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Can Lucid Dreaming Studies Help Us Understand Who We Are?

C.R. writes: By studying lucid dreamers, scientists are finding more of the “meta-consciousness” spots in the brain. According to this article at

“Studies employing magnetic resonance tomography (MRT) have now been able to demonstrate that a specific cortical network consisting of the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, the frontopolar regions and the precuneus is activated when this lucid consciousness is attained. All of these regions are associated with self-reflective functions. This research into lucid dreaming gives the authors of the latest study insight into the neural basis of human consciousness.”

Self-perception has an apparent functional location in the brain.

Does it seem reasonable to suggest that studies like these might help us answer, at least in part, the question, “Who am I?” Or, “Who is this being I call myself or I?” Perhaps.

It reminds me of something I read a while back. A scientist had “proved” that near-death experiences are “merely electro-chemical” processes of the brain. Actually, what he had proved was that when someone has a “near-death” experience, a neurological function does, indeed, occur. It doesn’t mean the physical processes are the reasons behind why we have “near-death” experiences, it means that certain brain processes are part of the near-death experience, even necessary to it.

Even though these processes appear to begin with a neural event, the processes are unable to tell us why some people are lucid dreamers, some have near-death experiences, and so on. For that we have to look beyond.

If parts of the brain are stimulated, they do “trigger” specific experiences. Numerous experiments have shown this to be true. They show that brain functions and our perceptions are linked, correlated. In fact, brain processes are a vital link in the chain of process and there is an element of causality.

But, at the metaphysical level, it’s impossible to  show that there is, as the article seems to indicate, a “neural basis of human consciousness.” There is no proof that human consciousness is, at it’s root, simply a neural “process.”

What we do know is that at least some neural processes appear to be necessary in order for us to have certain experiences of consciousness. This can be likened to the way in which an Olympic swimmer moves her body a certain way in the water in order to swim. We know that if she stretches out her arms, turns her head, and kicks her legs, she is propelled through the water. Her actions cause her to move through the water, to swim.

But it is a far more complex thing to explain why she wants to swim, why competing seems so important to her that she is willing to put herself through months and years of brutal practice sessions, to the exclusion of other things in life that may be important. Perhaps she is driven to excel in this sport because her grandmother, who had never learned how to swim, drowned. Perhaps she was teased as a child and spent many years seeking her oeuvre in order to compensate.

Psychology of course, can offer some answers to these questions. But it cannot answer other, very important questions: Why is this particular person, at this point in time, an Olympic Gold Medalist? Why is each person’s mission so different, so fine-tuned, if you will? What drives some of us to actively seek our true missions and others of us to kind of “fall into” our paths in life? Is this all due to brain processes? Is this all due to psychological processes?

The mystics explain that the true self is the soul. The soul, according to traditional Jewish mysticism, is partly the intellect, but it is also something deeper and more far-reaching than the mere intellect. This “I” (or the Observer or Watcher) is so much more.

This is the self that feels the deepest joys and the deepest sorrows, but is ultimately capable of transcending these time-bound joys and sorrows. Of interest: the mystics agree (perhaps unwittingly) with the term meta-consciousness. The predominant meanings of the Greek root meta are “beyond” and “after.” They teach that the self as soul survives beyond the life of the body, or even the brain; it continues after our neural processes are long gone.

Like a molecule or an atom, it is not visible to the naked eye.

Like a storm of comets, we may understand much of the causal chain but not the “why” behind the chain.

The mystics would say that the experience of the soul we call self necessitates the functioning of the neural process. Perhaps the brain is an interactive sculpture which the soul constantly creates and which the neural functions offer a medium for which the soul to do its stuff.

Image: A Storm of Comets, NASA/JPL-Caltech


Can Lucid Dreaming Studies Help Us Understand Who We Are?

Richard Zwolinski, LMHC, CASAC & C.R. Zwolinski

Richard Zwolinski, LMHC, CASAC is the author of Therapy Revolution: Find Help, Get Better, and Move On Without Wasting Time or Money and is licensed in addiction and psychotherapy with over 25 years experience as well as a consultant to organizations and companies in the fields of mental health and addiction. He is the executive director of an outpatient behavioral health program. Learn more about Richard here.

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APA Reference
& C.R. Zwolinski, R. (2012). Can Lucid Dreaming Studies Help Us Understand Who We Are?. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 19, 2018, from


Last updated: 1 Aug 2012
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 1 Aug 2012
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