Let’s consider the dream through the following questions: A) What is the substance of dreams? and B) how does one become lucid in a dream?
A) It is believed generally –and is for the most part true- that dreams are either a mere translation of thoughts from the waking day or a conjunction of both the thoughts of the waking day and some unconscious psychic contents. The former thesis of thought translation may be assumed for several different reasons. Its proponents may wish to prove dreams mundane, meaningless, or to prove them as phenomena ancillary to physiological processes such as habituation or memory. Where we cannot deny that regular dreaming serves some sort of physiological purpose we cannot easily reduce it to one, and we may posit some serious flaws in the i) dream as thought-translation hypothesis by analyzing the phenomena of the dream. Correspondingly we will analyze two versions of the ii) dream as unconscious expression hypothesis and find them lacking in light of lucid dreaming phenomena.
i) If we analyze the character of ‘thought’ in waking and ‘dream’ in dreaming, we will hardly find equivalence. In waking experience a thought is generally agreed upon as being a type of subjective reflection, appraisal, or intention that occurs alongside many other phenomena. These other phenomena include sensations of the body, the environment, and other subjective sensations that aren’t readily classifiable as thoughts. Obviously, the ‘dream’ aspect of dreaming is meant to convey the total host of phenomena occurring in a dream; therefore, our question becomes: do the phenomena of thinking in waking life exhaust and encompass the phenomena of dreams? If answered in the affirmative then it is implied that dreaming is a reflection of but one subset of waking phenomena. To answer our question: If we analyze the phenomena of dreams we will find that in the vast majority of them one may observe the phenomenon ‘thinking’ occurring alongside a plenitude of other phenomena. Dreams are marked by feeling, kinesthetic awareness, a rendered visual field, spatiality, temporal unfolding, and also by the conviction that one is waking and that things ‘are’ as they normally appear. We must therefore conclude that the interpretation of dreams as mere thought translation is an unwarranted reduction –that perhaps dreaming is not reducible to a subset of waking experience. Therefore, we must reject the idea that from the thought springs the entire dream, and that a dream may be reduced to a single thought.
ii) In a more nuanced view, the dream is seen as the expression of unconscious processes, an expression that uses the phenomena of waking for part or all of its communication. In both Freudian and Jungian psychology dreams and dream interpretation play a very important role. Therefore, in these two systems a good deal of effort has gone into theorizing the role of dreams in psychic life and their structure. The Freudian dream theory holds dreams to be at bottom unconscious wish fulfillments that may be anything from a mundane wish, such as satisfying hunger, to more complicated and repressed wishes. In the theory, the degree of obscurity surrounding the dream marks the degree of repression in the conflict between the ego’s respectable self-image and the base desires of the unconscious. In the Jungian view, dreams are held to be more generally a means of compensation. Their obscurity is due more to the medium of communication in question –the dream- and not to repression. Correspondingly, in the Jungian view the mechanisms of the dream are designed to deliver communications from the unconscious to the ego, messages that are to bring conscious life subtly more in line with the needs of the unconscious and the teleology of individuation. In both cases the dream is thought of as an overdetermined communication that contains both elements of conscious ideation and unconscious material, one that passes a specific message that is to be interpreted in order to gain insight into and/or harmonize psychic life. Although these theories quite handily deal with the peculiar logic of the appearances of dreams they still fail to grasp the nature of dream ontology. The simple fact that these theories give no account or explanation of lucid dreaming –the fact that one may be conscious within the dream and direct its form- radically delegitimizes them in the face of these experiences and the current state of dream theory. We are forced to ask the question of whether these theories are adaptable to the new information and to what extent we may borrow from them. At the very least we must conclude that the phenomenal appearance of the dream as both lucid and non-lucid when applied to the concepts of dreaming, the psyche, and reality in general, requires a set of far more active and fundamental concepts that wish-fulfillments or compensation.
Dreams are indicative of the entire psychic constitution, even if we assume that their substance is mental -that of the mind- we still run into problems because in the ‘dream as thought’ hypothesis the original concept of ‘mental’ as thought is inadequate. In that hypothesis it is implied that the thought exists within the psyche which exists within the material world, and that from this innermost circle of thought the dream springs. A better view is one which considers thoughts, the psyche, and the apparent external world as existing in a unified mediation –the understanding- which we may see as the foundation for the ‘world’ of any individual –it is this totality that is translated into sleep from waking. Furthermore, the gulf between conscious and unconscious, sometime bridged by the concept of preconsciousness, is a moving target. It is dependent upon the state of psychic formation: how it processes the environment, how it projects a sense of self, and how it metabolizes thought.
To answer our question: What is the substance of dreams? –the understanding is the substance of dreams. What I mean to get at by the word understanding is the ontological medium of knowledge. The understanding is a mediation caught between two infinite recesses –the ‘thing in itself’ and awareness- buts its mutability and smallness in comparison to the two infinite gulfs is constantly obscured by its appearance as ‘the things themselves’ and the binding of awareness to this representation. As an aside I will add that epistemology and method also succumb to the dynamic appearances of the understanding. In light of this knowledge we must admit that all hypotheses on the quintessential substance of reality are held within the understanding, that only through the understanding may we search out these hypotheses, and finally that the appearance of ‘reality’ bears an uncanny resemblance to our own ‘seeking out’. Therefore we must conclude that the understanding is a dynamic self-referential construction.
We must therefore conclude that the understanding is the horizon of any world and any possible experience whatsoever. (Even ‘non-experiential’ functions of psychic and sensual articulation are within the understanding). It is the absolute medium of knowledge available to us as species with existences contingent upon sense and mind. The particular structure of the individual or his cultural world allows for specific phenomenological possibilities, but no matter the world-formation we are still confined by the mediation of the understanding –no epistemology or world can escape this.
B) Now we may endeavor to answer the question of how one becomes lucid in a dream. The germ of the appearance of the dream, and of world may be explained thusly: the regular dream appears as the waking world does, the lucid dream appears as a dream. In other words, the regular dream appears as independently existent, as something into which one is cast. The lucid dream appears as ‘a dream’: it appears as something formed by the mind, something dynamic, something with which one is reflexively related. The conjunction of our analysis of dreams and the understanding: one becomes lucid in the dream by certain meditational practices done while waking. These practices engender lucidity in the understanding that is subsequently translated into the dream. They reveal the understanding as dream: as something formed by the mind, something dynamic, something with which one is reflexively related. Lucidity therefore is the revelation of mind unto itself. The form of this dereification may be observed in relation to world. Individually as the sociological aspect of one’s being, and collectively as a social dream, world is found to be something formed by the mind, something dynamic, something with which one is reflexively related.
Through lucidity a retraction of libido is effected, a dis-identification of awareness from the external forms and customs of world and even of the image of oneself in the world in question. The ego is relativized –maybe even obliterated- its place in the phenomenal menagerie is reshaped.