For many lucid dreamers, the Expectation Effect becomes the castle from which they understand and view the realm of lucid dreaming. Each and every experience, they relate back to the Expectation Effect. However, thoughtful lucid dreamers know that this hardly explains the totality of lucid dreaming, which stretches across a much larger realm of experience.
Previously, I noted that: “The Expectation Effect suggests that you experience what you expect to experience to the degree that you expect at that moment. So “if” you expect in a lucid dream to fly through a wall, then you will fly through the wall according to your expectation. Expect it to be easy, and you fly right through with ease. Expect trouble, and you hit the wall and bounce off.”
That sounds valid, right? So where are the holes in the castle walls of the Expectation Effect?
Let’s explore a simple lucid dream from Lucy Gillis, co-editor of The Lucid Dream Exchange (from p.58 in my book):
I turn to the girls and say triumphantly, “This is a dream!” Patty is exasperated and says, “You mean to tell me we’re all dreaming.” I say, “No, I am. You are characters created by my mind.” . . . Patty gets angry and interlaces her fingers with mine . . . Patty bends my fingers back. I don’t pay attention to her. Instead, I wonder how my fingers can hurt when I am aware that I’m dreaming.
Like many lucid dreamers, Lucy experiences something completely unexpected when dealing with a dream figure. Have you ever lucidly asked a dream figure to do something or answer a question, and they just look at you blankly and walk away? Or have you ever told a dream figure, “I am dreaming you!” and noticed the unhappy look on their face? If dream figures exist as a creation of your expectations, then why do they respond unexpectedly? How does the Expectation Effect explain the unexpected?
In Lucy’s lucid dream, Patty disagrees with her assessment that she alone creates the lucid dream and suggests an alternative viewpoint that “we’re all dreaming.” When Lucy denies that possibility, Patty continues to act in an unexpected manner, and bends Lucy’s fingers back until they hurt!
So in this case, we have two unexpected developments: on a cognitive level, a dream figure disagrees with the lucid dreamer’s assessment of the situation and on an experiential level, a dream figure acts in opposition to the lucid dreamer. How does the Expectation Effect explain these simple, yet unexpected activities? Why doesn’t the dream figure simply comply with the lucid dreamer’s assessment? Why does it “act out”?
The simple answer seems to be that the Expectation Effect does not explain all lucid dreaming activity. In the complex realm of the lucid dream, there is more than the lucid dreamer’s expectation.
For example, consider this lucid dream: I become consciously aware on a gravel path. Feeling great, I come upon a woman dream figure and hold her hand as we walk down the path. Coming around a corner, I see the mouth of a cave. It is decorated like a wedding chapel with white lacy fabric and bows. Lucid, I feel surprised to see this. How does the Expectation Effect explain unexpected dream materializations, like this cave? Obviously, on a conscious level, I did not expect to see a cave decorated as a wedding chapel – so how did it come into being?
Or how about this lucid dream: Lucid, I decide to see how far I can elongate my arm. With my right hand, I grab my left arm and pull it. The left arm begins to grow longer and longer. Happy with my success, I look around for my brother to show him my vastly extended left arm. When I see him, I notice that both of his arms look like they have been pulled inwards. Only his fingers emerge from his shoulders! I expected my left arm to lengthen, but did not expect his arms to disappear. The Expectation Effect seems to explain the success of my arm lengthening, but does not explain my brother’s arm shortening. So how do we explain this?
As we begin to look for unexpected developments in our lucid dreams, we realize that the Expectation Effect seems limited to events that we consciously intend to experience (for example, flying through a wall). It explains these lucid dream events nicely, while failing to explain many others.
Some may say that I fail to account for a lucid dreamer’s subconscious expectation, that at a subconscious level, an expectation may exist which shortens my brother’s arms, which makes wedding chapels appear at the mouth of a cave, and which creates dream figures who challenge the lucid dreamer. While subconscious expectation may explain some of it, a lucid dreamer can challenge the subconscious explanation by lucidly asking for information that the person’s subconscious cannot know.
Next time, we will explore more deeply the Expectation Effect, as we look at experienced lucid dreamers whom question the awareness behind the dream for unknown information. What does it mean when that awareness provides answers unknown to you or anyone, which later prove to be valid? How can you expect (consciously or subconsciously) unknown information?
Thanks for joining me as we explore the principles of the lucid dreaming mind together,