Can You Recreate Real-World Scenes in Lucid Dreams?
How lucid dreamers try to control their dreams and recreate scenes from memory.
Posted September 25, 2020 | Reviewed by Devon Frye
Lucid dreams occur when the dreamer realizes they are dreaming while asleep. Lucid dreamers are often able to control their dream body, although the ability to control the actual dream environment is more varied. Recent work has explored the strategies lucid dreamers can use to increase control of the dream environment (see prior post here), with techniques ranging from directing commands at the dream, to going through doors to find new scenes. Nevertheless, there has been little experimental work testing the abilities of lucid dreamers to control the dream environment.
In a recent study, participants were invited to the laboratory and asked to study an experimental room; they were then told to attempt to recreate this scene while in a lucid dream. The experimental room contained a variety of objects including: a coiled rubber rattlesnake, some plastic fruit, a picture of a family, a headshot of a female, an abstract geometric painting, an analog clock set to 6:15, a bunch of colored roses, and a set of colorful toy blocks.
Twenty-three participants (10 female, 13 male) completed the study; nine of the participants reported recreating the laboratory scene while dreaming, although 2 were from a semi-lucid dream and 1 was from a non-lucid dream. The lucid dream reports of the successful participants were qualitatively analyzed to examine the strategies and limitations of lucid dream control.
Examples of successful lucid dream reports:
“I used the car to fly to the university, crashing into a window. I made my way into the correct area after navigating a maze of hallways. I entered the [experimental] room to find it mostly empty. I recalled the items I was looking for and noted missing elements, shelves, digital painting, desk gone, no end table. There is a picture where the blonde one should be. It’s blurry and watery…”
“I was wandering the halls of the building where the study took place… this time they were full of… shadowy figures… I made it my mission to get to the room, but the closer I got the more crowded the hallways got… but I reached my hand to the door… the door was locked again… so I imagined just passing through the door… I opened the door and the room was empty… I closed the door and tried to make things appear as they were in the room… I would close my eyes, think of an object that I could remember, and open my eyes and it would appear. First, it was the wooden desk with the fruit… I kept closing my eyes and trying to make it perfect, but then things got out of control. The clock above the switch spun to midnight… the snake moved off the metal desk to the fruit and wrapped around them…”
“ I caught myself in hypnagogia and set the intent to go to the [experimental] room. I then saw myself going up the northeast flight of stairs at [the university]… turned left past the coffee mugs… Went ahead into the [experimental] room. I saw the picture of the girl with green turquoise eyes and rainbow earrings, then moved forward to the desk. Looked down and around, walls were clean and table next to desk was not there. Also, the big painting was not there, it was a plain white wall. I saw the rattlesnake, it was mostly orange and black. The first time I saw the tail it had three black bands but when I looked again there were five, then seven and finally thirteen…”
The participants used different strategies for recreating the experimental scene. Some participants simply found themselves in the room or set a pre-sleep intention to visualize the room, whereas others had to make their way to the laboratory in their lucid dream, e.g. walking through university hallways or going up the stairs. One participant used a car in their dream to “fly to the university crashing into a window… [making their] way into the correct area after navigating a maze of hallways.”
In some cases, participants started their recreation with a near-empty experimental room, and then proceeded to fill the room with objects. One subject reported “[closing their] eyes, [thinking] of an object that [they] could remember and [opening their] eyes and it would appear.” Other participants simply noted that the experimental scene was incomplete, e.g. noticing the missing desk, painting, or clock.
When items were present in the experimental scene, they were typically inaccurate and unstable. For instance, the clock often represented the wrong time, “When I focus on [the clock] I see Arabic numbers, though I thought at first it was Roman at first glance. The time six something… the minute hand is at the seven position but it’s an eight. I focus and it changes to a seven for a second but is trying to be eight.” Another participant reported similar shifts in the image of the rattlesnake: “I saw the rattlesnake, it was mostly orange and black. The first time I saw the tail it had three black bands but when I looked again there were five, then seven and finally thirteen.”
Similar to this instability, items in the room were often animated. For one participant “[the clock] spun to midnight” and “[t]he digital painting was moving.” For other participants “The snake was real and moving across the floor” or “moved off the metal desk to the fruit and wrapped around them and then moved to the floor.”
In general, it seems lucid dreamers use focus and intention to attempt to create dream objects, but these objects are often inexact and unstable recreations of the intended object.
Overall, the study provides an interesting qualitative analysis of the ways in which lucid dreamers attempt to manipulate their dream environment and the limitations they face even with clear focus and intention. About a quarter of participants were able to recreate the experimental scene in a lucid dream, though fraught with inaccuracies and instability.
Nevertheless, it is impressive that the lucid dreamers were able to recall the real-world laboratory scene with such clarity while lucid. This holds promise for future research where lucid dreamers could be asked to perform simple laboratory tasks while lucid, to assess how performing tasks in a lucid dream impacts learning (see prior post on this here), and how it compares to performing tasks while awake.
Mallett, R. (2020). Partial memory reinstatement while (lucid) dreaming to change the dream environment. Consciousness and Cognition, 83, 102974.
Lemyre, A., Légaré-Bergeron, L., Landry, R. B., Garon, D., & Vallières, A. (2020). High-Level Control in Lucid Dreams. Imagination, Cognition and Personality, 0276236620909544.