Tholey, P. (1989). Consciousness and abilities of dream characters observed during lucid dreaming. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 68, 567-578.
In LDs, DCs sometimes give the impression of having consciousness of their own. They speak and behave logically, perform amazing cognitive feats and express in their behaviour distinct purposes and feelings, but does that mean they have a consciousness of their own? In stating that DCs have consciousness of their own, we do not mean here that these are independent beings in the way that occultists think of ghosts or spirits. Rather we think here that all DCs, including the dream ego, arise in the brain of the dreamer (this argument apparently is supported by a certain psychophysical working hypothesis). Whereas sensory inputs tend to dominate in the contents and the organization of the perceptual world in the waking state, central brain processes are largely responsible for the events of the dream world. One characteristic of these brain processes is that they are related to cognitive and affective memory processes. Whether certain brain processes become conscious is thought to depend on the dynamic characteristics of these processes. It is then theoretically possible that more than one consciousness can develop in a single brain.
What we understand here by consciousness is not a phenomenal field, but facts in the phenomenal world. Consciousness can then be defined as the participation of a phenomenal I in phenomenal objects or events from its own position, not only by its perception, but also by its imagination, memory and thoughts. By this definition the dream ego has a consciousness in LDs: it observes the dream scenery from its own position, displays good powers of recollection and can think rationally. In this paper we’re also interested in whether another DC which meets the dream ego has a consciousness in the sense just described. This question cannot be answered definitively because metaphysical implications are involved. It can, however, be researched empirically to a certain degree with the aid of phenomenological and psychophysical experiments. So the aim was to establish whether DCs can or cannot show accomplishments which support or disprove the hypothesis that they see and act in the dream scenery from their own observer perspective, that they have their own access to the memory, and that they appear capable of creative and independent thought. To this end, experienced LDers were instructed to set their DCs various tasks while LDing.
Nine male subjects (seven students and two psychologists) took part in the study. They were all experienced LDers who had learned how to induce LDs by means of the combined reflection technique developped by the author (Tholey). The subjects were instructed to set other DCs certain tasks during LDing. The tasks set were:
- to draw or write something which was upside down from or opposite to the position of the dream ego (the other DC sat or stood opposite the dream ego);
- naming an word which is unknown to the dream ego;
- finding rhyming words for a specific word;
- finding a rhyming verse;
- doing arithmetic: to solve both simple arithmetic and problems requiring mental arithmetic, not to be solved by the dream ego beforehand. To this end, the subjects were instructed for the DCs addition and multiplication tasks of varying degrees of difficulty.
In a single LD, subjects were allowed to set several DCs one or more tasks. The dream report was recorded either in writing or on tape, immediately upon the subject’s awakening. At the beginning of the study, neither the subjects nor the experimenter knew to what extent the DCs were capable of solving the tasks. While the study was taking place, subjects did not discuss their own reports with other fellow students. The study lasted for several months.
The findings are based on reports from 92 LDs. At least 6 LDs per subject were considered. Because of the subjectivity of dream reports, the rule was set that only if at least 3 subjects reported a DC had successfully accomplished a given task, this could be seen as support that such a task could be performed. However, the number of right solutions varied strongly from one subject to another and this seems to depend on how experienced the subjects are as LDers, but also on the experiences the DCs have in solving a single task. To illustrate the problem solving, here are some examples of each task:
Task 1: Drawing or writing
Example - “Then the man takes the pencil out of my hand and proceeds to make a quick, accurate sketch of a face on a magazine. From my perspective, the face is upside down. Amazed, I turn the magazine around 180° so as to look at the face more closely. The drawing remains the same; after some time, however, I see the sketch ‘properly’ (a reversal takes place). The picture shows the face of a person playing pinball; the head is lowered so that only the moustache and nose are visible from above. I look at the picture again; it could not be more accurate.”
Example - “I ask my girlfriend to write something. Very slowly and somewhat clumsily she writes ‘3ZWG’. I don’t understand the meaning of it. She’s standing right beside me and as she writes the ‘G’, I observe clearly the movements her hand makes in forming the letter. When she has finished, she walks away. I get her to write again; she is now standing opposite me and writes on a board, a sort of writing slate. With rapid movements she writes the word: ‘Lippestrasse’. The writing is upside down from my position. (The word she writes is the name of the street on which I live). Her writing has an attractive and uniform appearance. I’m very pleased.”
These and other experiments support the hypothesis that some DCs can write or draw as if they were observing the dream scenery from an observer’s position. The last reported LD took an interesting turn. Some two months after the dream, the student reported upon this LD. When he wrote ‘3ZWG’ on the board, it was pointed out to him that this was the usual abbreviation for ‘3-Zimmer-Wohnung’ (three-room apartment). This explanation had a bearing on one of his problems at that time. His girlfriend wanted him to move out of his apartment in ‘Lippestrasse’ and to move with her into a three-room apartment. This turn of events illustrates an interesting point about LDing, namely that DCs are obviously able to express something, without the dreamer himself understanding the meaning of what the DC is expressing, even after awakening.
Task 2: Naming an unknown word
Example - “I meet a female acquaintance in the room. I ask her, as I had planned to do, if she can tell me a foreign word I am unfamiliar with. She immediately says: ‘Orlog. The word Orlog described our relationship.’ I fail to understand her as that word is unfamiliar to me. When I later ask the woman what this word means, she denies having said it, arguing she used the word ‘Charme’ (charm). On explaining this she gives me a warning glance.”
After waking, the subject looked up the word ‘Orlog’ in a dictionary and found it to be a Dutch word which means ‘war, quarrel’. The interesting point here is that DCs are seemingly able to lie, something which is supported by other experiments.
Task 3: Finding rhyming words
Example - “I drive into a side street and stop my car upon seeing an elderly man, a stranger. I consider for a moment which word I should ask him to find rhyming words for and then say: ‘Excuse me. Would you care to give me some rhyming words for ‘Tanne’ (fir tree)?’ I encounter a bewildered look. Meanwhile, I have thought of the words ‘Wanne’ (bathtub) and ‘Kanne’ (jug) myself. Then, however, the stranger says: ‘Panne!’ (accident, breakdown). This immediately reminds me of an accident which happened to me some days back in the waking state when my car broke down. Soon afterwards I wake up.”
Task 4: Rhyming
Example - “I ask a group of psychologists: ‘Can you say something about me in rhyme?’ The psychologist standing nearest to me says: ‘In dem Dunkel der Nacht/hat er sich umgebracht.’ [In the dark of night/he took his own life.] The verse reminds me at once of a LD I had years ago, at a time when I was going through a crisis. The verse began with the words ‘Ich ging in den Abend/und suchte die Nacht/die Gedanken in’s Dunkel zu senken.’ [In the dim light of evening/I searched for the night/to sink my thoughts into the dark.]”
The dreamer, a psychologist, interpreted this verse to mean that he had relinquished his own self during the crisis in which he experienced the first poem. With reference to our problem, it would seem of significance that DCs can not only recall parts of their waking state, but can also remember earlier dreams.
Task 5: Doing arithmetic
Example - “I now see a group of children aged about six or seven. When I ask one of the boys if can do sums, an elderly man (no doubt their teacher) pushes his way to the front and says: ‘The little ones can do simple sums.’ ‘What is two times two?’ I ask the boy. ‘Four!’ he answers at once. ‘And what is three times three?’ I then ask. ‘Nine’ the boy replies, without hesitation. I decide to ask something more difficult. ‘What is three times seven?’ After a short pause the boy answers, ‘Eighteen!’ As the disappointment shows in my face, the teacher again jostles his way forward and says, ‘I told you that they could only do simple sums. We haven’t gotten past ten in our arithmetic yet…’ I go back into the street to set problems to some adults. The first person I see is a well-dressed middle-aged man. ‘Would you mind doing some arithmetic for me?’ I ask. He makes a dismissing gesture with his hand to indicate his annoyance at my request and his unwillingness to comply with it. The next man I ask is much friendlier. ‘But of course’ he replies. ‘Fire away!’ He seems to find the situation very interesting. ‘What is four times four?’ I ask. ‘Sixteen’ he says, without hesitation. ‘But seriously’, he continues, ‘do you take me for a dummy, asking me such simple questions! You seem to think I’m a child.’ His words excite me because I feel here is someone at last capable of solving a problem whose answer I do not know in advance. I consider giving him a multiplication problem to do, with numbers between ten and twenty. But this would also be too easy for him, it occurs to me. And so I decide to give him a multiplication with numbers over twenty. I think of twenty-one times twenty-one. However, this still seems too easy a task for the ‘professor’. Meanwhile, the latter becomes tired of waiting. He waves goodbye and disappears. Extremely disappointed, I wake up…”
Example - “As I’m not convinced of the intellectual ability of the little boy, I decide to begin with an easy question. ‘What is one times one?’ ‘One’ the boy answers. ‘And what is three times four?’ ‘Eleven’ the boy replies after a moment’s hesitation. At this I laugh and say, ‘You can’t even do simple sums. The answer is twelve!’ A superior smile appears on his face. 'But, I didn’t solve your problem. I worked out what seven plus four is, and the answer to that is eleven, isn’t it!”
Although the DC had difficulty solving the last problem set by the dream ego, it did show a certain independence of mind. The dream character set itself a problem and then proceeded to answer this correctly.
DCs show themselves to be especially ingenious when it is a question of outwitting the dream ego. If one tries, for example, to root them to the spot with a stare, they will attempt to avoid the dream ego’s gaze - either by employing jerky eye movements, or by putting on a hood, or by switching off the light. Recurrent DCs often behave as if they had learned something from their experiences in a previous dream. If they were fixed with a stare in a previous LD, then it’s likely that they will appear in a hood at the beginning of a subsequent dream or will resort to some other method of evasion.
It is also remarkable that though some DCs may try to dissuade the dream ego in the prelucid phase from the belief that a dream is taking place, others actually make the dream ego recognize that it is dreaming. This is not only in agreement with the hypothesis that some DCs seem to have a consciousness but furthermore shows that they seem to become lucid even sooner than the dream ego. In this context, another interesting phenomenon is the fact that it is possible to arrange to meet a DC in a future dream, albeit in rare cases. It was also observed that some DCs seem to be able to recall previous dreams and are even able to give the dream ego correct information about the dreamer’s past (in the waking state) which the dreamer himself had forgotten. If a DC is asked whether it has a consciousness of its own, one can reckon with an answer along these lines: “I am sure that I have consciousness, but I doubt if you have one, because you ask me such stupid questions!”
To investigate whether DCs have a consciousness of their own, we also developped a method that involves the ‘ego core’ of the dream ego leaving its own body and entering into the body of another DC. By this method the dream ego is believed to experience directly the consciousness of another DC, especially the thoughts, feelings, and purposes of the other DCs. To illustrate this “entering into the body of another DC”, here’s an example from a young girl, who in her dream meets a young man:
“All at once I knew I was dreaming… It was then that I became aware of my spirit, that is, the part of me I think of as my ‘self’, detaching itself from my body and floating across to his body. In this bodiless state I was able to use all my senses to orient myself, that is, seeing, hearing, feeling, etc… After I had left my body, I still saw it standing there, doing some sort of fiddly work and talking. In other words, you could not tell by looking at my body from the outside that I was no longer inside it. So I floated across to the boy and slipped into his body. As I did so, I had the feeling that I had taken over all his vital body functions and his motoricity… I saw with his eyes, I saw my body standing there engaged in some sort of activity. I also saw his spirit, his consciousness, I saw him thinking, without being able to remember how this came about… I saw how he perceived me, the effect I had on him, and the feelings he had for me…”
Despite the fact that DCs’ performance in arithmetic isn’t better than that of primary school beginners, some of them at least are capable of remarkable cognitive achievements in other areas. In other investigations, we also wanted to find several achievement areas in which the DCs fail completely, but we have not, as yet, been able to discover any.
From the examples described here, it can be very clearly seen that DCs act as if they had their own intentions and feelings. From an empirical point of view, therefore, our investigations so far seem to support rather than disprove the hypothesis that DCs have consciousness of their own. And although it will never be possible to prove this hypothesis beyond any doubt, we have concluded on the basis of our findings, that for practical purposes, DCs are to be taken as seriously as if they had a consciousness of their own. It then follows that one should not resort to aggression in an attempt to resolve a quarrel with a hostile DC but should discuss the matter openly. If such a method is used, aggressive DCs are often more prepared to settle their dispute with the dream ego peaceably. If this can be achieved, it may result in an immediate end both to nightmares and to neurotic anxiety symptoms during the waking state.
What’s the significance of this? In basic terms we can say that the appearance of a hostile, threatening DC may reflect, in symbolic form, an internal psychological conflict. The threatening character is often the personification of a ‘dissociated’, a ‘repressed’ or an ‘isolated’ subsystem of the personality. The effect of settling a dialogue with the DC peaceably is to cause the originally isolated system to come into communication with other systems and eventually be integrated into the total personality. The current findings suggest that the above-mentioned technique of entering with the “ego core” into the body of another DC is more effective than the technique involving dialogue with another DC, but it generally requires more practice.
Once subsystems of the personality become isolated, the great danger is that the former may absorb increasingly more energy under influence of continued unfavorable experiences and this may then lead to a neurotic dissociation of the personality.
In extreme case, there may be a division into several partial personalities which may, in turn, take over motoricity, including verbal behaviour and expression as occurs in cases of multiple personality. In an earlier article (1985), Tholey pointed out that, even where such serious disorders are concerned, a constructive dialogue with the therapist and the partial personalities can lead to dramatic success. Salley (1985) demonstrated that dream work can also prove effective in the treatment of multiple personality patients. His explanations support the hypothesis that subsystems of the personality which are otherwise isolated from one another may achieve closer dynamic contact during dreaming. In LDs this contact can be increased and become more solid through dialogue with DCs. LD work, compared to nonlucid dream work, is, therefore, more likely to effect healing sooner and more often not only for neurotic patients but also for patients with multiple personalities.
LaBerge (1983) has shown that during LDing, an analogue change takes place on the EEG when the dream ego begins a new activity, as is observed in the waking state. The next logical step would be to investigate whether analogous changes also take place when the other DCs change their activity (ideally, the dream ego should remain engaged in the same activity).
It is known that the dream ego is able to give information to the outside world through eye movements and EEG readings. This then leads us to the question of whether other DCs are also able to send out information to the outside world. If, for example, in cases of multiple personality, different partial personalities are able to take over motoricity, then it is possible for different DCs to control physiological parameters, such as the EOG (which measures the eye movements). Phenomenological findings also seem to support this possibility. But more psychophysiological experiments are necessary to prove conclusively that other DCs are able to send signals to the outside world.