Saturday, August 5, 2017

Smelling the lilacs and other scientific research inside dreams

The most original and revealing scientific study of dreams – the only kind that is likely to bring us the big stuff – is research inside dreams, rather than research about dreams. Charting a path for future research, William C. Dement, one of the leading research scientists in the area of sleep and dreams, appealed for “trained introspectionists to give us somewhat more confident information about what goes on in the mind during sleep.”
    Research should center on recognizing that there are some individuals who seem to be “supremely good at recalling their dreams.” Perhaps they could be encouraged not only to increase their recall even further but to attain some degree of mental control inside the dreamstate “which would allow them to attend to the dream more closely with the idea of remembering it and reporting it.” Dement concluded: “Our major data about the dream world should come from those best able to describe it” – dream experiencers. [1]
    A century before Dement made his remarks, the Marquis Hervey de Saint-Denys (1822-1892), a French aristocrat and oriental scholar, made this type of research is ruling passion. He started observing his dreams closely at the age of thirteen, as a way of whiling away his time after completing lessons with his private tutors. Within a year, he noticed he was often aware while dreaming of his “true situation” - that he was dreaming – and was able to “guide their development” consciously.
    He dreamed, for example, that he was among flowering lilac trees. Aware that he was dreaming, he remembered reading that our memories of smell are “seldom correct” when we wake from dreams. “I caught hold of the branch, and first assured myself that the smell of lilac was recalled in my memory by this imaginary but voluntary act.” [2].
    Over decades, Saint-Denys became an intrepid investigator inside his dreams, producing and exploring dream images that revolved around his research interests. “During the day I reflected on the subjects most worthy of examination; at night, during the dreams in which I was aware of my situation, I sought every possible opportunity to discover and analyze.”
    There was a curious blind spot in his dream exploration. He believed that dream images all derive from our waking experiences: that whatever we see in dreams is constructed from life memories. Scientist that he was, he tested this by his experiential method.
    Perhaps the fact that he was not able – by his own account – to identify dreamscapes that were unrelated to waking life memories was a function of his own belief system. That would fit his own observation that whenever he thought about something in a conscious dream, a corresponding scene or image appeared. Dream images, he concluded, are “the representation in our mind’s eye of the objects that occupy our thoughts.”
    Today, we look to active dreamers 
to help us expand the frontiers of our knowledge of the deeper realities accessible to the dreaming mind. An active dreamer is not only an enthusiastic and prolific dream recaller. He or she develops the ability to enter and navigate inside the dream state at will, to maintain continuity of consciousness through success states of sleep, dream and hypnagogia - and keeps extensive logs of these experiences.
    Active dreaming, as I teach and practice it, is a discipline - a fun one, but one that requires practice, practice practice. The rewards are immense. We discover that dreams give us personal doorways to the multiverse. We confirm that, dreaming, we are time travelers. We scout out the possible future, and we can visit past times and past lives and communicate, mentally, with other personalities. We gather first-hand evidence of the reality of parallel worlds and explore how quantum effects may work on a human level. We become quite familiar with the normalcy of "supernormal" abilities like precognition and telepathy. We embark on experiments in mutual or interactive dreaming, sometimes by traveling together on group shamanic journeys powered by drumming, at other times by setting overnight assignments for our circles. And - oh! - the places we go!


1.      William C. Dement, “Proposals for future research” in Gabrielle C. Lairy and Pero Salzarulo (eds) The Experimental Study of Human Sleep: Methodological Problems. (Amsterdam: Elsevier, 1975) 442.

2.      Marquis Hervey de Saint-Denys, Dreams and How to Guide Them trans. Nicholas Fry, ed. Morton Schatzman M.D. (London: Duckworth, 1982) 56

Art: "The Bunch of Lilacs" by James Tissot (c.1875)

1 comment:

Patricia said...

My sense of smell is more consistent in the hypnagogic then in deeper dreaming.