If everything you see, hear and feel in lucid dreams is the same as when you're awake, how do you know you're dreaming? Can you confuse lucid dreams with reality? What is the objective difference?
Rebecca says: Great question. This is a common misapprehension about lucid dreaming and I'm more than happy to set the record straight.
In my experience (and, I'm sure, the experience of many lucid dreamers) it is not possible to confuse lucid dreams with reality. With the power of conscious thought behind you, knowing you're dreaming is as intuitive as knowing you're awake.
Any deviation from that truth would be an indication of psychosis, and I see no evidence whatsoever to tar lucid dreamers with that brush!
In fact, this myth of confusing dreams with reality stems from a common misunderstanding that lucid dreams can "feel" exactly like waking life. People think that if this is so, then the two states must be indistinguishable.
While conscious dreams can FEEL real, there are other factors, such as memory and logical thought processes, which clearly distinguish these states.
To illustrate this I have mapped out three separate states of awareness - waking reality, lucid dreams and normal dreams - as I experience them:
So while lucid dreaming is a conscious experience, it's a completely different state from being consciously awake, and it is easy to distinguish so.
How Do I Know This Isn't Real?
Philosophical arguments aside (what if reality is a dream itself?) here's a more specific example from last night's lucid dream and why I couldn't possibly confuse it with reality. There's nothing special about this example and I believe you could apply all the same rules of logic to any other lucid dream.
In my dream, I was standing on a mountain over a forest. The desire to fly made me realize I was dreaming. I became lucid and the scenery shot into focus - suddenly I could see thousands of pine trees as vividly as real life. I got a sense of how high up I was, and now, when I looked into the distance, I could see the shiny silvery sea. If it looked so real, how could I be sure I wasn't awake?
But, you might argue, this scene was too fantastical to confuse with reality. So what if I dreamed lucidly of a very boring and lifelike scenario...?
Lucid Dream vs Reality
My experience of being in my living room in a lucid dream is not the same as my experience of being in my living room in reality.
The lucid dream version is self-contained. I can only hear things in the immediate vicinity or whatever my consciousness is focused on.
I don't necessarily know what day it is, nor what time of day.
The world beyond the living room doesn't exist yet until I go there. As a result, I tend to perceive only my localized bubble of awareness and there can be little room for separate lines of thought that don't directly manipulate my dream reality.
And of course, the big giveaway is, in a lucid dream I can do impossible things like push my own fingers through my hand (see: reality check). However, this is typically used to distinguish a dream from reality, and not the other way around.
Indeed, 95% of the population goes to sleep every night and fully accepts their dreams as reality. It's only when they wake up they realize it wasn't real.
In this sense, you can confuse normal dreams with reality, can you not?
But there is no concern for a sane mind to become locked in the belief that they are lucid dreaming, when in fact they are awake.
A final word on false awakenings - aka dreaming of waking up.
These can be exceptionally realistic dreams, like the most vivid kind of lucid dream, and yet you still don't know you're dreaming. Because you dreamed of waking up, you naturally assume you are now awake. Confusing, much?
A false awakening has all the characteristics of a lucid dream (vivid, intense, self-awareness) without realizing you're dreaming or taking conscious control. It is a good example of a scenario where you can confuse a dream with reality based on it's tangible and realistic nature.
The worst case scenario in a false awakening is you get up, get dressed, eat breakfast, head out the door for work... only to wake up, back in bed again. This next awakening can be a false awakening, too. And so it can be a frustrating cycle.
The answer is to perform a reality check when you wake up. Often this transforms a false awakening into a lucid dream!
And while for some people the experience may frustrating as it plays out, I don't believe there is really any doubt of reality when you finally do wake up for real. Objective thought will reveal whether you are dreaming or not... and the only reason a false awakening persists in the first place is because dreams lack objective thought.
This is the key to distinguishing your reality for what it is - and it's automatically provided by a healthy human consciousness.
If we're completely honest, lucid dreaming isn't really known for being the most social of interests. In fact, often it's a lone pursuit - just you, your dream journal and the landscape of your mind. But this technique called PAL (or Partner Assisted Lucidity) breaks down that wall and turns lucid dream exploration into a social event.
Members of our lucid dream forum have been asking how to create dream characters in lucid dreams. The most common problem is having characters who look nothing like they should. Or they seem disinterested in your company. Or they fail to show up on command altogether. So, how to combat this? It's a matter of finding creative solutions that bypass logical expectations.
To lucid dream, I recommend being able to remember at least one vivid dream per night. That will boost your self awareness in dreams (making lucidity more likely) and also means you can actually remember your lucid dreams. Which is nice. Here are four detailed tips on how to remember your dreams more frequently. And if you don't think you dream at all - trust me, you almost certainly do. It takes an extraordinarily rare sleep disorder to deprive someone of dream sleep.
It is estimated that these wise and wily Indians have been using mugwort in their healing and ritual practices for 13,000 years, where it is known as the ‘dream sage’. They use the herb to promote good dreams, which they consider an essential aspect of normal human functioning! But that’s not all...
Silene Capensis has been used for millennia by the Xhosa shaman of the river valleys in the eastern cape of South Africa, where it is known as Undela Ziimhlophe or 'white paths'. It's fragrant white flowers open only at night, when they emit a fragrant and almost hypnotising aroma. Also known as African Dream Herb or Ubulawu, Silene Capensis induces spectacularly vivid dreams - yet has never entered the mainstream and remains a fringe taste within western culture.
Experts agree that everyone is capable of having lucid dreams. Dreaming itself is a normal function of the mind. We all dream every night, even if we don't remember. And we all achieve conscious awareness while awake every single day. So what does it mean to combine these states? Why, the amazing ability to have conscious - or lucid - dreams. Sounds simple, doesn't it? So why do I keep hearing from people who say they can't achieve their first lucid dream?