Afternoon Inquisition 10.18

We all know there are lots of myths and generally accepted “facts” about dreaming. At one time or another, I think my dreams have violated most of these “rules”. I’ve died in dreams on at least two occasions (which is completely freaky, btw), I regularly dream in color, and I can read (as in actually seeing and reading text, not just knowing what something says).

Consider this A.I. an informal and completely unscientific poll of sorts.

Do your dreams follow the generally accepted “rules”? Do you think most people’s do?

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  1. It can get complicated. I once dreamed I was mangled in an auto accident, gained consciousness, thought “this isn’t a dream”, passed out again, woke up, and then woke up.

    I drive much more carefully now.

  2. Dreaming is a process. No result of this process is invalid. Some results are rare or unexpected. Typically, dreams discuss how you relate to your culture, other cultures, and your emotions.

    Death is a form of utter servitude – a lack of self governance, if you will. Approaching death is feeling more like loosing control.

    Most people don’t die in dreams because most people dream about losing control, rather than lacking control. A person who dreams of death might feel like a zombie when they’re awake.

  3. I’ve died in dreams, too, and been aware that I was dreaming, and I always dream in color. But I also swim-fly and am often back at college, so I suppose I have “acceptable” dreams, too.

  4. Oh! My dream! Once I dreamt that I had studied for a test. I hadn’t studied and it was the next day. Surprisingly, I performed as if I had studied. In my dream, I read, flashcarded, modeled molecules, etc.

  5. I’ve fallen off of tall buildings in dreams and hit the ground, which some say will actually kill you. I’ve drowned in dreams. I’ve been shot in the head in many dreams. And I always dream in color.

  6. i was actually born a moderately natural lucid dreamer and have since honed my skills remarkably. i have broken many a natural law in my dreams and have explored the limits of the universe in ways that are literally impossible in the real world. for any skeptics interested in this check out: . i recall hearing on a skeptics guide podcast awhile back that lucid dreams are generally very quick and limited. untrue. there are techniques you can apply during the dream to staying dreaming and also techniques you can develop to retain your lucidity after you have attained it. interested skeptics should also check out Stephen LaBerge’s Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming, long renowned as the bible on this subject. anyone, with the right amount of practice and dedication can learn to develop and hone this skill. also interesting are some of the implications regarding consciousness and philosophical areas one ventures into whilst trying to explain this phenomenon of lucid dreaming. most people have actually had a lucid dream or two naturally during the course of their lifetime as well. and dying in a dream having any affect on reality is up there with bigfoot. so, far as i can tell, no one here has had any dreams that have really been even remotely out of the ordinary and natural realm. @slxpluvs dreaming is simply a reflection of your conscious waking life. trying to regard any other sort of meaning to this gets into psychology and other soft science at best and at worst into dream interpretation and all sorts of other junk science b.s. i’ve been waiting to correct the skeptics guide podcast for awhile but have had no where to do it. good A.I. carr2d2

  7. @hotphysicsboy: Lucid dreaming is fun, but I find it to be a lot of work. It’s pretty cool that you have mastered it so well.

    I disagree that dreaming is a reflection of your waking life. It’s been a few years since I learned this, so don’t quote me. If you look at some of the studies done on dreams/sleep, you’ll discover the brain activates differently from an awake state. Primarily, the temporal lobe and limbic systems are engaged. The temporal lobe “houses” cultural symbols, like letters and faces. The limbic system is primary emotional centers of the brain. Dreaming also involves parts of the frontal lobe. The dopaminergic system is believed to initiate dreaming and regulate its intensity. The stages of sleep are generally controlled by the brain stem, but unrelated to dreaming.

    Although it has been suggested that dreaming is a way of processing and consolidating memories, the primary concern of dream analysis is to use dreams as a way of seeing how a person views things that happen to them.

    For example, if two people got cut on the arm and dreamt about it one might dream about the cut growing until in consumed them. The other might dream about how they became cut. The focus of the dream is the focus of the person who is having the dream.

    Of course, dream analysis doesn’t “work” on lucid dreams, as they are not unguided manifestations of the memory consolidation process. I wonder what the neurological differences between lucid and non-lucid dreaming are.

  8. @slxpluvs sorry, clarification, i was referring just to content. clearly there are different processes going on in your brain while you are waking and sleeping. otherwise, great informative post, though. i also believe that some of the answers to your question are out there but i will spare you the misinformation by not trying to sum them up. instead they can be found here at LaBerge’s website: and i consider myself lucky to be such a natural that lucid dreaming comes very naturally and intuitively to me. i also have to disagree with anything other than the null hypothesis that dreams are just a random mix and match of material plucked from your waking state until i see some real, good, hard evidence making me think otherwise.

  9. You don’t dream in color? Every dream I have is in color. Other people dream in black and white? That is weird.

    Many of my dreams are so vivid and real that it will take me several seconds after I wake up before I realize that they were dreams and not memories.

    One of the many recurring dreams I have had is flight. I dream that if I can balance myself just right I will fly. That the air will carry me up, it is all a matter of balance. I have woken up on several occasions and thought for a few seconds that I had indeed achieved flight. Then reality restores itself.

  10. I died in a dream once (hit by a truck) and the dream ‘screen’ went black and there were subtitles along the bottom.

    However, it should be noted (rather boringly) that our memories of dreams, particularly over time, are extremely unreliable.

    Still, it WAS in subtitles.

    I’ve dreamt I was peeing and then woken up peeing. The Shame :(

  11. @flib: I’ve always been amused at the urban legend that falling off a dream building will kill you, simply because…how would we know? If true, everyone it had ever happened to would be dead before telling anyone about their dream.

  12. I don’t just dream in color, I dream in Eastmancolor®.

    Seriously, my dreams look like low-budget films from the 60s, full of saturated reds and washed out blues, like something directed by Mario Bava (if I’m lucky; Herschell Gordon Lewis if I’m not).

    I have a theory[1] that our actual dreams are just random neurons firing. As we start to wake up, we try to make sense of all that noise, and that’s what we remember. (Last night: A row of funky shops near the University of Dreamsville, and a cartoonish dog who was particularly sensitive to the music of Fats Waller. [He liked the instrumental bits, but would become aggressive during the singing.])

    That’s why dreams often seem to make sense, or reveal “unconscious” desires and fears. It’s actually our plain-old everyday mind looking for patterns in random noise. What we call dreams are really just another phenomenon related to apophenia and paraeidolia.

    I suppose that I’ll lose my skeptic card over this, but I think this act of interpretation[2] is pretty cool and important. It’s a bit like reading tarot cards — there’s nothing in the cards, but in the act of imposing narrative on random input, you can learn a lot. So I pay attention to dreams — or at least, I pay attention to the narratives I impose on dreams.

    1. Not an actual theory.

    2. By interpretation, I mean the original imposition of narrative on random noise, not neo-Freudian things like “teeth falling out means a change in your life,” or “a house represents your personality.”

  13. Dreams have rules? Gee, mine don’t seem to.

    “I dream that if I can balance myself just right I will fly. That the air will carry me up, it is all a matter of balance. I have woken up on several occasions and thought for a few seconds that I had indeed achieved flight. Then reality restores itself.”
    …When you hit the ground a la Wylie Coyote or like Bruce, the Flying Sheep? “Flap, flap, flap, WHAM!” ROTF

  14. tkingdoll: I’ve dreamt I was peeing and then woken up peeing.

    When I was 12, I dreamed I was having sex, and when I woke up . . . well, let’s just say there’s a whole chapter in the Boy Scout Handbook about this very phenomenon.

  15. I couldn’t say if other people’s dreams follow the so-called “rules”, but mine certainly don’t follow the rules you mentioned. I’ve never had a dream where I’ve died, but I did have one just last night where I was a woman. The interesting thing was I didn’t notice that fact until after I woke up.

    Anyway, I try not to read too much into my dreams. The one exception might be the time I had a dream where I was on an “away team mission” and we were searching for Commander Riker in a futuristic version of the city I live in. I believe that dream was trying to tell me that I love ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’.

  16. I would say dreams are more or less sporadic, random, and it is never like a movie (in the continuous way). So basically, dreams are more often than not a series of sporadic “subdreams” joined together by deceptive logic. Which is why I often feel my logic system breaking down in dreams. I make weird deductions. However, I recall that once a dream gave me an inspiration on something (though I can’t remember what it was). But most of the time, I get weird “inspiration” like ideas that eventually turn out to be foobar.

  17. I do like to emphasize that I don’t agree that dreams were illusions formed *after* the sleep. My belief is that the illusions are formed *during* sleep, but only make sense (or senseless) when you wake up, and rapidly fade out as you think more and more of it (kinda like one of those xkcd strips on dreaming).

  18. I hardly ever dream at all. Perhaps once a month tops and more often than not in the dream I need to pee, and I wake up needing to pee.

    Lucid dreaming would be great but I’ve never experienced it.

  19. I seldom dream. When I do, I usually have trouble remembering what the dream was about and what I did in it. I only know that I had some strange dream. Only thing I really know is that I usually dream in color.

  20. @Gabrielbrawley:

    One of the many recurring dreams I have had is flight. I dream that if I can balance myself just right I will fly. That the air will carry me up, it is all a matter of balance.

    I’ve had the same dream, or a very similar one. All I had to do was jumping, folding my legs or something similar, and somehow I could keep myself from falling to the ground. You know, in the dream it makes sense.

    And I remember thinking while dreaming: “I can fly! I’ll claim Randi’s million!” And then I woke up and went all “aw shucks!”

  21. I always dream in color, I often read in my dreams, and I’ve died. In one that I remember specifically, I dreamed that I went up to top of the space elevator, and the doors opened and I was sucked out into space.

  22. Yeah, I’ve broken most of those generally accepted “rules” as well, especially the reading one. Occasionally, I realize that I’m dreaming and have bits of lucidity. Once, I remember, I dreamed that my boss was very upset with me over something (I think there was grievous bodily harm involved, so she was probably justified). I told her it didn’t matter because this was all a dream, and to prove it I put my arm through my head and pulled it back out with no damage. She accepted that explanation and moved on.

  23. The widespread belief that dreams are black-and-white has an interesting cause. It’s based on research done before the mid-1960s. Can you guess why that would matter?

    Before that time, everybody watched black-and-white television, and many of their dreams would match their daily B&W viewing experience. After color TV was introduced, the percentage of B&W dreams dropped quite a bit. The effect is persistent, though. I read some research where people over 55 who had watched a lot of B&W TV in their younger years still dream in B&W about 25% of the time today.

    I found all this very plausible due to personal experience. I once had an intermittent cable-TV problem that persisted for months, unfixed by idiot technicians. My TV image would suddenly get very noisy for a while, then snap back to perfect clarity. During the months this was happening, I had a few dreams in which my dream-world also randomly toggled between visually noisy and clear.

  24. @ekimbrough: That’s fascinating! So, before black and white TV, did people dream in color? Did we go from color to black and white and then back to color again? Were there a higher percentage of audio-only dreams in the heyday of radio? Do we now have high-def dreams to look forward to? I seriously want to know the answers to these questions.

  25. I had a dream about Dr Steven Novella, we were having a picnic with loads of sceptics like James Randi and such, and my rucksack turned in to a girl, and she was saying “i’m your bag” and I laughed at her and proclaimed with my arms on my hips, “Well we better go get Dr Steven Novella then”, suppose i should have got Randi instead for the million dollar prize.

  26. @GabrielBrawley: No problem! Always glad to oblige. Please fill your craters when you’re done with them, though! ;-)

  27. I was reading a thing about lucid dreaming once that said if you try to read something and the text keeps changing, that’s a clue that you are in a dream. Ever since that, whenever I read in a dream, the text changes and then I wake up.

  28. Oh, and I’ve never flown or died in a dream. But I often dream that I have to pee, and then wake up and I have to pee. Maybe God is trying to keep me from wetting the bed?

  29. I dream in film. What I mean by that is that I tend to dream in the 3rd person although on occasion I dream in first, during the course of the dream, it also features other film-like aspects like pans, close-ups, medium shots, crane shots, and a host of others. I don’t always appear in my own dreams, and sometimes when I do, I am not me. I have died at least twice, that I hazily recall, have had dream reruns, have flown, have lucidly dreamed, have dreamed about peeing and then woken up with a full bladder, as well as, when younger, a wet bed. (but only once on the last one that I recall.)

  30. I rarely remember my dreams, with one notable exception: I recently took Chantix to quit dipping, and while on that, i had the CRAZIEST, most vivid, occasionally horrifying dreams. I kept trying to make the dreams do something awesome, but always failed.

  31. I’ve died in my dreams
    I’ve had false awakenings in dreams (ala Nightmare on Elm st.)
    I think they’ve all been in colour (didn’t know that myth)
    I’ve flown
    I’ve become lucid on two occasions
    I’ve fallen in love several times (this can take days to overcome)
    I’ve dreamed “scenes” that I was not present for, from a cinematic perspective.

    I don’t think my dreams follow any rules (that I can perceive), it’s an experience that can range from mundane to bizarre, and blissful to terrifying. Though I only tend to remember < 5% of my dreams so perhaps there is some underlying rule I’m not aware of.

    While quitting smoking I went on the nicotine patch and sleeping with the full dose is intense. I no longer want to smoke but I miss those crazy dreams. However after a week of that I was simply exhausted, I was getting sleep but no rest.

  32. I agree with the earlier assessment that the Professor Trelawneyesque art of dream interpretation is bunk, but that they can be a pretty good indicator of what is bugging you in real life.

    I dream in color, have never died, have false awakenings … sounds like mine are pretty much par for the course.

    I really detest the extremely detailed ones where I dream that the alarm went off, I woke up, showered, dressed, got the kids up, fed them, and … woke up again, only now the whole morning is twenty minutes behind schedule and I have to do it AGAIN.

    I have had flying dreams since childhood which always start with me walking, and realizing that if I just don’t put my right foot down, but pick my left foot up like I’m going to take a step, my body will keep moving forward. (It seemed logical when I was six, OK?) These have progressed by now to the point that I don’t recognize them as dreams, but I do have control over my “flying.” I am often flying over water, and can actually feel my toes splashing in the water if my control over the flying wavers — even in the dreams, it is a constant mental struggle to stay aloft.

    Um … yeah … what I was saying about dreams being a good indication of what’s going on in reality … *siiiiiiiigh*

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