No, this post is not about some exotic new physics model predicting dark photons or other useless concoctions which physicists sometimes entertain with, in their frustration for the lack of guidance from experimental data of what really is it  that the Standard Model is an effective theory of. For that kind of stuff, please wait and check out my blog at some other time.

Rather, this post is about lucid dreams, a quite surprising state of human mind about which I have had occasion to blog earlier. This time I would like to discuss how lucid dreams may provide a controlled environment to "take a walk on the wild side", or the dark side if you wish, and experiment with feelings one would otherwise not even want to be in the same room with.

I am a true experimentalist not only in my working hours but in my everyday life, too. And I apply some diligent form of scientific method when trying to acquire more knowledge on a subject that interests me. Knowledge is power; and power, like fire, can be good or bad depending how it is used. In the case of lucid dreams, knowing how to induce them offers you more chances to understand yourself, as well as to walk in a world that you yourself control, at least in part. It is like being able to change the rules of the game at your advantage. Lucid dreaming, like several somewhat related forms of meditation, also ultimately provides you with better control of your senses.

Being an experimentalist and having realized since my childhood that I am capable of lucid dreaming, something that is apparently not so common and even something that sceptics claim does not really exist (I feel for them, poor chaps), you certainly understand how I am willing to entertain with it in all possible ways. Now, what I am reporting today is a rather extreme exploration of the boundaries offered by the system at hand (me, my brain, and my semi-conscious self).

Before I do that, let me explain what lucid dreams are, for the benefit of those of you who were not exposed to the concept before. Lucid dreams occur when you are in a state of dreaming while you are aware it is a dream. The realization commonly occurs during the r.e.m. phase of sleep if you are very relaxed and rested, and it usually lasts very little time unless you are properly trained, fading away soon as you either fall back in regular unconscious dreaming or you wake up. Knowing you are dreaming while you are dreaming is an exhilarating feeling: you know that what you see and feel is not real, but you can still benefit from it as if it were. And since you know you are dreaming, you can do things that in real life you cannot do, like fly, go through walls, indefinitely stay under water, etcetera.

What I described above is the sleep-induced kind of lucid dreaming, which can be induced by practice but is otherwise not achievable by will. There is, however, a more "hard-core" way to induce lucid dreams, which is called "WILD": wake-induced lucid dreaming. If you are capable of doing this, you can have lucid dreams at your will. And there is the money, as you have full control at that point. Of course, the lucid dreaming state is a transient between the awake and the dreaming world, and as such it is a delicate condition which vanishes easily if you do not pay the required care. 

I recently acquired the capability of WILD, and have been intermittently experimenting with lucid dreams. Usually I tend to use the moments of lucid dreaming to explore the oniric world in front of me, which feels like it is created by a graphic coprocessor somewhere in the back of my mind: I can not shape it at will, although I can interact with it in ways impossible in the real world. I spend the time observing the effects around me, or flying, or doing other things that are impossible in real life. But today, I did something different.

I recall entering a dream from a wake state, and realizing I was in by watching my hands. This is the first step: it is a common procedure which ascertains that you are indeed sleeping, as you know that your hands are in some well-defined position as you lay in bed, while in the sleep you can see them in front of you and move them around. Then I started to wander around, realizing I was in "Campo S.Margherita", a place in Venice not far from where I live. And I flew a little bit, by just taking a jump and convincing myself I could stay afloat. But then the experimentalist in me took over, and I asked myself a question. Can I be bad or violent in a dream, and observe my feeling as I behave violently, in a way I would never do in my real life?

I decided to take the test, as I felt that the lucid dream state was stable enough that I could withstand emotional stresses (this is a tricky thing, as dreaming of things that cause strong emotional responses, like sex, are usually going to wake you up). What I decided to try and do was to find a total stranger and put up a fight, being violent for no reason!

I am sure that if there's a psychologist among my readers, he or she will now be ready with his or her interpretation of my decision, attaching meaning to it which is unwarranted. Really, I had no reason to discharge stress or to identify in my victim some object of a real-world rage. Mine was an action entirely motivated by contemplative, experimental investigation. I had thought about this before, while awake: I wanted to see what kind feelings I would get from being violent for the sake of it. There's a lot of literature on that, of course, but did the authors of those treatises experiment in depth with unmotivated, meaningless violence before they wrote them? I doubt it. 

So I targeted a guy who was coming in my direction. As I reached him I noticed he had a violin in his backpack. I grabbed it and smashed it on the ground, breaking it in pieces. Then I started a fist fight, and since in my dreams I am usually quite unbeatable, I easily disposed of the guiltless character, throwing him on the ground, and then kicking him while he was laying there in agony.

After this, I left. And I started to take stock. The lucid dream was still on - I could tell it by the usual indicators-, and yet I was capable of carrying on coherent thoughts on what had just happened. The episode had not shot my adrenaline levels up, else I would have waken up: so this was a rather bad simulation, in a way, of what one would really experience in such a circumstance. But it did provide me with some interesting inputs. Most of all, I was left with a state of disgust for what I had done. I knew it was all fake, and yet my brain was sending distaste signals for the action I had taken. I did not find it quite a surprising outcome, but it did teach me a lesson. If there may ever be something pleasing about superfluous violence, at least to me, it must be in the adrenaline, which I did not experience in the dream state. On the other hand, my brain proved capable of providing, even in the sleep state, plenty of those ethical reproach signals which, I believe, are what keeps us from misbehaving in our real life.

Later on, when I waked up - the lucid dream must have lasted for several minutes - I tried to recall everything I could about the experience I had had. And I decided that the most surprising thing about the whole adventure was itself the decision to experiment with superfluous violence in the first place. I had indeed planned it ahead, but I had been unsure of whether I would really implement it in the next occasion, immersed in a dream world, with plenty of other feelings to play with; but I did, getting however only bad vibes from it. I think I will go back to flying and doing other innocuous things in the future :-)