What is The Evidence for Dream Telepathy?

Lucid dream telepathy is readily explored in the movie Inception. Multiple dreamers hook up to a shared dream environment, communicate as dream characters, and even plant a powerful idea into their target dreamer.

But is there any basis for anything resembling dream telepathy in reality?

What is The Evidence for Dream Telepathy

I decided to take a closer look at the evidence for telepathic dreaming, something I am not aware of ever having experienced myself.

(Have you had any suspected telepathic dreams before? Please share them in the comments below for analysis.)

What is The Evidence for Dream Telepathy?

Lucid Dreaming: Gateway to the Inner Self by Robert Waggoner

A proponent of exploring the untapped potential of our hidden selves (by the way, what is the self?), Robert Waggoner dedicates a full chapter to the idea of lucid dream telepathy in his book, Lucid Dreaming: Gateway to the Inner Self.

He points to the curiously recurring phenomenon in psychiatric therapy sessions where patients report "psychic glimpses" into the lives of their psychiatrists:

"Early in his career, 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."

~ Robert Waggoner Lucid Dreaming: Gateway to the Inner Self

Through the 1960s, 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.

They tested the hypothesis that they could make people could dream about randomly selected material such as artwork, movies and photographs through the telepathic medium alone.

A typical experiment involved a "telepathic sender" and a "telepathic receiver". They met in the lab first, then were sent to separate rooms.

The sender would open an envelope which contained the target image and then go to sleep. Meanwhile the receiver would sleep in another room and be awoken after a period of REM sleep to give a dream report.

After 10 years, Krippner and Ullman declared that their experiences yield statistically significant results... but did they?

The School of Dance

Here's an example of what was considered one significant and successful dream telepathy experiment.

Here's what the receiver reported dreaming about when the sender's target was an art print called School of Dance by Edgar Degas:

"I was in a class made up of maybe half a dozen people, it felt like a school... There was one little girl that was trying to dance with me."

School of Dance by Edgar Degas

School of Dance by Edgar Degas

The glaring problem with this experiment is that the definition of a match is broad and subjectively interpreted. I personally would not have accepted that example as evidence of dream telepathy. Why?

If you asked me to describe the painting, I might say: "There are nine ballerinas in tutus warming up in front of mirrors. They are in their teens and twenties. An old man sits with a violin, next to a piano. He is dressed up smart. There is a top hat, a violin case and a watering can in the foreground. The scene is set in a dance school or studio."

If the telepathic receiver had described something more of that nature, I'd more readily accept it as a positive match.

In fact, they missed the point that the ballerinas are actually women (check out their bosoms) not "little girls" and the most striking quality is that they are wearing tutus. Not something you'd forget to mention.

If You Want to Be a Bird

Here's another example from the Ullman and Krippner experiments, recorded in 1970.

This one took place on a much larger scale; a local artist gave a projector show at a rock concert, thereby turning the whole audience into a group of telepathic senders.

First they watched a color film about eagles and their nesting habits, then all kinds of birds from around the world plus mythological birds like the phoenix. All the while, the Holy Modal Rounders played their song If You Want to Be a Bird.

Located in a 100-mile radius of the concert, the five telepathic receivers were told about the concert location and asked to record their dreams at midnight, around the time of the exposure.

Here's what they reported:

The first receiver dreamed of "...something mythological, like a griffin or a phoenix."

The second reported "a snake", the third talked of "grapes" and the fourth dreamed of "an embryo in flames".

The fifth receiver did not sleep, however he did visualize "a number of seagulls flying over water".

Two out of five represents an excellent hit rate. Is this undeniable evidence of telepathic dreams?

Once again I think we should take an attitude of skepticism and ask the important questions.

Firstly, it's crucial to know if the dreamers reported other themes. It would be far less impressive, for example, if they also dreamed of (or visualized) lizards, tigers, flowers, boats, guns and ice trucking. Cherry picking dream data is a possible flaw in these experiments.

Even if they reported only birds as their major dream theme, I'd call into question the broad nature of the target material. It seems to me far too vague and general to transmit images of all different kinds of birds, both real and mythical. It's a scattershot approach.

You may be impressed that the first receiver dreamed of a phoenix, but this was one of many birds, making the chance odds of a successful match much higher. That's the problem with probabilities, though. Most people find them extremely difficult to comprehend rationally, and even the most skeptical individuals feel an instinctive need to attach meaning to events of pure coincidence.

To help overcome this chance effect, the target transmission should be specific and measurable. For instance, two blackbirds fighting over a wooden peg. Now we're getting specific. If a dreamer reported two blackbirds fighting over a wooden peg, it would be much harder to put down to coincidence and therefore much better evidence of dream telepathy. This kind of result, of course, would need to be readily repeatable to prove the existence of dream telepathy.

Other Dream Telepathy Experiments

Dream Telepathy: Experiments in Nocturnal ESPThere are other examples we can draw from this 10-year study, detailed in the book Dream Telepathy: Experiments in Nocturnal ESP. However I do urge a skeptical mindset when considering the results.

In the book, Ullman and Krippner muse on why the phenomenon first appeared in therapy sessions. They explain that the therapy couch is one of the few places in Western culture where dreams are widely discussed and taken seriously. They suggest that simple act of recording and remembering our dreams can bring awareness to such paranormal occurrences.

I'm definitely on board with the idea of taking our dreams seriously - or at least, understanding that they can be personally significant. I believe there is a solid place for dreamwork in psychological therapy and focusing on our dreams can bring all kinds of issues into focus.

Of course, lucid dreaming allows us the ability to actively seek out specific information in our dreams, while consciously aware in the moment. Whether that's intended in a therapeutic or a paranormal nature is up to you.

Peace, Moe, Peace

So far, dream telepathy experiments leave a lot to be desired. Lucid dreamers just might be able to change that.

Here's an example of suspected telepathy during a lucid dream. In Robert Waggoner's book he shares the story of Moe, in which a simple but unpredictable action in his lucid dream world became unconsciously implanted into her waking reality.

"I'm inside [a restaurant or bar] enjoying a feeling of lucid euphoria, when I see my friend Moe come inside... 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."

~ Robert Waggoner Lucid Dreaming: Gateway to the Inner Self

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... then she suddenly reach up and put a peace sign in front of his face.

"Why did you do that?" he asked. Moe just shrugged and said nonchalantly, "I don't know. Just felt like it."

Did he telepathically tell Moe to do the peace sign in front of his face? Was it an impulse implanted telepathically during his lucid dream?

We can't know - and it may be pure coincidence or explained by other factors - however this remains the best example I know yet.

Final Thoughts

"Life imitates art far more than art imitates life."

~ Oscar Wilde

The dream telepathy featured in Inception was facilitated by technology; specifically a shared dream device called PASIV. And I think that's where we're headed in the not-too-distant-future if we're ever to see the possibility of group dreaming or anything that resembles telepathy.

Of course, rationalism does not currently explain everything about the world around us and I encourage you to perform your own experiments in lucid dream telepathy. So often, our inner world seems the least explored one... and in lucid dreaming we have a revolutionary psychological tool to investigate the inner reality.

Mutual Dream Experiments

There have been several ongoing online Mutual Dream Experiments over the years, in which dreamers are asked to select "dream passwords" and attempt to exchange them with other dreamers on a specific night. Passwords are then matched online and dream content exchanged to further validate the match. Sadly, as of 2018, none are currently active (drop us a line if you've set one up).

About The Author

About the author

Rebecca Turner is a science writer, illustrator, explorer of consciousness - and founder of World of Lucid Dreaming. She is currently studying for a biology degree in Auckland and blogging at her site Science Me.