Recently I looked at the claims of spirits visiting us during our dreams in the article: Do spirits communicate with us during dreams. Across my research, I found accounts of people claiming they shared a dream with a living person. It was my recent research into twin telepathy that led to pondering this question. While it has not been scientifically proven, they are many accounts of twins sharing some sort of mental telepathy where they can tell what the other is thinking or if the other is trouble. Another claim is that often twins will share dreams as well. It is not just limited to twins however when looking into this phenomena, psychology today reports that there are thousands of accounts.
Can two or more people share the same dream? As far as I know, there have been no scientific investigations of this question. But there are literally thousands of well-documented accounts.
The best-documented cases involve therapist-client shared dreams. In these, there is a professionally trained therapist who verifies the claim that the dream happened to both the therapist and the client around the same time. The next-best documented cases involve people in close relationships like parent/children, spouses, or lovers. Consistent with the effect of emotional closeness on shared dreams, we also have plenty of well-documented cases of twins sharing the same dream. The least well-documented cases involve complete strangers sharing the same dream. (We only have anecdotal reports of strangers experiencing the same dream because the strangers happened to run into one another and recognize each another from the dream!)
By now a large majority of you will have seen the movie Inception. It was quite the mind-bender. Dreams within dreams within dreams to the point you didn't know if it was all a dream. We all related in different ways to the movie because how many times have you had a dream and woken up, only to wake up again and realize that you had a dream about having a dream? A major part of the storyline was that multiple people were able to collectively share a dream. While this was a fictional movie, there are reports of people that have said they are able to 'appear' in each other dreams. Quite often it is spontaneous, although some claim they can actually plan to 'meet up' in a dream. It is a term referred to as 'Mutual Dreaming'. Some feel that they may be able to achieve this through a form of lucid dreaming, but again being able to actually establish you are really meeting up in a dream is almost impossible.
Of course, when you are dreaming, you don't know if the other person is experiencing the same thing. It is something that you would discover only when you 'compare' your dreams in the hours or days later. It is usually someone that you are emotionally close with as you don't often share this information with a stranger or someone you don't really know. In reality, it is unlikely that you have actually shared the same dream. It is more probable that there are elements of the dream which were the same and the way we interpret information and even remember things (sometimes incorrectly) our dreams 'mesh' and suddenly seem like they are the same. You know when you remember a story and tell your friend about it and they turn to you and tell you 'that happened to me, I told you that story!'. In fact, it was originally your story, but you have created a false memory of this happening to you. The same could apply to these 'mutual dreams' where similarities trigger your memory to remember the dream differently to match the other person's account. This is what is referred to as a 'meshed dream' and is a lot more common than you think. In all documented reports, there are differences within all of the dreams. While some elements are the same, they are not exact and haven't been done under scientifically controlled circumstances so it is usually written off as a coincidence. There is no way to establish if this is in fact possible, as Science is yet to explain it - like a lot of paranormal phenomena.
Let's say for a moment that it is possible. If we talk about things like telepathy being a possibility and being able to communicate in different ways when we are conscious, then we would have to entertain the fact then that we would be capable of the same when we are unconscious or in a dream-like state.
Then there are the arguments that when we sleep, our consciousness enters another plane. Perhaps the Astral Plane. It is in this plane of existence that people believe their consciousness can leave their bodies and travel anywhere they want and speak to anyone living or dead. It is referred to as the 4th dimension. When we dream, it can feel like a dream has gone for hours, yet in reality, a dream lasts for only 20-30 minutes on average. Time doesn't seem to apply in our dreams, and it doesn't apply in this 4th dimension - the ones that we remember anyway. Is this an indication that perhaps during our dreams, we are entering a different state of consciousness? Spiritually, some people believe that are souls can be interconnected with others on both a conscious and unconscious level which allows them to communicate on this astral plane which would be in a form of a meditative state.
When we look at meditation, there are some people that use this as a part of their daily life, and others like myself who can't even do it because our brain is too busy to be quiet for a few minutes. Research indicates that people who are experienced at meditation have dreams that are different from those who do not meditate. You can find more about the results of this study here: Dreaming(volume 28, number 2, pp. 99-121).
The results indicated that those who meditated had longer dreams and had friendlier interactions with others. Is our mind state an important factor here? The fact that there were more positive interactions with others could mean that our mental state is one of the links here. Perhaps we feel we are sharing a dream with a person because we have that emotional connection with them. If a person meditates, the brain tends to play on this compassion and empathy, and is this why they then have so many positive interactions in their dreams with people that they know?
If we look back to the famous philosopher Descartes, he believed that the content in dreams and our waking life were virtually the same. One of the biggest connections he made here was the fact that we often believe we are having a waking life experience, only to find out later it was a dream.
But I cannot forget that, at other times I have been deceived in sleep by similar illusions; and, attentively considering those cases, I perceive so clearly that there exist no certain marks by which the state of waking can ever be distinguished from sleep, that I feel greatly astonished; and in amazement I almost persuade myself that I am now dreaming.
How do we know what are experiencing or thinking is a dream or an act of wakefulness. Do we ever fully 'wake up?' What happens to us when we dream? There are several dream states that people associate with paranormal phenomena. From being in a hypnagogic state to receiving precognitive messages in dreams, through to lucid dreaming and sleep paralysis. In these states, people have reported what they believe to be paranormal experiences. Often the rational side of us says 'it was all just a dream' and therefore it cannot be trusted. What is Descartes however is right? Again, if we entertain that telepathy is possible when a person is awake, why wouldn't it possible if they were asleep?
I will leave you with some famous words from Descartes which in many ways is still questioned today:
How can you be certain that your whole life is not a dream?
What do you think? Do you think it is possible to share a dream with a living person? Has this happened to you?
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