Jared Loughner may find it hard to plead insanity after shooting U.S. Representative Gabrielle Giffords and killing six others, but perhaps he'll consider pleading "dreaming."
According to one of his classmates, Jared Loughner kept a journal of his dreams, which is most likely being pored over by Tucson investigators. And if Loughner documented what his friend described to Mother Jones as "obsessive" lucid dreams, investigators might be in for a real trip.
Lucid dreaming 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).
It's a practice often associated with dream-obsessed whack-jobs and Waking Life and Inception film fans, 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.
To Loughner, lucid dreaming allegedly provided an alternate reality in which he says he could fly and do things he couldn't do when he was "awake." Loughner's is a case that Dr. Gary Schwartz, a psychology professor at University of Arizona, calls "dangerous," because Loughner told friends he ultimately preferred what was imaginary to what was real.
Schwartz is a household name in lucid-dreaming circles and forums, found mostly online. His papers on spirits, dreaming, and alternative realities have been called into science-based question, but Schwartz insists he's a scientist who bases his conclusions on data.
He says he was disturbed when he first heard about Loughner's interest and obsession with lucid dreaming (after the shooting) because he knew it would feed into potential misconceptions about the actual experience and those who practice it.
"Here's a kid immersed in violence and heavy rock bands . . . a person, who in all likelihood, was a deranged mind," Schwartz says of Loughner. "Now add an obsession with lucid dreaming, and it becomes dangerous because it's carried to an extreme."
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Loughner's obsession was documented in the videos he posted on YouTube, where he describes himself as a "sleepwalker -- who turns off the alarm clock."
He allegedly kept a journal of his "waking life" for more than a year, a common practice for those who practice lucid dreaming or have interest in the meanings and/or psychology behind dreams.
"Lucid dreaming, under normal circumstances, can be used for good," says Schwartz, who just published The Sacred Promise: How Science Is Discovering Spirit's Collaboration with Us in Our Daily Lives. "But [in Loughner's case] it fell into the wrong hands. It's like a knife, which is a neutral object used in skilled hands for surgery and healing. But when it falls into the wrong hands, it can be used for destruction and killing."
More information about Loughner's journal has yet to be released. You can catch up with more of our coverage of Saturday's mass murder here in Valley Fever.