The Silent Lucidity of Keith Hearne’s Dream Machine

BY Christian Sager / POSTED January 24, 2014
Hammerbrook - City can this really be true?
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dream_machine_feature_600x350 Photo courtesy of Hartwig HKD. CC BY-ND.

Keith Hearne’s first lucid dream sounds a bit like the cover to an erotic romance novel. He imagined a beautiful woman with him on a beach and “she came straight towards me, took my hand and said ‘Hello, my name is Jane.’ She was rather short, with black hair and green eyes. We walked off into the sunset, so to speak.” Lucid dreaming is when you’re aware that you’re dreaming and can manipulate the details of the dream consciously. It’s an attractive idea to many people because it promises to finally give us control over our unconscious.

Hearne calls himself “the world’s leading researcher in lucid dreaming” and filed a U.S. patent for a “dream machine” almost a quarter century ago. His work was brought to our attention by a reader in Leeds, England who had found out about Hearne’s invention in an old magazine and asked Stuff of Genius where he could purchase one. In 1996 Hearne told journalists his dream machine would be for sale in “a few months,” but as far as our research can tell it was never commercially available. Hearne’s background and his proposed apparatus for controlling dreams and nightmares are pretty interesting though, so let’s delve further in an attempt to discover where the dream machine went.

Hearne left academia after completing his PhD at Hull University in 1978. His promotional site says that he founded something called the European College of Hypnotherapy in addition to inventing his dream machine. While he refers to himself as an “internationally known psychologist,” other sources labelled him a “parapsychologist.” This is probably because his work casually references things like “dream telepathy” without any reference or research to go on, much less peer-review publications of his ideas.

sleep-stages

Hearne’s breakthrough claim is that he discovered sleepers can use coordinated eye movements to signal when they begin lucid dreaming. He also asserts that lucid dreams occur when we’re fully in Stage 5, REM sleep. From these conclusions, Hearne developed his dream machine device to determine when we’re having lucid dreams so it can either stimulate our awareness or wake us up. The patent actually calls it a “Respiratory Measuring Device” and describes it as a nose sensor that monitors breathing, combined with electrodes that shock the sleeper’s wrist. Also, an alarm in the device is designed to remind the sleeper they can control the lucid dream.

Hearne also proposed using the device to control nightmares. Operating under the theory that the higher your REM breathing rate, the more emotional your dream is, Hearne believed that nightmares cause the highest breathing rates. The user of his device can set their suspected nightmare breathing rate so that the machine wakes them from the unpleasant experience or subconsciously reminds them they can control its outcome.

Even though Hearne’s dream machine and its original chart-records are on permanent display at the Science Museum in London, his focus in the media shifted around 2003 to something called “Information Therapy” as a remedy for Isolated Sleep Paralysis (ISP). Very similar to his other proposals, “information therapy” trains the sleeper to be aware of ISP so they can will themselves back into another dream state.

While Hearne’s dream machine isn’t available for purchase, similar research was conducted by Stephen LaBerge at Stanford University with electroencephalograms. LaBerge even developed a device much like Hearne’s called a “Dream Light.” It detected eye movements and then flashed light at the subject to remind them of their lucid dreaming. However, not all scientists agree that humans can control lucid dreams. For example, in a 1993 article in “The Guardian,” Ian Oswald, Emeritus Professor of Psychology at Edinburgh University said that the claim had been around for years “without revolutionizing modern life.” It’s been twenty years since then, but Oswald’s point still seems valid. Could this explain why Hearne’s machine isn’t available for purchase today?

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