Inspiration in the Dream World: Duncan McCloud Frazier and Steve McGuigan

Duncan McCloud Frazier and Steve McGuigan run Bitbanger Labs in New York City. Together they built Remee, a lucid-dream enhancing sleep mask, and raised over $500,000 on Kickstarter for its production.

 MISC: How did you first come across lucid dreaming?

Duncan McCloud Frazier (DMF): I believe both Steve and I had our first lucid dreams pretty spontaneously, probably pretty early on. When I was in my early teens, I would lucid dream every six months or so. When you wake up from your first lucid dream it’s kind of mind-blowing. I don’t know at what point I finally decided that I’d track down whatever that experience was, but we both had lucid dreams prior to learning about what they were.

Steve McGuigan (SM): When I was a kid I used
to have them all the time. As I got older and went to college, I had them less often but wanted to have them more often. I finally researched it and figured out there was a name for it, that lots of people did it, and that there were things you could do to have them more often. That was about 10 or 11 years ago.

Tell us a bit about Remee and how it can be used as a tool to help with lucid dreaming.

SM: We took the whole process, the sum total of everything that the lucid dreaming community has put together over the years, as a roadmap to becoming more lucid. And then we tried to develop a physical product that could help with some aspect of this. Based on some earlier lucid dreaming mask designs that were more expensive and maybe not as comfortable to sleep with, we went off the idea of creating some sort of recurring dream sign. A dream sign is something you can discover through dream journaling. It’s a recurring thought, idea or interaction throughout your dreams that you can clamp onto and recognize, which can help you become lucid. That’s how we figured Remee could deliver these recognizable light patterns that you customize – you set the brightness and the timers and all that – that become dream signs. And what happens after that is just the result of practice. Controlling things in your dreams is
 a by-product of becoming lucid more often, but what Remee does is allow you to just build a recurring dream sign and latch onto it.

You mentioned that through becoming lucid more often you learn to better control the dream state. Can you tell us more about the process?

SM: The first thing that happens to most people when they have their first lucid dream is they wake up because they get so excited. They get completely freaked out by what’s happening. There’s just nothing that has ever happened to them before that can even compare
to the strangeness of the first time becoming lucid in a dream. With greater calm and experience comes more control. You get more used to the idea that you’re lucid. You pick up these various tactics for remaining asleep, which come with practice and great concentration.
And once you get better at that, then you just start to get better at controlling what’s around you. And that’s different for different people. Rather than pulling things out of thin air, which some people can do, some people find that it’s just easier to create situations. So instead of summoning my grandmother out of thin air, I’m
just going to go to my grandmother’s house and she’s just going to be there. It’s just a slightly more realistic approach. Your brain, no matter what, is always going to rail against the impossible. And obviously some people have more luck with doing extremely insane things than others. In general, I find that if you can figure out a way to justify to your mind why something is possible, you have a better chance of making it happen. For instance, a lot of people just say “I’m gonna fly!” and they get two feet of the ground and they wake up. But if instead you say “I’m going to put on a jetpack…”

DMF: At least in my experience, my dream world is so much more tangible than my waking imagination for conducting thought experiments. So you all of a sudden have access to this super high-fidelity world where there are no rules and you can explore ideas in a way that seems just as real as your waking life. To have that ability to play with gravity or time and do thought experiments in a tangible setting is a really interesting skill. Some people use lucid dreaming to examine their psyche or their subconscious. A lot of stuff that’s in a lucid dream you don’t control, but it’s coming from somewhere internal. Being able to look at it with your waking frame of reference instead of just going along with it is really interesting.

There are many examples of people becoming inspired in dream states to innovate in waking life. It seems like there’s something about inhabiting dreams, watching dream-logic unfold, and playing in that space that can facilitate creativity.

DMF: One thing that someone who hasn’t had a lucid dream has problems grasping is that even when you’re fully lucid in a dream – you know it’s Wednesday night, you know you’ve got a meeting tomorrow, you’ve got all this stuff going on – you’re still not fully in control of the narrative of your dream. There’s still a lot of input that’s coming seemingly out of nowhere, from these subconscious processes. So it’s like being exposed to this great resource of imagination that’s inside you but that you can’t really muster on a given day. Even just being aware of the dream logic as it unfolds is such a great asset to draw on.

SM: One of the examples that we use all the time is Paul McCartney waking up with the melody to Yesterday. I don’t know that he sat down in his dream with his dream guitar and decided to play certain chords,
 or whatever. I think you just plug into these strains of creativity that are unfiltered by your ego or whatever may be going on in your waking life. I have experience with this as an amateur musician. I’ll wake up with a melody in my head that I sort of wrote in a dream. But it’s not as if I set out to write a song. It just sort of happened. So there’s this access to unfiltered creativity in dreams that’s either harder or impossible to access in waking life.

It sounds like finding inspiration in dreams is similar to finding creative success in waking life. You need to get over that phase where you’re just pursuing simple wish fulfillment – you just want to be a rock star, or something – and open your- self up to the creative process and do the work.

SM: I think you’re right. But the creative process can also be stifled by self-doubt. If you’re trying to do something creative, questions like “Is this any good” or “Are people going to think this is stupid” can bog you down. I think people are less affected by those questions in the dream world. Thoughts and feelings like that don’t manifest themselves as strongly in dreams. Unless it’s a nightmare, I guess. Maybe when you’re being creative in a dream, you’re only being creative. There’s no other stimulus or influence. There’s no ego getting in the way.

DMF: Yeah. And you can just throw it away if it doesn’t work. I can’t tell you how many buildings and cliffs I’ve jumped off in my dreams knowing full well I might not be able to fly this time. But I also know it’s all right. It’s nice to have that total safety net of knowing that what you’re working in is a fake palette.

Even though you built Remee for the lucid dreaming community, it seems from your massive Kickstarter success that many of your customers must be new to the practice.

SM: We did tons of research before launching, and we found that the average site that dealt with lucid dreaming featured magic crystals and things like that. Somehow lucid dreaming, which is an amazing and fascinating subject rooted in science became tangled up in this bizarre world of things like conspiracy theories and magic crystals.

DMF: I blame the eighties.

SM: We were able to introduce the concept to a lot of people who’d really never heard of it. And that was one of our goals: to bring lucid dreaming to the mainstream. This is something that more people should be doing.

It should be okay to talk about. It shouldn’t have some weird stigma attached to it.

DMF: And to bring it into the scientific realm. Steve and I have been lucid dreaming since we were kids, but until we decided to do a Kickstarter project together we didn’t know that one another knew about lucid dreaming and were interested in it.

SM: And we’d been friends for 20 years! But you don’t want to talk about it, because people will think you’re some sort of freak-show.

DMF: So we really wanted to make it clear that this is cool technology and that lucid dreaming is a well documented phenomena. That’s how we wanted to present it to the mainstream. The dream world is so fleeting. I know that in Japan they just started decoding images from dreams, which is crazy. As the science gets good enough so that we can really start probing into dreams, all of this stuff will become much more interesting to people and easy to grasp.

This article appears in MISC Fall 2013, The Inspiration Issue 

More on dreaming and inspiration: Dream Tools & TechniquesDeirdre BarretWendy Doniger, Ryan HurdDax Urbszat, Jeff Warren, J. Allan Hobson

the author

Jayar La Fontaine

Jayar La Fontaine is a senior foresight strategist at Idea Couture. See his full bio here.