[From: Stephen LaBerge, (1985). LUCID DREAMING. New York:
Ballantine. ISBN 0-345-33355-1]
CHAPTER 9: DREAMING, ILLUSION, AND REALITY
"In the ages of the rude beginning of culture," wrote
Nietzsche, "man believed that he was discovering a second
real world in dream, and here is the origin of all
metaphysics. Without dreams, mankind would never have had
occasion to invent such a division of the world. The parting
of soul and body goes also with this way of interpreting
dreams; likewise, the idea of a soul's apparitional body:
whence all belief in ghosts, and apparently, too, in gods."
I am inclined to agree with Nietzsche in placing the blame
for belief in ghosts, gods, and life after death on the
doorstep of the dream. Let us suppose that the idea of a
soul-body derives from subjective experiences in the dream
world. Whether or not the soul would then be granted the
status of objective reality would depend on the reality
status given to the dream.
If early humans believed they had discovered in the dream a
second "real world," what might they have meant? Did they
merely mean that the dream world had a subjectively
verifiable existence? That dreams were only real while they
lasted? Or did dreams exist actually and objectively in some
subtle plane of existence every bit as real as the physical
These are only a few of the possibilities we might consider
in trying to settle the question of whether dreams are real,
and if so, how the mental reality of the dream world might
compare with the physical reality of the world you are
reading this book in.
There are really two issues here: one is the degree to which
an experience seems subjectively real (at least while it is
happening). The other issue is independent of the first; this
is the degree to which the experience seems objectively real
in the sense that it produces actual effects on other parts
of reality. We say that something really exists if it can
produce an effect (of any kind) on another member of some
class of existence. As an example, imagine a very special
little object, which is so soft that you can't touch it; and
covered with invisible paint so you can't see it, and
moreover transparent to every kind of light; it is also
odorless; it has no weight; and it has no other property
whereby it can be grasped. In short, there seems to be no way
in which you can interact with it. So how would you know it
exists? We only know a thing exists when it interacts with
other existing things.
Now we come to the specific question that is relevant here:
what about the reality of the dream? Our studies in Chapter 4
have shown without any doubt that lucid dreams produce real
effects on our brains and bodies. Score one for the dream!
There seems no doubt that dreams are as real as real can be,
according to the subjective point of view of the dream.
But even though we have demonstrated the subjective reality
of dreams, we have not faced the bigger question: is there
any evidence suggesting that dreams can be objectively real
as well? There are in fact several enigmatic phenomena that
seem to raise the possibility that, in some circumstances at
least, the dream world may be at least partially objective.
One of these enigmas is the uncanny experience in which a
person feels that he or she has somehow temporarily detached
from or "left his or her body." Survey data indicate that a
surprising number of people have had such so-called "out-of-
body experiences" (OBEs) at least once in their lives. 
Very frequently those who have this experience become
unshakable convinced that they, or at least some part of
themselves, are capable of existence independent of their
Another phenomenon whose existence is widely attested to is
the mysterious mode of information transfer called extra-
sensory perception (ESP). A wealth of anecdotal evidence
supports the idea that ESP, working across both space and
time sometimes occurs. If it is indeed possible to "perceive"
in some fashion events that are happening at a distance, or
even those that have not yet happened, space and time must be
other than what they seem, and the same thing goes for
subjective and objective!
Accounts of "mutual dreaming," (dreams apparently shared by
two or more people) raise the possibility that the dream
world may be in some cases just as objectively real as the
physical world. This is because the primary criterion of
"objectivity" is that an experience is shared by more than
one person, which is supposedly true of mutual dreams. In
that case, what would happen to the traditional dichotomy
between dreams and reality?
These mysterious phenomena that threaten the simplicity of
our common sense view of life are all primarily children of
the night. Surveys indicate that more spontaneous psi
experiences are reported to occur during dreaming than in the
waking state.  Most out-of-body experiences tend likewise
to occur while the person is dreaming or at least in bed.
Dean Shiels, an American anthropologist, studied the OBE in
67 different cultures around the world and found that sleep
was regarded as the most important source of OBEs in about
80% of the cultures in his sample. 
How does all this relate to lucid dreams? I propose that OBEs
are actually variant interpretations of lucid dreams; that
dream telepathy will provide the basis for an explanation of
the occasional accuracy of paranormal OBE vision; and
laboratory experiments with mutual lucid dreams will be
suggested as a means of testing the objective reality of
shared dream worlds.
Although telepathic experiences also apparently occur during
the waking state, as I already mentioned, surveys indicate
that most instances of such phenomena occur in precognitive
dreams. The following is a remarkable example of such a
"Many years ago when my son, who is now a man with a baby a
year old, was a boy I had a dream early one morning. I
thought the children and I had gone camping with some
friends. We were camped in such a pretty little glade on the
shores of the sound between two hills. It was wooded, and our
tents were under the trees. I looked around and thought what
a lovely spot it was.
I thought I had some washing to do for the baby, so I went
to the creek where it broadened out a little. There was a
nice clean gravel spot, so I put the baby and the clothes
down. I noticed I had forgotten the soap so I started back to
the tent. The baby stood near the creek throwing handfuls of
pebbles into the water. I got my soap and came back, and my
baby was lying face down in the water. I pulled him out but
he was dead. I awakened then, sobbing and crying. What a wave
of joy went over me when I realized that I was safe in bed
and that he was alive. I thought about it and worried for a
few days, but nothing happened and I forgot about it.
During that summer some friends asked the children and me
to go camping with them. We cruised along the sound until we
found a good place for a camp near fresh water. The lovely
little glade between the hills had a small creek and big
trees to pitch our tents under. While sitting on the beach
with one of the other women, watching the children play, I
happened to think I had some washing to do, so I took the
baby and went to the tent for the clothes. When I got back to
the creek I put down the baby and the clothes, and then I
noticed that I had forgotten the soap. I started back for it,
and as I did so, the baby picked up a handful of pebbles and
threw them in the water. Instantly my dream flashed into my
mind. It was like a moving picture. He stood just as he had
in my dream--white dress, yellow curls, shining sun. For a
moment I almost collapsed. Then I caught him up and went back
to the beach and my friends. When I composed myself, I told
them about it. They just laughed and I said I imagined it.
That is such a simple answer when one cannot give a good
Anecdotes, though dramatic and numerous, do no more than
convince one that precognitive dreams are a possibility. It
takes scientific investigation to convert possibility to
probability approaching certainty. Fortunately, there are
perhaps half a dozen scientific demonstrations of dream
The most famous among these were the experiments in dream
telepathy carried out in the Dream Laboratory of the
Maimonides Hospital in Brooklyn by Dr. Montague Ullman and
Dr. Stanley Krippner in the late 1960s. These dream
researchers monitored sleeping subjects. During the periods
that the subjects were in REM sleep, a person in another room
focused on an art reproduction and attempted to
telepathically transmit an image of the painting to the
sleeping subjects, who were awakened for dream reports at the
end of each of their REM periods. Afterwards, judges were
able to match which picture went with which dream report with
an accuracy significantly above chance.
One night the target picture was The Sacrament of the Last
Supper by Salvador Dali. The painting shows Christ at the
center of a table surrounded by the twelve disciples, with a
glass of wine and a loaf of bread on the table, and a fishing
boat visible in the distance on the sea behind them. Dr.
William Erwin was the subject. His first dream was about an
ocean which he commented had a "strange beauty about it..."
Remembering his second dream, he said, "boats come to mind.
Fishing boats. Small-size boats...There was a picture in the
Sea Fare Restaurant that came to mind...It shows, oh, I'd say
about a dozen or so men pulling a fishing boat ashore right
after having returned from a catch." Erwin's third dream
seemed to relate to the Christian theme: he was looking
through a "Christmas catalogue." His following three dreams
were about doctors (Christ the healer and spiritual
physician?) His last two dreams of the night dealt with food.
In the morning Dr. Erwin's reflections on his dreams put the
pieces together in a way that is very suggestive: "The
fisherman dream makes me think of the Mediterranean area,
perhaps even some sort of Biblical time. Right now my
associations are of the fish and the loaf, or even the
feeding of the multitudes....Once again I think of
Christmas...Having to do with the ocean-water, something in
this area..." 
The findings of the Maimonides program of research offer
scientific support for the possibility of telepathic
influence on dream content.  Likewise, in 1962, L. E.
Rhine concluded on the basis of a large body of anecdotal
evidence that more spontaneous psi-experiences occurred
during dreaming than during the waking state. That being so,
we may accept dream telepathy as a working hypothesis and are
free to make explanatory use of it, if the need arises--which
it shortly will.
But now let us return to the other enigma we were discussing:
the out-of-body experience. The OBE takes on a confusingly
wide variety of forms. A person having an OBE may for example
find his sense of identity apparently associated with a
second, non-physical body--a "soul," "astral body," "spirit,"
or, to suggest a term having a certain charm, "out-of-body
body" (OBB)! Equally, while "out-of-body", one may entirely
dispense with the inelegance of bodies of any sort, and
experience oneself as a point of light or a freely mobile
center of awareness. In some OBEs, one will seem to see one's
physical body while in other cases one finds but an empty bed
or someone else entirely.
Let us take the case of one "astral projector" who wrote that
before he knew what his OBEs were, he "was much afraid each
time" he had one. He explained that his projections always
began with him lying in bed, feeling a weight holding him
down. The next thing he knew he would be out of his body.
During one OBE, he walked around his bedroom and looked down
the stairs into the kitchen. He decided to look at himself in
the mirror, but curiously could not see anything when he did
so. On another occasion, when returning from "astral
adventures," he thought, "I'll look at myself on the bed."
But when he looked, he saw his mother, who "had been passed
over quite a long time." Yet curiously, finding his dead
mother in bed instead of his sleeping body didn't lead him to
the conclusion that he was dreaming; he took this to mean
that his mother's spirit would always be with him whenever he
was "projected." 
Two features of this OBE report are particularly suggestive.
One is that upon "leaving his body" the astral projector
walked around "his bedroom" and looked into "the kitchen."
This added to the second fact that he expected to find his
own sleeping body in bed upon his return, indicates that he
conceived of himself as being in a non-physical ("astral")
body, but in an environment identical to the physical world.
It is exactly this kind of contradictory and confused mixture
of mental and material elements that is also characteristic
of the pre-lucid or naive dreamer. Secondly, note the
projector's failure to consider the possibility that if his
physical body wasn't in the bed he was looking in, it might
not be the real bed he was looking at, or the real bedroom,
or the real kitchen, either.
These kinds of minor lapses of rationality and the failure to
question the anomalies that confront one seem to me quite
characteristic of non-lucid dreaming and OBEs. Here is an
account by Keith Harary, a person who has impressed me in the
waking state as quite rational and of superior intelligence,
and who is, as well, unusually proficient at inducing OBEs:
"One night I awoke in an out-of-body state floating just
above my physical body which lay below me on the bed. A
candle had been left burning on [sic] the other end of the
room during the evening. I dove for the candle head first
from a sitting position and gently floated down toward it
with the intention of blowing out the flame to conserve wax.
I put my "face" up close to the candle and had some
difficulty in putting out the flame. I had to blow on it
several times before it finally seemed to extinguish. I
turned around, saw my body lying on the bed and gently
floated back and back into it. Once in the physical (body) I
immediately turned over and went back to sleep. The next
morning I awoke and found that the candle had completely
burned down. It seemed as if my out-of-the-body efforts had
affected only a non-physical candle." 
The fact that Harary considered the other objects as
physical, and the candle alone to have been non-physical is
very similar to the way that normal dreamers account for
anomalies when they occur during a dream.
Harary claimed that this experience, like his other OBEs, was
"subjectively distinguishable from dreaming in much the same
way that waking consciousness is distinguishable from
dreaming or imagination." This is exactly how lucid dreams
are distinguished from ordinary dreams.
In addition to the anomalies that people tend to accept in
OBEs, there is another similarity to dreaming. This is the
fact that during the OBE, they are convinced that what they
are experiencing is actuality. For example, the gentleman
with the "astral mother" whose case we have just discussed
testified that he had learned through his OBEs that "the real
Me is apart from and working through, my physical body. I now
know for sure that we have two bodies."
This feeling of knowing "for sure" is quite characteristic of
the tenacity with which people cling to the conclusions they
draw from their out-of-body experiences. Wherever else they
may differ, for instance whether the "two bodies" are or are
not connected by a "silver cord," persons who have had out-
of-the-body experiences are quite unanimous in being
'absolutely certain' that they are not dreams. Yet during
ordinary dreams we are usually convinced at the time of the
actuality of what we later discover to have been delusions.
An example of one of my own experiences is, I believe,
especially revealing in regard to the similarities between
dreaming and OBEs. Previously, I had had several lucid dreams
in which I dreamed I could see my "sleeping body" in bed. I
refer to them as "lucid dreams" rather than "OBEs" because
that is how I interpreted them at the time. In my opinion
"lucid dreams" and "OBEs" are necessarily distinguished by
only one essential feature. This is how the person interprets
the experience at the time. The primary qualification for an
OBE is the sensation that a person is out of his or her body.
Perhaps it would be less misleading to describe this
experience as an "out-of-body sensation" (OBS) rather than an
"out-of-body experience." So, if you believe, in some sense,
that you are "out of your body," you are having, by
definition, an "out-of-the-body" experience. This definition
sidesteps the question of whether or not you have actually
left your physical body. However, no experience guarantees
the actual existence of the thing in question. In the dark
forest, one may experience a tree as a tiger, but it is still
in fact only a tree.
According to the traditional psychology of Tibetan Buddhism,
all of our experiences are subjective, and thus, by their
very nature, not in substance different from what we call
"dreams. " This is also the point of view of the cognitive
psychology of the modern West. Granting this premise, and
scientifically speaking, it is impossible to argue with it,
it would be difficult to name any experience that (by this
definition) was not a sort of dream.
Consequently my assumption that OBEs were necessarily a
certain species of dream, made the following experience all
the more startling: aware that I was dreaming, the image of
what I had been dreaming about faded, but I tried to hold
onto it. Throwing myself into the darkness, I found myself
crawling down a dark tunnel on my hands and knees. At first,
I could see nothing, but when I touched my eyelids I was able
to open them, and I suddenly found myself floating across the
room toward Dawn, who was sleeping on the couch. I looked
back to see my 'body' asleep on the living room floor.
Somehow, I was completely convinced that this was not a
dream, but that I really was seeing my sleeping body. Dawn
awoke and started to speak and I felt myself magnetically
drawn back into the body asleep on the floor. When I arrived,
I got up in this body (which I took to be my physical body)
and excitedly said to her, "Do you know what just happened to
me? An Out-of-Body Experience of the genuine kind!" After
this I was looking through a stamp book, when I found myself
flying (like Superman) in the air over Germany.
I was shocked to awaken a few minutes later in my bed, and
realize that I had been sleeping all along. By now my brain
was working well enough to note the general implausibility of
my previous interpretation of the recent events I had
experienced. I could see, for instance, the inconsistencies
implied by my belief that the body I had seen asleep on the
floor, and entered from my supposed "other body" was actually
my physical body. Were it not for the physical impossibility
of traveling to Germany once I had opened a stamp book
(though I owned nothing of the kind), and the contradictory
waking testimony of Dawn, I might still be convinced that
what had happened was not a dream. And this in spite of all
'reason' to the contrary. What we know for certain, reason is
powerless to doubt. When you see your hand in front of you,
can you really doubt that it is your hand? What we know for
certain actually only means what we assume or believe we
know. My "out-of-the-body experience of the genuine kind"
serves as a reminder that we can be totally mistaken about
what seems indubitable and certain.
The lucid dream is sometimes considered to be an inferior
form of the out-of-body experience. But I believe the
opposite may be the case, as may have already occurred to
those readers who followed the progression of stages through
which children pass in developing understanding of the
concept of "dreaming". To briefly review what was said in
Chapter 6, recall that at the earliest stage, children
believe that dreams take place in the same (external) world
as the rest of their experiences. Having learned, mainly
through their parents, that dreams are somehow different from
waking experiences, at the next stage they treat dreams as if
they were partially external and partially internal. This
transitional stage finally gives way to the third stage in
which children recognize that the dream is entirely internal
in nature, i.e., a purely mental experience.
These developmental stages refer, of course, to the
conceptual terms with which children think about the dream
after awakening. While dreaming, children and adults alike
tend to remain at the first stage: implicitly assuming that
the dream events are external reality. Likewise, "astral
projectors" who explicitly believe that what they are
experiencing is external reality would be at this same stage.
However, most typical out-of-the-body experiences with their
somewhat contradictory mixture of mental and material would
seem to provide examples of the second stage. Only with the
fully lucid dream does the dreamer arrive at the third stage
of conceptual clarity: realizing that the experience is
entirely mental and clearly distinguishing the dream from the
In support of the notion that OBEs are generally the result
of a misinterpreted dream experiences, let me offer a
personal observation. In about 1% of the approximately 800
lucid dreams in my record, I felt I was in some sense 'out-
of-my-body.' In every case, when examining the experience
after awakening, I noted some deficiency in either my memory
or critical thinking during the experience. In one such
situation, I tried to memorize the serial number of a dollar
bill to verify later whether I had really been out of my body
or not. When I awoke, I couldn't recall the number, but it
hardly mattered. I now remembered that I hadn't lived in the
house I thought I was asleep in for several years. In another
instance, I was floating near the ceiling of my living room
"looking at some photos on top of a cabinet that I knew I
hadn't seen before, given by habitual confinement to walking
on the floor rather than the ceiling! My hopes of verifying
this paranormally gained information evaporated in a flash
when I remembered upon awakening that I hadn't lived in this
house for more than 20 years!
In contrast, during most of my lucid dreams I can remember
where I am sleeping (if it matters) and usually have as
accurate a notion of the date as I normally have while awake.
Frequently, I know what time it is within a few minutes.
From this I suggest that imperfect brain function during REM
sleep may at times give rise to incomplete lucidity during
dreaming. This state is characterized by partial amnesia,
inadequate reality testing, and interpreting the experience
as being out-of-body rather than dreaming.
All in all, the quality of reasoning during OBEs seems to me
to closely resemble Nietzsche's description of the reasoning
typical of primitive humanity and also of dreamers today:
"the first causa which occurred to the mind to explain
anything that required an explanation was sufficient and
stood for truth."  This pre-critical stage of mind is
also typical of the explanations many pre-lucid dreamers
accept as proof that they are not dreaming. I believe a
similarly stage of mind characterizes the reasoning whereby
people convince themselves that they really are "out-of-
In fairness, it should be pointed out that the manner in
which OBEs are typically initiated makes the "out-of-body"
interpretation of the experience seem almost beyond
questioning: you are apparently awake in bed, and then, with
no more notice than a feeling of vibration or melting, you
find yourself "peeling," "stepping," or "floating" "out of
the body." Most people accept uncritically that what seems to
be the natural explanation is the explanation of the
In accordance with Nietzsche's contention above,, "leaving
one's body" is the first causa to occur to the dreaming mind,
and it is accepted on face value as the explanation. One of
the reasons people might be likely to label an experience
like we've just described as "out-of-the body" rather than
dreaming is because it seemed to happen while they were
awake. Obviously, if they were asleep, they couldn't have
been dreaming, and if they weren't dreaming, they must have
been doing what it seems they were--being "out-of-the-body."
This all seems straightforward enough, except for one awkward
fact: it happens that in a variety of circumstances, it may
be extremely difficult to determine whether or not you really
are asleep or awake, only dreaming or really seeing. These
states of confusion are especially likely to occur during
sleep paralysis, a condition that sometimes results when a
person partially awaken from REM sleep and finds himself
unable to move, because the part of the brain that prevents
them from acting out their dreams for some reason temporarily
continues to function even though they are otherwise "awake."
Although the physiological basis for sleep paralysis has only
recently been uncovered, the state and the hallucinatory
experiences associated with it have been known for many
years. For example, Eleanor Rowland described some of her
experiences of this confusing blend of dream and reality in a
1908 paper entitled "A case of visual sensations during
"It often happens that dream persons issue from behind a
real door, a dream hand moves along a real wall, and a dream
figure sits upon the real bed. Since my vision is so
accurate, I can not reassure myself by being certain that I
am asleep. Nor am I in a slumber deep enough to accept any
dream that comes without comment. My reasoning powers are
active at such times, and I commune thus with myself: "No one
can have opened the door, for you know you locked it." "But I
see a figure distinctly standing at my elbow, and it has
knocked on the door twice." "You are probably asleep." "How
can I be? I see and hear as distinctly as I ever do." "Why
then, don't you push the figure away?" "I will. Here I am
doing it." "No--you are not doing it at all, for you can see
that you have not moved an inch." "Then I am asleep after
all--the figure is not there, and I need not be afraid of
The lesson to be learned from all this is that it is not
always easy to determine which world you are living in at any
given time: telling dreams from reality is no easy matter.
Neither biological nor cultural evolution has prepared you to
any significant extent for this particular task.
Distinguishing one state of consciousness from another is a
cognitive skill learned in exactly the same way that you
learned as children to comprehend the gibberish of sounds
that became your native language--by practice. The more
practice you gain in lucid dreaming, the easier you will find
it not to be fooled into thinking you are awake when you are
dreaming. The more experience you have had with recognizing
false awakenings, sleep paralysis, and other phenomena
associated with REM sleep, the more likely it is that when
you "leave your body" you will recognize it as a lucid dream.
This, in fact, is what we have observed with most of our
experienced oneironauts. They quite frequently describe lucid
dreams initiated from brief awakenings within REM periods as
"leaving their bodies " even though we all agree that while
this terminology effectively captures the way the experience
actually feels at the time, it does not presumably describe
what really happens.
As an example of the peculiar form typically taken by these
experiences, consider one of Roy K.'s laboratory lucid
dreams: while lying on his right side, he began turning to
the left and felt as though he had "left his body." He saw a
scene of a field and signaled lucidity about seven times.
Next appeared a glowing, reddish light, so he turned to the
right towards it, and flew down an alley. At this point, he
resumed signaling although he was later unsure of exactly how
many times he had moved his eyes. It might have been nine. In
any case, he continued to fly down the alley until he saw the
moon--full and strikingly luminous. Upon seeing the stars
above, he decided to try to unite them with the moon. But it
was too late. Already he felt his body paralyzed in bed. He
wanted to wake up and signal someone, and after what seemed
like a very strenuous effort, succeeded in awakening and
pressed the call button.
Before I offer an explanation for what I believe may actually
be happening in experiences of this kind, I would like to
describe one of my own wake-within REM initiated lucid
dreams. It was the middle of the night, and I had evidently
just awakened from a REM period since I effortlessly recalled
a dream. I was lying face down in bed, drowsily reviewing the
story of my previous dream when I suddenly experienced a very
curious sensation of tingling and heaviness in my arms. They
became so heavy, in fact, that one of them seemed to melt
over the side of the bed! I recognized this distortion of my
body image as a sign that I was re-entering REM sleep. As I
relaxed more deeply, I felt my entire body become paralyzed
although I could still seem to feel its position in bed. I
reasoned that this feeling was most likely a memory image and
that actual sensory input was cut off just as much as motor
output. I was, in short, asleep. At this point, I imagined
raising my arm and experienced this imagined movement as if I
had separated an equally real arm from the physical one I
knew to be paralyzed. Then with a similar imagined movement
I, as it were, "rolled out of my physical body entirely." I
was now, according to my understanding, wholly in a dream
body in a dream of my bedroom. The body I had seemed to leave
and which I now dreamed I saw lying on the bed, I quite
lucidly realized to be a dream representation of my physical
body; indeed, it evaporated as soon as I put my attention
elsewhere. From here, I flew off into the dawn....
I would say that having awakened from REM sleep, I was (as
always) experiencing my body image in a position calculated
by my brain. Since this calculation was based on accurate
information about the physical world obtained through my
awake (and therefore functional) senses, my experienced body
position corresponded to my actual situation of lying in bed.
Since during sleep (particularly REM), sensory input from the
external world is actively suppressed, at this point my
sensory systems no longer provided my brain information
regarding the physical world. Thus my brain's representation
of my body-image was no longer constrained by sensory
information concerning my body's actual orientation in
physical space. I was consequently free to move my body image
in mental space out of the position it was represented as
being in when last in sensory contact with the physical
world. I could in fact now move this image to any new
position in mental space that I chose. With no sensory input
to contradict any imagined position of my body image that my
brain cared to construct, I could freely "travel" anywhere in
Let us consider, for comparison, an alternative theory: OBEs
as "astral projection." The idea of the astral world was
brought to the West and popularized by Madame Blavatsky in
the last century. According to her doctrine of Theosophy, the
world is composed of seven planes of existence: each plane is
made up of atoms of varying degrees of refinement. The
physical world is the coarsest of all. On the next higher
level, the so-called "etheric" plane, we find a second body--
but this is not yet the "astral body," only the "etheric
body" normally attached to the physical body and serving to
keep all seven bodies in communication. The next higher plane
is the "astral" where we find the body we have been looking
for. The astral world is made of "astral matter" which is
superimposed on physical matter, and everything in the
physical world has its counterpart in the astral world.
However, there are more things found on the astral plane than
on the physical including a menagerie of spirits and
elementals and discarnate entities of all sorts. What is most
to the point here is that the astral body was supposed to be
able to travel on the astral plane free of the physical body,
and since the astral was supposed to contain a copy of
everything in the physical world, it would have seemed an
easy matter to gain information from distant places by speedy
travel on the astral plane. There are many difficulties with
the "astral world" theory of dreaming and OBEs. Just to name
one, I can recall lucid dreams in which I viewed a dream
representation of my bedroom that was missing a good deal of
"astral" matter: a whole wall and window in fact! But my
intention here is not to expound the theory of astral
projection, but only to translate their terms into mine.
What occultists have termed "astral travel," I am calling
"mental travel". Moreover, instead of "astral world," I say
"mental world"; and as for the mysterious entity elsewhere
referred to as the "astral body", "double", or "phantom", or
"second body", I regard it as an experiential reality that I
have identified with the body image, but the most
straightforward term for it may be "the dream body."
This dream body is our mental representation of our actual
physical body. But this is the only body that we ever
directly experience. We know by direct acquaintance only the
contents of our minds. All of our knowledge concerning the
physical world, including even the assumed existence of our
"first" or physical bodies, is by inference.
Just because our knowledge of external reality is indirect,
it should not lead us to conclude that mind alone exists or
that the physical world is merely an illusion. Due to its
representational nature, it is our mental world that is the
illusion. Our mental experiences can be compared to watching
television. The televised events are merely projected
pictures having only the semblance of reality. Whether or not
the events we see on television have any correspondence with
actual events is another matter. When, for instance, we watch
a news program we trust we are witnessing the depiction of
events that actually occurred in physical reality. If we have
seen a man killed we expect him to be in fact--dead. In
contrast, when we see an actor "killed" in a television
melodrama, we consequently expect him rather than his widow
to collect his pay check!
In both of these cases, what we experienced were illusions in
the sense that the events that apparently took place on our
television were only the images of events that may or may not
have actually occurred in external reality. This is the
necessary condition of all of our experiences: as mental
representations, they are the images of the things they
represent--not the things themselves. It is much more
informative to specify the relation between the image and the
thing it represents. Our two examples represent opposite
degrees of possible correspondence. In the case of the actor,
there was no relationship between the theatrical "death"
portrayed and actuality. In contrast, the news program showed
us the image of an event that precisely corresponded to the
occurrence of an actual event. Thus we accept the news as
accurately expressing reality. One can easily imagine
television productions possessing degrees of truth anywhere
between the two extremes we have considered, such as a
dramatic enactment of a true story or a news program that
mistakenly reported that a man had been killed when he had in
fact only been wounded.
Now imagine a person confined to a room whose entire
experience of the outside world is limited to what he or she
sees on television. Such a person might well regard
television as the primary reality and "the outside world" as
a derivative and unnecessary hypothesis.
I am suggesting by this metaphor that we are all in a very
similar situation: the room we are confined in corresponds to
our minds, and the television programs to the news and
fantasies of the external world, brought to us by our senses.
All of the foregoing discussion in reference to television
images equally applies to the mental images out of which we
construct our worlds.
In the terms I have proposed here, being in the body means
constructing a mental body image. Because it is based on
sensory information, it accurately represents the body's
actual position in physical space. While dreaming, we are out
of touch with our bodies and consequently liberated from the
physical constraints imposed by waking perception. Thus no
awkward sensory facts are present to limit our movement in
mental space, and we are free to move out of the spatial
orientation defined by "being in the (physical) body."
The part of us that "leaves the body" travels in mental, not
physical space. Consequently, it would seem reasonable to
suppose that we never "leave our bodies" because we are never
in them. Where "we" are when we experience anything at all--
OBEs included--is in mental space, not physical space.
Milton's famous phrase, "The Mind is its own place," goes not
quite far enough. The mind is not merely its own place, the
mind is its only place.
We are ready to address an empirical aspect of the OBE
phenomenon. Persons undergoing OBEs frequently believe they
are paranormally perceiving happenings taking place in the
physical world. Unfortunately, in most cases, this belief
takes the form of an untested assumption. Like the events we
see on television, what we see during OBEs could have any
degree of correspondence with physical reality.
The generally unquestioned assumption underlying OBEs is that
the person having the experience is actually situated, in
some unexplained way, elsewhere in the physical world than in
his or her physical body. An implication of this is that what
the person sees while "out-of-the-body" ought to be an
accurate reflection of physical reality, entirely analogous
to ordinary perception. Rarely are either of these
assumptions subjected to rigorous test or, for that matter,
to any test at all. These are empirical questions that can
and should be settled by scientific experiment.
Are there any scientific data that might allow us to arrive
at a verdict on the claim that OBE vision is valid? There is
in fact a good deal of relevant evidence available and there
have been a number of studies of OBE vision that meet the
standards of rigorous control required by exact science.
There are two ways of broadly viewing the results of these
studies. First of all, we have the summary of Karlis Osis,
Director of Research at the American Society for Psychical
Research (A.S.P.R.). This society, in an effort to produce
evidence for survival of death, undertook an extensive
investigation of OBE perception.  In the course of this
study, approximately 100 subjects, all of whom believed they
were proficient in inducing OBEs and possessed paranormal
perceptual abilities during these OBEs, were tested under
controlled conditions. While confined to one room at the
A.S.P.R., the subjects induced OBEs and "visited" a distant
target room, attempting afterwards to describe in detail what
they had "seen" while there. A comparison of their reports
with the actual contents of the target room revealed, in all
but a few cases, absolutely no indication of any
correspondence whatsoever. In other words, in the great
majority of these cases, there was no evidence supporting
accurate OBE perception, nor for the validity of the
subjects' convictions that they had actually left their
bodies. Moreover, these subjects were described by Osis as
being "the creme of the claimants" of OBE. I believe the
results of this study strongly supports the "OBE as
misinterpreted lucid dream" interpretation offered above.
As for OBE vision, in the words of Dr. Osis, "the bulk of the
cases seem to be a mirage." At best, OBE vision seems a
highly variable and unreliable mode of perception "ranging
from fairly good (i.e., clearly distinguishing some objects)
to complete failure (i.e., producing very foggy or totally
incorrect images)." Moreover, Osis added, "of those
individuals in our studies who have shown some signs of OOB
perceptual power, we did not find a single one who could see
things clearly every time he felt he was out of body."
The great majority of alleged cases of OBE vision apparently
show no greater degree of perceptual ability (in regard to
the external world) than we would expect from ordinary
dreams. This might by itself suggest that the nature of OBEs
would require no additional explanation than that already
But the existence of even occasional exceptions of apparently
accurate OBE perception is a fact that still needs to be
explained. The traditional explanation holds that OBE vision
is a form of direct perception by means of the senses of a
non-physical body. There is an alternative explanation that
is philosophically sound, economical, and (most importantly)
in agreement with observation. It does not in the first place
assume a condition of unvarying accuracy during OBE or lucid
dream vision. Instead, it suggests that like all other mental
imagery, this form of perception may be relatively more
accurate at some times than others. Mental experiences can be
ordered on a spectrum ranging from little or no relation to
external reality (e.g., "hallucinations") at one end, to near
perfect correspondence with actuality (e.g., "perception") on
the other end. Moreover, there can be any degree of
relationship in between, and it is somewhere in this middle
ground that dreams and OBEs generally reside.
What I am proposing is that the select minority of accurate
OBE reports are simply cases of dream telepathy.
To some people, this may seem like explaining the mysterious
in terms of the more mysterious. Dream telepathy is a fact
only barely established and in no way satisfactorily
understood or explained. A question for future research is
whether lucid dreamers and OBErs are more conducive to
telepathy than ordinary dreamers.
Taking together the out-of-body experiences with which we
have become familiar, they do not seem to have lived up to
the claim that they would "challenge our most basic
assumptions concerning the nature of reality." Perhaps only
dream telepathy so far has provided us, so far with any
significant fact of the kind that makes us ponder deeply or
gaze into the starlit night. I have saved for last what may
be the most mysterious of the reality-shaking phenomena of
the world of dreams: I am referring to what are variously
called "mutual," "reciprocal," or "shared" dreams.
These are the perplexing experiences in which two or more
people report having had similar if not identical dreams. In
some of these cases, the reports are so remarkably alike that
one is almost compelled to conclude that the dream sharers
appear to actually have been present together in the same
dream environment. If this does occur, it would imply that at
least under certain cases the dream world and likewise the
dream bodies within it could possess some sort of objective
existence. On the other hand, in mutual dreams we may only
share dream plots, not the dreams themselves. Let us examine
a classical account of ostensible "reciprocal dreaming."
In Elmira, New York, on Tuesday the 26th of January, 1892,
between 2 and 3 A.M., Dr. Adele Gleason dreamed that she
stood in a lonesome place in the dark woods and that great
fear came over her, at which point she dreamed that John
Joslyn, her attorney and friend, came to her and shook a tree
by her, causing its leaves to burst into flame. When the two
friends met four days later, Adele mentioned having had a
"strange dream" last Tuesday night. John stopped her at once
replying, "Don't tell it to me. Let me describe it, for I
know that I dreamt the same thing." At approximately the same
time on Tuesday night as Adele's strange dream, John had
awakened from a no less strange dream of his own and written
down the following remarkably similar account: he had found
Adele in a lonely wood after dark, "apparently paralyzed with
fear of something I did not see, rooted to the spot by the
feeling of imminent danger. I came up to her and shook the
bush, upon which the leaves that fell from it burst into
Although these two dream reports are remarkably similar, they
are not quite identical. For example, Adele made a tree of
what for John was only a bush; Adele's leaves burned on her
tree, while John's turned to flame while falling. The
original reports show other discrepancies as well. I would
interpret this as an instance of shared dreaming as caused by
Adele's telepathic transmission to her friend of an s.o.s.,
along with the highly-charged imagery of her dream. John, for
his part, responded in his dream to his friend's call for
help, by telepathically initiating and sharing a visionary
experience strikingly reminiscent of the Burning Bush of
Moses. This is a truly amazing tale of two dreams, yet it
does seem to me to more strongly support the hypothesis of
shared dream plots rather than shared dream worlds.
A somewhat more convincing anecdote is provided by Oliver
Fox: "I had been spending the evening with two friends, Slade
and Elkington," wrote Fox, "and our conversation had turned
to the subject of dreams. Before parting, we agreed to meet,
if possible, on Southampton Common in our dreams that night."
Later that night, Fox claimed that he dreamed that he met
Elkington on the common "as arranged." So far, so good, "but
Slade was not present." According to Fox, both he and
Elkington both knew they were dreaming, and commented on
Slade's absence. "After which the dream ended, being of very
short duration." Fox tells us that when he saw Elkington the
next day he kept quiet and asked him whether he had dreamed.
"Yes," Elkington replied, "I met you on the Common all right
and knew I was dreaming, but old Slade didn't turn up. We had
just time to greet each other and comment on his absence,
then the dream ended." This, to Oliver Fox's mind, "perhaps
accounted for" Slade's "inability to keep the appointment."
What happened to Slade? Fox was able to settle the mystery to
his own satisfaction at least. When they finally found Slade
and asked him what happened, he replied that he "had not
dreamed at all." 
Intriguing as this particular case appears, it is marred by
Fox's failure to report the exact time of occurrence of the
two lucid dreams. Although the dreams are described as
occurring on the same night, if they happened at different
times (i.e., if Fox and Elkington were not in REM sleep at
the same time), it would favor the hypothesis of shared dream
plots over being in the same dream at the same time. In any
case, Fox was unable to repeat "this small success" in mutual
lucid dreaming and expressed the belief that "it is an
extremely rare occurrence for two people to share
approximately the same dream experience."
The examples we have so far considered were both once-in-a
lifetime experiences for the dream sharers. In contrast,
there are suggestions that mutual dreaming abilities have
been cultivated to a high level by a number of Sufi mystics.
Aside from various stories of Sufi masters being able to
appear in the dreams of anyone they chose, there is the
report of a group of dervishes who explored the world of
dreams on the island of Rhodes in the 16th Century.  The
dervishes were presided over by a Sheikh, "a certain Hudai
effendi" who not only "practiced all the virtues, cultivated
all the sciences and read books in the majority of Classical
languages" but "devoted himself to the cultivation of
collective dreams." In an isolated monastery atop a small
hill on the island, "master and disciples purified themselves
bodily, mentally and spiritually together; they got into an
enormous bed together, a bed which contained the whole
congregation. They recited the same secret formula together
and had the same dream."
A remarkable story is told of an encounter between the dream
master of Rhodes and Suleiman the Magnificent, the Sultan of
Turkey. One day, during a military campaign in Corinthia,
Suleiman found himself in a seemingly impossible dilemma.
Neither the Grand Vizier nor any others of the Sultan's corps
of advisors could devise any plan of action whatsoever.
Fortunately, the Sultan remembered that there was still an
emissary of Hudai effendi in his camp. Since the dream-master
had helped him in the past out of no less difficult
circumstances, Suleiman summoned the dervish, and providing
him with travel expenses, and safe conduct passes, asked him
how many weeks he would need to journey to Rhodes and return
to the Imperial camp with the Sheikh.
"The dervish gave an involuntary smile. 'Sire,' he replied,
'I thank you for the travel expense and the safe-conducts. I
have no need of them. True, to the vulgar the island of
Rhodes is far from here, but the venerated Sheikh Hudai is no
distance from Your August Highness's camp. I undertake to
summon him tonight, even before morning prayers.'"
Misunderstanding the nature of the Sufi's nearness, the
Sultan was "astonished at the holy man's presence in the
neighborhood of his camp," and gave the dervish purses full
of gold and silver, but he refused them. In return, the
dervish offered Suleiman a "soporific apple" which the Sultan
peeled and ate.
"Then the mysterious man went so sleep," as did the Sultan
also. Previously he had ordered him men to awaken him at the
arrival of Hudai effendi. But when the master failed to
appear, they laughed at the dervish and mocked their
"Sovereign's credulity and senility." When at dawn the
muezzin of the army began the morning call to prayer, The
Great Eunuch gently awoke the Emperor and after wishing him
good morning as well as a brilliant victory over the enemy,
whispered ironically: "Sire, no news of Sheikh Hudai effendi.
It looks as if his disciple is a fraud."
"Silence, you utter imbecile," roared the Sultan, "silence!
The illustrious Master has deigned to visit me. I have had a
long conversation with him and I tell you that my faithful
armies have won the most brilliant of victories, less than an
hour ago. Await the messenger's arrival." The enemy commander
had passed out just at a crucial moment as the battle was
about to begin and his subordinates were unable to carry on
without him, with the result as foretold by the Sultan via
Evidently, "at a dream signal from the humble disciple" Hudai
effendi had visited and advised Suleiman--in a dream!
Moreover, there is the suspicion that the dream master may
have been somehow involved in the enemy commander's
mysterious and for him ill-timed loss of consciousness which
resulted in what would seem "the most accidental" in spite of
being called "the most brilliant of victories" for the armies
of Suleiman the Magnificent.
Fascinating as this and other anecdotes of mutual dreaming
may be, they bring us no nearer to deciding between the
competing interpretations of actually shared objective dream-
worlds vs. paranormally shared but subjective dream-plots,
resulting in correlated content in separate dreams. One might
wonder whether there is any way that the question could be
definitely settled. I propose that there is in fact an
empirical test that could distinguish between the two
possibilities: two oneironauts would have simultaneous lucid
dreams while being monitored in a sleep laboratory. They
would agree to meet in their lucid dreams and signal
simultaneously by, for example, both following with their
gaze the movement of one of their hands, back and forth, left
and right. If the strong interpretation is of mutual dreams,
i.e., if the lucid dreamers are actually sharing a dream-
world, they would show simultaneous eye-movement signals in
their polygraphic recordings. If on the other hand, they
report carrying out this task in a mutual lucid dream and do
not show simultaneous signals, we would have to conclude that
they were at most sharing dream plots. Let us be sure to
appreciate the significance of such an experiment. If the
mutual lucid dreamers fail to show simultaneous signals, it
would be neither surprising or especially significant.
However, if the mutual lucid dreamers did prove to produce
simultaneous eye movement signals, we have incontrovertible
proof for the objective existence of the dream world. We
would then know that, in certain circumstances at least,
dreams can be as objectively real as the world of physics.
This would finally raise the question of whether physical
reality is itself some kind of mutual dream. Perhaps what
really happens is the balanced result of a myriad of
interactions contributed by us all dreaming the dream of
consensus reality. But if not, then there's always Bob
Dylan's offer: "I'll let you be in my dream, if I can be in
 Nietzsche, F. HUMAN, ALL TOO HUMAN, aphorism #5.
 Celia Green (1967) asked two samples of undergraduates
from two British universities whether they had ever had an
"experience in which you felt you were 'out of your body'"?
She received 19 percent positive responses out of 115 in the
first sample and 34 percent positive responses out of 380 in
the second. Hornell Hart (1954) received 27 percent
positivereplies from 155 Duke University sociology students,
while Charles Tart (1971) received 44 percent positive
responses from 150 experienced marijuana users. In D. S. Rogo
[Ed.], MIND BEYOND THE BODY. New York: Penguin, 1978, p. 36.
 Rhine, L. E. Psychological processes in ESP experiences.
Part II. Dreams. JOURNAL OF PARAPSYCHOLOGY, 26:172-199, 1962.
 Sheils, D. A cross-cultural study of beliefs in out-of-
the-body experiences, waking and sleeping, JOURNAL OF THE
SOCIETY FOR PSYCHICAL RESEARCH, 49:697-741, 1978.
 Priestly J.B. MAN AND TIME. Aldous Books, 1964, p. 225-6.
 Ullman M., Krippner S. DREAM TELEPATHY. New York:
MacMillan Publishing Co., 1973, p.111.
 Of the 13 experimental studies carried out, 9 yielded
statisically significant results. Replications in
laboratories elsewhere yielded less consistent results: two
were positive, three negative, and one equivocal.
 Rogo, D.S., Introduction: Autobiographical accounts, from
Rogo, D.S., (ed.), MIND BEYOND THE BODY (New York: Penguin,
1978), pp. 248-49.
 Harary S.B. A personal perspective of out-of-body
experiences. In Rogo, op. cit., p.248-9.
 Ibid., p.356-7.
 deBecker R. THE UNDERSTANDING OF DREAMS. London: Allen &
Unwin, 1965, p.249.
 Rowland, E. A case of visual sensations during sleep,
THE JOURNAL OF PHILOSOPHY, 6 (1909): 353-57.
 Osis K. Perspectives for out-of-body research.
PARAPSYCHOLOGY RESEARCH. 3:110-13, 1973.
 deBecker, op.cit., p. 394-95.
 Fox O., ASTRAL TRAVEL. New York: University Books, 1962,
 DeBecker, op.cit., p. 76-78.