By Bill Murphy, Science Correspondent © 2013
Whether you‘ve entered a state of lucidity or are having a free form dream without achieving self-awareness, you‘re still sensing the world outside of your body. And that means you are responding to the stimuli in a limited manner. After you fall asleep you may pull up the blanket because you‘re cold, or turn over to avoid a light suddenly turned on; just about everyone makes minor physical adjustments throughout the night.
If a person sleeping is fitted with an electro-encephalogram (EEG), then specific patterns of voltage change generated by the brain of the dreamer can be monitored and under certain conditions an external stimuli will result in an Event-Related Potential, hereafter referred to as an ERP. Every ERP is time locked to the stimulus enabling researchers to conduct repeated experiments which has led to the identification of the most prominent ERP, the P300.
The complex cognitive process gets its name because it can be detected as an amplitude peak in the EEG signal approximately 300 milliseconds after the stimulus.
In the 1960‘s it was discovered that information familiar to an individual will result in a P300 response. Further research continued in the following decades and EEG technology has advanced. There is now an abundance of data on the P300 response and the analysis of its importance has been refined. Since the response is strongest when an individual recognizes meaningful sights and sounds, concern was raised over the possible abuse of this phenomenon through brain computer interfaces (BCI).
With BCI becoming more common, security concerns have been raised that people will inadvertently generate detectable signals that can compromise information they recognize and do not want to disclose. But for the dreamer, the P300 response may be useful for identifying when a person has a response to familiar external stimuli by monitoring neural activity in the brain. An example would be what happens when someone hears their own name. If certain cues are generated while sleeping, it could result in a reality check that could lead to becoming lucid.
It was during a recent conversation with Michael Paul, a lucid dream researcher and gifted corporate and government security systems programmer, that I learned about the P300 response while contemplating its possible use for lucid dreamers. Michael has been recording his brainwave activity while he dreams and publishes his findings on his website here: http://lucidcode.com/LucidScrible/
Michael had what he considers a rare natural lucid dream recently during which he may have recorded a moment of ‘recognition’ or self awareness. He states it‘s too early in his research to confidently reproduce the results. Where this will ultimately lead is still unknown, but the non-invasive techniques of monitoring the frequencies generated by the brain are becoming more accessible thanks to programmers like Michael and affordable consumer grade EEGs.
His work designing security systems reflects his determination to make BCI reliable and safer. As a lucid dreamer, he incorporates that same work ethic to keep it honest while advancing the field of neuroscience.
During our communication, Michael and I briefly discussed the comparison of an individual‘s BCI generated P300 event to the research of the influence a person‘s thoughts has on the physical world at Princeton University. The research at the university was expanded to include how a global community may, through just their thoughts, affect matter whether it‘s on a quantum or macro scale. More information on the Princeton University Global Consciousness Project can be found here: http://noosphere.princeton.edu/homepage4.html
The work at Princeton has generated some controversy, but has been instrumental in bringing the concept of global consciousness into the public arena. My conversation with Michael veered in that direction and we soon were talking about a crowd generated P300 wave, perhaps one generated by group recognition of a stimulus, or even a perceived threat.
A major difference in the work at Princeton and the work of Michael Paul is that the Global Consciousness Project looks for correlation in random data and the Lucid Scribe Project is based on brainwave frequencies that generate actual numbers. The technology needed to bring the lucid dreaming masses together is becoming closer to a reality, and the notion of dream to dream communication as suggested in the June 2013 issue of Lucid Dreaming Experience will someday be upon us.
But Michael Paul has already begun analyzing data from online forums to look for markers that approximates a group P300 wave, so lucid dreamers that are interested in the neuroscience and technology that may someday join those in a dream space may want to watch this column for future updates.