“Lucid dreaming” and the alchemy of apps

“Lucid dreaming” and the alchemy of apps


It is always salutary to remember that behind the most apparently rational human activities there is always Man, the demi-rational demiurge whose essential nature has scarcely changed in millennia. It is therefore only to be expected that even the most advanced technology is sometimes harnessed to ancient ends. A 31st May BBC article describes the upsurge of interest in “lucid dreaming”– smartphone apps and face-masks which supposedly allow their users to understand and influence their dreams. This is Intel coming to the aid of intuition, neurologists and entrepreneurs alike becoming interested in The_Science_of_Sleep, designing satnavs for the Land of Nod.

Dreams are an intrinsic part of what it means to be human – confusing, intoxicating visions we chase or run from at night, and remember with pleasure, pain or puzzlement when daylight shoves things back into shape. We have probably always sought out shamans to explain why at nights we drift between dimensions, why sometimes we float or fall in fantastical countries – and we have probably always made border-raids along these unmapped frontiers, trying to recapture the sleep-state through frenetic ritual, made-up mysteries, esoteric religions, self-mortification and narcotic narcolepsy. There is a semi-conscious thread that ties together the stag-headed dancers of pre-prehistoric Europe, classical augurs, subcontinental sadhus, whirling dervishes, Antipodean dreamtimes, Napoleon’s dream oraculum, Thomas de Quincey, Coleridge’s Kubla Khan and successful but discontented Londoners like the dentist cited by the BBC, who yearns for existence in a space where he doesn’t need to gaze down halitosis-haunted gullets for a living, and

“You’re only bound by gravity if you believe in it”.

Some of the new apps actually seem rather old-fashioned, like the one which wafts you off on a wave of birdsong so you (hopefully) dream of walking in green fields. Yet it has surely always been obvious that what happens immediately before sleeping can colour your dreams – thinking hard of someone, reading an exciting book, or simply dining well if not wisely. There is also a distinctly retro flavour – a scent of Fifties sci-fi – to the masks that play light on your eyelids to induce particular reveries, as if Dr. Morbius will at any moment materialize to magic us away to his personal planet.

If there is a new aspect to these apps (apart from purely technical considerations like better design) it may lie in their world-rejecting ethos – their phraseology about ‘achieving lucidity’, asking ‘very profound questions’, ‘understanding fears’ and ‘challenging everything’. These desiderata are always of course achieved through becoming an ‘initiate’ through discipline and effort, existing (at least during the hours of darkness) on some ‘higher plane’ – a conceit highly gratifying to the egos of the participants. As Allan Hobson, the Harvard neuroscientist quoted in the BBC article, notes, only half-sorrowfully:

“Lucid dreaming is very hard work and won’t happen for everyone.”

But even these nostrums have puppyish precedents in Romantic self-realization, transcendental meditation, pop psychology, designer Buddhism and progressive politics, and all are informed by insecurity as much as arrogance.

Some lucid dreamers may simply wish to blot out particularly atrocious nightmares, and we should wish them luck if they really desire such self-abnegation. But most sound superficial – not so very different from Second Lifers, the easily-amused inhabitants of Farmville or wargames’ world-straddling Alexanders – searching for status as SIMs that they will probably never attain in those retrograde real places where imperfection and gravity still rule.

Lucid dreamers are looking for control – control over their imaginations, many out of regrettably superficial motives. Here is Harvard’s Hobson again, on Tiggerish form:

“I can tell you that it has huge entertainment value.

It’s like going to the movies and not paying for your ticket.”

Less selfishly, they may also want to exert control over themselves in order to compensate for the ugliness and anarchy of the world. Just as householders build walls to shield themselves from passers-by, lucid dreamers want virtual Leylandii to hedge out the hateful. Yet this is of course impossible, because dreams will never be controllable – and the only people really likely to sleep better as a result of lucid dreaming technology will be the enterprising salesmen presently profiting so satisfactorily from our perennial curiosity about where we go to when we sleep.

Finally, even if dreams could be controlled, should we really want to control them? Isn’t life partly about unpredictability – and don’t even the most disturbing dreams tell us things we might not otherwise never have known? “To sleep, perchance to dream”. Wouldn’t a lifelong night-time of predictably pleasant dreams quickly pall, like easy listening music or a diet of desserts? And in any case why should we wish to censor or suburbanize our imaginations in advance? The lucid dreamers’ über-organized universe would be as intolerable as it is mercifully unattainable. They should dispense with the dubious gadgetry, and take the nightscape as it has always been and will always remain – a debatable, delectable region of gaping gulfs and vast vistas, swirling shadows and half-seen shapes, serendipity and sorcery.

Derek Turner, 1st June 2012




Free Google Ad cialis drugs no rx
This entry was posted in QR Home and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.