Have you ever seen a tiger in the clouds? How about Jesus in the gnarled bark of a tree - or Richard Dawkins in a coffee stain?
This peculiar quirk of human psychology goes by the rather lovely sounding name of Pareidolia (say: pah-ray-doh-lee-a).
Many great scientists have pondered the origins of this trait. The simplest explanation is an evolutionary one: being able to detect predatory faces and figures amid background noise gives you a greater chance of surivival.
In the animal kingdom, pattern recognition makes the difference between life and death. And natural selection, operating as it does, pushes such a sensitivity to maximum use. After all, it's better to have a false-positive (to see a face where there is none), than a false-negative (to end up as lunch).
As the descendants of a long line of excellent facial hallucinators, nature has imbued us all with a tendency to seeing faces and patterns in the mundane. Even when they're not actually there.
It is a little known fact that we can take advantage of pareidolia as a means to hack our lucid dreams.
At its heart, the principle is simple: take an established and powerful psychological predisposition, in this case pareidolia, and exploit its natural momentum to move us towards our chosen goal.
Let me show you two approaches to using pareidolia in your lucid dream adventures:
Our dreams can be very varied, sometimes we'll dream of buzzing city streets, filled with dream characters. At other times we'll find ourselves in a veritable ghost town.
There will, almost certainly, be occasions where you'll wish to interact with a dream character but there will be none to be found. In these situations pareidolia is the perfect means to easily conjure a new dream companion.
The solution is self-evident: search your environment for pareidolia-inducing content. This should be incredibly easy, so easy in fact, that you should be able to do it right now.
In your lucid dream, once you've found your candidate, give it your full attention. Really invest your time and focus into seeing this pareidolic face. Unlike the waking world, your dream will quickly start to imbue this phantom-face with more and more detail, until, quite by magic, it shall spring into life.
If you struggle, try engaging your pareidolic companion in conversation. This is a surprisingly rapid and effective process, which can lead to all manner of interesting and unexpected results!
Wake Initiated Lucid Dreams (WILD) are one of the trickiest of all lucid dreams to induce. They require focus, patience and perfect timing. The best time to attempt a WILD is during a Wake Back To Bed (WBTB) practice.
Inevitably, before you enter a full-fledged dream, you'll first have to wade through the amnesia-inducing labyrinth of hypnagogia (the fleeting half dreams and psychedelic imagery you'll see as you fall asleep).
One of the difficulties with traversing hypnagogia into dreaming, is the time it takes for hypnagogia to coalesce into a stable dream environment. Often this will take much longer than your ability to maintain awareness and focus.
To expedite this process, we can once again turn to our friend pareidolia.
You'll find that because you are working in accordance with a natural instinct, your hypnagogic imagery should settle far more rapidly, into a solid and full-fledged dream. Our minds want to hallucinate faces. We just need to let them.
As a useful side effect, you'll also find that your lucid dream will likely start with a ready made companion.
This is the tip of the iceberg for such explorations. There are countless practical uses for pareidolia and an entire universe of scientific knowledge that can be applied directly to your lucid dream life.
If you wish to explore this and a multitude of other fascinating subjects, all through the eyes of a lucid dreamer, then you can delve deeper with The Lucid Dreamer's Guide to the Cosmos - a Kickstarter project aimed at combining and harnessing the power of dreams and science.
About The Guest Author
Daniel Love is a British lucid dreaming researcher, whose goal is to share lucid dreaming in an honest and thoughtful manner. He aims to dispel some of the myths and misunderstandings surrounding the subject, with the hope that it will help bring the wonders and benefits of lucid dreaming to a wider audience.
Rebecca Turner is the founder of World of Lucid Dreaming. She is currently studying for a science degree in Auckland and becoming famous as a science writer. Try her lucid dreaming course and connect with the team on Facebook and the lucid dream forum.
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?