The Inception Files

Lucid Dreaming and Inception: Fact or Fiction?

The premise of Christopher Nolan’s new movie Inception is that people can become conscious creators within the world of their dreams.  Is that idea just a fantasy, or is it really possible?

According to the results of a new study, lucid dreaming is a reality in the lives of many, many people.  In a survey of nearly 3000 American adults, 64.9% of the participants reported having a dream in which they were aware of dreaming, and 34.4% said they have experienced the ability to control what happens in their dreams.

This evidence suggests that lucid dreaming is not just a Hollywood fantasy or a fringe practice of new age mystics.  Rather, the capacity for conscious awareness and/or volitional control within the dream state turns out to be a surprisingly widespread phenomenon among ordinary Americans.

The new study was conducted on my behalf in May 2010 by Zogby Interactive among 2992 American adults randomly selected to complete an online survey on their sleep and dream patterns.  A more detailed analysis of the survey results will be released in the fall.  For now, these are the initial findings about lucid dreaming:

  • Overall, 64.9% of the respondents answered yes to the question, “Have you ever had a dream of being aware you are dreaming?”; 24.8% said no, and 10.3% were not sure.
  • Women answered yes more often than men did, and younger people more than older people.
  • Political liberals and Democrats answered yes more often than did political conservatives and Republicans.
  • Overall, 34.4% of the respondents answered yes to the question, “Have you ever had a dream of being able to control a dream?”; 51.1% said no, and 14.5% were not sure.
  • A similar gender pattern appeared, with more women than men and younger than older people answering yes to this question.
  • People who never attend religious worship services seemed to give an especially high proportion of yes answers to the control-your-dreams question.  So did people who say they are more spiritual than religious.

These findings add new data to the growing literature on lucid dreaming (for more, see the work of Jayne Gackenbach, Stephen LaBerge, Tracey Kahan, Fariba Bogzaran, and Ryan Hurd) and expand our knowledge of its correlations with various demographic factors.

Like other dream-themed movies (Dreamscape (1984), A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), The Matrix (1999)), Inception is trying to tap into people’s personal experiences with lucid dreaming to simulate a sense of intense realism, aesthetic wonder, and infinite possibility.

The more Inception can recreate the feelings of this paradoxical state of conscious dreaming, the more the audience will be drawn into the story, and the more, perhaps, they will be reminded of their own dreaming potentials.

9 Replies to “The Inception Files”

  1. Leave it up to Hollywood to change something as wonderful as Lucid Dreaming into a nightmare!
    It’s hard to tell from the trailer if there are some good qualities about the movie. I’ll go see it just to know.

  2. There is no question that lucid dreaming happens.

    Laboratory studies show that during lucid dreams, parts of the brain that are normally unactive when people are asleep remain active.

  3. Inception was a complicated, mulit-layered movie worth seeing again. The fact that it has many stars and a fascinating topic will inspire audiences to view the movie. This alone is valuable … even if, perhaps, they skew the lucid dreaming and shared dreaming experiences, making them seem so much darker and drug-dependent. However, I believe anything that gets the general public to think more about their dreams and expanding their dream possibilities is great. Thank you IASD for putting out more sound information about lucid dreaming, and giving others the opportunity to share their experiences and ask questions.

    1. A big-budget movie like Inception can get lots of people thinking anew about dreaming and its possibilities. Good point about the emphasis on drugs as part of the dream-sharing process in Inception. In the 1985 movie Dreamscape, the trajectory of the main character (Dennis Quaid) was from using technology to using his own innate psychic powers to enter other people’s dreams.

  4. Inception was a futuristic movie that held true to real lucidity for the most part. The technology they used and extra logic they added made the movie really good and into a movie. Without the extra stuff they prolly couldn’t make a movie let alone a good one.

  5. I thought inception was mind blowing and incredible. It has definitely opened my mind to the lucid dream state and has made me explore the whole concept of astral projection. If we can astral project and others can as well why couldn’t we meet on the astral plane and therefore enter the world of dream sharing? I’ve watched inception a handful of times and i catch something new that i hadn’t seen the previous time watching. So for the people who said it was horrible didn’t take it for what it was. Breaking it down and criticizing every detail is not what the movie was originally made for. It was to open our minds to the dream state and opening our minds to wonder if extraction and inception are actually possible when are guards are lowered. The subconcous is a wonderful and powerful thing, and we must not underestimate the possiblities of our dreams!

  6. Your first problem – if they were in a dream and Saito got shot, he could just say “there is no bullet in my chest and I wont be bleeding anymore” and there wouldn’t have been, because they are in a dream. And the place where Saito first understands they are in a dream because Mal told him and they are threatening Arthur, Cobb could just have used “telekynesis” (which i always do when i understand when i am in a dream) with his mind to take away their gun… BUT if they would have done these things, people would have expected to do these kind of obvious things in every situation and that would have made the movie too… too easy? wouldn’t it?

    Second – they were in a dream within a dream within a dream, and in dreams the law of physics don’t aplly and this really can happen, when you are sleeping in car and the car is falling off of a cliff…

    Third – to me it didn’t seem too much action, I know when it is too much action and I don’t like action… but yeah, the film could have been more deep into the mysterious world of dreaming

    Four – motivation wasn’t lame. As Saito said: When Cobol Energy gets him out of the way, the will become a new superpower. And they could like rule the world or smth. Lame? No. One man couldn’t have so much power ower the world, right? Still lame? And to Cobb yes, it was just a last job and to see his children, very intrigueing.

    Five – I have watched Inception four times. People are different, so, this is YOUR problem, so sorry.

  7. I honestly havenever watched the film, but always heard that its about lucid dreaming. I always was scared to lucid dream after i watched that movie but i want to face my fears and actually do it. Could someone tell me how i reach that state?.

    1. I’d recommend you go to Ryan Hurd’s website, dreamstudies.org, where he has a lot of good resources about lucid dreaming.

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