27 June 2014

Lucid dreams: watching others get the benefit

text of a letter to a journalist sent a few years ago

When you came you asked me whether I regretted having written the first book on lucid dreams, and I should like to answer that in writing. It may be too late for your article, but I am often asked similar questions by journalists and maybe when I have written it down it can go in my forthcoming book.

In my previous letter to you I referred to academics who make applications for funding for a project, don’t get any, and then find someone else is doing a similar project. Do you suppose they regret making the application? Of course with hindsight they may think that if they had known the outcome they would not have bothered, but they could only have found out what the outcome would be by making the application, so in a sense I suppose they do not regret having made the attempt.

My position about lucid dreams is similar. I had no wish to write a book about lucid dreams, and would not have done so if I had had any way of proceeding with actual laboratory research on lucid dreams or on anything else, but all the possible sources of funding with which I had contact were impervious, and so I made what was in effect an application for funding. But I had no way of doing that except by publicising to the world my acquaintance with this potential field of research.

Of course, the academic who finds his ideas being copied has no cause for complaint. His ideas are not protected by patent or copyright, and if he makes them known to the personnel of a grant-giving body they may leak. There is no law against insider dealing in this area. In any case, even if there were, he would find it difficult to pin anything on anybody, unless his application drew on unpublished material known only to himself and this clearly appeared in the design of the other person’s project. This is very unlikely to be the case, and if specialised information is not involved, the other academic can always claim that he thought up the project independently. Great minds are said to think alike, and mediocre ones certainly do.

And, of course, it does the rejected academic no real harm, unless you count emotional bitterness as harmful, to see someone else implementing his ideas. In this respect, however, the emotional pain has been decidedly more severe in my case, in relation to lucid dreams, than that of the average rejected academic is likely to be. The academic has his status and salary; a certain lifestyle including ancillary staff and dining halls etc, facilitating intellectual activity, is assured. I was attempting to compensate for my lack of these things by getting funding to enable me to live a decent academic life, and this was a desperate long shot at best.

It therefore caused me some intensity of despair to observe that one of my long shots had in fact succeeded to the extent of providing other people, already safely on academic career tracks, with a field of research. As the minimal funding which had made possible the writing of the book had run out, there was no way in which I could hope to improve on the application for funding which I had just made.

A person on a desert island cannot exactly say that he regrets having fired a distress rocket without success. He understands what led him to do it, and in the same circumstances he would do the same again. But if I had known what the consequences of initiating this field of research might be, I might have refrained. The expansion of work and interest in this field can only appear to someone in my position as a cruel mockery of it, a refinement of torture which I could have done without.