repeated experiences of lucid dreaming, the associated memories
of these experiences contribute to the formation of a stable and
cumulative contextual structure in the mind of the waking self. This
stable contextual structure we call the lucid dream context. The
lucid dream context serves two complementary roles: (1) it serves as
the global contextual structure framing lucid dream consciousness
providing both precedent and antecedent structure to lucid dreams,
and (2) it forms a situationally-dependent context within the waking
personality. Regarding this latter point, lucid dreaming is a
learnable skill (Moffitt, Hoffmann, et al, 1988; LaBerge, 1980,
1985; LaBerge & Rheingold, 1990). The full expression of this skill
is dependent upon its occurrence during sleep, and is in this sense
a form of situational cognition. The skill, however, belongs to the
waking personality and shares features with other learned skills,
particularly that it can be improved upon by learning and practice
Thus, our distinction between lucid and nonlucid dreams is based on
the contextual structure underlying dream consciousness: nonlucid
dreams can be characterized by the formation of transient global
contexts different from dream to dream, but lucid dreams are
characterized by the presence of a distinct and persistent context,
the lucid dream context. This lucid dream context belongs to both
the waking personality and the lucid dreamer identity, serving as a
bridge between them, and will continue to frame all future lucid
dreams. The lucid dream context is susceptible to modification by
learning and experience acquired in either the waking or lucid dream
There appear to be at least three essential components to the lucid
dream context, each operating at a specific psychological level: (1)
a “reference to state” operating as a metacognitive context, (2) a
semantic contextual framework operating at the level of declarative
knowledge, expectation and belief, and (3) a goal-option framework
operating at the level of effector action.
1. The Reference to State
When a lucid dreamer thinks “I am dreaming” there are at least two
levels of cognitive activity at work in this thought: a direct
experiential realization of, and self-reflection on, ones condition
(”I am...”), and an interpretation of the nature of that condition
(”…dreaming”). The former is a metacognitive act, the latter a
semantic interpretation. The notion of “reference to state”
indicates the metacognitive component of the lucid dream context.
The reference of subjects to their state of being is not merely
declarative knowledge, it is a direct apprehension of their
immediate experience. Metacognition is not unique to lucid dreams
but also occurs in nonlucid dreams (Kahan and LaBerge, 1994).
However, in nonlucid dreams, “reflection during dreaming involves an
awareness of conditions within the dream” (ibid., p. 250). That is
to say, reflection on events in nonlucid dreams is confined to the
contextual scope of the nonlucid dream (typically limited by the
absence of the habit of metacognitively checking one’s state).
Metacognition during lucid dreams is not confined to events
occurring in the dream, but references, either explicitly or
implicitly, waking experience as well (DeGracia and LaBerge, 1998).
The reference to state in a lucid dream is framed by access to
memories of waking experience, allowing a contrast between one’s
current situation and the knowledge of waking life. This contrast
provides the contextual structure for the metacognitive recognition
that the current experience is not a normal waking experience.
Hence, lucidity in the context of dreaming, implies metacognition
framed by consciously accessible memories of waking experience.
2. The Semantic Framework
Individuals who experience lucid dreaming develop a framework of
knowledge by which to conceptualize and give meaning to their
experiences. These semantic frameworks affect the consciousness of
lucid dreamers in a contextual fashion by providing assumptions,
expectations and beliefs upon which the lucid dreamers interpret
their experiences and acts. Because there is a large diversity of
perceptual experience in lucid dreams (to be outlined below), an
equally wide variety of semantic frameworks have developed to give
meaning to these experiences.
The knowledge framework used by a
given individual does not require that the experiences be
conceptualized by that individual as “a lucid dream”. The semantic
framework itself does not even have to be true. How lucid dreamers
conceptualize their “non-waking experience” is a function of their
general knowledge. Alternative modes of conceptualizing the lucid
dream experience include the notions that one is undergoing an “out
of body experience” (OBE) or an “astral projection” (reviewed in
DeGracia, 1997). The forms taken by one’s reference to state depend
on one’s semantic framework. So, the semantic component of the
statement “I am dreaming” reflects a knowledge structure
conceptualizing the experience as a form of dreaming.
A reference to
state can just as easily take the forms “I am having an OBE” or “I
am having an astral projection”. As one of us stated previously:
“…lucid dreams and OBEs [and we will add here, astral projections]
are necessarily distinguished by only one essential feature: how the
person interprets the experience at the time” (LaBerge, 1985, p.
234) In other words, these are not phenomenologically distinct
categories of experience but are alternative conceptualizations of
the intrinsic variety present in lucid dream experiences.
Because dream experience is not constrained by sensory input or
other limits of waking experience (such as the law of gravity, for
example) beliefs and expectations play a key role in determining the
form of and behavior occurring within a lucid dream. As we stated in
the Introduction, we are interested in ascertaining which features
of lucid dream variability are belief-dependent and which are not.
By “belief-dependent” we are referring precisely to the role played
by a semantic framework in conditioning an individual’s lucid dream
experiences. The semantic framework, because it is a declarative
framework of knowledge, is susceptible to modification by learning
and experience, and therefore is a crucial dynamic element in an
individual’s lucid dream context.
3. The Goal-Options Context
Lucid dreaming includes a set of intentional actions that, taken as
a whole, we call a goal-options context. As the semantic framework
is the declarative component of the lucid dream context, the
goal-options context includes the procedural aspects of lucid
dreaming related to effector actions. A lucid dreamer’s goal-option
context includes both lucid dream initiation techniques and the
range of behaviors expressed in an individual’s lucid dreams.
Examples of characteristic goal-option behaviors include making
voluntary choices in lucid dreams, making a habit of metacognitively
checking one’s state of consciousness, and making a habit of
remembering lucid dream experiences.
The goal-option context is also
a dynamic element of the lucid dream context which undergoes
refinement concomitant with the accumulation of direct experience in
the lucid dream state. The semantic framework has a direct effect on
the goal-options available to the lucid dreamer by limiting what the
dreamer believes is and is not possible to do in the lucid dream
D. The Relationship Between Nonlucid and Lucid Dreams
Let us summarize the discussion thus far. Dream lucidity involves
specific unconscious contextual structures operating at
metacognitive, semantic and effector levels that frame the
consciousness of the lucid dreamer: together these form a lucid
dream context. A lucid dream context develops from a two-way,
consciously accessible memory transfer between the lucid dreamer and
waking self, represents learned skills, and is a stable facet of the
waking personality which grows with experience.
In contrast, nonlucid dreams are characterized by the transient formation of
dream contexts which draw, to a variable extent, on elements of the
waking personality, and do not contribute substantially to the
consciously accessible memory structure of the waking personality.
Although this model appears to provide a clear-cut distinction
between lucid and nonlucid dreams, it is not the main intention of
this model to rigidly distinguish these experiences. We stated above
our dissatisfaction with the current dichotomous notions of nonlucid
and lucid dreams in this regard. This dissatisfaction derives from
the inability of contemporary notions to adequately capture the
lucid dreamer’s experience, which can display subtle variations in
cognition that are difficult to conceptualize.
These variations seem
to span the distinction between lucidity and non-lucidity as
presented above so that our model is really intended to provide a
basis for conceptualizing the subtle array of differences present in
lucid dream experiences. Thus, the final step in our model is to
develop how lucid and nonlucid forms of cognition can interact with
To do so, we must turn again to notions introduced by Baars in the
GW system. Baars defines the processes of cooperation and
competition; these are mechanisms by which contexts interact.
Cooperation refers to how contextual elements can form symbiotic
linkages and mutually support each other in framing conscious
processes. For example, the association of the metacognitive
reference to state, semantic framework and goal-options context
within the lucid dream context is an example of the cooperation of
contextual elements. Competition is the opposite process whereby
contextual elements displace one another in their effects on
A waking example of competition can be found in
the Stroop test, where one reads colored words of the names of
colors flashed briefly on a monitor. People tend to mistakenly say
the color of the word, instead of reading the word itself. Here,
unconscious color recognition processes compete with unconscious
word recognition for control of the contents of consciousness.
We showed that cooperation and competition of contextual elements
can be observed in both nonlucid and lucid dreams (DeGracia and
LaBerge, 1998). We also showed that the tendency of nonlucid dreams
to form transient global contexts is present during lucid dreams.
Characters and situations encountered unintentionally in lucid
dreams can serve as factors around which may nucleate a nonlucid
dream context. These factors can compete with the lucid dream
context for access to the dreamer’s intentions.
If the lucid dreamer
does not make a conscious effort to maintain the lucid dream
context, it is possible for these distractions to absorb the
attention of the lucid dreamer and draw the dreamer into a situation
that unfolds independent of the dreamer’s volition. At the extreme,
a newly generated dream context can displace the lucid dream context
resulting in a loss of lucidity and the transformation of the lucid
dream into a nonlucid dream. In practice, however, subtler forms of
competition will allow the lucid dream context to co-exist with
competing dream elements that are not contained in the lucid dream
context, resulting in modifications of the cognition of the lucid
dreamer which affect memory access, thinking and behavior. In such
situations, the dreamer appears to phase in and out of lucidity to
Thus, because of competitive processes, the degree
of lucidity can itself vary within a single lucid dream. These
notions will form part of our basis for discussing variations in
lucid dream cognition in following sections.
III. Variations in Lucid Dream Experiences
Having presented a way of looking at the distinction between lucid
and nonlucid dreams, we will now turn our attention to outlining the
degree of variety that exists in lucid dream experiences.
lucid dream experiences tend to be remembered nearly as well as
waking experiences, and because lucid dreams are cumulative
experiences, lucid dream reports can provide highly detailed and
descriptive accounts of lucid dream phenomenology. We will draw on
such reports below to illustrate the range of variation in lucid
Our survey of lucid dream variations will parallel the
general temporal course of lucid dreams, discussing in turn,
lucidity initiation, variations in perception, emotion, cognition
and action within lucid dreams, and finally, the termination of
A. Variations in Lucid Dream Initiation
Since the lucid dream context bridges the waking and dream states,
logic suggests that lucid dreams could be initiated either from the
nonlucid dream state (a dream-initiated lucid dream, or DILD) or
from the waking state (a wake-initiated lucid dream, or WILD)
Because transitions directly from the waking state
to the REM sleep state are very rare, one would expect WILDs to
occur with a lower frequency than DILDs–just what the data shows.
1. Dream-Initiated Lucid Dreams
More than 80% of lucid dreams are initiated when a nonlucid dream
transforms into a lucid dream (LaBerge, Nagel, Taylor, Dement, &
Zarcone, 1981). This process involves the lucid dream context
displacing the current nonlucid dream context. The form of this
displacement is dependent upon the individual’s specific training in
lucidity induction techniques and degree of lucid dreaming
For inexperienced lucid dreamers, lucidity is perhaps most likely to
arise from a nightmare or anxiety dream. LaBerge (1985) argues that
there is an evolutionary-biological basis for anxiety stimulating
reflective consciousness. Not all novice lucid dreamers experience
anxiety-triggered lucidity; specifically, for example, DLD reports
none, while SLB reports his percentage of anxiety-triggered lucid
dreams recognized in years 1-3 respectively were 36%, 19%, and 5.
The decrease in proportion (and frequency) of anxiety-initiated
lucid dreams with time was probably due to the psychotherapeutic
techniques SLB was practicing (LaBerge, 1985; see also Tholey, 1988)
as the following example illustrates:
“I was in the middle of a riot in a classroom; a furious
mob was raging about, throwing chairs and fighting with each other.
A huge repulsive barbarian with a pock-marked face, the Goliath
among them, had me locked in an iron grip from which I was futilely
trying to free myself. At this point, I recognized that I was
dreaming, and remembering what I had learned from handling similar
situations previously, I immediately gave up my struggle … and tried
to feel loving as I stood face to face with my ogre.
At first, I failed utterly, feeling only repulsion and disgust for
the ogre. He was simply too ugly to love: thus spoke my visceral
reactions. But I tried to ignore the image and seek love within my
own heart. Finding it, I looked my ogre in the eyes, trusting my
intuition to supply the right things to say. Beautiful words of
acceptance flowed out of me, and as they did, he melted into me. As
for the riot, it had vanished without a trace; the dream was over
and I awoke, feeling wonderfully calm.”
Other intense emotions such as embarrassment or delight can also
initiate lucidity. Such lucid dreams are typically spontaneous and
brief, and lucidity onset is quickly followed by awakening. Survey
data suggest that most people have experienced a nominally lucid
dream at least once in their lifetime (Snyder and Gackenbach, 1988).
A spontaneously experienced lucid dream can serve as a nucleation
event for the development of a lucid dream context, if there is
follow-through on the part of the individual to cultivate these
A number of methods exist for the individual to intentionally
cultivate the onset of lucidity from within nonlucid dreams
(LaBerge, 1981, 1985; LaBerge and Rheingold, 1990; Rogo, 1983). The
learning of these methods occurs during waking and adds to both the
semantic and goal-option components of an individual’s lucid dream
context. The essence of methods to initiate lucidity during nonlucid
dreams is to condition dreamers to recognize that they are dreaming
through some form of state testing (also called “reality testing”).
Some approaches to state testing are:
1. Anomaly recognition -
Here dreamers condition themselves to use
the recognition of bizarre dream events as a cue for lucidity onset.
This approach is not limited to observing events in the dream but
can be based on self-observation as well, so that, if they perceive
their behavior as unusual (not typical of waking) this may induce
(SLB351) “I’m walking through a field that is fantastically animated
with extravagant life: Magic Mushrooms (Psilocybe cubensis ) popping
up everywhere and growing to gigantic proportions. I realize the
fantasy element of this scene: I must be dreaming. I do two all up
eye movement signals, but this causes the dream to begin to fade. I
try to press the micro-switch, and I seem to have succeeded, but it
feels like I’m already awake...”
The anomalies that serve as lucidity cues, or “dreamsigns” (LaBerge
& Rheingold, 1989) can be very subtle indeed as the following
account from von Moers-Messmer (1938) illustrates:
From the top of a rather low and unfamiliar hill, I look out across
a wide plain towards the horizon. It crosses my mind that I have no
idea what time of year it is. I check the sun's position. It appears
almost straight above me with its usual brightness. This is
surprising, as it occurs to me that it is now autumn, and the sun
was much lower only a short time ago. I think it over: the sun is
now perpendicular to the equator, so here it has to appear at an
angle of approximately 45 degrees. So if my shadow does not
correspond to my own height, I must be dreaming. I examine it: it is
about 30 centimeters long. It takes considerable effort for me to
believe this almost blindingly bright landscape and all of its
features to be only an illusion. [Translation from LaBerge, 1985,
2. Programmed behaviors - Here dreamers condition themselves to
perform an act that will tend to produce distinguishable results
when performed during either waking or dreaming. For example,
attempting to fly in a dream will tend to lead to the experience of
flying; if the individual actually “lifts off” then this is a strong
indication that the experience is a dream (as in the following
example). Another behavior that can result in lucidity initiation is
attempting to read and reread text; if the text changes, then this
is used as a lucidity cue.
This approach can be simplified to the
point of simply looking at one’s hands as a cue for lucidity onset.
“At a movie theatre, I am running down a flight of stairs,
skipping more and more steps, until I notice that I seem to be able
to skip as many as I like! Wait a minute! That makes this a dream.
But it doesn’t seem at all like it. So I step into the air to
convince myself. It is indeed! As I float upward close to the wall,
the scene begins to fade. I decide to test rubbing hands together
instead of spinning. I vividly feel the sensation and then also the
wall at my back. I keep rubbing for perhaps 15 seconds, and then I
feel a closet door, which I open. At first the closet contains only
vague images, but they finally become vivid. I am now in a bedroom.
L is on the bed, “talking in her sleep.” She says something
unintelligible. I ask her to repeat it: She says “Wisdom is being
given out …mumble, mumble.” While wondering what she means, the
dream fades and I awaken.”
3. Déjà rêvé - Lucidity can sometimes be initiated when lucid
dreamers have an apparent or actual recognition that they have had a
similar dream before as in the following example:
“I am walking with my friend, M, when I recognize that we
are in a place I have dreamed of before–‘The Museum of Uninvented
Inventions’–and that this therefore, is a dream. I reflect how the
real M. would like to have lucid dreams, knowing quite explicitly
that this is ‘M’, a dream figure. Nevertheless, I suggest to him
that even though he is only a dream character, perhaps he could
realize that he is dreaming. Maybe he does, for I wake up.”
With increasing experience, DILD techniques become habitual. After a
certain degree of experience, the individuals may simply recognize
that they are dreaming without any apparent state testing or
lucidity onset cue. Frequently dreamers question their state and
decide they are awake and not dreaming.
A dream in which the dreamer
has at one point raised this question without arriving at the
correct conclusion is commonly termed “pre-lucid” (Green, 1968).
Pre-lucid dreams can be interpreted as a failed attempt by the lucid
dream context to gain full access to framing dream consciousness.
2. Wake-Initiated Lucid Dreams
It is possible to maintain continuous reflective consciousness while
falling asleep and hence to enter a lucid dream directly from the
waking state. As with DILDs, this form of lucid dream initiation is
a skill that improves with motivation and practice. Its cultivation
has been described by Tibetan yogis, and several modern sources
(LaBerge 1985; LaBerge and Rheingold 1990; Ouspensky, 1960; Rogo
1983). WILDs are most likely to occur after awakening in the morning
or during afternoon naps (LaBerge, 1980).
While falling asleep, the
subject’s mind is kept focused and lucid through the transition from
waking to dreaming. Experiences of visual and auditory hypnagogic
imagery are common during this transition. Unusual somesthetic
imagery may also occur; subjects may feel themselves “float” or
“sink out of their body”. There may (e.g. SLB561) or may not (e.g.
SLB37) be a momentary break in subjects’ consciousness. Then the
subjects will find themselves fully in a dream scene and lucid. Once
in the dream-state, the lucid dream continues exactly like those
initiated directly from the dream state.
Some examples from the
authors’ personal experiences illustrate the fascination of this
“I went back and laid on my bed hoping to project some more.
I laid there and hypnagogic images came and went: city scenes,
people sitting at a bar, a friend sitting on a stool behind an open
door with a beautiful girl standing next to him. I could feel myself
sinking deeper and deeper. Finally, I felt myself sink very deep and
simultaneously my visual field locked into a stable scene and I felt
a strong wind blowing over me. I could hear loud “whooshing” and
wind sounds. Next I knew, the “wind” grabbed me and was pulling me
along. It seemed to be pulling me forward but what I saw was me
passing through fuzzy but identifiable frames of my bedroom.”
“I woke from sleep. Had fleeting glimpses of my dream
memories, then they were gone. I shut my eyes and could see hypnagogic images. A few scenes formed and faded but I don’t recall
what they were. The scene of a street formed vividly in front of my
closed eyes. There was a river off to my left, 50-100 yards from the
road. On the left seemed to be a construction site. There were
buildings on my right. I was trying to observe details and I felt my
foot step forward! This surprised me! Next thing I knew, I was
walking along the street.”
“I have just awakened from a dream in the sleep lab and am
worrying about how the night is almost over and I still haven’t
succeeded in having a lucid dream. Suddenly, I find myself flying
hundreds of feet above a field of wildflowers: I realize at once,
with great excitement, that this is a dream and carry out the
pre-planned protocol, making an eye-movement signal and singing
‘Row, row, row your boat/ Gently down the stream/ Merrily, merrily,
merrily/ Life is but a dream!’ Then I make another signal and
estimate 10 seconds by counting ‘One thousand-one, ... one
thousand-ten’ and signal again. When I finish this sequence, I am
overjoyed and do a virtual cartwheel in the air. After a few
seconds, the dream begins to fade….”
“I was lying awake in bed late in the morning listening to
the sound of running water in the adjoining bathroom. Presently, an
image of the ocean appeared, dim at first like my usual waking
imagery. But its vividness rapidly increased while, at the same
time, the sound level of the running water decreased; the intensity
of the internal image and external sound seemed to alter inversely
(as if one changed a stereo balance control from one channel to the
other). In a few seconds, I found myself at the seashore standing
between my mother and a girl who seemed somehow familiar. I could no
longer hear the sound of the bath water, but only the roar of the
Differences in styles of lucid dreaming give rise to individual
differences in DILD and WILD frequency. Although quantification of
such differences has not been attempted in a large sample of lucid
dreamers, to illustrate such stylistic differences, a comparison of
lucid dream initiation frequencies of the authors is here presented.
DDG has 114 recorded lucid dreams of which 43% were WILDs and 56%
were DILDs. In contrast, only 8% of SLB’s dissertation sample of 388
recorded lucid dreams were WILDs, a significantly lower proportion.
3. Ambiguities in Lucidity Induction
With increasing experience, some facets of lucid dreaming become
habitual, making the classification of dream lucidity more
ambiguous. Consider the following example:
“My (nonlucid) dream involved me, X and a bunch of other
people. We were all roommates in a big house. I was unaware that I
was dreaming. There was a party going on or something. We were down
in the basement hanging out. However, at some point in the dream I
looked at X and told him I’d be back in a little bit because I was
going to go up to my room and try to project! I went up to my
bedroom in this dream house. Again, at this point I thought
everything was normal and had no idea I was dreaming. I laid down on
my bed and started concentrating to leave just exactly like I always
do on the physical plane….[text omitted of a 1400 word lucid dream
…I decided I was done for the time being, so I got up out of bed. I
was still in the dream house and still unaware that I was dreaming.
I went looking for some paper to record my experience. I ended up
going back into the basement where everyone was still hanging out. X
was there and the others and I told them all about the projection I
had just had. Meanwhile, I’m getting very concerned that I can’t
find any paper. Then I woke up for real. For a moment I was totally
In this example, DDG, in the midst of a nonlucid dream, performs his
habitual techniques for achieving a WILD. He then experienced what
was, for all practical purposes, a typical lucid dream. Following
this, he “awakes” in the exact same nonlucid dream setting and seeks
paper to record his lucid dream, which is also a habitual behavior.
Shortly thereafter, DDG truly wakes up in a momentarily disoriented
How is one to classify such an experience? What we see here is a
lucid dream nested perfectly inside of a nonlucid dream. One could
argue that DDG merely dreamt that he was lucid dreaming, but this
clarifies nothing. The characteristics of the lucid dream (the
omitted text) were identical in general features to all of his other
lucid dreams. What we believe this particular sequence represents is
the cooperation between the global nonlucid dream context and DDG’s
lucid dream context. In this particular instance, the global
nonlucid dream context provided perfectly for the full expression of
the lucid dream context because the subject dreamt all of the
requisite details needed for activation of his lucid dream context.
After completion of the lucid dream, the lucid dream context
returned control of access to the dreamer’s consciousness to the
previous nonlucid dream context. This kind of situation could only
result because the subject possessed a well-defined lucid dream
context that could clearly demarcate itself from the global nonlucid
This is an extreme example of the mixing of nonlucid and lucid dream
elements. However, it is not uncharacteristic of the kind of
subtleties and ambiguities encountered when attempting to
characterize dream consciousness and what does and does not
constitute dream lucidity. A related issue is the characterization
of intentionality in lucidity induction. It is not always easy to
draw a clear distinction between a lucid dream that is “spontaneous”
and one that is “deliberately” induced. In fact, the
characterization of such factors is critically dependent upon the
subject’s degree of experience, and the relative maturity of the
lucid dream context. As the lucid dream context matures, and hence,
becomes more habitual, the likelihood of unintended lucid dreams
increases and the ambiguity of what constitutes dream lucidity also
increases. WILDs are typically intentional by nature.
However, it is
possible, for example, for an experienced lucid dreamer to lie down
and nap with the intention to merely rest, and have an unintended
WILD. In the case of DILDs, the issue of intention becomes even more
ambiguous because the experienced subject may simply come to learn
to recognize that he or she is dreaming, with no cause other than
sheer familiarity with the state; in such a case, there may be no
explicit onset of lucidity (e.g. no reality testing, no statement “I
Alternatively, experienced lucid dreamers may have a nonlucid dream
in which they access elements of their lucid dream context
incompletely and never achieve full lucidity. These types of
considerations are important because they indicate that the
subject’s degree of experience can profoundly affect how dream
lucidity manifests itself, and clearly indicate that lucidity
induction is not homogeneous across subjects.
What constitutes dream
lucidity may be more subtle and ambiguous to identify for
experienced subjects who have programmed aspects of lucidity
induction and manifestation to be habitual.
B. Perceptual Variations in Lucid Dreams
The examples listed above begin to illustrate the diversity of
perceptions that can occur in lucid dreams.
By “perception” we are
referring to the hallucinated sensory modalities characteristic of
dream consciousness. Because afferent input from peripheral senses
is attenuated during dreaming (LaBerge, 1985), it should be
understood that the use of the term “perception” in the following
discussion refers to the hallucinated analogs of the sensory
modalities. Dreams are, in general, highly perceptual experiences
expressing all the dream analogs of waking sensory modalities.
perceptions are typically characterized as “bizarre” (Hobson, 1988).
Examples of perceptual bizarreness in dreams may include dream
characters or environments transforming abruptly (discontinuities),
or the perception of physically impossible scenes and events.
Perceptual bizarreness occurs in lucid dreams just as it occurs in nonlucid dreams (Gackenbach, 1988). However, bizarreness in
perception is often recognized as such by lucid dreamers, and can be
described by them in vivid detail, providing us with a clear window
into the perceptual qualities of lucid dreams.
To understand the perceptual diversity of lucid dreams we need to
introduce the notion of perceptual environment. This is the complete
hallucinated sensorium of the dreamer including all the sensory
modalities: vision, audition, somatosensation, gustation, olfaction
and the submodalities therein. These hallucinated sensory
perceptions combine to form the dreamer’s body image (if present),
and the allocentric space perceived by the dreamer. The dreamer can
be either immersed within the dream environment or observing it from
For both authors, our lucid dreams are associated with
immersion in the perceptual environment, which seems to hold true in
general; reports of lucid dreamers as pure observers are rare
The vividness and richness of the perceptual
environment ranges from the “minimal” in which most or all sensory
qualities are absent or greatly attenuated, through the “typical”
much like everyday experience, to the “surreal” in which the
environment is vibrantly, psychedelically alive with fantastic,
1. Typical Perceptual Environments
A “typical” perceptual environment is experienced as immersion
within or observation of a rich sensory environment containing all
sensory modalities. Typical perceptual environments are
characteristic of both nonlucid and lucid dreams. These environments
generally contain the same elements that waking environments do such
as landscapes, city streets, trees, buildings, driving in cars,
etc., and are readily comprehensible by the dreamer, although
bizarreness is frequent.
Within lucid dreams, typical perceptual environments display a large
variety of perceptual qualities. In some the scene is dimly lit or
vaguely delineated; others overwhelm the lucid dreamer with their
intense beauty and extravagant detail. Some seem, indeed, “more real
than real”. In general, the average lucid dream is more perceptually
vivid than the average nonlucid dream. This conclusion is supported
by relatively intense brain activation during lucid dreaming which
may correlate with increased perceptual vividness (LaBerge, 1981).
2. Surreal Perceptual Environments
A surreal perceptual environment is characterized by the presence of
at least some sensory modalities displaying rich perceptual content.
However, surreal environments have no counterpart in normal waking
experience; they are often abstract spaces of color, shape, and
motion within which the dreamer is immersed. These environments are
abstract, and typically are not comprehendible by the dreamer.
Surreal perceptual environments occur very rarely in nonlucid dreams
(Hall and Van de Castle, 1966), although Hunt (1989) has discussed
them in the context of activated dreams. A clear distinction should
be drawn between surreal environments and bizarreness perceived in
Some forms of hypnagogic imagery and
psychedelic drug-induced hallucinations (e.g. described in
Mavromatis, 1987, and Aaronson and Osmond, 1970, respectively)
resemble surreal perceptual environments, but in lucid dreams, there
is a definite sense of somatic immersion in the environment.
following are examples of surreal perceptual environments; the lucid
dreamer’s lack of comprehension of his perceptions are apparent:
“But I managed to turn around and what I saw was
unbelievable and utterly amazing. I don’t even really know how to
describe it! When, after great effort, I turned myself around, I was
no longer seeing the forest. Instead I was looking onto this
unbelievable colored field and there were three spheres ahead of me
and they had something that looked like butterflies dancing in each
of them. But they were not butterflies, though they looked a little
like them. Whatever they were, there was one each inside of the
three spheres and these “butterflies” were spinning and rotating
within the sphere and constantly changing color. The way they
changed color was strange, it was as if colors were welling into
them from somewhere I could not see, like a liquid, and flowing
around inside of these butterfly creatures. I was both awed and
confused; confused that the forest was gone, and confused at what I
was looking at, awed because whatever I was looking at was very,
“I got the idea to shut my eyes, spin around rapidly, and
pretend that I was shrinking. When I did this and opened my eyes up
I was quite surprised to see that I was actually somewhere else! And
what I saw when I opened my eyes was amazing. I was in the midst of
a spectacular panorama of swirling activity and spiraling colors.
The scene was staggering in its complexity. I was floating amongst
the images, floating surrounded by these moving color patterns. I
remember that I was amazed, but baffled, and didn’t understand in
the least what I was looking at, other than that it was very
beautiful and moving around too much to make out any definite
What these surreal perceptions represent is currently unknown. It is
intriguing, however, to speculate that lucid dreamers perceiving
such imagery may be in fact perceiving the lower level neurological
processes that underlie normal conscious sensory perceptions, as has
been suggested for LSD-induced hallucinations (Mavromatis, 1983).
3. Minimal Perceptual Environments
Minimal perceptual environments are characterized by immersion in an
environment containing a minimum of sensory perception. Again, these
appear to occur frequently in lucid dreams, but rarely in nonlucid
dreams. This is a relatively neglected area in the literature with
the exception of Gillespie (1988), who has experimented extensively
with deliberately eliminating sensory content from his lucid dreams.
It is not uncommon for lucid dreamers to involuntarily “fade” from a
lucid dream to the waking state with no break in consciousness
(LaBerge, DeGracia, et al., 1998). Prior to and during the fading
process, lucid dreamers perceive their sensorium as “unstable”. In
general, lucid dreamers learn to perceive their sensorium as more or
less stable; this is a perception with no counterpart during waking.
When a lucid dream is “stable”, all perceptions of the dream
environment appear normal. When a lucid dream is “unstable”, there
may be a “blinking on and off” of the visual field, as if one is
phasing in and out of blindness. The visual field may also become
cartoon-like or pale in color.
Somatic sensations may feel as if
they are fading in and out. Although the basis of this fading
process is not currently understood, techniques exist to stabilize
one’s sensorium in the event that it is perceived to be fading
(LaBerge, DeGracia, et al., 1998). The degree to which lucid
dreamers experience instability events seems to be quite variable
both between and within subjects. We know of no waking counterparts
for the perception and sensations associated with fading and
stability. These are wholly experienced and learned in the lucid
dream state. Even in nonlucid dreams the experience of fading
appears confined to the transition to waking. However, in lucid
dreams, variations in one’s “stability” can occur at any time during
a lucid dream, for a greater or lesser duration.
Minimal perceptual environments are related to perceptions of fading
and stability. Some individual lucid dreamers do not awaken when
they experience a complete loss of stability and fade from their
lucid dreams. Instead they find themselves in minimal perceptual
environments. Minimal perceptual environments are characterized by a
loss of the rich sensory modalities typical of dreaming; such
experiences may be perceived by the lucid dreamer as being in a
“void” or in “darkness”.
However, lucidity is preserved; internal
speech, affect and cognitive function remain intact within this
minimal environment. Some sensory modalities are also preserved;
kinesthetic sensations may be present (so that the subject seems to
be “moving”) although somesthetic sensations (sense of body image)
typically are absent. There are perceptions of visual depth (e.g.
the “darkness” has a sense of depth and size to it), but typically
not visual perceptions of color or form. The “darkness” can
sometimes appear to have visual motion; it may “swirl” or “bellow”.
Because some lucid dreamers can undergo a loss of stability and
appear in a minimal perceptual environment instead of awakening, it
is possible for a lucid dream experience to consist of a string of
lucid dreams occurring in typical or surreal environments punctuated
by minimal environments (a multi-part lucid dream). That is, the
lucid dreamer will be in a typical lucid dream, lose stability and
fade from the dream into a minimal environment.
to those used to prevent lucid dream fading, such as spinning in
place or inducing somatic sensations, can also be used to cause a sensorium to re-form around the lucid dreamer, giving rise to the
second lucid dream. The second lucid dream environment may or may
not be the same as the first. The cycle can then repeat. It is
possible for a single lucid dream session to consist of perhaps six
or more lucid dreams in typical or surreal environments punctuated
by fadings or minimal experiences.
The following are accounts of minimal sensory environments from the
“Found myself in the void. My mind was wandering in all
kinds of thoughts. Then I noticed that I could ‘leave’ my body. I
flew off through the void. Everything was dark, kind of somber, and
I didn’t have a body. I had the desire to be somewhere. Soon a
large, what appeared to be wooden fort appeared in the mist. It was
still quite dark but I could ‘see’ now.”
“Though I was in the void, I was still being pulled along
by this mysterious wind force. As I was being pulled along, a very
beautiful rainbow colored sphere came rolling past me and it was
very clear and well defined in appearance. I was very surprised
because this is the first time I had ever actually seen an object in
the void and I began to wonder what was going on. I quickly noticed
that I was surrounded by subtle arrays of colored patterns. It was
very subtle because the darkness of the void seemed to be covering
over these color patterns, the patterns seemed to be behind the
darkness. The colors and patterns were very intricate and I have no
words to describe what I was seeing.”
“In my imagination, I imagined flying off, but got pulled
back again. This happened twice. Then, I dove off my bed straight
downwards. I was moving straight downwards in the void. Far below me
in the darkness I saw a square floating. In the square I could see
colors, like a scene was inside the square. I stretched to grab this
square and my arms stretched far below me like Plastic Man, and I
grabbed the floating square. I pulled it up over me like putting on
a pair of pants, and was thinking to myself, ‘I’m not gonna let this
one go!’ I stepped into this square and was all of a sudden
somewhere! I was very surprised. I was in what looked like a high
school hallway standing in line with people going into a room.”
“...I am looking at the image of an instruction book for a
vacuum cleaner or some such appliance, knowing that I am asleep. As
I focus on the writing the image stabilizes (and I have a sensation
of opening my eyes) and I am able to read some but it is not
interesting to me. Then my hands appear and I am looking at this
piece of paper in bed. I think I ought to do the eye movements and
so I follow my finger up, then down (I am very aware of the muscle
strain in my arm and wrist, and feel the need to urinate). Then the
It is of interest to note that the lucid dreamer can “fade out” from
both typical and surreal environments into minimal environments, and
conversely, can “materialize” out of a minimal environment into
typical or surreal environments (as DDG61). As (DDG31b) indicates,
the dreamer perceived “the darkness of the void seemed to be
covering over these color patterns, the patterns seemed to be behind
It is almost as if the lucid dreamer’s sensorium is
tuning in and out of stable patterns of perceptions, akin to tuning
a radio to a radio station. The following journal entry illustrates
clearly how surreal and minimal environments can fuse, and fade into
This example suggests that clues to
understanding sensory consciousness may be found in the
phenomenology of lucid dream perceptions:
“I seemed to now be floating in the void. However, there
were what seemed to be colored triangles moving around, crossing and
spinning over one another making distinctly geometric patterns in
front of me. The colors were mainly a yellowish green with red,
orange and pink hues and they had the texture of clear and smoky,
but smooth glass. ‘This is a weird view of the void,’ I thought to
myself. I stared at these patterns wondering what the hell I was
looking at. I began to focus harder and harder on these patterns,
trying to discern some detail in them.
Then, as I was focusing, the
most incredible thing happened. I watched these patterns ‘solidify’
and transform into the scene on the dance floor of the club I had
just faded from. The spinning triangles were actually the dancing
people in the club! I was amazed. I relaxed my focus and the scene
faded back to the spinning triangles. I was thinking, ‘Wow! This is
amazing!’ I tightened my focus again and the triangles again
transformed into the dancers on the dance floor. This time I
tightened my focus so much that the entire bar scene faded in around
me! I was back in the bar again!”
What minimal lucid dream environments correspond to in physiological
terms is unknown. It is tempting to speculate that minimal, surreal
and typical perceptual environments correspond with lesser to
greater degrees of brain activation, respectively, during REM sleep.
Minimal environments superficially resemble the “thought-like”
character of non-REM subjective experience (Hobson, 1988). However,
given the fact that it is more or less easy to re-establish a
typical or surreal environment from a minimal environment, the
minimal environment may correlate with tonic REM.
The time after REM
onset may also be an important variable affecting perceptual
qualities of lucid dreams. The interrelated phenomena of stability,
fading, and minimal perceptual environments during lucid dreams has
interesting implications for our understanding of conscious
processes. Clearly, in these experiences, higher level cognitive
functions of consciousness continue to operate in the relative
absence of conscious sensory modalities. We are observing in these
phenomena some type of dissociation, or perhaps lack of binding, of
the contents of consciousness.
of this phenomena would be of great interest.
No previous studies have presented data regarding the frequency with
which lucid dreamers as a population or individual lucid dreamers
experience the three perceptual environments we have identified
here. Published dream reports indicate that typical environments
predominate lucid dreamers’ perceptions, although we have
encountered cases where this is not true for single individuals, and
it seems likely that individuals will have characteristic
distributions of environment type.
For example, 52%, 96%, and 17% of DDG’s lucid dreams had at least one scene with minimal, normal, and
surreal environments, respectively; the figures for SLB are 16%,
92%, and 5%. Although the great majority of both authors’ lucid
dreams take place in normal environments, DDG’s were significantly
more likely to have minimal and surreal environments as well.
differences in frequency are even more striking if we consider the
extreme case of minimal environments, the void, without any content
at all; DDG, 32% vs. SLB, 3%.
4. Perceptual Variation in Specific Sensory Modalities
Within the context of one of the three varieties of perceptual
environment just reviewed, the specific contents of consciousness in
different sensory modalities can vary from the normal to the
bizarre. Thus, for example, a particular lucid dream may take place
in an environment that is almost entirely normal, with the exception
of a single element of the sensory array.
Or everything may appear
perfectly normal if considered individually, but quite anomalous
when considered in context. For example, van Eeden (1913) describes
experimenting with breaking a claret-glass in a lucid dream:
broke all right, but a little too late, like an actor who misses his
cue. This gave me a very curious impression of being in a
fake-world, cleverly imitated, but with small failures.”
The factors affecting the variations in lucid dream perceptual
bizarreness and their frequency of occurrence have yet to be
investigated. Here we will very briefly review some of the
variations in perceptual experience and bizarreness in several
Although the visual contents of most lucid dreams seem quite normal,
there are some aspects of the visual experience that do not operate
in the same way as in waking perception. For example, the Marquis de
Saint-Denys observed that he was often unable to alter the level of
illumination in his lucid dreams (see LaBerge, 1985), an effect
termed the “Light-Switch” phenomenon by Hearne (1987).
“…[in a lucid dream] I remember the light task and look
around for a switch. I find a table lamp and flick it’s switch on:
it dimly illuminates. I switch it off and it goes off. I try willing
it to light, focussing my willpower on the bulb, but no luck. Then I
try another lamp, a halogen desk lamp. I turn the on knob and it
dimly lights (about as bright as in waking imagination). Twist off
and off it goes. Magical will power has no effect, again..”
Visual bizarreness in the geometry of the dream environment
(allocentric space) is described clearly by lucid dreamers, as the
following two examples illustrate:
“It didn’t strike me at the time, but what was weird was how
the ghoul was positioned in my backyard and the angle I was viewing
him from out my window. He was standing at the corner of my room on
the outside, with its side facing in my direction and its front
facing towards the street and its back facing into the backyard.
What I didn’t realize until I woke up and wrote this is that there
is no way I could see someone if they were standing in this position
physically. After waking, I tried to look out my window from where I
was standing in my room in the lucid dream, and you simply can’t see
that corner of the house. I had to put my face right up to the
window and turn my head to see that position from my window. But in
the lucid dream I could see that position perfectly standing back a
few feet from the window.”
“I looked up at the ceiling and got a nice visual surprise.
The hallway seemed to repeat itself upward and curving out of sight,
like the effect of two mirrors up against each other, except there
were no mirrors.”
The visual texture of objects is highly variable in lucid dreams.
Scenes can take on appearances ranging from highly realistic to
“cartoon-like”. Lucid dreamers frequently report that dream objects
appear to be “glowing” as if self-illuminated. The visual texture of
whole dream environments can take on drastically different
appearances in lucid dreams, usually accompanied by distinctive
affect, as the following examples indicate:
“Standing on the lawn I saw a white picket fence running up
the walk to the front door. Across the street was a lake and beyond
the lake an amazing horizon of sun and colors. Everything seemed to
have a pinkish red tint to it. The colors were like soft delicate
pastels. A warm breeze was blowing. My movements were like slow
motion as I walked through the front yard (not the slow motion kind
of movement that makes it difficult to move, but a slow motion in
the sense of being very dream like). My thoughts seemed very removed
from my situation. The whole thing seemed to be beautifully
“…I find myself on a street (not at first aware that I’m
dreaming). Then after a few seconds I realize that I am dreaming
again. I fly up into the warm air towards the sun. But it always
seems out of reach. I fly over mountains and then the sea and, as I
continue to try for the sun, weird volcanic-organic forms sprout up
from the ocean. Gradually this bizarre fractal-coral creature’s
transformations dominates the scene and the sun is above my field of
vision. I find myself sinking into the water. I no longer seem to be
able to fly and feel continuously more constrained by the dream….”
As in nonlucid dreams, visual aspects of dream characters, objects
and environments in lucid dreams can transform visual appearance. In
some cases, the effect of such transformations is similar to the
familiar morphing process popular in computer graphics (DDG61), in
other cases, the transformation is more abrupt, a discontinuity
(DDG18). Often, discontinuities of perceptual environments involve a
change in the visual setting of the dream contrary to the dreamer’s
“...I was glad to have gotten her attention. But then I
noticed as I was staring at her face, that her features kept
shifting from that of an old lady to that of a beautiful young
“Through the window I saw that it was raining outside. I
desired to experience this astral rain. I tried to pass through the
wall to get outside but I couldn’t. The window was open, but there
was a screen blocking my way. I tried to open the screen but
couldn’t, so I decided to tear the window out. I smashed through it
but the hole was too small to crawl through, so I tore away the wall
around the window. But the hole was still too small to pass through!
So I tore down the whole kitchen wall! Now the hole was big enough
to climb through and I jumped through it. But I wasn’t outside!
Instead, I was in a strange and unfamiliar hallway. I turned around
and the kitchen with the hole in the wall was gone! I was in some
kind of hallway that looked like an apartment building.”
Lucid dreamers report that reading, and especially re-reading, of
text in lucid dreams can present challenges. Here is Oliver Fox’s
“…reading [in lucid dreams] is a very difficult matter.
The print seems clear enough until one tries to read it: then the
letters become blurred or run together, or fade away, or change to
others” (1962, pg.46).
If comprehended initially, the text, upon
rereading, can change in either form, lexical structure, semantic
structure, or based on rhyme and alliteration (LaBerge, 1996). Here
are some examples:
“I saw a bulletin board and went and tried to read it. I
managed to read, with great difficulty, one line of what looked like
a flyer announcing a party. I tried to reread the line so as to
memorize it, but it now read something completely different.
Familiar with this kind of thing, I gave up trying to read.”
“I noticed a sign in front of a building and got the idea to
go try to read it... The sign was on some steps leading into a
building and I got the sense that it was some kind of official sign.
I tried to read it but had a very difficult time. I could not get it
into focus that easily. All I could make out were the letters ‘OR’,
which for some reason I interpreted to mean Oregon, and, with
difficulty I read the statement ‘Cheyan Country’. At that moment I
thought to myself ‘This sign is senseless.’ I gave up my attempt to
read the sign and walked back down the steps somewhat shaken up.”
There are other occasions in which lucid dreamers read dream
material that is coherent and even especially meaningful as in the
“Exploring around a grand old hotel that for some reason I
take to be ‘Freud’s Hotel’. Fully lucid, I find a piece of paper
that appears at first to be a prescription, but upon closer
inspection now seems the will or legacy of Anna Freud. On the paper
I read the words:
TO DUST, WE MUST;
TO LIGHT, WE MIGHT.”
Variations in dream reading presumably occur because the brain
creates dreamed text without any external source of visual
information, resulting in unstable perceptions of dream text. The
relative roles of individual differences versus expectation in the
variations of dream reading has yet to be determined.
Sound may be experienced during WILDs, in the transition from waking
to sleep, in the form of cracking, hissing, twinkling, or similar
sounds, sometimes reported as “haunted house” sounds. These are
auditory forms of hypnagogia. Lucid dreamers have reported hearing
songs during lucid dreams, as if a radio was playing, when in fact,
there was no other source of the perception of music using other
modalities. Subjects experiencing sleep paralysis have reported
hearing voices, sometimes of a threatening or terrifying nature,
reminiscent of the auditory hallucinations of schizophrenics. Lucid
dreamers also frequently experience playing music:
“In a ‘high-school dream’ that has become lucid, I walk up
to the teacher who is demonstrating something on the piano as if I
am an expected guest artist and sit down to play. I think of playing
something from a book, but find that my vision is too weak. So I
improvise a Fantasy in F#m, starting out prosaically enough, but
building up gradually to a terrific climax. The dream fades with the
There are infrequent reports reminiscent of fluent aphasia by lucid
“He said something about getting into a fight with his Dad.
I asked him where he was from and he said ‘the Land-O-Lakes, from
Idaho.’ I asked for his address but he mumbled nonsense. He told me
his name but I can’t remember it now.”
However, reports containing aphasic qualities are rare, and even in
(DDG76) word comprehension was mixed with incomprehension.
Generally, auditory conversation with dream characters is marked by
lexical, syntactical and pragmatic accuracy (Meier, 1993).
There is strong variability in somatosensation during lucid dreams.
Variations in somatosensation are prevalent during initiation of
WILDs where, during the transition from waking to lucid dreaming,
the person may experience any of the following somatic sensations:
vibrations, tingles, waves of warmth, a sense of melting, floating,
peeling, flipping over, flopping, slipping, and sinking.
Once in a
lucid dream, there may be variations in perceptions of a body image,
ranging from being a disembodied point or freely moving center of
awareness (but still immersed in the perceptual environment), to
perceiving in full detail that one is in a body and fully immersed
in one of the varieties of perceptual environments.
reported in which the lucid dreamer may see his or her body as if
looking at it from the outside. All of these variations in
somatosensation have been proposed, at one time or another, as
criteria to distinguish out-of-body experiences from lucid dreams
(e.g. Gabbard and Twemlow, 1984; Irwin, 1988). There is little
justification for this distinction (Levitan and LaBerge, 1991) and
it seems most reasonable to simply recognize that there is a wide
variability of somatic sensations associated with lucid dreaming.
Some of these embodiments can seem very strange indeed as in the
following two cases:
“I have been telling an improvised version of the story of
Fatima the Spinner and the Tent. Through a forgotten transition, my
awareness has come to rest within a collection of porcelain plates
and china. Queen Fatima is walking through the gallery and I begin
to communicate with her by rattling my plates. All the while I am
fully aware that I’m dreaming. The courtiers try to stop the
rattling, believing an earthquake to be taking place…Then I believe
I have awakened during–an earthquake! I find the apparent
incorporation of the earthquake in my dream interesting until I
actually awaken a few moments later.”
“After lying on my back for a long while, still seemingly
awake, I suddenly feel as if I’ve turned into a bluish gas: actually
a cloud of coarse blue spheres in the general form of my body that
floats above the bed…”
Tholey (1988) describes a very interesting phenomenon in which the
lucid dreamer’s “ego” leaves his dream body and “enters into another
dreamer figure”. The result can be a more complete degree of
interpersonal understanding than usually results from such
techniques as dialoguing with dream figures. Tholey reports that it
is also possible to,
“slip into different dream figures, one after
the other, during lucid dreaming, and to conduct a dialogue with a
dream figure that one has left with the ego consciousness” (p. 284).
A particular kinesthetic sensation is reported by lucid dreamers but
not nonlucid dreamers: this is a sensation of being uncontrollably
dragged or whisked along by a “force”, sometimes described as a
“strong wind”, which carries the lucid dreamer through the dream
“I floated up through the roof to the outside. Suddenly, I
lost my ability to fly, and I began to be pulled along by a strong
force, that was like a strong wind gust. This force pulled me
violently towards the house next door and I shut my eyes in fright,
fearing that I was going to smash into the wall. But then, I just
passed smoothly through the wall as the wind force continued to pull
me along. I had a momentary glimpse of the inside of the house
before I was pulled up through the roof of this house.”
Hobson and coworkers have suggested a motor-control theory of dreams
in which PGO-initiated stimulation of vestibular and motor pathways
generates dreamed motion in a random fashion (Hobson, 1988). Such
phasic REM events are a potential explanation of the uncontrolled
kinesthesia experienced in lucid dreams described here. However,
lucid dreamers, to our knowledge, do not report autonomic sensations
associated with vestibular activation in lucid dreams.
spinning is quite common for lucid dreamers (used as a technique to
stabilize the dream sensorium) but this does not typically produce
sensations of vertigo. Thus, it may be that vestibular pathways do
not directly affect dream consciousness, and somatic sensations are
generated at the level of sensorimotor cortex.
Sleep paralysis is commonly reported both by nonlucid and lucid
dreamers. Sleep paralysis involves the intrusion of peripheral
somatosensory input associated with REM atonia into the dreamer’s
consciousness. Closely related to sleep paralysis is the commonly
reported feature of the difficulty of moving or talking in dreams,
often when the dreamer is subject to a threat. This feature is also
reported by lucid dreamers, and again suggests intrusion of
peripheral somatosensory afferent information into dream
d. Other senses
Lucid dreams can contain content in every sensory modality,
including temperature, pain, olfaction, and gustation. Most of these
modalities are somewhat rare in lucid dreams, just as they are rare
in waking life; but all are possible. Here is an example from van
On Sept. 9, 1904, I dreamt that I stood at a table before a window.
On the table were different objects. I was perfectly well aware that
I was dreaming and I considered what sorts of experiments I could
make. … Then I saw a decanter with claret and tasted it, and noted
with perfect clearness of mind:
“Well, we can also have voluntary
impressions of taste in this dream-world; this has quite the taste
According to folk-lore, a dream pinch is supposed to be painless.
LaBerge and Levitan (1998) tested this idea by asking lucid dreamers
to induce several somatosensory experiences (pain, pressure and
light touch) through dream actions and then awaken and rate the
results on a seven-point scale for intensity, discomfort, and
pleasure. The same procedure was also followed in waking and in
imagination. The results showed a notable deficiency in the
reproducibility of the conscious experience of pain on demand in
lucid dreams (mean discomfort 1.5 in dreams vs. 3.9 in waking;
p<.05). The subjects had much better success at eliciting lucid
dream sensations of pressure (means of 2.9 in dreams, 3.7 in waking)
and light touch (mean=3.2 in dreams, 3.0 in waking). These findings
suggest that, while some sensory experiences are well modeled by the
brain in the absence of primary sensory input, pain may be a special
case. To experience convincing realistic pain in dreams, the brain
may require some peripheral somatosensory input that may be
interpreted as pain. Lest this study be misunderstood to suggest
that one cannot experience pain in dreams, here is the testimony of
one of the subjects to the contrary:
(C. S.) However, as soon as I knew I was dreaming, I remembered the
experiment... so I stopped and pinched my left forearm with my right
hand. At first, I didn’t feel anything but the touch. So, I pinched
myself as hard as possible. The pain was so extreme that I yelled
out “Oh my God!” … the sensation of pain [was] so severe … that I
On the other hand, the finding that it is easier to experience
pleasure than pain in dreams is an intriguing result demanding
explanation, and in any case, good news for lucid dreamers.
Emotion in lucid dreams, while generally positive or relatively
neutral, can vary over the entire range of human emotions from agony
(mitigated by the realization that “it is only a dream”) to the
unmitigated ecstasy of sexual or religious bliss. The realization
that one is dreaming is frequently accompanied by an unmistakable
sense of excitement and delight.
For Rapport (1948), the emergence
of lucidity “instantly” transformed his dream into “an
incommunicably beautiful vision.” Fox (1962), described the onset of
his first experience of lucidity: “instantly, the vividness of life
increased a hundredfold...never had I felt so absolutely well, so
clear brained, so divinely powerful, so inexpressibly free!”
surprisingly, the emotions felt in lucid dreams often carry over
into the waking state as in the following example:
(SLB1027) I had somehow gotten myself out on a limb as it were: at
the end of a girder high above the street below. I was trying to
choose between walking or crawling. Both seemed too risky and I
looked around for other alternatives. I observe that behind me is
another way I can escape. I climb off the end of the girder onto
another ledge and start to work my way through cobwebs in another
passageway. I believe I was partially lucid during this because I
have a false awakening in which I am telling someone about the
preceding dream. I describe letting go of my mental set of going
back on the beam the way I came. At the words “letting go” I realize
that I’m dreaming again and that the real solution is to trust and
let go. As I do so, leaping into the beautiful sunrise sky, I am
overwhelmed with feeling and awaken with tears of joy.
Emotional arousal, whether associated with the excitement of
lucidity onset or for any other reason, presents lucid dreamers with
a problem: Experience of strong emotion within a lucid dream may
increase sensations of instability and lead to fading from the lucid
dream. Thus, prolonging the lucid dream state requires a degree of
emotional control. According to Celia Green (1968: 99), “Habitual
lucid dreamers almost unanimously stress the importance of emotional
detachment in prolonging the experience and retaining a high degree
A second problem of emotional involvement is that the lucid
dreamer’s consciousness may be reabsorbed by the dream, and as the
lucid dreamer becomes emotionally absorbed, re-identify with the
dream role. This amounts to a displacement of the lucid dream
context by a nonlucid dream context.
This is a problem more often
encountered by beginners than experienced lucid dreamers, and
through practice and experience, one can learn to maintain lucidity
in spite of intense and emotional involvement with the dream.
D. Cognitive Functions
Characterizing variations in cognition during lucid dreaming is both
subtle and complex. Not only can variations in cognition occur
amongst lucid dreamers, cognition can also vary for a single
individual from lucid dream to lucid dream, or within the same lucid
Because lucid dreaming is a cumulative skill modified by
experience and practice, this means there will always be at least
some degree of continuous variation underlying the cognition of
lucid dreamers, reflecting changes in the psychological development
of that individual both with respect to lucid dreaming, and in
Nonetheless, variations in cognition within lucid dreaming
can be due to other factors including the subject’s semantic
framework and contextual competition, affecting in particular memory
access and thinking.
1. Variations in Memory
Access to memories of waking experience can vary, in spite of the
lucid dreamer’s intention to access those memories. For example, a
lucid dreamer may be unable to recall one’s phone number, or the
date, or even one’s name, in a given lucid dream, although such
memories may have been accessed in other lucid dreams. On the other
hand, sleep laboratory subjects can remember to perform complex
tasks during lucid dreams, tasks which had been previously planned
and/or rehearsed during waking. Thus, variations in voluntary access
to waking memory may be partly due to intrinsic factors, such as the
degree of cortical activation in a given lucid dream or the degree
of competition from elements outside the lucid dream context, and
partly due to prior preparation and priming of memory.
Levitan and LaBerge (1993) tested memory for four different tasks in
a group of 20 lucid dreamers. The tasks and percent of successful
recall were: where one is sleeping (95%), the current date (94%),
and arbitrary word learned before bed (100%), and a fact that one
could not remember previously while awake despite multiple efforts
2. Variations in Thinking
The thoughts, conceptions, metacognitive reflections and
expectations of lucid dreamers are strongly conditioned by the
dreamers’ semantic framework. Within a given semantic framework, the
quality of lucid dreamers’ thinking tends to be consistent. However,
the use of different semantic frameworks results in more or less
accurate conceptions of the lucid dream experience. For example,
lucid dreamers who conceptualize their lucid dreams as out-of-body
experiences (OBEs) may tend to confuse physical and dream objects,
and may operate under the assumption that what they perceive in
their lucid dreams corresponds to physical reality (LaBerge, 1985).
People who conceive of their lucid dreams as astral projections may
come to similarly flawed conclusions. Within the astral projection
lore, it is commonly taught that characters encountered during
astral projections are the souls of the deceased (Leadbeater, 1895,
Fox, 1962, Monroe, 1985).
Thus, the astral projector may act as if
dream characters are “real” and not mental representations. These
examples illustrate that what could be mistakenly taken for a flaw
in thinking during a lucid dream is not necessarily a defect in
thought per se, but a consequence of the lucid dreamer operating in
a specific semantic framework. In such cases, it is the semantic
framework that is flawed, not the dreamer’s ability to think or
reason. Because of the tremendous perceptual diversity of lucid
dreams, the variations on this theme are boundless. Considerations
of an individual’s semantic framework also apply to near-death
experiences (NDEs), which have phenomenological overlap with lucid
NDEs are characterized by autoscopy, lucidity, and surreal
perceptual environments such as the experiences of perceiving white
light, or moving through a tunnel (Greyson, 1993). NDEs are often
interpreted in a religious context as proof of life after death
(Reader, 1995). Again, the emphasis here is that individuals’
semantic frameworks will affect their interpretation of events and
behavior in lucid dreams and phenomenologically similar states.
The semantic frameworks used by individuals is not confined to their
lucid dream experiences but also has consequences for their waking
life. Because lucid dreams are not widely understood in our society,
and because of the variety of semantic frameworks available, some
peoples’ responses to their lucid dream experiences may alter the
course of their waking lives.
Furthermore, these individuals can
influence the beliefs of others and thereby replicate their semantic
framework within the wider culture. The elaboration of these notions
involves the study of biographies of individuals who have undergone
lucid dreaming but interpreted these as something else. This topic
is beyond the scope of this chapter, but the interested reader can
find sources illustrating these points (e.g. Lutyens, 1975; Monroe,
1985; Tillett, 1982).
On the other hand, lucid dreamers can display alterations in
thinking that are not in any obvious way the direct result of
operating under a specific semantic framework (Barrett, 1992;
Levitan, 1994). These alterations in thinking resemble minor lapses
in rationality, unclear thinking, and drawing absurd conclusions.
Several factors can account for these belief-independent variations
(1) the lucid dreamer’s degree of experience is such
that the lucid dreamer has not yet learned what is and is not
appropriate behavior in a given dreamed circumstance,
competition from nonlucid dream contexts provided distractions that
absorb the dreamer into a dream narrative, and influence the
dreamer’s thought processes toward this narrative,
variations in brain activity during the course of the lucid dream
could alter the performance of higher level cognitive tasks such as
comprehending situations and formulating responses.
There is sometimes no obvious difference between belief-dependent
and belief-independent variations in thinking when viewing isolated
dream reports. Ascertaining these requires knowing a lucid dreamer’s
semantic framework and taking this into account when judging the
quality of the thinking reported during lucid dreams.
E. Volition and Action
There is more voluntary choice available to lucid dreamers than to
The experienced lucid dreamer seems capable of
exercising at least as much free choice while dreaming as waking.
However, waking volition is constrained by general knowledge and
past experience. Likewise, volition during lucid dreams is
constrained by the dreamer’s semantic framework and past lucid dream
experience. These factors together define to the lucid dreamer what
is and is not possible, and therefore, what voluntary choices are
available. The set of these possible choices are contained in the
lucid dreamer’s goal-options context.
The actions of lucid dreamers vary from simple to complex. A lucid
dreamer’s actions may be reflexive, as when walking in a lucid dream
without losing balance. Others are instinctive, such as attempting
to avoid threatening situations. Still others are habitual, such as
speaking or driving a car or performing other procedural tasks in a
dream. Finally, some of the actions are deliberate and based on
volitional choice. Volitional actions are initiated by the lucid
dreamer for any number of reasons: curiosity, desire, etc.
The actions of lucid dreamers are not constrained by the real world
either physically or socially. Hence, lucid dreamers routinely fly,
pass through walls or perform other actions impossible in the
physical world as the following passage indicates:
(DDG54) “I stared up at the big window before me and there was
nothing on it indicating that I could open it. So then I did a very
interesting trick to get out through the window. I stared at the
window and “bent” my perspective on the window so that there was now
a gap between the window and the wall that was large enough for me
to climb through. I hovered up out of the chair, ignoring the nurse,
and pulled myself through the opening I had just created. I was
wiggling through the hole wondering what the nurse and other people
in the room were thinking.”
Lucid dreamers can also freely violate social mores, and behave in
highly uninhibited fashions. This can provide a form of therapy to
lucid dreamers in terms of overcoming anxiety, recognizing habitual
patterns of social interaction, and developing self-knowledge, as
well as simply providing a form of pleasure and entertainment
(LaBerge and Rheingold, 1990).
The characterization of the actions of lucid dreamers is subsumed
under the notion of “dream control”. A distinction can be drawn
between two kinds of dream control (LaBerge, 1985). One type
involves magical manipulation of the dream environment or of dream
characters other than the dream actor. The manipulation of the
window in (DDG54) is an example of magical manipulation of the dream
environment. The other kind of control open to lucid dreamers is
self-control, exercised over one’s own actions and reactions to
events occurring in the lucid dream.
Contrary to some descriptions of lucid dreaming, lucid dreamers
typically do not have complete volitional control over their lucid
dreams. The most important factor in this regard is that lucid
dreamers do not necessarily have control over the perceptual
environment in which they find themselves. Like nonlucid dreams,
lucid dreamers often find themselves in novel and completely
unfamiliar environments which they had no intentional control over
This is particularly true of surreal lucid dream
environments; here lucid dreamers often cannot even comprehend what
they are experiencing (as in DDG75 and DDG70 above). Likewise, lucid
dreamers do not intentionally desire to appear in minimal sensory
environments, and often have no control over this happening. Thus,
lucid dreaming is less like a fantasy experience and more like an
There are also limits to the actions of lucid dreamers, particularly
with respect to magical manipulations. For example, the attempt to
fly during any given lucid dream may be met with varying degrees of
success. The lucid dreamer may fly readily, merely hover, or not be
able to fly at all. Likewise, a lucid dreamer may not always be able
to pass through walls (as illustrated in DDG61).
Thus, because the
lucid dreamer may have performed such acts in previous lucid dreams,
the inability to perform such an act will often be met with
confusion. This variability in performance of actions from lucid
dream to lucid dream appears to be belief-independent because, for
example, a lucid dreamer may remember that he has flown before, and
will expect to fly, but then cannot fly in the current lucid dream.
It is reasonable to hypothesize that variations in performance of
actions during lucid dreams reflects underlying variations in REM
There are also situations where the dream environment itself imposes
actions on the lucid dreamer completely outside the dreamer’s
intentions or expectations. We have presented examples of this in
preceding sections: the need to maintain stability is perhaps the
most general non-volitional action with which lucid dreamers are
faced. Here, lucid dreamers must control their emotions, and often
take steps to stabilize themselves (through spinning or other
techniques) in order to prolong their lucid dreams.
experienced as being carried by a strong wind (DDG55 and DDG31a,b
above) also occurs outside the will and intention of the lucid
dreamer. Often, perceptual discontinuities, such as illustrated in
(DDG61) will occur in spite of the lucid dreamer’s intention and are
often met with surprise by the lucid dreamer.
To suggest that the lucid dreamer “unconsciously” desires or wills
experiences that are outside the dreamer’s conscious intentions does
not offer a credible explanation of these forms of lucid dream
variability. It would appear that events and actions occurring in
lucid dreams are a combination of: (1) those intentionally generated
by the lucid dreamer, limited by the dreamer’s experience and
knowledge and (2) those generated by the dream environment outside
of the conscious knowledge and intention of the lucid dreamer.
With respect to unintended actions generated by the dream
environment, these events and actions must in some way be related to
the occurrence of physiological phenomena in the sleeping brain.
This is clearly the case with sleep paralysis in which peripheral
atonia intrudes into the dreamer’s consciousness unintentionally.
second example, the sensation of being uncontrollably whisked along
by a “wind force” may be a subjective correlate of localized
miniature seizure activity in somatosensory cortex, which itself may
be grounded in the random brainstem neurotransmission so actively
advocated by Hobson and his followers as a basis for dream
generation. Another example highly suggestive of the involvement of
neurophysiological processes is when a lucid dreamer “fades” from a
lucid dream: there is a relatively stereotyped loss of conscious
sensory modalities (LaBerge, DeGracia, et al 1998).
These fade in
the order of vision followed by somatosensation and audition. This
suggests a pattern of cortical deactivation from occipital cortex
followed by a medial to lateral and caudal to rostral deactivation
in the temporal and parietal cortices, respectively. Together, these
examples indicate that unconscious brain physiology can intrude into
the consciousness of lucid dreamers, forcing unintended actions on
the lucid dreamer.
There are Tibetan traditions of lucid dreaming dating from the Ninth
Century which claim that a person can achieve complete control of
the dream environment (LaBerge, 1985); similar claims are
commonplace in Western occult lore (e.g. Leadbeater, 1895). However,
no one in the modern era has demonstrated this capability. It is
perhaps reasonable, given the evidence at our disposal, to recognize
that actions and events occurring in lucid dreams are due to a
complex combination of psychological and neurological factors. This,
of course, does not preclude testing the limits of possibility in
Indeed, teasing apart the relative roles of neurology
and psychology in lucid dream experiences could provide significant
insight into the workings of the mind and brain and further our
understanding of the relationship between subjective experience and
F. Termination of Lucid Dreams
Sooner or later, all things end, and lucid dreams are no exception.
There are two general possibilities for terminating lucid dreams:
lucidity is lost while the dream continues, or the lucid dream ends
with an awakening.
The first mode we have discussed above and
involves displacement of the lucid dream context by a nonlucid dream
context. Novice lucid dreamers are particularly susceptible to loss
of lucidity and may need to explicitly remind themselves that they
are dreaming (LaBerge & Rheingold, 1989). With experience, some
lucid dreamers learn to maintain lucidity without any special effort
(e.g., SLB; The percentage of lucid dreams in which lucidity was
lost in years 1-3 respectively were 18%, 1%, and 0.4% for SLB, and
17%, 21%, and 40% for DDG, a significantly different pattern).
For more experienced lucid dreamers, lucid dreams are more likely to
terminate by awakening than by loss of lucidity. Termination by
awakening typically involves the “fading out” sensations discussed
above. Ordinarily there is a high degree of continuity of
consciousness during this transition. In contrast, there is usually
a moment of confusion when dreamers wake from a nonlucid dream, as
they make the transition from the nonlucid dreamer to the waking
There are two other possible ways in which lucid dreams can come to
an end. In one case, the lucid dreamer enters non-REM sleep and
ceases dreaming. Typically, if awakened at this point, the dreamer
would recall nothing. In the other case, lucidity is lost, and REM
sleep continues, with the person dreaming that he or she has
awakened. These dreams are usually called “false awakenings” (Green,
1968) and are very commonly reported concomitants of lucid dreams.
Sometimes, false awakenings occur repeatedly with the lucid dreamer
seeming to awake again and again only to discover each time that he
or she is still dreaming. In some cases, lucid dreamers have
reported enduring literally dozens of false awakenings before they
finally wake up “for real”. False awakenings tend to increase in
frequency with experience in lucid dreaming.
For example, here are
the percentage of lucid dreams with false awakenings in years 1-3
respectively were 9%, 13%, and 24% for DDG, and 16%, 31%, and 39%
for SLB. The reason for the increase frequency of false awakenings
is probably that more experience with lucid dreams leads to the
greater expectation that as a lucid dream is about to end that one
is about to wake up. Thus the expectation of awakening leads to the
dream content of the false awakening. Increased familiarity leads to
increased likelihood of recognizing that one is dreaming during a
The percentage of false awakenings recognized in
years 1-3 respectively were 4%, 8%, and 20% for DDG, and 0%, 3%, and
26% for SLB.
Dream experience is innately complex and the waking personality can
choose to explore this complexity with a greater or lesser degree of
involvement. When there is more involvement of the waking self with
one’s dream life, one’s dreams partake more of lucidity. When lucid
dreams are explored, significant variation is discovered, and
individual factors underlie a great deal of this variation.
the phenomenology we have described above is not understood in
either psychological or neurological terms, but it offers intriguing
glimpses into the processes underlying conscious experience, and the
relationship between subjective experience and neurological
A deeper understanding of the variety of lucid dream
perceptual environments may shed light on sensory representations in
waking. An understanding of the effects of semantic structures on
lucid dream experience underscores the role of belief in subjective
perception and behavior. Finally, study of the unintentional aspects
of lucid dream action may bring us closer to understanding the
generation of dreams, and the relationship between subjective
experience and neurological events.
We hope this chapter will
inspire more comprehensive research on the phenomenology of lucid
The first author is grateful to the Fetzer Institute, The Center for
Consciousness Studies at the University of Arizona, The Institute of
Noetic Sciences, and Kenny Felder for financial support, and to
Lynne Levitan for editorial assistance.
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