Volume 5 Number 1
Here at Mytholog we deal in myth and story, making us doubly fictional, twice removed from "the real world." These two are vital streams supporting us as we navigate our world, figuring out what counts as real, to whom, and why. Which gets tricky sometimes.
I recently spent two weeks with a bunch of dreamers exploring what counts as real. Two weeks of intense online conversations while awake, and dreaming while asleep, knowing others were awake while I was sleeping and dreaming while I was awake.
Where was I? At PsiberDreaming 2006, the fifth online conference on psychic dreaming hosted by the International Association for the Study of Dreams (IASD). What could be more unreal?
We spend about a third of our lives asleep, so it's amazing how little we know about it. REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, heralded as the hallmark of dreaming, was only discovered in the 1950's. (Today we know dreams occur in other stages of sleep as well.) Each advance in brain imaging adds to the picture of what's happening inside our heads, but there's a lot left to learn. The neurochemical code is cracking, yet we understand little of how dreaming actually happens, or why.
REM sleep appears to foster neural development, but the physiologic function of dreaming remains unclear. Freud's idea that dreams are designed to protect sleep hasn't held up very well; a variety of theories seek to replace it. One end of the scientific camp holds that dreams are the brain's efforts to flush caches and optimize data storage, and therefore best ignored. Other camps suggest adaptive functions for dreaming that relate to threat detection, trauma recovery, or problem solving. Each offers supportive research data, but nothing conclusive. The therapeutic community is likewise split; dreams are interesting, yes, but how much time do they deserve in counseling?
The uncertainties of science notwithstanding, every culture in history studied its dreams. Dive into the history, folklore, legends, religion, magic or politics of any tradition and you will find dreamers who looked to dreams for guidance, knowing they offer more than ordinary waking thought can encompass. In modern terms, this includes experiences like precognitive dreaming (dreaming of future events), dream telepathy (gaining information about another's thoughts or feelings during dreams), lucid dreaming (become aware of the dream state while dreaming and, as a result, being able to control one's actions), and, by extension, any psychic experience from waking life that has also been experienced in dreams. The PsiberDreaming Conference is for those kinds of dreamers.
The IASD (www.asdreams.org) created itself to promote and support the study of dreams and dreaming. Its members include physiologists, psychologists, psychiatrists, teachers, writers and dream explorers. Its journals, Dream Time and Dreaming, publish personal explorations and scholarly research. Its conferences provide opportunities to learn and share about dreaming in all its aspects. As an umbrella organization, IASD is home to many kinds of dreamers, not all of whom support the idea that dreams include psi phenomena of any stripe. And yet for the last five years, PsiberDreaming has been happening.
Here's how PsiberDreaming 2006 worked: We paid a modest registration fee ($40) for a login and password. This got us on to the conference boards. Each day, two or three papers were posted, each in its own forum. Participants could ask questions and post comments, knowing the authors of each paper were reading and responding for up to three days (often much longer) after the papers appeared. Topics ranged from life-changing dream experiences, healing dreams, childhood books and stories as dream portals, language in dreams, psychokinesis in dreams, and precognitive dreaming, to what the newest theories in physics have to say about dreams, time and space.
The Dream Telepathy Contest asked us to connect in dreams with a "sender" who spent the night focusing on, drawing, talking about, thinking about, and acting out an image she had drawn from a randomly chosen envelope. In the Precognitive Dreaming Contest, we tried to dream an image that hadn't been selected yet. At the Lucid Dreamers' Ball, we tried to dream the music the DJ would choose (when we weren't designing costumes, dancing, or imbibing virtual refreshments). The Art Gallery offered images and language grown from dreams, submitted by conference participants, a phantasmagoria of polished, rough, complex, simple, haunting dreams.
The Outer Inn (a dedicated forum) stayed open for business 24/7 serving elven cider (soon dubbed psider), jam and crumpets (my order somehow morphed into cram and jumpets, creating quite a mess), or anything else you wanted, served cheerfully by an engaging assortment of gnomes, hobbits, giants, and small furry creatures. A few had sharp pointy teeth, but I don't think anyone was attacked. Not anyone I knew, at least.
If this sounds like Trekkies in cyberspace, think again. Presenters at this conference included leading lights in dream research and psychic dreaming, including Montague Ullman, Stanley Krippner, Henry Reed, Robert Van de Castle, Dale Graff, Jean Campbell, Rita Dwyer, and Sally Rhine Feather. I could fill columns listing their publications and barely scratch the surface. Papers were brief, as suited this online format. Each stimulated days of discussion, connecting participants with each other as well as presenters. A full list can be found here, with links to presenter bios and websites.
I admit it; I reveled in an active community of dreamers. I'd never rated my own psychic dreaming skills as high, so it was both a shock and a confirmation to find myself in the winner's circle in both contests. But far more fun than winning was realizing I'd become part of a network connected not just in waking reality but in dreams as well.
The Dream Telepathy Contest, for instance, used an experimental protocol developed in the dream research program at Maimonides Hospital in Brooklyn: Four images were chosen in advance and placed in sealed envelopes. On the night of the contest, a strong psychic dreamer randomly opened one envelope. She then spent the night connecting with that image so she could send it to all the dreaming contestants. She drew the picture, thought about the picture, made up songs about it, danced it. We all dreamt. The next day, we reported our dreams as the four possible images were revealed. We each had to choose which we thought was the right one, and justify our choice based on our dreams.
The overlap in our many dreams was astounding. Not only did we pick up on many aspects of the target image (tiny elves in a snowy landscape), we had clear dreams of some of the other images as well, the ones that never made it out of their envelopes. Direct experience is a powerful teacher; psychic dreaming remains inexplicable in scientific terms, but happens nonetheless.
PsiberDreaming 2006 was my first IASD conference, but won't be my last. I'm already planning to be in Sonoma, California in June for the "waking reality" conference. I'm looking forward to meeting new friends face to face. In the meantime, I'm working on my psidreaming skills, trying to improve my lucid dreaming, sharing online experiments with group dreaming, and keeping an eye out to see whether any of my dreams come true (qualifying them as precognitive). I want to be ready for PsiberDreaming 2007.