Everyone and their mom is talking about virtual reality. It’s the new hotness, and for good reason. Virtual reality now has the potential to transform the realms of entertainment, education, psychology, health care, gaming, fashion, art, sports, science and more beyond the degree almost anyone could have predicted just a few years ago. VR can deliver to your living room awe-inspiring, larger-than-life experiences you could never otherwise have accessed. It’s a means of time travel, teleportation and transcendence. But if some of the biggest virtual reality proponents gave lucid dreaming a try, I wonder if VR wouldn’t lose some of its seduction.

     Before I get into that, though, I want to clarify I'm not about to suggest the practice of lucid dreaming is superior to, let alone a replacement for virtual reality technology. I admit that there are practical applications of virtual reality that lucid dreaming simply does not address. For example, lucid dreaming cannot be used to see/visit "real" places. When you "visit" a physical location (on this earth or far across the universe) in a lucid dream, you will always be visiting your conception of it. VR won't actually transport you to that place either, but you could very well find yourself in a visually-accurate simulation of it. Lucid dreaming also cannot deliver the experience of being present at a live event -- think a concert or game -- in real time like VR can (with its 3D camera and live stream technology). (Unless, of course, you believe in astral travel.) And, unlike VR, lucid dreaming is not a viable solution for professional problems such as building planning, surgery training or crime scene reconstruction. Finally, VR does not require practice or skills like lucid dreaming does -- all you need is money to access VR.

     But with all that said, lucid dreaming can offer much that VR cannot.

     First of all, when lucid dreaming you aren’t limited by anybody else’s imagination or production output like you are with virtual reality. Once you shift into lucidity, your dream becomes a completely open creativity playground unique to you and to that moment, where the only bounds are your imagination, your awareness and your expectations (such as whether gravity should exist or not). You become all all-powerful artist, witch/warlock, even god/dess. With VR, no matter how much flexibility you have in exploring and shaping your environment, you’ll always be working within the bounds of somebody else’s vision and code.

     Next, a big one for me: the lucid dreaming experience engages all five senses - not just audio and visual like VR. In a lucid dream you can choose to see and hear but also smell, taste and feel anything you can imagine. Like many lucid dreamers, I’ve flown like a bird through both the day and night skies in my dreams, receiving the exhilaration of flight throughout my entire body. I've tried strange treats dreamt up by my mind with mouth-watering results. I’ve swam with fish, feeling on my skin the water in addition to seeing it surround me. Others have even experienced living in the opposite sex’s body. In VR it may look and sound like you’re in another world, but without involving your other senses you won’t fully feel as if you’re there. (Virtual reality technology is still in its infancy, however. A full sensory experience may become possible through VR technology in a matter of time, and learning from the physiology of lucid dreaming could help with this development.) 

     Lucid dreaming also offers something sacred that virtual reality will never be able to: a direct connection between your conscious, subconscious and unconscious minds, enabling you to actually ask questions of the unseen observer within and receive answers to them. (As a bit of an aside, certain hallucinogenic drugs might also make this pathway to higher consciousness available, sure, but with drugs you would have to give up the reins to what exactly you see and experience in exchange for that access. Thus the application of hallucinogens becomes much less useful if you have a specific intention around what you’d like to find in/ask of your unconscious. In lucid dreams you’re, well, lucid.) To go one step further, there's no VR equivalent to the spiritual aspects of lucid dreaming in general. For example, you cannot use VR to plant an intention into your own subconscious or interface with your inner spirit guide through VR. 

     Finally, lucid dreaming is free as well as ad free, whereas virtual reality devices are expensive and the experience won't be immune to marketing for long. (Though imagine how effective lucid-dream-delivered ads could be if they were possible. And equally annoying…just picture one taking over your dream just as you were soaring up into an unknown galaxy!)

     At the end of the day, though, I see more similarities between virtual reality and lucid dreaming than differences. In a Venn diagram of VR and LD, the center would not be a sliver. There’s plenty of overlap in terms of both use cases and benefits:

  • Adventure (from battling beasts to racing cars to traipsing through a jungle) 
  • Practice (from landing a plane to singing before a group to having challenging conversations at work)
  • Meditation (In VR and lucid dreams you can enjoy meditating while surrounded by a simulated valley of peace. But in a lucid dream you can go one step further and directly experience your Oneness with the universe by being an animal, an inanimate object, a sound or even energy itself.)
  • Breaking through phobias (You can choose to face that which you fear most — encountering spiders or reliving a painful memory, for example — with both VR and lucid dreaming in order to train yourself to move past the fear.)
  • Entertainment (Music, drama, action, romance — entertainment of every flavor can be available through both VR and lucid dreaming, though, again, in lucid dreams you can’t experience real events in real time and in VR you can’t design and create the entertainment yourself from scratch.)
  • Education (In VR a qualified external teacher or program can teach you something brand new and in a comprehensive manner. Through lucid dreaming you can teach yourself what you didn’t know you knew, surfacing your own tacit and implicit knowledge.)
  • Escape (Though only VR allows you to do this on the spot and during your waking life.)
  • Exploration (From actual museums and planets with VR, to the corners of your own mind and levels of your own consciousness with lucid dreaming, both VR and LD are ripe with potential to feed your inner explorer.)

So there you have it. Ultimately virtual reality and lucid dreaming satisfy many of the same goals but in different ways while also presenting very unique uses. Personally, I'm excited about using VR as a way to strengthen my lucid dreaming practice, providing a powerful means of conditioning for in-dream lucidity while awake. I hope someone will develop a lucid-dream-trainer app or game soon!

Lucid dreamers and VR fanatics, please comment below with your own thoughts on the topic of VR vs./plus LD!