I arrived back in the UK yesterday morning after a 24 hour journey from Sydney. Predictably, it was raining.
What I tried to do during the flights back home was to time my eating and sleeping so that I could reduce any jetlag I’d have caused by the ten hour time difference. The easiest way to do this is to set your watch to your destination time zone as soon as you step on the plane and go to sleep at the appropriate time; there are other things you can do but they’re more personalised.
Resetting your time zone would probably work really well except for the fact that you also have to spend a large amount of time in a plane, which is not really the best environment for sleeping. I suspect that if we used teleporters things would be much better in this respect.
In any case, it worked reasonably well for me. I arrived back home at 7am GMT on Monday, after having been awake for about 32 hours (OK, I managed to get a couple of hours of sleep on the plane, which aren’t counted). I managed to stay up (some might say heroically) until about 3pm when I decided to have a short nap; this would be 40 hours up continuously.
Unsurprisingly, that nap went on for about eight hours. Surprisingly, it was only the second time in my life that I have (if briefly) had a lucid dream, a dream in which I knew I was dreaming.
The first time I had a lucid dream came after about a week or two of fairly diligent practice and preparation. There are a few strategies out there to help you have a lucid dream, and the majority boil down to experiencing and recognising a sign that you are dreaming, within the dream. My preparation involved checking the time on my watch a few times a day and thinking to myself, ‘My watch looks like it should, so I’m not dreaming.’ The point of this was to get into the habit of checking the time so that I would do it in my dreams as well.
Soon enough, during a dream I checked the time and noticed that the watch was doing something wacky, such as changing the time when I looked at it twice in succession, or maybe going backwards, or whatever. At that point, I thought to myself, ‘Hey, this is a dream!’ and it was a rather interesting experience, like waking up (but obviously not in the literal sense). Since the point of lucid dreaming is that you get to do whatever you want in the dream, I resolved to do a bit of flying, but for some reason I got caught up in the dream and lost self-consciousness. I was a bit disappointed by this and gave up the practice. This was probably over five years ago.
Last night’s lucid dream had a different beginning. I was chatting to someone who said something completely bizarre, and then I replied, ‘Hold on a second, that’s not possible, this must be a dream!’ and once again, I woke up and it was really a wonderful sensation. Alas, after only a few subjective minutes of lucidity, during which time I freaked out a bit because I thought I might make myself wake up properly by my antics in the dream, I lost self-consciousness again.
Anyway, this experience made me think about the physiological basis of the transition between normal and lucid dreaming. In normal dreaming, you are still conscious, in a sense – you are aware that you are yourself. However, you are not aware that you are actually in a dream; this is called meta-awareness by some.
So why is it that it’s so difficult to gain meta-awareness while dreaming, and how does it occur? Is it possible to observe some kind of neural correlate of the transition, perhaps by fMRI? I have to confess that I have no good theories on the basis of lucid dreaming, but it certainly does seem to be a ripe area for investigation by cognitive neuroscientists, especially those looking at the nature of consciousness, awareness and theory of mind (some might say that this would involve all of them).