Oliver Sacks is a well known neuroscientist who writes books about some of the curious cases that he encounters. I wrote him a letter on October 3rd, 2008 -- and as it's been well over 2 months now I'm not expecting a reply. So I'll publish it in an open letter format.
Subject: Fan Seeks Guidance on How To Become A Neuroscience Test Subject
Dear Dr. Sacks,
(My apologies in advance for the length of this letter! I could not find a way to convey myself fully in fewer words.)
I am an appreciator of your work and writing. Especially the careful tone with which you handle people with pathologies who might have unusual beliefs of why they are happening! You have always struck me as one of the most "human" scientists involved in neurology, and I think this is why you are able to write books that have reached so many.
I'm contacting you for some very specific guidance, because I think I have a "stupid brain trick" that may offer insights for science. Unfortunately (fortunately?), I don't really have a medically threatening problem that has landed me under a brain scanner. So all I can offer as justification is my internal phenomenology. My hope is that you have pointers on where a willing and open volunteer test subject like myself might turn.
I'll try and explain:
On the surface, my "trick" doesn't sound like much to get excited about...because it involves lucid dreaming. I'm sure you know that dreaming with awareness that one is asleep is not terribly uncommon, and was validated experimentally in a lab in the 1970s by Dr. Stephen LaBerge. His studies were quite exciting for me to find after my first lucid dream 10 years ago, and they gave me comfort that I'd stumbled onto a area that science had already mapped out and did not need the paranormal to explain.
Yet I am afraid that my experiences became steadily more anomalous over the years, and ceased to match the testimony of other lucid dreamers--even the ones who were talented enough to be recruited for Dr. LaBerge's studies. I feel that the difference between most "good" lucid dreamers and myself today is as significant as... say... the gap between those lucid dreamers and someone who dreams without awareness. Every night I encounter whole, immersive, realities where I speak with entities that regularly seem to have minds and wills of their own. (!)
Doubtless you have heard claims that run the gamut in this area. People swear they were really speaking to dead relatives, or that a real gnome told them 3 out of 5 winning lottery numbers, ad nauseum. Yet a key difference is that I am someone who dislikes the invocation of the "supernatural" every bit as you do, so I keep designing creative tests to weed out my preconceptions. The second difference is the nature of the experiences themselves, which I believe to be exceptional, especially when you consider that they happen each and every time I sleep.
It is not possible--of course--to ask you to study hundreds of lengthy accounts of my dreams, you are certainly too busy. The best idea I could come up with was to cull six extremely short snippets that illustrate the rare character of my experiences. These can be quickly skimmed without slogging through the rest of my journal (though it is all public and cross-linked if anything looks worth going deeper):
Note that I do not follow science fiction or fantasy very closely, nor do I even own a television. I don't use psychedelic drugs, and my background is mostly as a professional in computer software. These dreams are not something that I purposefully induced with signaling devices like those sold by Dr. LaBerge. I am a Summa Cum Laude Ivy League Electrical Engineer, and generally considered smart. :) My point is merely that I do not fit the stereotype of the kind of person who typically reports experiences of this nature. I also stand to gain nothing by making it up--I am vehement about ensuring I not have any profit ties to this area.
I've thought that maybe my particular type of lucidity could be useful to a researcher who does not typically study dreams with the ordinary assumptions. Perhaps someone who investigates schizophrenia? I might share important commonalities with people who aren't fully unable to discern reality from their inner fictions, yet I have an extremely strong "intellectual immune system" to stay grounded and just report the facts to a researcher. I'm ready to be a lab rat to anyone looking for rats, and though I am not wealthy I can pay my own travel expenses to any U.S.-based facility.
If you have any advice at all, of anyone I could talk to... or really any direction you think I might go with this... the benefit of your experience could make a huge difference in my life. You may of course share the link to my journal with absolutely anyone you deem appropriate:
Thank you so much for your time! And congratulations on your newest book--I will try to pick it up and read it soon. (I have myself tried to edit some of my essays together into something publishable...and it's definitely harder than it looks to finish a book!)
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