The man on fire is after me again. There is anger in his narrow eyes, his curled scowl, his raspy voice. I crouch in the bushes near my house and wonder: Where are my parents? Where are my friends? He finds my hiding spot, towering over me like a pillar made of pure sunlight.
Then I wake up. I begin to wonder: Who is he? What does he want? I know he will come to see me again soon. I try to remember these questions, but I always forget to ask them; as I grew older he stopped visiting and I never got my chance. There are few dreams that I remember as vividly as this one. I’m certain you’ve got some of your own.
There is no doubt that dreams are a profound part of the human experience, and yet for many of us they exist merely in the background of our waking lives. They serve as mentionable bookends to our day, but rarely much more. Oneironautics was written on the premise that, when properly harnessed, dreams can be an important and even revelatory part of our everyday lives. It is a guide not merely to dreaming, though, but to lucid dreaming, where the dreamer becomes aware that he or she is dreaming. While in a lucid state, the dreamer may freely explore the dream world and even manipulate it to some degree, allowing him to get much more out of his night-time experiences. Lucid dreaming is the yoke with which you steer your dreams, and the till with which you cultivate them.
Fair warning: I have been interested in lucid dreaming for a very long time, so when the Kickstarter campaign appeared for this book, I jumped on it immediately. So readers beware, I may be very enthusiastic about its contents!
Oneironautics, as difficult as it is to pronounce, is very easy to read. It is conveniently (although not explicitly) split into three sections–the first deals with what lucid dreaming is and the tools used to achieve a lucid state; the second describes the various ways of interacting with the dream world and how to maintain the lucid state once in it; the final section explores the deeper meaning of dreaming, its philosophical implications, and how dreams can be used to improve our waking lives.
While using commonly suggested techniques such as the “reality check” and a dream journal can encourage lucid dreaming, Oneironautics goes one step further by exploring many more helpful techniques such as the wake-back-to-bed method and focusing on intent. However, where it really shines is its discussions on how to maintain and enhance the lucid state. (Did you know that spinning in a circle helps maintain the lucid state?)
The writing style in Onieronautics is whimsical and light-hearted, mixing dashes of history and philosophy with science and personal anecdotes of dream journeys. The authors clearly empathize with the reader’s desire to learn and be challenged rather than a desire to simply be lectured. The book’s greatest strength, however, is its lack of pretension. The authors do not suppose to know what dreams are, how they are formed, or to what extent they are a shared or individual experience. All they seem to want is for the reader to be excited in what they have to share; I could almost feel their optimism bubbling out of the page as they gushed over the potential of dreams for healing and insight. To amplify that excitement even further, its chapters are filled with strikingly beautiful woodcut illustrations that suit the subject matter perfectly, priming the reader for the adventures to come.
Although Onieronatics is not meant to be a rigorous scientific text, the authors tiptoe dangerously close to pseudo-science at times. I am a scientist by training, so naturally I flinched when the famous Double Slit Experiment was used to suggest how reality itself might be molded by our own perception. However, the authors always maintained a great level of self-awareness in their musings, often couching ideas with phrases like: “Bear with us while we get a little ‘out there’.” Ultimately their awareness comforted my skepticism, allowing me to relax and go along for the ride. The Secret this book is not, and shouldn’t be treated as such. There is enough empirical meat to go around even for the most literal-minded.
So on to the big question: Does this book work? Yes–well, maybe. Probably. Let me explain. I have not had a lucid dream in years, and only a couple weeks into reading Onieronautics, I’ve already experienced another one. Whether this trend continues is yet to be seen, but so far so good! I must stress that this book is not something that can be fully appreciated in one or two reads, nor should it be. As the title suggests it is a field guide, and only consistent study can prepare the reader for the wild. (If you pulled out a Field Guide to the African Savannah while a cheetah was chasing you, there wouldn’t be a happy ending.) Also, unlike some field guides, later chapters build on earlier ones and are only useful once the reader has gotten their feet wet, so I suggest going back multiple times to fully absorb the writing.
Ultimately, Onieronautics is a book about the anthropology of dreaming more than the science of dreaming. If you are looking for a collection of neuroscience and psychology studies about how dreams work, you will be disappointed. The book is a lil’ fluffy at times, but always remains eminently readable, fun, and informative. Tuccillo, Zeizel, and Peisel have crafted a time capsule filled until bursting with our current understanding of and cultural communion with the dream world. It is a book meant to be experienced time and time again, and I shall be going back to its pages for many years to come. I highly recommend it.
Joshua Yearsley is a graduate student in engineering whose research has made him a nemesis to wordy kludge in all its forms. He loves board games just a little too much and doesn’t get to play drums nearly as often as he’d like. To find out what makes him tick, head over to his blog Synonyms for Fun.