Why Dreams Seem Real:
Mind/brain/body relationships during dreaming
One of the earliest experiments conducted by my research team tested the traditional notion that the experience of dream time is somehow different from time in the waking world. We approached the problem of dream time by asking subjects to make an eye movement signal in their lucid dreams, estimate a ten-second interval (by counting one thousand and one, one thousand and two, etc.) and then make another eye movement signal.
In all cases, we found time estimates made in lucid dreams were within a few seconds of estimates made in the waking state and likewise quite close to the actual time between signals. From this we have concluded that in lucid dreams, estimated dream time is very nearly equal to clock time; that is, it takes just as long to do something in a dream as it does to actually do it.
You may be wondering , then how you could have a dream that seems to last for years or lifetimes. I believe this effect is achieved in dreams by the same stage trick that causes the illusion of the passage of time in the movies or theater. If, on screen stage, or dream, we see someone turning out the light as the clock strikes midnight, and after a few moments of darkness, we see him turning off an alarm as the bright morning sun shines through the window, we'll accept (pretend, without being aware that we are pretending) that many hours have passed even though we "know" it was only a few seconds.
The method of having lucid dreamers signal from the dream world by means of eye movements has demonstrated a strong relationship between the gazes of dreamers in the dream and their actual eye movements under closed lids. Researchers interested in this question, but not using lucid dreamers to study it, have had to rely on the chance occurrence of highly recognizable eye movement patterns readily matchable to subjects' reported dream activities.
As a result, they usually have obtained only weak correspondences between dreamed and actual eye movements. The implication of the strong ties between the movements of the dream eyes and the movement of the actual eyes is that we use the same visual system to look around in the dream world as we do to see in the waking world.One of the most dramatic demonstrations of the correspondence between physiology and dream activity came from studies of lucid dream sex. In 1983 we undertook a pilot study to determine the extent to which subjectively experienced sexual activity during REM lucid dreaming would be reflected in physiological responses.
Since women report more orgasms in dreams than men do, we began with a female subject. We recorded many different aspects of her physiology that would normally be affected by sexual arousal, including respiration, heart rate, vaginal muscle tone, and vaginal pulse amplitude. The experiment called for her to make specific eye movement signals at the following points: when she realized she was dreaming, when she began sexual activity (in the dream), and when she experienced orgasm. She reported a lucid dream in which she carried out the experimental task exactly as agreed upon.
Our analysis revealed significant correspondences between the dream activities she reported and all but one of the physiological record which she signaled as the movement of orgasm, her vaginal muscle activity, vaginal pulse amplitude, and respiration rate reached their highest values at night, and they also were considerably elevated in comparison to the rest of the REM period. Contrary to expectation, heart rate increased only slightly. Since then, we have carried out similar experiments with two male lucid dreamers. in both cases, respiration showed striking increases in rate. Again, there were no significant elevations of the heart rate. Interestingly, although both oneironauts reported vividly realistic orgasms in thei lucid dreams, neither actually ejaculated, in contrast to the "wet dreams" commonly experienced by adolescent males, which frequently are not associated with erotic dreams.
Reference: Exploring The World Of Lucid Dreaming : Stephen Laberge, pH.D, & Howard Rheingold
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