Mind-Bending Study Shifts Our Understanding of Dreams

An international study of 36 participants from four different countries (United States, Germany, France, and the Netherlands) discovered a new communication method when someone is sleeping; “interactive dreaming.” Through “interactive dreaming,” those asleep, but aware of their dreams, were able to follow instructions, differentiate sensory stimulus, answer yes-or-no questions, and perform simple math by answering with physical cues like eye and facial movements.

BACKGROUND: How to Study Dreams?

“Interactive dreaming” happens in a lucid dream state during the REM (rapid eye movement) of sleep. The study notes successful two-way communication between the researchers and the ‘dreamers’ in real-time. All four labs involved in the study used independent research methods that all yielded the same successful communication results.

In one of the German studies, the dreamer was able to communicate the following during REM:

“I am in the bed in the sleep lab, and I know that my task is to solve math problems, which are delivered to me with blinking lights or beeping tones. I realize at some point that the lamp has been beeping for quite some time [the actual lamp in the sleep lab does not beep]. I concentrate on solving the math problem. The answer is ‘3,’ and I report it with eye movement. I am not aware that I am dreaming. I think ‘6 minus 3’ was the math problem, but I am not sure if this was really the math problem. I can only confidently remember the solution.”

“We put the results together because we felt that the combination of results from four different labs using different approaches most convincingly attests to the reality of this phenomenon of two-way communication,” said Northwestern University Ph.D. student Karen Konkoly, lead author of the paper, in a news release. “In this way, we see that different means can be used to communicate.


ANALYSIS: Why Do We Find Dreams So Compelling?

The increased study of phenomena like dreams and consciousness by mainstream science is encouraging. Though humanity has been grappling with the psychology, philosophy, and even theology concerning dreams and dream states for millennia, credible doctors and large institutions are becoming more active in research in an attempt to understand exactly what dreaming is.

Computer scientist Alessandro Fogli from Roma Tre University in Italy said in a recent study that “most dreams are a continuation of what is happening in every-day life.” Scientists refer to this as a “continuity hypothesis of dreams.” The idea is simple; dreams reflect our every-day thinking and concerns and aren’t necessarily just unconscious thoughts in and of themselves.

While dreams themselves continue to remain an unexplained phenomenon, the break-through in communications from Northwestern University and the three other international labs give scientists further understanding of how the brain works during REM sleep.

“Our experimental goal is akin to finding a way to talk with an astronaut who is on another world, but in this case, the world is entirely fabricated on the basis of memories stored in the brain,” the paper stated.


What exactly is our brain doing when we dream, and why are our dreams often bizarre? (Image: Stefan Keller)

OUTLOOK: “To Sleep, Perchance to Dream…”

Scientists worldwide continue to investigate what it means to “dream,” this latest study has tapped into a new way to retrieve communication from those outside the waking world. The paper promises follow-up studies and aims to address sleep/memory processing, verifying dreams’ accuracy, problem-solving sleep anomalies like night terrors, and a better understanding of memory processing in general.

Through these “interactive dreaming” methods, the future of the mind seems wide open. Perhaps one day, we could learn to extract secrets (think what the CIA could do with this), find repressed memories, create new methods of cognitive-communication that could spill over into artificial intelligence, and even venture into the weird and deep waters of telepathic transmissions.