Last summer’s blockbuster Inception was a revelation to those unfamiliar with the many complexities of lucid dreaming. Can the dream world feel as real as the waking world? Christopher Nolan made an entertaining film that showed us how this could happen, making the core of his story a cautionary tale of escapism. We learn the consequences of confusing the dream world with the real world through Cobb, who fails to confront his psychic trauma and through destructive means keeps the memory of his wife alive. If we spend enough time in the dream world it begins to feel real; it can become our reality. Perhaps this is what happened to Jared Loughner, the sole suspect in the recent shooting of U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords, an act that has the public mystified over his motives.
In an exclusive Mother Jones interview with close friend Bryce Tierney we learned about Loughner’s unhealthy obsession with “conscience dreaming.” It seems he conflated the term with “conscious dreaming” or “lucid dreaming”, the awareness of being in a dream. According to Tierney he was “more interested in this world than our reality.” Later he adds, “I saw his dream journal once. That’s the golden piece of evidence. You want to know what goes on in Jared Loughner’s mind, there’s a dream journal that will tell you everything.”
Is there a dark side to lucid dreaming? It certainly seems that way, as the articles linking lucid dreaming to Loughner’s state of mind during the shooting accumulate. For those who are new to lucid dreaming, control and manipulation over the dream terrain, at least initially, is their first incentive to try it. It is an opportunity to create worlds that don’t exist, to learn how to fly, a chance for “pure creation” as Ariadne admits after being jolted by her first experience with conscious dreaming. It is this reality and its limitless capacities that Loughner found appealing. Tierney says after Loughner figured out how to fly he said, “I’m so into it because I can create things and fly. I’m everything I’m not in this world.” The illusory qualities of the dream world seduced Loughner in a way that caused him to reverse his worlds. The dream world was real; it was there he could exceed his potential and accomplish impossible things. In turn, the real world was demoted, becoming a meaningless place where the authority of the government carried little weight as seen in his YouTube videos. Loughner’s actions serve as a kind of real life cautionary tale.
Still, as the media seeks to ascertain Loughner’s motives, focusing on the contents of his dream journal and his obsession with lucid dreaming, we should remember its many benefits. Lucid dreaming is a source of discovery. It can empower those who suffer from nightmares and post-traumatic stress disorder. It can be a creative outlet for poets, writers, filmmakers and scientists. In time and with practice lucid dreaming helps us pave a spiritual path, as we face our past and look to the future.