Friday, May 28, 2010

Lucid Dreaming Post #1: Introduction, Common Questions

Note from Ben: In the interest of adding some variety to my blog, I’m going to write some articles on dreaming and lucid dreaming, a subject I have some knowledge in and am interested in learning even more about. This is not a replacement for my sketches or comics (I’m still toying around with new ideas for a comic).

A lucid dream is, basically, a dream in which one is aware that they are dreaming as the dream occurs. I have had quite a few of them, some by accident and some intentionally, and I’ve always had some interest in learning more about them, and teaching myself to control when I have them. I’m interested in dreams in general, and I remember my dreams more often than most people do. The trouble is, I never quite have the patience to form the habits necessary to have lucid dreams on a regular basis, and usually give up early. I’m hoping that, by writing blog posts about the subject as I learn more about it, I can give myself the slight push needed to get myself started.

For my first post on the subject, I’d like to address some common questions and misconceptions about dreams, just to show you I’m on the level.

Q: Is lucid dreaming just a pseudo-scientific* hoax?
A: Lucid dreaming, in itself, is not made up. I have experienced lucid dreams myself, a small amount of research has been done on lucid dreams, and there are consistent methods that can be used to increase the likelihood of having them.

This is a legitimate question, because people too often think of dreams as mystical or spiritual experiences that can’t or shouldn’t be studied scientifically. While spirituality can be a laudable pursuit, it’s not a replacement for critical thinking and the scientific method. Many of the books and articles I’ve seen about dreams and lucid dreaming convey legitimate and applicable ideas about lucid dreaming, but these ideas are often mixed in with claims of using lucid dreams to achieve spiritual enlightenment or to communicate with supernatural entities.

This is one of the reasons I’ve wanted to write about lucid dreaming myself, to offer a relatively more critical look at the subject without the pretense of being spiritually or philosophically enlightened. I don’t promise that I will always use the highest standards of scientific rigour, but I will try to do research in the psychology and neurology of sleep and dreaming, along with telling you about my own personal experiences as objectively as possible.

I will keep religion and spirituality out of my articles, partly because I don’t want to alienate anyone for their beliefs, but mostly because it’s not necessary in order to appreciate lucid dreaming. I think dreams are interesting in themselves, you don’t need to make up fairy tales or theologies to enjoy learning about them. As for philosophy, I will only mention philosophical ideas if they are directly relevant to the study of dreaming and lucid dreams, as they sometimes are. After all, dreaming is a mental activity, and some introspection is required.

Q: I don’t have dreams!
A: That’s not a question, but yes, you do. Unless you don’t sleep, or have a disorder such as sleep apnea which prevents you from going into REM sleep, you have dreams every night. Once you wake up from a dream, it’s easy to forget it if you’re not focused on remembering it. That’s why, if you want to remember your dreams, it’s important to keep a dream journal (I’ll probably write a post about dream journals in the near future).

Q: Is it true that dying in a dream causes you to die in real life?
A: No. We can apply some common sense here. First of all, I have had many dreams in which I’ve died, or gone through situations in which I should have died, and I know that other people have had such dreams as well. Second, if dying in a dream caused you to die in real life, how would we know? You can’t exactly ask dead people what they were dreaming about.

I think the more interesting question is this: If a person dies when they’re in REM sleep—say, from a heart attack—would their dream character also experience a heart attack before the person dies?

Q: Do blind people see in their dreams?
A: If they were blind at birth or became blind at a very young age (usually before the age of 5), then no, they do not, and interestingly, the Rapid Eye Movements that occur in REM sleep are weaker than in people with sight. If they became blind later in life, they can see in their dreams.

Whether they see in ALL of their dreams would be an interesting question. I’d suspect that, the longer they’ve been blind, the less often their dreams contain images or the more abstract the images would become, but I have no factual basis for that, so don’t take my word for it. It might be an interesting subject for a future post.

Q: Is lucid dreaming harmful to the dreaming process? Shouldn’t we just let the dreams play out without interfering with them?
A: I’ve never heard of any specific cases, not even anecdotes, of lucid dreaming actually causing someone to acquire a mental disorder. I suspect that such claims are unfounded, and they’re probably a relic of Freudian psychology and psychoanalysis, the belief that dreams are a manifestation of inner desires or serve as a catharsis to other emotions (another interesting topic for a future post).

The only harm I’ve heard of in relation to lucid dreaming is that some people get carried away and spend the whole day sleeping, but even that sounds a little far-fetched.

Q: I once woke up in the middle of the night, unable to move, and I saw a human figure standing at the foot of my bed/felt a strange and evil presence in the room. Was it a ghost/alien/leprechaun?
A: No. It’s much more likely that you’ve experienced sleep paralysis. There are many theories surrounding sleep paralysis, but the gist of it is this: when you’re dreaming (in REM sleep), your brain temporarily paralyzes your body to keep you from hurting yourself or anyone around you by acting out your dream. Normally, when you wake up, this paralysis goes away, but sometimes your brain miscalculates, and voila: sleep paralysis. You are unable to move, and will likely either feel anxious or terrified, possibly hallucinating about someone or something “evil” being in the room. This is something I’ve experienced, and it’s less frightening when you know what to expect. It isn’t permanent, and it isn’t supernatural.

Q: I had a dream about X, what does that "mean"?
A: It probably just means that you’ve been thinking about X recently, nothing more than that. Again, I think that dreams are interesting in themselves, without attaching hidden meanings to them. In my experience, most (but not all) of my dreams tend to be somewhat disorganized combinations of images, sounds and experiences from the last two days of my life. However, I’ve also found that some dreams are actually coherent as narratives, so I don’t believe that the content of dreams is completely random. I could do a whole post on this, and I probably will in the future.


One more thing: In the interest of keeping this at least somewhat critical and scientific, if you can verify that something I’ve said is incorrect, please politely say so in the comments (providing a source if possible) and I’ll look into making corrections if necessary. Again, I won’t always adhere to the most rigourous of scientific standards, but I believe that a little bit of science is better than none.

*I really think it should be spelled "pseudo-pscientific", but Oxford has stopped answering my calls.


Corliss, W.R. (2001). “What Do Blind People Dream?” Science Frontiers, 131. Retrieved from

Mooney, C. (2005). “Waking Up to Sleep Paralysis”. The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. Retrieved from

Friday, May 21, 2010

Sketches: Birds

Until I start another comic, you can probably expect to see more sketches for a while. Since I've been so interested in drawing birds, I'll probably spend some time in the near future to learn more about the anatomy of birds so I can improve my drawings. As always, click on the images to enlarge them.

Eagle Owl:

House Sparrow:

Laughing Gull:

Parrot, don't know what kind:


As a matter of interest, I recently designed an image for a grad reunion program for a local school. The school is called the Crowe, and this image is based loosely on their old logo:

Friday, May 14, 2010

Who the heck was C.W. Glover?

(I apologize for the poor image quality. I didn’t want to take the frame apart, and I’m not sure if it’s possible for our camera to take a picture without the flash.)

There’s a framed picture in our house, it’s actually the cover for a book of music. It’s a piano piece called "The Life of a Soldier" by C.W. Glover. What? You’ve never heard of C.W. Glover?

Apparently, you’re not the only one. There’s not even a Wikipedia article about him, and as far as I can tell, the only Wikipedia article that mentions him is an article about an Irish festival called "The Rose of Tralee", a festival whose name is inspired by a song whose music was written by Glover.

Charles William Glover was born in either 1797 or 1806, and died in either 1868 or 1863. He’s the composer for many timeless classics we all know and love, such as "The Life of a Soldier", "The Rose of Tralee", "Do they Think of me at Home", "The Poppy", and "The Life of a Sailor" (Cover seen below):

Glover must have been running out of ideas, repeating the same basic concept twice. No wonder he never made it big...

Still, I hate to see someone be forgotten in history, so I hope this recognition will serve as a humble tribute to the memory of Charles William, uh, whatever his name was.

EDIT: As of November 5th, 2011, there is an article about C.W. Glover on Wikipedia.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Book Review - Dutch: A Memoir of Ronald Reagan

There comes a time in every person’s life when they must ask themselves the difficult question, “Who was the President of the United States between the years 1981 and 1989?” The answer, of course, is Ronald Reagan, whom you may remember from such classic films as “Santa Fe Trail” and “Tugboat Annie Sails Again”. Today, for your reading pleasure, I’m going to review Edmund Morris’s* Dutch: A Memoir of Ronald Reagan.

* Note: Edmund Morris is not related to Desmond Morris, the author of such books as The Human Zoo, which I’m guessing, based on the title, is a more detailed study of the Reagan administration.

I haven’t read the book, and I don’t really know anything about Ronald Reagan. All I know is, the Liquidation store in a nearby town has had hundreds, possibly thousands of copies of the book on sale for $0.25 each for at least two years. Most businesses would have recycled them or used them as firewood by that point, but Liquidation World was bold enough to keep the books in stock, and gain the respect of the community (on an unrelated topic, I’m pretty sure Liquidation World has been out of business for several months. I haven’t checked).

Although I haven’t read the book, I must say, it’s changed my life. Let no one say this isn’t a book with a solid foundation: it is a heavy-handed literary endeavour, with more depth than you might expect.

It’s a useful book, whether you need to keep a door open...

...elevate your coffee maker so you can pour coffee...

...protect your expensive cutting boards from being damaged...

...and even keep incriminating documents from flying away before you destroy them!

In conclusion, you don’t need to read Dutch to appreciate it as a work of literary, or at least engineering, genius. I proudly give Dutch 8.5 Reagans out of 10.

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It Seemed Funny at the Time by Ben Buckley is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.5 Canada License.