In the West, the history of lucid dreaming goes back as far as Aristotle, with the first Western lucid dream report written in A.D. 415 by St. Augustine. Freud referred to it briefly, and Carl Jung was familiar with it. “Lucid dream” is a term probably coined by the scholar Marquis d’Hervey de Saint-Denys (1822-1892), but which gained traction with the Dutch psychiatrist Frederik van Eeden (1860 – 1932). Lucid dreaming was then scientifically proven in 1975 by Keith Hearne at Hull University’s sleep-laboratory in England using the ocular-signaling technique. (Here you can access his PhD thesis – 418+ pages!)
Stephen LaBerge: The Father of Modern Lucid Dreaming
It was then proven independently in 1977 by Stephen LaBerge at Stanford. His book on the subject, “Lucid Dreaming, Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming” and the more academic “Conscious Mind, Sleeping Brain” (an anthology culled by LaBerge and Jayne Gackenbach) are considered seminal texts on the subject.
One cannot talk about lucid dreaming without honoring Stephen LaBerge. While there are many notable researchers in this field, Stephen is arguably the father of modern lucid dreaming. With a Stanford PhD in psychophysiology, he has dedicated his life to the scientific exploration of lucid dreaming. His contributions have had a significant influence in my understanding of lucid dreaming.
The rigor that LaBerge brings to this field is important. There are many books on lucid dreaming, and because dreams deal with highly personal dimensions of experience (first person, or phenomenological states), almost anybody can say anything about dreams. In my reading of the literature, many books take artistic license in their expositions, and it’s difficult to substantiate subjective inner experiences. This makes the science behind lucid dreaming, let alone dream yoga, difficult.
Lucid dreaming is a rogue discipline in the world of academia, very much on the fringe of science, and often relegated to the mystic, the poet, or the New Ager. In the face of many obstacles, LaBerge has doggedly spent his life bringing needed discipline to a field that is dominated by speculation and metaphysics. He is a pioneering voice of clear and precise thinking in a fuzzy world. And he is brave. You can always tell who the intrepid pioneers are – they’re the ones with all the arrows in their back.
Prior to LaBerge’s pioneering studies, lucid dreams were mostly dismissed by the scientific community. How can you be awake and dreaming at the same time? LaBerge and Hearne proved that you can, and lucid dreaming gained a foothold the West.
In the East, lucid dreaming goes back much further. In Buddhism, the practice is deeply connected with the Buddha, who lived 2500 years ago, and whose name literally means “the awakened one.” In many ways the Buddha was the ultimate lucid dreamer. There is also a form of Taoist dream yoga, and Hindu sleep yoga, which is known as Yoga Nidra. The mystical branch of Islam, called Sufism, also explores lucid dreaming.