Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
Lucid dreams are always the same for me. In them, I can fly. It's how I can tell I'm dreaming. I run as fast as I can, then jump — that's how I take off — an idea of flight that I'm certain comes from playing too much Super Mario Bros. 3 as a kid. Of course, brains are weird and amazing. They make such strange connections when we're asleep, but only rarely do they let us know we're dreaming. (That's what lucid dreaming is: the awareness that you're dreaming while you're still asleep.)
The team of developers behind a new lucid dreaming gadget wants to change that. They've raised nearly $240,000 in Kickstarter donations for a device called the iWinks Aurora headband.
The idea: Wear the Aurora over your eyes before you go to sleep. When you reach a certain stage in the REM cycle, the device will play subtle yet noticeable lights and sounds to signal to you that you're dreaming — all without waking you up. Daniel Schoonover, an iWinks founder and engineer, acknowledges the gadget is "very ambitious." But, he swears it works.
"I'll be experiencing a dream in a passive way, sort of just going along with the events, then the lights will come on and sound will come through, and everything you thought was reality was not really reality," Schoonover said. "You can really reconsider the circumstances of the dream at that point. If you want to control the dream, you can do that. Or, you can sit back and watch."
Schoonover and his colleagues also say that they'll collect data from Aurora wearers to continue to perfect the algorithm that runs the device, but only use data from those who agree ahead of time to share it. And, the Aurora isn't actually the first technology of its kind, though it may be the first commercialized at the scale Schoonover and his partners are envisioning. Although it sounds like something out of science fiction, dream researchers say this kind of technology has worked before.
Illustrated by Sydney Hass.
Psychophysiologist Stephen LaBerge may be the best known lucid dream researcher. He has been developing similar devices aimed at helping dreamers enter a state of lucid dreaming since the 1980s. (LaBerge’s devices have been used academically, not sold commercially.)
"LaBerge's goggles worked," said Robert Stickgold, a dream scientist and psychiatry professor at Harvard Medical School. "I don't know if these goggles do something like that, but the idea again [with LaBerge’s devices] was that the flashing light would somehow jolt the mind."
Those who obsess over lucid dreaming say that knowing you're asleep while you're still asleep has more value than mere entertainment. Some researchers believe lucid dreaming could be a tool to combat the anxiety from waking life that sometimes surfaces directly and indirectly in our dreams.
"Lucid dreaming has been investigated as a potential avenue of psychotherapy, even PTSD treatment," said Jack Payne, a member of the iWinks creative team. "Essentially, nothing that bad can happen to you in a dream once you realize you're dreaming. It's a great way to get in touch with your subconscious or unconscious mind."
Your dreaming mind is more receptive to new ideas and new connections between ideas than your awake mind, Harvard's Stickgold says. Not all of these associations make sense, but some of them do — which helps explain why some people find themselves waking up with great ideas, that sense of it came to me in a dream. For instance, chemist Dmitri Mendeleev said his idea for the periodic table of elements first appeared to him in a dream.
"You’re imagining possible future scenarios, imagining ways to reinterpret things that happened in the past,” Stickgold said. "The brain shifts into a neurochemical, neurophysiological state where normally-weak associations are selectively activated. So, you noticed the things you wouldn't normally notice about how things fit together."
The lowest donation rate at which Kickstarter contributors were promised one of the iWinks devices was $150, which isn't a bad deal since they're available for preorder now for $199 — would you pick one up?