Insight – Awake and Asleep

HouseTwo weeks ago, I was looking into new research on lucid dreaming in the light of this project. It has been only half a year since the research by Voss et.al we based that project on, and in the slow scientific world this means that we probably can’t expect another research team to have validated their results for quite some time.

However, this doesn’t mean that there is no new research on lucid dreaming at all, of course. I found this interesting study by Bourke & Shaw. Basically, they looked at cognitive differences between people who are natural lucid dreamers, and people who are not. The results – lucid dreamers are better at insight tasks in waking life – are not unexpected, but they underline something interesting that neuroscientist Sona advised the audience in his Singularity University talk in September of this year: reach for the low hanging fruit.

‘Low hanging fruit’ refers here to low tech, simple ways of achieving a certain goal. On paper, they sound ideal; all you need is some time and dedication. No difficult technology, no years of research, no pharmaceuticals that can have bad side-effects. The problem is, of course, that time and dedication aren’t simple at all: neither of them comes cheap.

Just look at dieting: a multi-million dollar industry of tricks, tech and pharmaceuticals for a ‘problem’ that most dietetics agree has basically only one solution: more needs to go out, less needs to go in. But the effort involved in creating the time and dedication for that is not to be trivialized – more so in a situation that has your own brain basically working against you.

As Sona noted, the same goes for the current fad of cognitive tricks. We want ‘learning pills’ to stimulate our memory, we want tDCS to improve our concentration. We want our brains to get better, basically, and we want it to get better by technological tricks. In the mean time, there is a whole range of low-hanging, proven brain-enhancing techniques that you can use right now – without any fancy tricks. But it all sounds so boring, doesn’t it? Eat healthy. Don’t drink too much alcohol – especially not when you’re younger. Exercise regularly. Meditate, or do other stress reducing activities. Challenge your cognitive abilities with puzzles, train your concentration by yoga or mindfulness techniques. Where are the gadgets in that?! Is this supposed to be the modern age?

And yet, the research on lucid dreaming supports some low hanging fruit as well. Not only are lucid dreamers more insightful in waking life, the opposite seems also true: training your insight can induce lucid dreaming. But of course you must have time and dedication to spare. There are many ‘awareness’-inducing tricks available online, most (but not all!) of them not scientifically validated but also not likely to have bad side-effects. Some people report an increase in lucid dreams when they start doing yoga or similar activities.

I mean, don’t get me wrong: I’m still going to try and make an EEG & tACS integrated, lucid dreaming inducing system, of course. I’m as much in love with tech tricks as anyone else. But it is always good to realize the low hanging fruit is there, even when you’re busy struggling with ladders.

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