Physicist, lecturer, author, and "What the Bleep" celebrity, Fred Alan Wolf is also a long time lucid dreamer. He kindly agreed to speak with me in July
2005 about his lucid dreams and his theories about lucid dreaming and parallel universes:
It happens from time to time, usually when I'm not expecting it, often after a sleepless period of tossing and turning. The first time it happened was in the fall of 1973. I was a visiting professor at Birkbeck College at the University of London. I had retired about 10:00 p.m. after returning from my office at Birkbeck. At 2:00 a.m. I was awake, my mind was filled with physics equations -- something to do with parallel universes, other worlds nearly exactly like our own, but somehow different.
Quantum mechanics opens the door to such ideas, and I had been fortunate enough to be at Birkbeck where John Hasted and David Bohm were cochairing the physics department. Hasted was beginning to investigate parallel universe theory to explain some weird paranormal effects that he'd observed in his lab. Bohm had been working since the early fifties at the roots of quantum physics, like a patient gardener. Both men must have had their influence on me that night.
I went to the dining table in my apartment so that I wouldn't disturb my sleeping housemate, Nancy. After feverishly writing down a series of seemingly indecipherable hieroglyphics on my paper pad I felt a deep sense of satisfaction and grew drowsy. I went immediately to bed and fell asleep.
Now when I say I "fell asleep," I mean more than you may think. I felt myself falling down a deep and dark well or tunnel. Yet every so often I would stop falling and find myself involved in a scene, as if I were an actor suddenly appearing on a stage. These scenes just appeared and I was enmeshed in them. I was not just an observer I was actually "there." Quickly the scene would change and I would find myself in yet another scene, entirely different from the one I had just left. These scene changes happen so rapidly that I felt I was descending from one layer of the universe to another, slipping through time and space just as a small pebble slips through the woven mesh of a fabric. As I descended I became more and more aware that I was dreaming. It was dawning on me that I was both snuggled cozily in bed and slipping through space-time in a dream of uncanny proportions. It was as if my awareness were split in two. To my great surprise I was conscious that I was asleep. What a contradiction! How can you be asleep and conscious at the same time?
Next I found myself awakening, but I was shocked to discover that I had not actually awakened at all: I was dreaming that I was awakening and I knew it!
No sooner had I realized that I was still dreaming than I would awaken once more from the dream to dream that I was awakening once again. It was like ascending through a set of Chinese boxes: as soon as I was out of one box I found that I was inside another, still larger box. I soon realized that I was in control of my dream. I could awaken for real or I could descend to any universe layer I wished and experience my dream consciously. I then decided to explore and instantly found myself in the strangest room that I had ever been in.
The room was shaped like a large cylinder and appeared to have a dirt floor. When I looked up, I saw a clear blue sky shining through what seemed to be an open roof. I found myself standing next to the room's outer wall and began to feel its texture. I was amazed to notice that I could feel the wall and that it felt neither cold nor warm to my touch but instead had a somewhat rough texture, like coarse woven fabric or basket weave. Then something quite strange happened to me.
I noticed that I was rising or floating upward in the room and immediately felt a sense of panic. This anxiety halted my rise and I descended to the floor once more. I "remembered" myself sleeping comfortably back in my earthly abode and breathed a sigh of relief. With my relaxing I immediately began to rise again toward the open roof. Again I felt fear and began to descend. With this new knowledge I experimented with rising and sinking and noticed that all I had to do to descend was feel fear. To rise all I had to do was relax. I was just getting used to my new environment and had ascended fairly close to the blue skylight when I sensed the presence of another person in the room.
Looking down I saw below me the "caretaker," a kindly but blurry-looking old fellow. My vision, I discovered, was as nearsighted as it was normally on earth. The "caretaker" announced himself to me and jovially said,
"Hello. You must be new here. Come on down and I'll show you around."
Now, when I say he announced himself to me, I don't mean that he spoke. I just heard him in my mind. I couldn't describe his voice. I wasn't even sure if he was a "he." It was a kind of instant thought communication. I thought and he heard my thought. He thought and I heard his communication. I heard no sound, but I sensed his words as clearly as if he had actually spoken. And he sensed my words in the same apparent manner.
Next we walked side by side out of the room through a nondescript doorway. I found myself walking with him silently and had the feeling that I was in a quiet, beautiful countryside of rolling hills. This is how the surrounding scenery appeared to me. I say I "felt" this was the case because my feelings and my visual sensing of the surroundings were somehow the same. What I felt matched what I saw and vice versa. This is difficult to describe in words.
We continue to walk around and I sensed a great relaxation and peace. The sky was blue and cloudless. There was no sun anywhere. The grass was greener than any grass I had ever seen. I soon noticed that there was a low brick wall, perhaps three feet high, weaving through the hills and greenery. Soon I "heard" voices and saw a large group of people just ahead of us. I realized that the silent "caretaker" was leading me to the people who were sitting comfortably on the low wall and the grassy areas it enclosed.
My entrance into the group stirred no response. I was just another person there. I felt as if I had come to a picnic and yet I noticed that there was no food in sight. And still no one was paying me the slightest bit of attention.
I then began to look around at the faces of my new associates. I must point out how unusual all this was to me, because at any moment I could "remember" myself sleeping in bed at home in Shepherds Bush, London W.6. "I" was where "I" was and "I" was home at the same time. This experience of remembering was exactly the same as when you think back to a past experience, the only difference being that in waking consciousness you can't "return" to your memory. In my altered, or lucid, dream state I not only remembered my sleeping self, I knew I could return anytime I wished to.
The reason I was thinking about going home was the bizarre physiognomy I was suddenly gifted with. I merely had to look at the face, any face, and I "saw." More than seeing, I knew. The facts of the personality were an open book to me. I merely looked at a face and it would undergo a series of transformations, each change revealing a new fact. I couldn't look too closely because, frankly, I was frightened by what I saw. On every face was great sadness and pain. The faces were normal when looked at quickly, but when examined for any length of time they became grotesque masks with great striations of contorted pain lines, hideous peelings of unfolding skin layers, and throbbing nerve threads all pulsating on raw skin.
Suddenly I realized where I was and announced to myself, i.e., thought to myself, I was on the astral plane of suicides. These people had committed suicide on earth and were waiting to reincarnate - to return to earth and be reborn. But there was a slight problem. In order for them to return they had to be acceptable to all the "normal" nonsuicidal souls they will share a body with. That is why they were here: to await humanity's decision.
Each of us is a universe of souls, not just a single soul journeying from here to Timbuktu. As the Buddha taught, we are all questions of compromise.
Each of us is a universe of past lives, and some of us living now owe a debt of gratitude to the others for allowing us to live again. These suicides were the astral-level component, the parallel-universe level of reality, of past failures in life. We all have in us the lives of past failures, murderers, rapists, saints and sinners.
This realization appeared to me as a thought, but I had made a mistake. I had thought to myself, not realizing that my thoughts were open books to my fellow "travelers." And even worse, what in all hell was I doing there in the first place?
Just then I noticed "her." She was sitting on the wall facing me and, gulp, she was looking directly at me and smiling. I heard her reply, "Oh, you know where you are? Who are you? Where do you come from?" She approached me in an overly friendly manner. I boasted, "Yes, I know where I am and I can return home any time I want to."
"You can, can you?" She asked with great interest as she came close to me. I was getting frightened. This was my first trip and I didn't know what danger I might be in by my just being there. Then I looked at her eyes. I don't quite know how to describe what I saw, but her eyes began to spin. They appeared to me as rotating pinwheels of spiraling colors. She was now too close for comfort. I knew then that I had to leave and I exercised the "leaving ritual," the only one I knew would get me out of there fast. I yelled bloody murder.
I awoke in bed next to Nancy, and this time for real. It must have been past four in the morning and Nancy wasn't too happy to have me just pop up in bed talking a blue streak. I not only was wide awake, I was fully conscious and quite lucid and gregarious. Loudly I said to her, "Nancy, wake up. I must describe this dream to you now before I forget it." Nancy, hardly believing her eyes or ears, was rudely being shaken from a deep sleep of her own. And dazed but understanding, she listened to the story of my voyage.
It is very important to realize that this "dream" was not just an ordinary dream. I was fully conscious not only during it but in the transition from the astral plane to my bed. My yelling was soundless in the astral realm but gradually became real sound in the physical plane of the bedroom. There was no need for coffee. There was no sleepiness, nor did the dream fade from memory as I became more awake (as most ordinary dreams do). It was simply a matter of recalling actual events in the same manner as you would recall events of the morning over afternoon lunch.
I hadn't been asleep and I wasn't simply lying in bed and daydreaming.
(c) Fred Alan Wolf, Starwave, 1984
Lucy: Before we start I want to thank for doing this interview today. I know you're very busy and in much demand.
Dr. Wolf: You're very welcome.
Lucy: Let's begin with some lucid dreaming questions and then we'll move on to more theoretical topics. I know that you've had many lucid dreams. Do you actively try to induce lucid dreams, or do you just allow them to occur spontaneously?
Dr. Wolf: I just allow them to happen whenever they happen.
Lucy: Do they occur often or is there a pattern to their occurrence?
Dr. Wolf: There is a pattern. They seem to happen usually at a time after I've slept a little while and then have woken up because of something that I've needed to think about and then went back to sleep. I'm kind of refreshed enough to do what I think requires a little more effort of mind, and I think that's what's required in lucidity.
Lucy: Being a scientist, do you like to perform experiments in your lucid dreams?
Dr. Wolf: I try to. But I find that there is a strange kind of complementarity principle that seems to be involved in the kinds of data-taking that you can do. When I attempt to find numbers or specifics - for example, I was in one dream and I wanted to know where I was. I didn't have any indication. I thought well, let me find out where I am, what country I'm in, what date it is, what time it is...I couldn't do any of those. The answers I was getting back in the dream were very ambiguous. For example, when I tried to read a newspaper in the dream, the letters were blurry.
Lucy: Do you have a particular favorite lucid dream?
Dr. Wolf: I've had many, so it's hard for me to pick out what's my favorite. Each one has been significant from one point or another, so I don't have any particular favorite. They all are different. Some are very emotional, some are very sad, some are very enlightening, some are mind boggling.
Lucy: In your book The Dreaming Universe you have a chapter entitled "Lucid Dreams: The Borderland Between Parallel Realities". Would you talk a bit about your theories of lucid dreaming and how they relate to parallel universes?
Dr. Wolf: The question that I was working on at the time - and this was some years ago, it is more than ten years ago; my thoughts may have changed by now -- was how can we grasp how a person feels or reaches a feeling - an experience - which says "I am I", "I am me", "I am this", "I am myself" and has that experience of what they refer to as "I"? That was the question that was the seed from which The Dreaming Universe book really grew.
Because that was the question, the whole development of the book was finding ways of looking at the answer and what I was getting to, was in the lucid dream state - if I remember correctly - was the notion that our brains are able to act like receiving instruments and are able to pick up and perceive not only just the reality that we think we're in - so called "this world" - but other alternative realities at the same time. In other words, in a kind of schizophrenic state.
So the idea was "What's the difference between my experience of the "out there world" and the so-called lucid dream?" Now, the outstanding experience of a lucid dream is that I am aware that I have an I. Whereas, in an ordinary dream I have no such awareness. As the dream unfolds I don't seem to have any control over how it unfolds and I certainly don't have any recognition of myself as experiencing myself as in a dream. But in a lucid dream I know I'm dreaming, I know I'm in a dream, and I know the world is a world which is a parallel reality to the world that I normally experience when I'm awake. So, the notion of parallel realities just sort of appeared kind of naturally.
And then I began to work on a model of how the self or "the I" arises. I was working on an idea that was originally put out by another physicist, David Albert, who is a professor at Columbia University right now - very brilliant guy - and he had written a paper on what is called "Quantum Automata", little machines that are capable of, in a way, recognizing themselves and of having experiences as a result of recognizing themselves that are different from their experiences if they weren't recognizing themselves. That process is truly based on the existence of alternate realities in which the self can reflect, so to speak, on itself from another point of view, from another reality. So that idea kind of said, "Well maybe lucid dreams are like that."
So then I went even further and asked "What other idea fits together with that?" Well, the theory of holograms is another idea which comes into the picture. There is something called "Holographic Reality" and the notion here is that a hologram is made up of overlaps of alternate realities, much like a regular hologram is made up from overlaps of different wave motions; light waves; in the case of an optical hologram or sound waves if it is a sonar hologram by which radar works and that sort of thing.
So I came to the questions: What would make the hologram? How would the observer relate in that hologram? And what are the different ways that could happen?
One thought that occurred to me was that in a hologram - an optical hologram - there are two kinds of images that form. One of them is called a real image and the other is called a virtual image. A virtual image is what you see when you hold up a magnifying glass (like Sherlock Holmes) and look at a small splinter in your finger, for example. It's not a real image, because the light is not really coming from the image. You see the magnified finger in a certain position through the lens but if you go and put your hand around where that magnified finger appears there is nothing there so it is called a imaginary image.
On the other hand, there are so-called "real" images, and real images are images from light that comes to a focus, like for example when you watch a motion picture the lens of the projector focuses the light streaming through the film strip and it hits upon a screen and makes a real image on the screen. The image is actually there on the screen, it's not anywhere else, so it is a real image. So I thought, well, maybe in a regular dream, the images that arise are more like virtual images. And in a lucid dream they're more like real images, and that's why they have a feeling of reality much as we see the "out there" world. It's only a metaphor, and an analogy, but I thought that it might be applicable.
Lucy: Have you had any lucid dreams in which you felt you had made contact with a parallel universe or with a parallel self?
Dr. Wolf: That's a good question. Certainly in one of those, the one where I went to this world where I believed I was seeing people who had committed suicide, that certainly was a parallel world, it wasn't the world I was in right now.
But as far as others, I can't tell. I've had dreams where I have actually awakened in a body that wasn't my own. And that was very strange, and I knew that I was "hitching a ride" so to speak. I don't know if you've ever had that kind of experience, but I've had that one, and I couldn't tell if this was a purely imaginal, or parallel world, or whether I was in some other part of the world. I just don't know.
Lucy: This body that you found yourself in, were you able to manipulate it or were you just being carried along with it?
Dr. Wolf: I believe I was manipulating it, that I had taken it over, because I was having an experience, and just like you have an experience right now, for example when you get up to do something, you rarely ever think to yourself "Am I doing this to my body?" You don't think like that. So because you don't carry that thought with you, you just go on and do stuff, you don't even bring into question, "Is this my will acting or am I being a zombie?" - you don't think like that, you just do it. And the same thing happened in the lucid dream when I was in somebody else's body. I realized it wasn't my body, because there were certain differences that I could experience, but I didn't have the feeling that I was being carried along by another being subject to his will or that I was any different than I would normally be in my own body, it just appeared to me to be a different body.
Lucy: As a scientist on the cutting edge of quantum theory and consciousness research, do you foresee a merging of these two fields in any practical way in the near future? In other words, do you think it possible that scientists will one day abandon their particle accelerators and instead use consciousness (perhaps through lucid dreaming or other altered states) to explore reality at the quantum level?
Dr. Wolf: They're already exploring consciousness - it's a whole new field and it's become respectable, mainly because of the efforts of some very classic scientists - people like Christof Koch and the discoverer of DNA, Francis Crick. Crick and Koch have been investigating what might be called the question of how science should deal with such questions as dreams and consciousness. They take a very materialist point of view, but it's very necessary that at least some scientific activity is going on in the field, because it's been totally ignored up until very recently.
I think it leads to some very interesting questions and it leads to some possible solutions that can be replicated in the laboratory, and that's always difficult, but I don't think it's going to be the end of the particle accelerators.
Lucy: In Parallel Universes you wrote:
". . . the possibility exists that parallel universes may be extremely close to us, perhaps only atomic dimensions away but perhaps in a higher dimension of space - an extension into what physicists call superspace."
Do you think this idea is compatible with string theory? Do you think there could be a connection between the lucid dream state and one or more of the 10 dimensions of space predicted by string theory?
Dr. Wolf: It's compatible with an extension of string theory called M-Theory or membrane theory or brane theory. It's compatible with that picture. The latest developments - I haven't been keeping up on that, so I'm only speaking from like a couple of years ago - these branes (membranes) are parallel realities that are smaller than atomic dimensions away, and so the idea that there are alternate realities in string theory, I think, is a very realistic attempt to try to make relativity and quantum physics more compatible with each other, which they're not at the moment - there has been some work to make them compatible, but they've not reached what I would call a level of complete compatibility - so there is certainly that effort.
In a book I wrote in 1984 called Parallel Universes, I had actually pointed out that parallel universes might be less than atomic dimensions away and might be the place to begin to conceive of how quantum physics and relativity, in particular Einstein's General Theory of relativity, which means the effects of gravity, might be brought into a consistent picture. Now it's almost 20 years since I wrote that and maybe now it's starting to take place.
Lucy: Do you think that within the lucid dream state it would be possible to conduct any kind of experiment to determine the existence of parallel realities? Or is that a little bit too much like science fiction?
Dr. Wolf: No, it's not science fiction. The people that I would tend to ask these question of, or the people who I think could lead us into some approach to this would be people like Stephen LaBerge, who is like the father figure of lucid dreaming, or Jayne Gackenbach, who's also written extensively about lucid dreaming.
These are some of the leaders of the field who I think would be the ones who could lead us into maybe some kind of experimental verification. It really is a difficult subject, to look at what lucidity is telling us about reality. It's very difficult. If one could induce lucidity to such an extent that two people could be in the same dream, kind of like the movie Dreamscape where you could enter into another person's dream in a lucid way, while that may seem like science fiction, it's possible, I think, to at least entertain some speculative thoughts as to how to go about doing that.
You would probably need to have two people who are fairly adept at following I guess what LaBerge had originally proposed - Oneironaut training programs. You would need some oneironauts training programs, so maybe two people who were trained oneironauts could see if they could link up.
There have been studies made, very interesting studies made by Stanley Krippner and a couple of other of his associates, Montague Ullman, and Alan Vaughan. They had begun dong research about telepathic communication in the dreamstate, and they had shown, I think rather conclusively, that there was a telepathic communication "channel" that existed and it could be opened between a dreamer and somebody who is not dreaming. So, if you can open any kind of communication between separate minds via this kind of channel, it doesn't seem too far of a stretch to think about opening up a channel between lucid dreamers.
And if a channel could be opened, why can't a very full lucid communication take place? Much the same way that if we can open up a channel and we can see three-dimensional images on a virtual reality simulator - a computer screen, or whatever - and that can be communicated why can't we do that between brains? Now whether that is really possible or not I have no idea, but it seems possible - an area that somebody could begin thinking about and maybe even get some financial support to do.
Lucy: You've just described my dream job! (If you'll pardon the pun.) I see we're almost out of time. Any last thoughts you'd like to add?
Dr. Wolf: No, I haven't really been thinking about dreaming very much lately, I've been into this whole question of dealing with consciousness per se, but not consciousness pertinent to the dreamstate. But I'm always interested, and if there is any research that comes out in the next year or so that you know of, please keep me informed.
Lucy: Absolutely! Thanks for taking the time to talk with us at LDE. I'm looking forward to seeing you at the "What the Bleep" conference in Vancouver, BC next month.
Dr. Wolf: Well thank you for calling, I appreciate it.
Responses (C) Fred Alan Wolf, 2005
For more on Fred Alan Wolf, his books, and lecture schedule, go to www.fredalanwolf.com
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