What our brains do while we're asleep has been studied in labs by researchers and sleep experts for decades. Our brain waves have been charted, our twitches, snores, and movements documented, and our dreams written down for use in studies around the globe. But until recently, scientists have been hesitant to research and document lucid dreaming, which differs from conventional dreaming in that the person who is asleep is aware he or she is dreaming and can control and redirect what's happening in the dream (as opposed to being an observer). The science of lucid dreaming and how our brains ultimately can control what happens in our dreams is now debated ad nauseam in the science world, as it's associated with dream-obsessed wack-jobs and fans of films such as Waking Life and Inception, but it's also an activity encouraged by a variety of sleep psychologists who cite a broadening of the imagination and an increase of awareness in daily life.
Dr. Gary Schwartz, a professor of psychology, medicine, neurology, and psychiatry at the University of Arizona and director of the Laboratory for Advances in Consciousness and Health, is a household name in lucid-dreaming circles and online forums. He's published a collection of papers on spirits, dreaming, and alternative realities that have been called into science-based question, but Schwartz insists he's a scientist who bases his conclusions on data. Schwartz says lucid dreaming is a powerful tool that needs to be studied more in today's sleep labs and university studies. "It's like a knife, which is a neutral object used in skilled hands for surgery and healing," he told New Times
in 2011. "But when it falls into the wrong hands, it can be used for destruction."