How Scientists Learned to Enter People’s Dreams

Psychologists have found a way to communicate with lucid dreamers – people who can take control of their dreams – in the hope that they might help us explore what goes on with our brains at night.

What would change the whole dream research landscape would be if there were some way to communicate and interact with someone while they were dreaming. It sounds far-fetched, like something out of the Christopher Nolan movie Inception, but in a significant breakthrough, that’s exactly what an international team of researchers, led by Paller and Karen Konkoly also at Northwestern University, managed to achieve.

The work, which was published in the journal Current Biology in April 2021, “opens up the opportunities for scientific explorations of dreaming considerably,” says Paller. “We now have more ways to learn about dreaming.”

Theirs is one of several new projects that have begun to exploit the research opportunities afforded by ‘lucid dreaming’ – a relatively rare state in which the dreamer, during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, becomes consciously aware that they are dreaming. This is a new frontier of research, but lucid dreams have been known about for millennia. Aristotle described the state like this: “…often when one is asleep, there is something in consciousness which declares that what then presents itself is but a dream”.

Not only does this wave of new work involving lucid dreams open up exciting opportunities to research the nature and function of dreaming, but it also raises intriguing practical possibilities for clinical interventions and self-development, including boosting learning and creativity.

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