“Smiles to go before I sleep” (Lucid dreaming)

Detractors sometimes label us skeptics as joy thieves. A commenter on a Susan Gerbic post chastised the medium buster for taking away the comfort that those who claim to talk with the dead can offer families. The commenter provided no proof of the mediums’ claims, nor did she even necessarily believe it herself, but she thought no harm, no foul. As addressed previously in this forum, there is harm. Further, the commenter committed the appeal to consequences fallacy, where the result of something being true is considered more important than what that truth is. Meanwhile, other groups insist that their favored topic is genuine, be it ghosts, aliens, or cryptozoological critters, and they lambaste any skeptics for their close-minded cynicism.

But the truth is, many skeptics, myself included, would love for some of these to be true. Ghosts means there’s an afterlife, proof of intelligent life on another planet would be the biggest news story of all time, and who wouldn’t cotton to the notion of an real-life Yeti or Nessie?

We only ask that all these pass scientific scrutiny and that has yet to happen. If proof can be shown, we will accept it, even if we had previously been dubious. Consider lucid dreaming. Books on this topic are normally found in the New Age or spiritual sections, alongside tomes on contacting fairies, visiting one’s past lives, and homeopathic remedies.

Yet research and attempts to find scientific legitimacy in lucid dreaming have met with success. To dismiss lucid dreaming because it is normally associated with far-out beliefs would be to commit the composition fallacy.

During lucid dreaming, the sleeper remains aware they are asleep and they maintain an ability to direct the script. Skeptoid’s Brian Dunning cited Keith Hearne, a University of Liverpool doctoral candidate, who sought a way to determine if the phenomenon were genuine. So he hooked subject Alan Worsley to a polygraph that used an electrooculograph to detect eye movements and vital signs. The experimenter instructed Worsley to move his eyes left and right eight time if he became aware he was dreaming.

Dunning wrote, “Worsley’s electroencephalogram showed that he was definitely asleep” while Worsley made the requested eye movements. Continued research has yielded similar results.

While lucid dreaming is real, there are those who ascribe greater abilities to it than what the evidence indicates. The Skeptics Dictionary notes that Stephen LaBerge claims the process can help practitioners “overcome limitations, fears, and…explore our minds, to enjoy incredible adventure, and to discover transcendent consciousness.”

Similarly, Dunning writes that some proponents attribute to lucid dreaming an ill-defined “spirituality, philosophy of consciousness, and a holistic mind-body connection.”

Some go further still. “Other researchers have written books advocating Buddhism, yoga, and other spiritualist practices for lucidity,” Dunning said. “When you write on science, it goes into journals; when those same authors stray too far outside the science…they turn to mass media publication, free of scrutiny or peer review.”


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