Overview of the Development of Lucid Dream
Research in Germany

by Paul Tholey

[Lecture at the VI. International Conference of the Association for the Study of Dreams in London 1989.
First published in: Lucidity Letter, 8(2) (1989), pp 1-30]


(2nd part)

Phenomenological Research on Non-ordinary Ego Experiences

For the description of non-ordinary ego-experiences we want to explain certain terms in more detail (including some already used), and also introduce some new ones. This is not easy given that many phenomenological distinctions which are made in the German language can only be expressed in English by employing metaphorical language. In addition, many terms are used ambiguously. We are thinking of such terms as "ego," "I," "me," "self," etc. Sometimes the term "ego" indicates a part or sub-system of the personality (e.g., in psychoanalysis). By contrast, we attach a phenomenological meaning to this term, as well as the others, in the fol-lowing discussion.

By the expression "total self" we mean the phenomenal "body-soul unity" of a subject which comprehends the subject's phenomenal body (in our terminology, the body-ego) as well as mental facts (in a narrow sense) - above all, the emotions and motivations of the subject. These mental facts frequently appear to be bound up with the body in a fuzzy way as a kind of vessel. They can also transcend the phenomenal body. One thinks, for example, of love or hate with their characteristic connections to other subjects.

There is a particular point within the total-self, however, which is sometimes referred to as the "center of the self," "center of consciousness," or "center of the ego." "Ego in a narrower sense" or something similar is also used (for details see KÖHLER, 1938, p. 188) Due to the ambiguity of these terms, we prefer the expression "ego-core," in accordance with the German term Ichkern. The ego-core is less an extended part of the phenomenal field than it is a place or point in the phenomenal world determined by its position and functions. Let us first consider its position in the usual waking condition.

This point can be localized surprisingly well during normal observing or thinking. It is located within the phenomenal body, namely in the frontal area of the phenomenal head, a short distance behind the bridge of the nose. Many authors claim that the ego-core (or whatever term they prefer for this concept) is located behind the eyes. But in the phenomenological sense this is wrong because in the phenomenal world we only see by means of a single eye. (The physiologist HERING had described it as the "cyclopean eye" in the 19th century.) This eye includes the frontal area of the phenomenal head. Based on that, we can also say that the ego-core is located behind the center of this cyclopean eye. To avoid any misunder-standing, it should be emphasized that this localization of the ego-core only concerns the phenomenal head, not the physical head of the physical organism. Beyond that, the ego-core should not be confused with either a fictitious homunculus (which suggests information), or with an idealistic epistemological subject which creates or constructs the world. The terms "homunculus" and "epistemological ego" are metaphysical concepts which have no meaning from the standpoint of critical realism (see earlier discussion). The ego-core can experience phenomenal objects and participate in phenomenal events, above all through visual perception (in a phenomenological sense), imagination, memory and thought. As a rule, the ego-core is also the phenomenal origin of voluntary activities, including voluntarily focusing attention.

We would consider all experiences which deviate from the described phenomenal facts to be non-ordinary ego-experiences. In such situations, for example, the ego-core can change its position in the phenomenal body or leave the phenomenal body (as with so-called OBEs), slip into other phenomenal bodies, duplicate itself, or completely disappear. In addition, the described functions of the ego-core can distribute themselves in various places. There are so many non-usual ego-experiences that we can only consider a few of them.

During lucid dreaming, it is possible to experience one's own body or the body-ego in extremely diverse ways - especially OBEs. We consider OBEs to be experiences during which a second body or a disembodied ego (in our terminology: the ego-point) leaves the first (experienced as physical) phenomenal body (THOLEY, 1966c). The first body is frequently experienced as immobile or rigid; the second as mobile. As a rule, the ego-core is to be found in the latter. The second body can have the same distinct contours as the first, or it can be a "cloud-like body." The second body can also usually pass through solid objects, such as walls. In rarer cases, the second body is tied to the first body by a kind of cord. What we have described here is interpreted differently and described in other terms by occultist literature. Table 2 shows a rough outline of the differences between the anthroposophical concepts of Rudolf STEINER and our own.

Naturally, there is also a physical body or organism within the framework of critical realism. It is not, however, immediately experienced. In occultist literature, the cord between the first and second bodies is also called the silver cord; its destruction is supposed to lead to death (see e.g., FOX 1962).

Research on OBEs

Most investigations of non-ordinary ego-experiences refer to OBEs. We have already pointed out the hypnagogic techniques which were used most of the time in our OBE induction experiments. During lucid dreams we can also induce OBEs in various ways (for details see THOLEY, 1989c). Finally, we have also used various mirror techniques for the induction of OBEs which are more or less patterned after magical practices. The first successful investi-gation of a mirror technique in our research at Frankfurt University was by STICH (1983; 1989). A method I developed involving two mirrors has been described by NOSSACK (1989).

An important goal of our phenomenal experiments was to determine whether the same functional dependencies between phenomenal facts are to be found in an OBE state and in a lucid dream state. Aside from the beginning phase directly following the induction of these states of consciousness, we found no substantial differences. In particular, we tried to find techniques for prolonging, manipulating and ending OBEs which were similar to those used during lucid dreams.

Interestingly enough, it was possible for a subject (as an ego-point) to end a dream by staring at his or her own (experienced as physical) phenomenal body still lying in bed (STICH, 1983). This body would begin to become blurred in the same way as a particular point in the dream scenery of a lucid dream. With regard to manipulation, it was possible for practiced subjects to arbitrarily give the second body (in occultist terminology: the astral body) first a solid quality and then a subtle quality. In this way, the subject could pass through walls at will. The so-called astral body could also be transformed into animals and plants, among other things. The so-called silver cord could be cut (without harmful results), although this was a fairly rare event (see THOLEY, 1989c). All of the findings of our phenomenological experiments (especially the blurring of the seemingly physical body and the arbitrary transformation processes of the second body) indicate that OBEs are merely a particular form of lucid dreams, with the possible exception of OBEs occurring during a waking state (e.g., during the practicing of certain sports - see THOLEY, 1989c).

And now a final important observation in this area, which was also described by SCHRIEVER (1935) vis-à-vis lucid dreaming. If the ego-core is actually a pure point of view from which one's own body can be observed, it is also true that particular exer-tions and pain in this body can be felt as neutral events without affecting the ego-core. Through practice, some people are able to transfer this ability to a waking state in which the ego-core is found in the phenomenal head, i.e., not outside the body. It might even be possible for these people to be operated on without anaesthesia.

Entering the Body of Other Dream Characters with the Ego-core

The previously mentioned mirror techniques can be used as a helpful prelim-inary exercise for entering the body of another dream character with the ego-core. In the hypnagogic state, however, one can use imagined mirrors in order to enter one's own imagine in the mirror (MULDOON & CARRINGTON, 1974; HILLMAN, 1985). In this state, the "image-ego-point technique" for inducing lucid dreams (THOLEY, 1983a, p. 85) can also be used for entering the body of a dream character.

When entering the body of a particular dream character with the ego-core, it is advantageous to look directly at the dream character. The ego-core is often very quickly transported along the line of sight towards and into the body of the dream character. Naturally there are still several phenomenological experiments to be carried out to clarify the effectiveness of particular techniques for this process.

We would like to illustrate this process with two examples. In the first, the subject (an artist) used the above mentioned "image-ego-point technique" for inducing a lucid dream in a hypnagogic state. Even though he had never exper-ienced a lucid dream before, he had the following experience the first night after being instructed in this technique:

I paid attention to visual phenomena while falling asleep. I got to the point where I could see a complete scene even though I was still lying in bed as a spectator, not as an actor. Several Indians were kind of hanging out on the beach. Among them was a friendly boy whom I selected in order to enter his body. I quickly succeeded in "riding on" my line of sight to him. Immediately afterwards I started to see the beach through the boy's eyes; I heard the ocean waves beating against the shore through his ears; I moved with the boy's body. Shortly afterwards, my ego left the boy's body, shot up and then floated above the beach. I thought to myself: "It did not quite work out yet." Then my ego slipped into the body lying in bed.

Another example is provided by a student who had already had many experiences with the mentioned mirror technique. His ego-core entered the bodies of several other dream characters, but he became lucid only at the end of the dream:

I am dreaming that I am married and have a daughter (neither of which was actually true). First, I see the kid playing around and I am very proud of her. Later on, I am lying in bed (person A = dreamer) with my wife (person B). She tells me that we have to sepa-rate. I am stunned by that. She leaves and my ego enters her (person B) at that moment. After some time has passed, I (still person B) conclude that I (person A) am not that bad a person after all and I (person B) decide to return to myself (person A). I find myself (person A) in bed with a stranger, a man (person C), and I (person B) get extremely mad and jealous. I (person B) accuse myself (person A) of being a "queer son-of-a-bitch." Then my ego slips out of person B and into person C, and now, being person C, I explain to person B why it is all right this way and succeed in convincing B of this. Finally, all three of us are lying in bed making love. I leave all three of them at the moment I am no longer sure which one of them I actually am and then discover that I am sleeping because everything seems so dreamlike. Seeing that, I explain to them (the three people) that I am dreaming and that they are all parts of myself. They turn around, looking at me sheepishly and unbelievingly. Wondering how I manage to talk even though my ego has no body at all, I wake up.

The dreamer interpreted the dream as a psychological conflict in which the ego-core took over the various sub-systems of his personality. While this dream obviously symbolized an internal psychological conflict, we also have examples of psychosocial conflicts being clarified and resolved by entering the body of another dream character (for a detailed example, see THOLEY, 1988b, pp. 283, 284). Indeed, it is not always possible to make a strict distinction between these two kinds of conflicts because of their closely interrelated nature.

Dream Ego Duplication

The following technique for duplicating the dream ego was developed by psychotherapist Norbert SATTLER. He discovered that it is possible to not only pass into another dream character over the line of sight, but that a person can be transported to a different place entirely. The following example from SATTLER explains how the dream ego can be duplicated at the same time as this transporting takes place.

Standing in front of a high tower during a lucid dream, I clearly experienced the tower's power. This gave rise to a desire to look down from it. I accomplished this by gliding in desultory fashion to the top of the tower along my line of sight. I then looked downwards and was overcome by a feeling of dizziness. In a similar way as before, I changed my perspective several times until I seemed to be standing on top of the tower and at its base at the same time, while simultaneously looking upwards and downwards. In this way, I experienced the power of the high tower and the dizziness caused by the long vertical drop in one conflicting moment.

A second method, which I developed, for dream ego duplication consisted in cutting one's body into right and left halves (see also the following discussion for the more general method of severing body parts). The two halves can then complete themselves into two dream bodies with differing points of view. As a rule, this method can only be applied successfully by experienced lucid dreamers and the phenomena are generally of an unstable nature. In this connection, it should be noted that the dream-ego, according to CHANG (1963), can be "multiplied into millions and billions to fill the entire cosmos" (our terminology: the total dream world).

Movement of the Ego-core Within the Dream Body

The above mentioned technique for dividing the dream body into two halves is patterned after a more general technique developed by Norbert SATTLER (see preceding section) for cutting through or cutting off various parts of the dream body with a knife. With this method, pain can be felt and resistance can be encountered if the subject has not learned to transform the solid dream body into a subtle body. The ego-core also becomes mobile by means of cuts made through the head and can be moved arbitrarily within the uninjured dream body with further practice. In this way, it can inspect the entire dream body and internal organs much like the Guided Affective Imagery (GAI) technique described by LEUNER (1978). This could ultimately be of great significance for the diagnosis and treatment of psychosomatic illness.

Destruction of the Dream Ego

If a subject not only severs various parts of the body, but also tries to completely cut it up into pieces, burn it up or destroy it by other means, then the dream body as well as the dream ego-core disappear. This is similar to the techniques used by shamans (e.g., see KALWEIT, 1984) who are considered by many researchers to be pioneers in consciousness research. The vanishing of the ego-core can lead to different states of consciousness. Relatedly, DITTRICH (1985) argues, on the basis of factor analysis of numerous experiments, that there are only three main dimensions (independently of pharmacological and psychological causes) within the various forms of altered states of consciousness:

1. Oceanic self boundlessness;

2. Anxious ego dissolution; and

3. Visionary restructuring.

As a rule, only hallucinatory events take place during a lucid dream. Whether the vanishing of the ego is accompanied by peak experiences of type 1, or unpleasant, fearful experiences of type 2 depends, above all, on the subject's epistemological point of view and the emotional attitude flowing from it. Otherwise, we see no decisive difference between these forms of experience. Those of the first type were the only ones encountered by our experienced lucid dreamers who carried out the experiments without any anxiety or fear. They can sometimes be described as cosmic experiences with a holographic structure in which the self and the (phenomenal) cosmos form a single unit.

The Evolution of Consciousness

A series of phenomenologically differentiated experiences can be distinguished in which the opposition of the ego (or self) to the world is eliminated. This is discussed in chapter 10, "The Evolving Soul," of GACKENBACH and BOSVELDs Control Your Dreams (1989).

We are of the opinion that such peak experiences, above all in the Indian culture and subsequently in many western cultures, are too dependent on meditation techniques and frequently lead to a passive condition marked by withdrawal from the world. But similar states can also be reached while physiologically awake. Numerous Japanese Zen Buddhists, whose outlook is close to German Gestalt theory, are able to reach such states of consciousness by means of the "outer way"; for example, through artistic or physical exercises. Zen Buddhist philosophers (see IZUTSU, 1986, p. 35) also speak of a "supra-consciousness." In both Zen Buddhism and Gestalt theory (which is itself supported by countless empirical investigations), the vanishing of the ego (or at least its receding into the background) is the most important prerequisite for unprejudiced perception, productive thinking, free and creative action. Given, however, that we adopt an egocentric attitude as part of growing up in our western culture, the road to creative freedom is not easy. By eliminating certain impediments in the form of psychological resistance or defense mechanisms, lucid dreaming can provide a key to the successful traversing of this road (for details see THOLEY, 1989c). It is not possible to describe this road in more detail within the context of this article; nor the many diverse applications which we have only been able to touch upon.

In conclusion we would like to point out that reaching creative freedom in perception, thinking, and artistic or scientific activity, shares a similarity to "enlightening" or "waking up" from the robot-like sleep of our day to day existence as described by TART (1986). But we are also of the opinion that there is a lot of investigative work remaining. We have merely made a single excursion from which it is only possible to point out new research perspectives, rather than report final conclusions.


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