Its unclear when the phenomena of Lucid Dreaming started in human history but since lucid dreaming often occurs naturally (mostly in childhood), it is very likely it may have existed as ever since regular dreams have emerged in our biological and mental evolution. But we do know that lucid dreaming as a practice, has existed for thousands of years. Dream Yoga, a Tibetan Buddhist practice, has mentions going back to around 1000 BC and is still taught today in several lineages. There are mentions of awareness in dreams throughout the centuries in the west by various philosophers and writers, and eventually, two experiments in 1975 and 1978 have provided proof and it was finally accepted by the scientific community as well. The history of dream lucidity can help us both in practice and in research to understand this phenomena better.
But it is what lies ahead for this movement that captures my imagination. I have very little doubt that, like in many other areas in life, it is technology that will bring the most change and the most advancement to lucid dreaming methods, induction techniques and practice & preparation for achieving lucidity. There is already fast growing interest both in practice by individuals who are discovering this phenomena for the first time as well as in development of gadgets and methods to induce lucidity by hobbyists and professionals. I also believe the advancement of lucid dreaming will come not only in the form of achieving this dream state, but in the use of that state as well. In this article I am going to try to layout the coming developments we should except in the near future as well as imagine what the farther future of lucid dreaming might look like. This is no more than an exercise of the futurist in me and is comprised of my own vision and predictions. What the future actually holds will show up in due time.
The Near Future
Supplements – perfecting the ultimate combination and application
Supplements for lucid dreaming are gaining more and more traction, and as initially they used to be herbs or extracts that were used for another purpose but discovered to be useful for lucid dreaming, are now starting to be designed for and marketed very specifically for lucid dreaming (like Alpha Brain & Lucid Dream Leaf). Although it is still my belief that this is a very individual thing, and what works for one person might not work for another. With the particular intent of enhancing the REM phase of sleep, dream recall and dream awareness, LD supplements will be fine tuned both in components and quantity as well as method of application (like what is the optimal time to take it) to produce a supplement that will be the most conducive to achieving lucidity. You have to remember (as i elaborated on in episode 10 of the podcast) that supplements will not actually trigger lucidity but will increase and improve the conditions to achieving lucidity. Ultimately however, supplements can only go so far, and with improving methods and device for induction, supplements will eventually become obsolete as an aid for lucid dreaming.
Gadgets, sleep masks and headbands
The first lucid dreaming mask, the NovaDreamer, was introduced in March of 2000 by Stephen LaBerge, and had the ability to detect a dreaming state by sensing eye movement and alerting its user to the fact that they are dreaming. Although it was helpful in achieving lucidity to some degree, it was very expensive, not quite perfected yet and was discontinued after some time. A few imitations showed up but were still expensive and never garnered too much attention.
The landscape of lucid dreaming gadgets was quiet for years, until the Kickstarter campaign for the Remee, a new and more affordable lucid dreaming mask, launched on April 2012 and raised over half a million dollars as well as a lot of awareness and attention about lucid dreaming. The Remee was a more sophisticated design in some aspect but a more simple one in others. It was thinner, more comfortable and it’s lights were programmable, but it did not have a way to detect when the wearer was dreaming and could only be set via a timer, which reduced its usefulness tremendously. A lot of people were disappointed when the Remee finally came to market, and yet the launch of the Remee still felt like a renaissance for lucid dreaming. It reignited the hopes and dreams of many lucid dreamers that there might be a way to achieve lucidity faster and easier with an aid like a sleep mask.
Shortly after, Luci, a lucid dreaming headband (an EEG headband that will alert you when you are dreaming) launched on kickstarter and raised over $400K before getting canceled on it’s last day due to suspicion of being a fake campaign with no real prototype. After that, and almost simultaneously, the Neouron, a polyphesic sleep mask with EEG capabilities (although lucid dreaming is not it’s main purpose and function) and the Aurora, a lucid dreaming headband similar to the Luci concept launched on Kickstarter and both successfully funded. These 2 devices are now in developments and set to ship in 2014, while the new and anticipated NovaDreamer 2 (code name: N2D2) was teased by Stephen LaBerge to be beta tested and released this year as well. Not many details were revealed about the new Nova Dreamer 2.
When I started writing this article I was working on a proof of concept gadget that would utilize low current brain stimulation (such as tDCS) to induce lucidity and was intending to write this segment proposing that this is possibly the next big step in induction devices if it works. But to my surprise, before I finished writing this article, a study that was published on May 11th 2014 in Nature Journal of Science has shown that low current stimulation has achieved awareness in dreams in 77% of the subjects.
This study was based on the results from a previous study (the one that gave me the same idea in the first place) by the same group of scientist, where they discovered that the brain produces gamma waves during a lucid dream, and set out to test if applying a current with the same frequency to a sleeping subject in the same area of the brain that produces it naturally during a lucid dreaming will induce awareness in the dream. It did.
This has provided the proof of concept and created a roadmap for the device I started working on a few months before this study came out. I believe it will accelerate the creation and refinement of the device to make it a viable, safe and effective device anyone will be able to use. This will be a reality sooner than I had originally anticipated.
Brain training with personal EEG
There are two main aspects to the practice of lucid dreaming. While achieving lucidity may be the first and most crucial part, a high level of awareness and dream control are the other. The latter allows for some incredible experiences beyond just being aware that you are dreaming. I believe these two aspects are really different points or levels on the same spectrum of consciousness, but devices that may soon be perfected to induce lucidity might not give us higher levels of awareness or more dream control once in the lucid state.
This is where practice, training and accumulated experience make for better results. So far, methods of training are mostly within a lucid dream itself, although meditation is proving to be extremely effective in both increasing the chances for lucidity as well as increasing vividness and dream control. Soon, I believe, we will be able to train during the waking state with EEG devices and Neurofeedback.
The first affordable personal EEGs came in the form of DIY projects like the OpenEEG. Now a wide variety of high quality yet affordable consumer grade EEG devices (like Neurosky, Emotiv, Muse and OpenBCI) are coming out to the market with high precision and even applications for various mind and neurofeedback training.
I believe these devices will not only enhance existing training like various meditation practices (which in turn enhance lucidity) but will also allow for a more focused awareness training geared specifically for the practice of lucid dreams. It is my theory that by consciously replicating brain states that correlate to the brain state of a the lucid dream (such as theta and alpha or theta and gamma) we could train our minds for those conditions and the ability to achieve and maintain them while asleep. This remains to be seen, but I believe this would work for the same reason meditation works, increased awareness across the waking and dreaming states of consciousness. I definitely plan on testing this theory.
DIY Sleep Labs
Tying back to the last point, once you put such devices (which once were only accessible to the medical and academic community) in the hands of a large number of “amateur” enthusiasts, the amount of data and personal “homemade” research that would come out of this could take our understanding of sleeping, dreaming and consciousness to a whole new level. I am excited for those new insights I cannot even imagine that might come out of this new era of personal devices. (since we are talking about the future, imagine what will happen when we all have personal fMRIs)
The Not So Near Future
Mind, Body & Spirit
The ultimate lucid dreaming induction device will eventually be formulated. I have very little doubt that advancements in both technology and neuroscience will eventually reach a point where what we can build will be small enough and effective enough that an induction device will reliably be able to induce lucidity effectively 100% of the time.
This, in my view, will lead to the ubiquity of lucid dreaming as a common and widespread practice. Lucid dreaming will become not only mainstream but perhaps a prominent part of a health regimen just like meditation is becoming these days. More and more research is coming out on the effects the content of our dreams (in addition to the quality of our sleep) has on our health, memory, state of mind and even our ability for self growth and personal evolution.
Psychotherapy will gain a whole new arena to engage with. Where once a therapist would ask you to write down your dreams to be able to analyze some glimpses from your subconscious, they will now send you home with assignments to take to your dreams and to interact with your subconscious directly. Things like treating and dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder are at the top of the list of therapeutic applications for scientists researching lucid dreaming.
And in much the same way, I think this will bring lucid dreaming to western societies as a spiritual practice as well. Practices like dream yoga in combination with western methods are already becoming more known by teachers like Charlie Morely and will become even more common when induction of lucid dreams is no longer a barrier for so many people.
Although lucid dreaming is already used by many who practice it for anything from overcoming social fears to martial arts training, the dream state might end up being the ultimate training ground for a multitude of practices and disciplines. The military, for example, has been investing heavily in virtual reality to train soldiers in custom environments and scenarios where they can’t get hurt. Imagine the potential of putting someone in a truly immersive, experientially realistic space where the possibilities are endless.
The Far Future
My last prediction has to do with another little passion of mine, and although it may seem surprising as much as it may sound far fetched, I’d like to try and make the case for why the future lucid dreamer might one day become a one man movie studio and the ultimate filmmaker.
Mind reading is still considered science fiction, but brain imaging is rapidly evolving, so much so that a recent study was able to reproduce images remarkably accurately to those viewed by the subject by scanning their brain while they were viewing a video. You can see these amazing results in this video (starting at minute 8):
Could future devices read images from our brains? - TED Video
But if you watch the whole video you will see that the researchers working on this believe that sooner or later brain imaging reach a high enough resolution to produce a “pixel perfect” image of what is going on in your mind. The implications of this are tremendous, for many areas of life, and any creative endeavor will be able to pour directly from our minds onto digital media, be it a piece of music, a drawing or a motion picture.
But despite accurate projections of our mental visions, no one will be able to produce imagery as realistic, in high resolution, with full blown landscapes, scenarios and a thousand moving parts as a lucid dreamer could create while in a vivid lucid dream. When we can project our mental content directly onto media, a creative and prolific lucid dreamer could create cinematic movies in one night, at zero cost, that no studio could produce for any budget and no CGI could create (perhaps until, if and when, Artificial Intelligence will surpass our true brain capacity).
Listen to the companion podcast episode here.