Dream telepathy and lucid dreaming (the act of self-awareness in dreams) are major themes running through 2010's sci-fi blockbuster Inception.
This is a movie that takes us on a journey into the intimate and infinite world of dreams... Written and directed by Christopher Nolan and starring an international cast, the subject of the movie raised considerable public awareness of the incredible phenomenon of lucid dreaming.
Lucid dreaming is a skill that has been scientifically proven and virtually anyone can do it. But what of dream telepathy? Is this a real phenomenon? Can anyone do it - or is it reserved for a select few?
I decided to take a closer look at the paranormal concept of telepathic dreaming, something I can't say I've ever experienced myself. To learn more, I spoke with renowned lucid dreamer, Robert Waggoner, author of Lucid Dreaming: Gateway to the Inner Self, about his experiments with lucid dreaming telepathy.
Dom Cobb, played by DiCaprio, is in the business of stealing secrets from deep within the unconscious mind. His rare ability to lucidly enter other people's dreams and extract valuable secrets has made him a coveted player in a treacherous world of corporate espionage - as well as an international fugitive.
Now Cobb has a chance at redemption; to perform one last job and his slate will be wiped clean so he can reclaim his life and his freedom. But the job is not to steal an idea - it's to implant one into another's unconscious mind.
Cobb and his team set out to perform the perfect crime, but they soon learn that no amount of planning can prepare them for the dangerous enemy that seems to predict their every move... An enemy that Cobb himself could have seen coming.
In his groundbreaking book on lucid dreaming and the unconscious self, Robert Waggoner dedicates a full chapter to the idea of lucid dream telepathy. In particular, he notes a recurring phenomenon in psychiatric therapy sessions where patients report psychic glimpses into the lives of their psychiatrists:
"Early in his career," Waggoner writes, "psychiatrist and internationally renowned dream expert Dr Montague Ullman discovered something interesting while talking to his patients about their dreams. It seems that they occasionally dreamt about his life... One distrustful patient dreamt of giving a chromium soap dish to someone building a home. Unknown to his patient, Ullman had recently been looking at a chromium soap dish he had mistakenly received when building his house and had held onto 'in a spirit of belligerent dishonesty inspired by rising costs on the house...' The patient seemingly homed in on this small incident via dream telepathy as a poignant symbolic expression for his distrust of therapists."
Over the next 10 years, Dr Ullman teamed up with the psychologist Stanley Krippner, PhD, and Alan Vaughan, to investigate dream telepathy scientifically at the Maimonides Medical Center sleep lab in Brooklyn. What is most startling is that they found considerable anecdotal evidence of this inexplicable, yet fascinating, phenomenon.
They went on to report their findings in the book Dream Telepathy: Experiments in Nocturnal ESP. Musing on why the phenomenon first appeared in therapy sessions, Ullman and Krippner explain that the therapy couch is one of the few places in Western culture where dreams are widely discussed and taken seriously. The simple act of recording and remembering our dreams can bring awareness to these paranormal occurrences.
Of course, Waggoner notes, lucid dreaming allows us the ability to become consciously aware in the dream state and actively seek out unknown or paranormal information. Upon waking, the lucid dreamer (or scientist, if conducted in a scientific setting) can record the lucid dream and verify the results. In his book, Waggoner includes numerous compelling examples from different lucid dreamers who have obtained unknown information when lucidly aware.
In lucid dreaming, do we have access to a type of collective unconscious?
With parallels to the movie, Inception, Waggoner's book goes on to discuss the story of Moe, in which a simple but unpredictable action in his lucid dream world became unconsciously implanted into her waking reality.
Aware in a lucid dream, Waggoner tells his story: "I'm inside [a restaurant or bar] enjoying a feeling of lucid euphoria, when I see my friend Moe come inside," Robert writes. He hopes to make her lucidly aware by picking her up and levitating, but she shows little awareness. "Trying to make some impact on her, I get the idea to make a peace sign with my fingers. I say, 'Look, Moe, do you see this peace sign? Every time you see it, it can make you become lucid - you'll know you're dreaming.' Again, I put the peace sign right in front of her face."
Four months later, Waggoner went traveling on business and met Moe for lunch. As he stood outside the restaurant, he was stunned to see her approach with a curious look in her eye - when she suddenly reach up and put a peace sign in front of his face. "Why did you do that?" Robert asked. Moe just shrugged and said nonchalantly, "I don't know. Just felt like it."
Did Waggoner telepathically tell Moe to do the peace sign in front of his face? Was it an impulse implanted into her unconscious self during the lucid dream? Was Moe's dream self really in Robert's lucid dream or was it only a representation of Moe?
The playwright Oscar Wilde wrote, "Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life." Christopher Nolan's new movie, Inception, may encourage some intrepid lucid dreamers to explore the limits of unconscious awareness. Hopefully, science will take this bit of fiction seriously and see what experienced lucid dreamers like Robert Waggoner have been discovering about the actual nature of lucid dreaming. So often, our inner world seems the least explored one. In lucid dreaming, Waggoner maintains, we have a revolutionary psychological tool to investigate our inner reality.