Lucid Dreaming Research Reveals Locus of Meta-Consciousness in the Brain

New studies into how we can awaken during dreaming are helping researchers locate the specific brain region where our lucidity originates.

In my last column, about the future evolution of technology and the approaching “Singularity,” I began with an invitation to envision what it would be like when the full-flowering of nanotechnology and artificial intelligence arrives, and we become  indestructible, super-powered,  godlike beings. 

In this week’s column I reveal how you can do this tonight, if you wish, by awakening in your dreams, and taking control of your dream body as an avatar. 

This ability to become consciously aware that one is dreaming, while it is happening, is called a “lucid dream.”

Lucid dreamers have complete access to all of their memories during dreaming, can perform specific actions in their dreams, and they attain full self-awareness, without waking their sleeping body up from its snoozing slumber.

In a lucid dream one has the ability to take an active role in the dream, where one becomes something like a deity, imbued with the incredible omnipotent power to make just about anything happen that one can imagine.

Stanford University  psychophysiologist Stephen LaBerge made the study of lucid dreaming into a science by demonstrating their reality.

Although people have been reporting lucid dreams throughout history---some advanced yogis routinely describe whole nights of lucid dreaming--many dream researchers remained skeptical before LaBerge’s conclusive studies. 

The skeptics claimed that people were only imagining that they were lucid, and that they weren’t truly conscious in the waking sense; they just remembered the dream as if they had been lucid. 

So LaBerge devised an unusually clever experiment to show that some people are every bit as conscious in a lucid dream as they are in what we call normal waking consciousness.

LaBerge recruited a group of extremely sophisticated dreamers, or “psychonauts,” as he affectionately called them; people with a seeming natural instinct for lucid dreaming, who had trained themselves to become quite adept at maintaining lucidity in their dream states. 

LaBerge had the subjects spend nights sleeping in his dream laboratory, where their brain waves and other physiological signals could be closely monitored and recorded. 

Before the subjects went to sleep, LaBerge and his subjects agreed upon a specific code of symbols to communicate from the dream state to the external world, in order to demonstrate lucidity. 

When one falls asleep, the physical body becomes mostly paralyzed, so that the muscles that we move in our dream body don’t (thank goodness) move our actual physical limbs much--with one exception--our eye muscles. 

Eye movements in dreams precisely correspond to the eye movements of our physical bodies, and it appears that the rapid eye movements (REM) recorded in dream states actually reflect what we’re looking at in our dreams.

So LaBerge instructed his subject to communicate with their specially coordinated eye movements while in the lucid dream state. 

Once the subjects found themselves in a dream, which was externally confirmed by EEG (brain wave) monitoring, they then executed a preselected code of eye movements--such as two movements to the right, three to the left, four to the right, and one to the left, like a kind or Morse code. 

These experiments produced significant results, demonstrating that people are able to remember that they are dreaming within a dream, and are able to carry out a predetermined sequence of actions while in the dream.

LaBerge also developed a technological tool called the DreamLight®, which helps people to lucid dream. 

The DreamLight® is basically a headband that monitors eye movements that one wears while sleeping and starts blinking low levels of light, which become incorporated into one’s dreams, when one enter the REM (rapid eye movement) sleep stage associated with dreaming, without waking one up.

New studies of lucid dreamers--by researchers from the Max Planck Institutes of Psychiatry in Munich and colleagues--show which centers of the brain become active when we become aware of ourselves in dreams, exhibiting what the researchers call “meta-consciousness.”

Studies employing magnetic resonance tomography (MRT) compared the activity of the brain during lucid dreaming with the activity measured immediately before in a normal dream. 

This allowed the researchers to identify the characteristic brain activities of lucid awareness.

The researchers demonstrated that a specific network in the brain--consisting of “the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, the frontopolar regions and the precuneus” is activated when lucidity is attained. 

All of these brain regions are associated with self-reflective functions, and this new insight may help us to understand the neural basis of human consciousness. 

Interested in having a lucid dream of your own? Often times just hearing about lucid dreaming causes some people to have them. So you might have one tonight.

The best techniques that I know of for increasing one’s frequency of lucid dreams is to increase one’s dream recall by always writing one’s dreams down upon awakening, and by getting into the regular habit of asking one’s self, “Am I dreaming right now? How do I know?” 

If one gets into the habit of questioning this while one is in a waking state, I’ve found that the habit carries over into one’s dream life. 

However, usually something bizarre in the dream will trigger the thought in my mind, “Is this a dream?” Then, if I suspect that I’m dreaming, I test my environment to make sure. 

The three best tests that I know of for determining if I’m in a lucid dream, which have been confirmed by others, are as follows. 

(1) Look at some written material in a book or on a piece of paper. Then look away and look back. If you’re dreaming, the text will have changed, every time. 

(2) Turn off a light switch. In a dream, the light in the room will remain on after the switch has been turned off. 

(3) Try to fly. This may take some effort at first, but if I’m dreaming I can always manage to become airborne with several leaps into the air. 

Once I’ve confirmed that I’m dreaming, I’m simply delighted beyond words, and have explored these alternative worlds in great detail over the years. 

In this new universe, you rule. You can do anything that your mind can conceive of, without consequence. 

This extraordinary ability can be used to help one overcome psychological conflicts that are difficult to confront in one’s daily life, or it can be used to have some of the most fun that you’ve just about ever had.

But perhaps most significantly, are the spiritual implications of lucid dreaming. For, you see, if one learns how to awaken to the reality of dreaming, then one is on their way to awakening to the reality that life is but a dream.

To learn more about lucid dreaming see my interview with Stephan LaBerge:


To read about my personal experiences with lucid dreaming, see my new book, The New Science of Psychedelics: At the Nexus of Culture, Consciousness, and Change, which will be published by Inner Traditions in May: http://www.amazon.com/The-New-Science-Psychedelics-Consciousness/dp/1594774927

If you enjoy my column, and want to learn more about psychedelic and cannabis culture, “like” my Facebook page:


and follow me on Twitter: http://twitter.com/#!/DavidJayBrown

Lisa December 08, 2012 at 08:38 PM
Basket case.
Crystal Huskey December 09, 2012 at 01:16 AM
Really interesting.
manFreed'Om December 13, 2012 at 11:33 AM
Dreamers, Lucid dreaming is defunatly a profound experience unraveling the infinite potentials of existence. It is often (as above) presented as a phenomenon in which the mind can explore everything it can conseive of, without consequences. Spreading the awareness of lucidity is particularly important at this stage of human groth and I think it is also important to insist on the notion that it is not entirely true that there are no consequences... Ultimatly awareness in dreams or in "waking life" is bound to the same "karmic effects" Interacting disrespectfully with our lucid dream environement has consequences in the sense that it still impacts us on a personal level. Through Lucid dream actions we also confirm/affirm mind tendencies, whatever they are. Lucid power trips are just as damaging for our integrity, maybe more. It might sound like common sense but I find this is often overlooked. So watch yourself closely when lucid dreaming about hitting someone you dislike, disempowering dream characters, spying someone... Dream and reality are not seperate, one is a metaphorical expression of the other. No restrictions, do as you please with your lucidity but don't be deceived if you don't seem to be facing external consequences... whatever you disrespect, it is always you. a dreamer


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