Duncan McCloud Frazier is flying over the Grand Canyon. Unencumbered by the inflexible bulk of skydiving gear, he has a clear view of the dazzling, flame-colored striations below him. He circles the shimmering waters of the Colorado River, diving closer to the deep fissures at will.
On a whim, he raises one hand in a sweeping gesture, like an orchestra conductor. Geological debris floats up from the canyon and dances in the air, responding to his movements. As they shift, the rocks produce a philharmonic melody that rings through the valley. Frazier has never heard it before.
He knows he can do anything, until he wakes up.
The ability to become lucid in a dream — in essence, to know that you are dreaming while you are dreaming — is a highly sought after skill. Even more exciting is the thought of being able to control your dreams: to have tea with Oscar Wilde, to tap dance across the rings of Saturn, or simply to become a child again and build sand castles by the ocean — whenever you wish.
Unsurprisingly, developing this skill is a little like capturing lightning in a mason jar.
In April 2012, Frazier and Bitbanger Labs co-founder Steve McGuigan launched a Kickstarter campaign for Remee, a sleep mask that aims to replicate just such a state. By flashing a series of light patterns during REM sleep, the mask alerts the wearer that he is dreaming. The pair had hoped to raise $35,000 on the crowdfunding platform in order to produce 300 masks. Instead, they received nearly $600,000 from 6,000-plus backers around the world.
Beyond the simple acid-trippy wonderment of it all, lucid dreaming is seen as a viable method of accessing subconscious creative channels. Paul McCartney is famously said to have composed the song “Yesterday” in a dream, waking up with the melodies fully formed in his mind. There is also evidence to suggest that lucid dreaming can alleviate chronic nightmares and that practicing physical skills in a dream can improve a person’s performance in real life.
When the Kickstarter campaign first launched, the press touted Remee as “the sleep mask that lets you control your dreams.”
the press touted Remee as “the sleep mask that lets you control your dreams.”Strictly speaking, that isn’t true. But it could come close.
Bitbanger Labs is a small, wood-paneled basement in Brooklyn. On a misty Friday morning I meet Duncan Frazier outside a powder-blue clapboard house with a postage stamp garden and follow him down a narrow path to the basement door.
The “lab” is a single carpeted room where Charlie, the landlord’s cat, prowls freely. A pixelated Bitbanger Labs decal adheres to one wall. The shelves and desks bulge with gadgets, spools of wire and packaged units of Remee (pronounced “Remmy”), divided into neat piles by color and waiting to ship.
Frazier and McGuigan have been friends since attending high school together in a suburb outside of Philadelphia. When I meet them, they are dressed almost identically. Both wear glasses, gray t-shirts, dark jeans and black sneakers: the unconscious uniform of two people who have spent many hours side by side. After several years living in different cities — McGuigan remained in the United States, working in programming and web design, while Frazier traveled the globe as a freelance photographer — they wound up moving to Brooklyn at the same time, settling on the very same street by sheer coincidence.
On a camping trip, McGuigan floated the idea of making a lucid dreaming mask. “We’d known each other for 20 years, but lucid dreaming is not generally the type of thing that you talk about,” McGuigan tells Mashable. “People tend to think it’s weird. So I just happened to mention, ‘Do you know what a lucid dreaming mask is?’”
“I was like, ‘Yeah, man, I love lucid dreaming!’” Frazier says. “We knew that there was this lucid dreaming community on the Internet. There weren’t really any consumer goods for them, except for some outdated, expensive ones.”
Thus, the pair decided to leverage their combined technical skills to form a company.
Remee and its circuit board. Image: Mashable, Christina Ascani.
Remee’s design is indebted to NovaDreamer, a lucid dreaming mask developed by Stanford University oneirologist Stephen LaBerge in the 1990s. In LaBerge’s initial sleep studies, subjects were hooked up to a series of electrodes that monitored brain waves to determine the onset of REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, while wearing an eye mask equipped with two red light-emitting diodes (LEDs). Seven minutes after REM onset, the lights would flash, penetrating the dream.
“I was walking along a road with my boss and the whole scene flashed, cueing me that I was dreaming,” one subject reported. “I mentioned it to him and flew a little to prove it.”
The NovaDreamer was the commercial version of this apparatus. While effective, it was hardly cheap, retailing for up to $600.
Remee, in contrast, costs $95. At 0.9 ounces, it weighs as much as a normal sleep mask and is much lighter than other lucid dreaming masks currently available. The mask is outfitted with a lightweight, flexible printed circuit board that contains six red LEDs, three on each side. After a period of inactivity — the default timer waits 4.5 hours before activating — the lights flash according to a preset, customizable pattern: blinking left to right, for example, or flashing in one eye, then the other. Since the light patterns are fairly unique, they are meant to jolt the dreamer into a state of lucidity. “We can queue them in ways that you really wouldn’t see in the real world and typically wouldn’t in your dreams,” Frazier says.
“From that point it becomes learning to recognize when it happens at night, and from there it becomes learning how to control your dream,” McGuigan adds. “It’s a stepped journey.”
Remee’s tagline is, “Shrink to the size of an atom. Teleport to Mars. Fly.”
The purpose of the mask, as outlined on Remee’s website, is to aid in lucid dream induction, not necessarily dream control.
The purpose of the mask, as outlined on Remee’s website, is to aid in lucid dream induction, not necessarily dream control. In reality, there is a sizable gap between becoming lucid in a dream and being able to shape a dream’s outcome.
“Dream control involves a different skill set,” says Tim Post, founder of Dutch company Snoozon, which provides lucid dream training.
A lucid dreamer might walk through a landscape knowing what she is experiencing is not real. While Remee might help her attain this awareness, it can’t teach her to modify or control the dream world at will, by jumping into the air and suddenly taking flight, for example.
For some people, dream control comes fairly naturally. For others, the ability requires commitment and practice. “Many beginner lucid dreamers have trouble applying dream control,” Post says. “Our dreaming mind has this waking life model that it projects upon our dreams. It says, ‘In our everyday experience, you’re not able to fly. Only Superman can fly.’ When you’re lucid, you need to creatively make use of these waking life expectations [to] fool your dreaming mind.” Donning a Superman costume in a dream, for instance, might suggest to your mind that you now have the supernatural abilities of a caped crusader.
Lucid dreamers can also train themselves to achieve lucidity without the use of devices like Remee or LaBerge’s NovaDreamer. Keeping a detailed dream journal can help the dreamer identify patterns, or “dream signs,” that occur frequently in a dreaming state — she might often notice a red balloon in her dreams, for example. A dream sign can be just about anything: a toy, a place, a person or an emotion.
Upon recognizing a dream sign — the red balloon, for example — the experienced lucid dreamer must then typically employ a “reality check” to confirm she is indeed asleep. “Our REM sleep dreams are so incredibly immersive that they are pretty much indistinguishable from our real life experience,” Post says. “It’s useful to have these foolproof reality tests to make sure that you’re actually dreaming.”
One of the most accepted techniques for distinguishing reality from the dream world is to read a book or a street sign, then read that piece of text a second time. “Dreams are continuously in flux, and our waking life isn’t,” Post says. So, if the words on the page change, she will know immediately that she is dreaming. By testing reality in this way, the practiced lucid dreamer can confirm and enhance her lucidity.
This also demands a certain level of control. “It’s mainly about practice and remembering your dreams,” McGuigan says.
Like LaBerge’s NovaDreamer, Remee is designed to supplant a symbol like the red balloon with an external light cue, creating a more frequent and reliable dream sign. After that, dream control becomes possible but is certainly not guaranteed.
Remee’s interior, with all six LEDs activated. Image: Mashable, Christina Ascani.
McGuigan and Frazier are quick to point out that even the most experienced lucid dreamers cannot always control their dreams.
“I always try to fly,” Frazier says. “Nine times out of ten I’ll end up doing this floating thing, where I float to the ceiling in a weird way.
You have control, but you’re also fighting your subconscious.
You have control, but you’re also fighting your subconscious.”
Lucid dreaming has a long history as an intellectual curiosity. The term was coined in 1913 by Dutch psychiatrist Frederik Willems van Eeden, but centuries earlier, Aristotle had already meditated on the phenomenon in his treatise On Dreams: “Often, when one is asleep, there is something in consciousness which declares that what then presents itself is but a dream,” he wrote. Lucid dreaming was practiced as a form of yoga in Tibetan Buddhism and has been mentioned in the writings of Thomas Aquinas and French writer Marquis d’Hervey de Saint Denys, and in Sigmund Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams.
The first scientific breakthrough in the field occurred in the late 1970s, when a research team comprised of Ogilvie, Hunt, Sawicki and McGowan determined via EEG (electroencephalogram) measurements that lucid dreaming, like all dreaming, occurs during REM sleep. By the 1980s, Stephen LaBerge was able to develop an “eye-signaling method” by which trained sleeping subjects could signal to researchers when they were experiencing a lucid dream.
“In the usual case, subjects report having been in the midst of a dream when a bizarre occurrence causes sufficient reflection to yield the realization that they are dreaming,” LaBerge wrote in the 1990 volume Sleep and Cognition, published by the American Psychological Association. “In the other, less frequent case, subjects report having briefly awakened from a dream and then falling back asleep directly entering the dream with no (or very little) break in consciousness.”
LaBerge developed several methods by which experienced lucid dreamers could train themselves to induce lucidity, from mental exercises to external stimuli. The most successful of these was achieved with external light cues from the DreamLight, a precursor to the NovaDreamer. Using the eye-signaling method, LaBerge was able to determine that flashing lights into a subject’s eyes during REM sleep could induce a lucid dream state.
“Lucid dreaming is a skill that can be developed with practice,” he and co-author Lynne Levitan concluded in the journal Dreaming.
The NovaDreamer became commercially available in 1993. The product was discontinued in 2004, but secondhand models occasionally crop up on eBay for between $300 and $600. A second generation of the NovaDreamer, developed by LaBerge’s Lucidity Institute, was supposed to hit the market in 2012 but has yet to surface.
McGuigan pulls out a plastic freezer bag stuffed with colorful fabrics: various iterations of the Remee prototype. The earliest model is a heavy, shapeless lump of red satin that looks somewhat like a crude diaper. It’s quite a contrast to the sleek, streamlined masks that Bitbanger Labs has shipped out to consumers by the thousands.
When they launched in April 2012, McGuigan and Frazier decided they first needed to re-introduce lucid dreaming to a skeptical public that might associate the phenomenon more with healing crystals and turban-clad psychics than with verifiable scientific fact. “There’s a connotation that we wanted to get rid of,” McGuigan says. “We wanted people to know about lucid dreaming and not feel it was something that was strange or offbeat.”
The first Remee prototype. Image: Mashable, Christina Ascani
They compiled a document, which was posted to Kickstarter, that gave an abbreviated overview of the science behind lucid dreaming and how Remee could enhance the experience.
“Over the course of the night, a sleeper will cycle through the five stages of sleep a number of times, with the REM stages lasting longer and longer towards morning,” one section reads. “Remee targets these long chunks of REM sleep towards the end of the sleep period. [...] During non-REM sleep the lights are unlikely to [affect] you, but if you’re in REM sleep the lights will bleed into your dreams, presenting a perfect chance to become lucid.”
(Unlikely, but not impossible. The first night I wore Remee, the lights — which I had optimistically set to the maximum brightness — woke me around 3 a.m.)
Frazier shows me the first Remee circuit board, which he soldered himself. The prototype is a piece of hard plastic with wires that protrude, spider-like, to connect the six LEDs. Initially Frazier and McGuigan had planned to make 300 units by hand, using a slightly more sophisticated version of this first circuit board. They also intended to contract out the sewing of the mask to an industrial sewer, which put them at their conservative $35,000 estimate for Kickstarter.
They received that amount by the end of the campaign’s first day.
By the time the full 45 days had elapsed, they had raised $572,000, with more than 6,000 donors. They had succeeded in re-introducing lucid dreaming to a curious and hungry public; Google Trends for March 2012 shows an enormous surge in searches for “lucid dreaming,” due in part to the release of several — ultimately ineffective — lucid dreaming smartphone apps that stirred but could not satiate public interest. Remee’s timing could not have been better.
“We were like, ‘We’re going to have to very quickly rethink our plan,’” McGuigan says.
The current Remee circuit board (left) and the first prototype. Image: Mashable, Christina Ascani
Because of the increased demand, McGuigan and Frazier couldn’t find a supplier to deliver the needed amount of LEDs — around 50,000 units — in less than 12 weeks. Delivery dates were pushed back. Backers grew nervous and demanded answers. Disappointed comments began to pile up on the Kickstarter page.
But the result of that flood of funding was a product of significantly better quality. With the extra capital, they were able to find an industrial manufacturer to engrave Remee’s circuitry on a flexible printed circuit, making the mask significantly lighter. They invested in aerated foam and re-designed the mask to fit more comfortably over the wearer’s eyes.
“It was good for everybody, because it ended up being a much better product,” Frazier says. “But there was that weekend where it was like, ‘Oh, what did we just drop ourselves into?’”
Not everyone is convinced that Remee works. Many of the commenters on Remee’s Kickstarter page have complained the mask simply doesn’t do anything for them.
At best, they don’t see the lights in their dreams. At worst, the flashes wake them in the middle of the night
At best, they don’t see the lights in their dreams. At worst, the flashes wake them in the middle of the night like an unwelcome alarm clock.
A beginner who slips on a lucid dreaming mask is unlikely to experience lucidity within the first few days or weeks. There’s an adjustment curve, and for users who can’t experience lucidity naturally, the process includes significant patience and dedication. The mask is programmable to different time delays, brightnesses and light patterns in order to adjust to the user’s needs.
Wearing a sleep mask — any sleep mask — is its own challenge. When Remee woke me up on my first night, I was displeased but not discouraged. At the very least, my mind had responded to the light cues. I reprogrammed the lights to appear after a longer delay and have worn the mask three times since then. Twice I woke up in the middle of the night, well before the lights were set to go off. Whether this was due to particularly ill-timed insomnia or the unfamiliar sensation of sleeping with a mask over my eyes, I couldn’t say.
On the fourth night, I slept deeply and well, and I woke up to find Remee sitting on the pillow next to me. I had apparently taken it off in my sleep — proof of absolutely nothing except that four nights is not enough time for a beginner to see results from Remee.
The bigger issue, however, is that Remee simply has no way of detecting REM sleep. REM detection is the crucial feature common to LaBerge’s NovaDreamer and other commercially available lucid dream induction devices like the €147 (almost $200 USD) REM Dreamer or the not-yet-released, $299 LUCI, which recently cancelled a Kickstarter campaign in favor of private funding amid allegations of fraud.
Experienced lucid dreamers have pointed out that without some kind of REM detection process, all Remee does is flash lights at a random interval and hope to catch the sleeper in the middle of a dream.
“It’s no use if Remee makes this signaling when you’re in non-REM sleep or deep sleep, when we don’t have any dreams at all,” Tim Post tells me.
The 4.5-hour time delay that Remee uses is based on studies that show dreaming occurs more frequently in the second half of the sleep cycle. However, REM sleep cycles differ from person to person, and even from night to night. It would take a fairly consistent sleeping schedule and a lot of trial and error to queue Remee’s timer to your own sleeping cycle.
At $95, Remee is less than half the price of other lucid dream induction devices, and because it does not employ the extra REM detection technology it is much lighter and more comfortable than other lucid dreaming sleep masks. But is that enough?
“A lucid dreaming mask that does not measure your sleep may just turn out to be an alarm clock strapped to your head,” writes Ryan Hurd, a dream researcher who blogs at DreamStudies.org. “It might actually do more harm than good, by turning off some beginners permanently.”
Remee continues to see good market traction despite the mixed reviews. Both McGuigan and Frazier have been able to make Bitbanger Labs their full-time job, and they ship new units of Remee on a daily basis. The money that Remee has brought in even helped to fund the development of PixelStick, a light-painting tool for time-lapse photography and their latest Kickstarter project.
Duncan Frazier (left) and Steve McGuigan. Image: Mashable, Christina Ascani.
And the mask has worked for many of their customers, particularly those experienced with lucid dreaming or who already have a handle on their own sleep patterns.
“I think the major hurdle is that first period where you’re second-guessing yourself, trying to figure out if it is a dream,” says Max Cougar Oswald, a graduate student in mechanical engineering at Stanford. “That’s where Remee is a perfect litmus test. It’s like, ‘Okay, I saw the red [lights], this is for sure a dream.’ Once you get over that, everything is free.”
Similarly, Wesley Pennock, a theoretical physicist living in San Antonio, Texas told me Remee has helped him achieve “lucidity [like] I’ve never experienced in my life. Within the first week I was having very vivid lucid dreams, every night.”
Clearly, Remee is no magic bullet with which aspiring lucid dreamers will suddenly find themselves exploring the dusty face of Mars or sailing the seven seas alongside Captain Jack Sparrow. But even Remee’s detractors seem to agree that bringing the concept of lucid dreaming to the mainstream is valuable in and of itself, with the possible exception of those who worry that Remee, if ineffective, will discourage beginners entirely. There is even some anecdotal evidence to suggest that simply being aware of lucid dreams can increase the likelihood of having one — a sort of placebo effect, or a shallow version of what lucid dream trainers would call “setting your intention” before sleeping.
In one of his lucid dreams, Pennock willed himself into his lab, where he began scrawling equations on a whiteboard. “A lot of scientific breakthroughs happen in dreams,” he tells me. “In a dream, you can access what really makes you tick.”
(In another, he went on a zombie killing spree.)
Usually, however, he doesn’t bother trying to control his dreams. For him, it’s enough to be a witness to the machinations of his dreaming mind. “Sometimes I don’t want to work when I’m asleep,” he says. “I just want to enjoy the ride.”
Source : http://mashable.com/2013/11/17/remee-lucid-dreaming/