Here's my list of top 10 famous lucid dreamers from the fields of science, literature, music and movies - and how their lucid dreams have inspired them.
Stumbling across lucid dreaming by accident is not unusual in the general population. Indeed, some surveys suggest that everyone will have a lucid dream at least once in their lives. And with this concept hitting the mainstream, it's becoming easier to teach yourself lucid dreaming and hone this skill for life.
So it's not too surprising that there are many famous lucid dreamers out there - plenty more than in this list suggests. And for some of them, it has had a direct impact on the work for which they have become famous...
The director of Avatar (as well as countless other hit movies including The Terminator, True Lies and Titanic) has cited lucid dreams as being the inspiration for one of his famous movie scenes. Musing on Avatar, he said: "...I've kind of realized that what I was trying to do was create dream imagery, create a lucid dream state while you're watching the film," Cameron told Hollywood Today.
"I think that most people dream of flying at some point and when we're kids we dream of flying and I certainly did, and still have a lot of flying dreams and I thought that if I can connect to an audience, to a kind of collective unconscious in almost the Jungian sense, then it bypasses all the politics and all the bull***, and all the culturally specific stuff and all the language specific stuff around the world and connects us all to that kind of childhood, dreamlike state when the world was magical and infinite and scary and cool and you could soar. So that was the concept behind these scenes. And for me, personally, this was the part of the movie that I like the best, that I can watch over and over again."
A genius inventor, Tesla is best known for his many revolutionary developments in the field of electromagnetism. His work formed the basis of modern-day commercial electricity using Alternating Current (AC) power systems. However, he also came up with many marvelous scientific claims, some of which remain unresolved to this day, nearly 70 years after his death.
Nikola Tesla possessed some extraordinary mental characteristics: an acute sense of hearing, visualization skills so vivid as to mimic reality, and bizarre eccentricities of habit and behavior. His visualizations enabled him to conduct realistic "dream experiments" while he was wide-awake in the lab. As a result, it is very tempting to suggest that, in his virtual laboratory, Tesla functioned one level above the lucid dream state. He had the ability, while being both physically and mentally awake, to run complex visualizations internally with all the realism and automaticity of a lucid dream world.
The famous surrealist painter, Salvador Dali, knew that lucid dreams were real long before they were scientifically verified in the lab. He used dream incubation techniques to pre-program his dreams, and produced many dream-inspired works, such as Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee Around a Pomegranate a Second Before Awakening.
Dali also pursued some forms of automatism as a way of inspiring new works straight from the unconscious. However, he eventually turned to a method he called "critical paranoia" - a state in which he could apparently cultivate delusion while maintaining sanity. His eccentric persona, which is what helped make him so famous, was even considered part of his art practice.
"I wanted to do this for a very long time, it's something I've thought about off and on since I was about 16," he told The Los Angeles Times. "I wrote the first draft of this script seven or eight years ago, but it goes back much further, this idea of approaching dream and the dream life as another state of reality."
Intriguingly, Inception's main character, Dom Cobb, is played by Hollywood celebrity Leonardo DiCaprio who also had lucid dreams before starring in the movie. The role of Cobb in the tangled dream-within-a-dream plot is to implant an idea in the unconscious mind of his victim.
While the idea of shared dreaming currently resides in the land of science fiction, we can't escape the inherent truths of this movie: that the dream architects consciously manipulate the dreamscape with all the realism of waking life. Also like lucid dreams, however, the unconscious mind has its own agenda...
Does the king of horror have lucid dreams? There are a few clues that he has at least dabbled in the phenomenon. Stephen King writes about lucid dreaming in his 1995 novel, Insomnia, an extraordinary tale about an insomniac who begins to see brilliant auras - and then more disturbing hallucinations as his condition deteriorates.
Another clue that Stephen King may be a lucid dreamer is how he finds inspiration for his novels. In an interview with UK reporter Stan Nicholls on the inspiration for Misery, King said: "Like the ideas for some of my other novels, that came to me in a dream. In fact, it happened when I was on Concord, flying over here, to Brown's. I fell asleep on the plane, and dreamt about a woman who held a writer prisoner and killed him, skinned him, fed the remains to her pig and bound his novel in human skin. His skin, the writer's skin. I said to myself, 'I have to write this story.' Of course, the plot changed quite a bit in the telling. But I wrote the first forty or fifty pages right on the landing here, between the ground floor and the first floor of the hotel."
And in an interview with Naomi Epel, King said: "I've always used dreams the way you'd use mirrors to look at something you couldn't see head-on, the way that you use a mirror to look at your hair in the back. To me that's what dreams are supposed to do. I think that dreams are a way that people's minds illustrate the nature of their problems. Or maybe even illustrate the answers to their problems in symbolic language."
The famous American physicist, Richard Feynman, declared his aptitude for lucid dreaming in his national bestseller, Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! He dedicated an entire chapter to his experiments with lucid dreaming where he gave a detailed account of how he influenced his dreams:
"I also noticed that as you go to sleep the ideas continue, but they become less and less logically interconnected. You don't notice that they're not logically connected until you ask yourself, "What made me think of that?" and you try to work your way back, and often you can't remember what the hell did make you think of that! So you get every illusion of logical connection, but the actual fact is that the thoughts become more and more cockeyed until they're completely disjointed, and beyond that, you fall asleep.
"I kept practicing this watching myself as I went to sleep. One night, while I was having a dream, I realized I was observing myself in the dream. I had gotten all the way down, into the sleep itself!
"I discovered that I could turn around, and walk back through the train -- I could control the direction of my dream. I get back to the car with the special window, and I see three old guys playing violins -- but they turned back into girls! So I could modify the direction of my dream, but not perfectly."
The electronic musician also known as Aphex Twin, Richard D James has publicly stated that the sounds from his album Selected Ambient Works Volume II were inspired by lucid dreams. Upon waking, he would attempt to re-create the sounds and record them.
This album consists of lengthy ambient compositions which James has described as being "like standing in a power station on acid". James also claims to have natural synesthesia which contributes to his work.
The director of the dreamy live-action rotoscoped movie, Waking Life, Richard Linklater is very familiar with the concept of lucid dreams. The movie is an intriguing philosophical jaunt into the world of lucid dreaming and asks the question: "Are we sleep-walking through our waking state or wake-walking through our dreams?"
The animation technique used in Waking Life requires animators to trace over live-action film movement, frame by frame, giving a curious dream-like appearance; real but not real. Rotoscoping was again used in Linklater's 2006 movie, A Scanner Darkly. This movie also pressures its protagonists to make a decision about the reality they are experiencing and to "wake up", to see their world for what it really is.
The creators of The Matrix, Andy and Lana Wachowski, are lucid dreamers who drew on this notion to create a virtual reality world in which we are all mentally enslaved, not recognizing that we are merely "dreaming". According to the official Matrix website, they drew on a whole host of philosophies to devise the plot, including Descartes, Mahayana Buddhism and the proverbial "brain in the vat" problem. The conundrum of The Matrix is: "How do I know that my reality is not an illusion?" This is the key to unlocking a dream and becoming consciously lucid.
The Wachowskis convey this and more in their sci-fi trilogy. They show us that the simple suspicion that you are dreaming is not enough (Neo knew this from the start, yet he still wasn't able to control the Matrix yet). Instead, you must train your mind in your own lucid dojo before you can achieve full creative action. Like Neo, many newbie lucid dreamers have difficulty flying (or at least staying airborne) until they have been through their own personal training regime. We learn the mental perspective required to understand what makes flight possible in a non-physical dream world. Because of this insight, The Matrix is a veritable instruction manual for lucid dreamers.
Was Einstein a lucid dreamer? Since conscious dreaming was not officially categorized nor popularized until after his death, we can only really speculate. However, it is clear that he mused on the concept of his internal dream world, and even used visualization techniques to arrive at some of his theories, including that of relativity. One of his most famous quotes deals with the condition of consciousness: "Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one." This is typical of the conclusion that every lucid dreamer makes after his first legitimate lucid dream - how can we trust our real-world perception when our dreams so effortlessly mimics reality?
Where did Einstein's genius come from? Post-mortem studies of his brain have revealed some interesting differences to the average brain. His parietal lobes were 15% wider than average - and area usually connected to spatial and visual cognition, as well as mathematics. He also had a rare pattern of ridges and grooves in his parietal lobes, thought to aid his visual thinking when it came to physics. And a third key difference is related to a knob found in the motor cortex, associated with musical ability (Einstein played the violin avidly since childhood). Ironically, Einstein's brain was actually smaller than average, which tells us his genius had more to do with the structure than size.
Einstein's Dreams by Alan Lightman is a novel which fictionalizes Einstein as a young scientist who is troubled by dreams as he works on his theory of relativity in 1905. Each dream involves a conception of time, though some scenarios may involve exaggerations of true phenomena related to relativity.