A Reality Check is a method of deducing whether one is in a dream or in real life. It usually involves an observation of some sort of sensory observation, usually visual. Most induced lucid dreams involve a reality check of some sort. A dream sign is a form of reality check that is more or less unique to the specific dreamer.
Role and Importance
Mastering the practice of reality checks is an important step in learning how to induce lucid dreams. Often the hardest part is remembering to perform them; therefore, most lucid dreamers practice reality checks in real life, even though the fact that they are in real life is starkly obvious. Frequent performing of reality checks can hopefully lead to persistent use in dreams. Also, it may happen that, while dreaming, the dreamer believes they are awake, and therefore skip reality checking. For that reason, lucid dreamers are told to never be sure, and therefore perform reality checks even when they are certain they are awake. When they least expect it, they find themselves in a dream.
Through reality checking, we also give ourselves a moment of thought. We consider the possibility that we could be dreaming at this very moment. This is also especially good for becoming lucid in dreams.
The basis of most reality checks is that of taking advantage of a universal inconsistency between the real world and the dream world. These inconsistencies are usually omnipresent in dreams and therefore are easily noticeable. For instance, it is possible to read in real life, whereas in dreams it is extremely hard, if even possible. This can be used as a basis for a reality check. In the same manner, it is not possible in real life to pass your finger through your other palm, whereas, theoretically at least, it is possible to do this in a dream. Thus, this too is the basis of a popular reality check.
Seperate particles on reality checks, popular and obscure, are given below. Please note that, although all the reality checks featured have worked for someone at some point, what reality checks you find useful and effective is highly subjective.
Alarm clock/digital watch
This is a reality check associated with an alarm clock or digital watch. They are familiar objects and are especially useful in testing false awakenings, as one is likely to look at one of these upon real awakenings.
In a dream it is often difficult to read characters and numbers because the area of the brain responsible for those tasks is shut down. They tend to change or morph in peculiar ways, especially if the dreamer's attention moves away from them and back again. Thus, it is difficult to tell the exact time in dreams, especially if one is looking at a digital clock.
On an analogue timepiece, the numerals and their positions are implicit, so by habit they are not usually read in real life. Actually, many analogue watches don't even have them. If the hands are sensibly placed, you may not give the time much critical judgment. The hands on an analogue watch may change in a bizarre manner similar to numerals and characters, but not as much.
It is usually more difficult to tell the time on a digital timepiece in a dream. As noted above, the numbers may fluctuate, blur, or change. You may find yourself squinting, trying to make out exactly what it says. If your critical mind is active, note this as evidence characteristic of a dream.
Using this reality check, the dreamer will look at the timepiece. If it is a dream, they may see one of the following effects:
- The timepiece has no figures whatsoever.
- The timepiece has Arabic (i.e. rational) figures but they are rapidly changing or changing position.
- The timepiece has random, non-Arabic figures that may be static or dynamic.
- The display is dim, obscured, or blurry.
- The timepiece may be difficult to see, e.g. hidden.
If any of these occur, it may be a dream. Move on to another reality check until you are certain. If none of these occur, the timepiece is faulty. Remember what it says, look away for a moment, and then look back again. If the timepiece's display reads the same, it's not significant evidence for a dream. However, one test may not always be sufficient. Encourage yourself to try another reality check.
Breathing through a closed nose
This is a lesser-known reality check, which can be very effective. Like other reality checks, it tests whether an action's preconditions are honoured or that the course of action is sensible. In this case, the action is breathing in, and the precondition is having the nose open.
Many dreams exist entirely without simulation or regard to the low-level physical processes that occasionally permeate our waking existence. In this way, when physical processes are initiated by the dreamer, their results may be unusual.
Another example of a reality check that tests physical ability is the Finger through palm check.
- Clasp your nose tight between your fingers, and keep your mouth shut
- Attempt to breathe in through your nose.
- If you find that you can breathe in as usual, you are most likely dreaming.
This method of testing reality consists of looking for dream signs. Whenever a dreamer faces one, they should consider being in a dream.
Dream signs, however, vary greatly from person to person, and are often unique to a particular individual. However, frequent themes include:
- Being in a particular location.
- A character behaving oddly.
- The presence of a certain object.
- The presence of a character from the dreamer's past.
- The presence of a character who is in real life dead (or completely non-existent).
- A particular inconsistency with the real world.
- The presence of the dreamer's dream guide.
- Having improved or supernatural body functions, including being able to function normally despite an impairment.
Whenever you face an object/person/situation that classifies as a dream sign, consider the possibility that you are dreaming.
For experienced practitioners of controlled dreaming it is possible to 'bring' a particular object into the dream world as a reminder that the dream-experiences of the dreamer (like an imaginary awakening) are still part of the dream.
Finger through palm
This article describes the reality check that most commonly involves the dreamer pushing their finger against their palm, and willing it to pass through.
In real life, laws of physics prevent us from falling through floors or from poking our fingers into hard objects. Hence, if you were to will your left finger to pass through your right palm, or vice versa, it hopefully wouldn't pass straight through. However, in a dream, natural forces can be disregarded. Hence, the finger can pass through the palm and out the other side. If you can do this, it is in all probability a dream; if it is not, it is suggested you see a doctor.
This reality check is useful in that it requires no additional objects other than your own body, and requires little effort. However, you may find that the dream deceives you by stopping the finger at the palm - this is probably due to an internal doubt that the experience is a dream.
Try to put your finger through your palm. If you finger passes through your palm with no problems, it means you are dreaming. If it takes too long to have an outcome, or if you are not sure, try another reality check, as this one could not be working for you.
Devices often malfunction in dreams. Perhaps the most consistent example of this is the light switch - they seldom work. Thus, this fact can be used as a reality check. Press a light switch, and if the light does not turn on (or off), either you are dreaming or you should consult an electrician. Sometimes, light switches may allow you to switch lights off, but not back on again. At other times, light switches may turn the lights on, the lights may end up dim or they might not actually illuminate the surrounding area despite appearing to be on.
Oddly shaped hands
The mind has trouble keeping a thought or image static if there is no external input (for instance vision). Thus, in dreams, if you focus on your hands, their shape may be or may become strange or disproportionate. The more you focus on them, the more their appearance will look unusual.
This is a great technique, for it requires only your hands and a bit of concentration.
It may be a dream if your hands are:
- Oddly shaped, i.e. deformed;
- Wrongly proportioned, or
- Otherwise odd
Note that looking at your hands also has the side-effect of stabilising your dreams.
Looking at the mirror
With the same principle of the light switch realitycheck, mirrors may also not behave properly in dreams. This because your mind has trouble creating reflections in the mirror, especially your own reflection. Try to look at a nearby mirror: if the the image in it is oddly dark, blurry, misshapen, doesn't match the objects around you, or if there is no image at all, then it could mean that you are dreaming. Its drawbacks are that you need to be close to a mirror for it to work, and it's possible (but rare) that reflections can look correct in dreams. So, try to combine this with another reality check of your choice for best results.
However, looking at a mirror can be risky: if you're dreaming, the image might be so misshapen that it will frighten you awake.
Examples in fiction
- In the motion picture Inception, the characters use a unique personal item called a 'totem' to determine if they are in someone else's dream. Each character is the only one that is familiar with their own totem, and therefore if they are in another person's dream, the totem would not function properly. Despite popular belief, the totems do not allow them to determine if they are in their own dream, as they themselves would know how their totem works and it would function properly.
- In the Star Trek: Voyager episode Waking moments (4x13), Earth's Moon is used as an indicator signing that the characters are still dreaming.
- In ‘Doctor Who’ Season 8, Episode 13; ‘Last Christmas,’ the characters each take a manual from the scientific base they apparently work on. Turning to randomly chosen page numbers looking at the very first word the characters compare the results. Presumably, these manuals would all be the same. However, they are not, first forming the sentence ‘We are all dead,’ and later ‘very very very dead.’ They also notice that there were four manuals (one for each member of the crew still alive) despite the fact that there were four other members of the crew that are now dead. A dream guide is also present in the episode, taking the form of Santa Claus.
- In the motion picture Waking Life, the light switch check is discussed, and then used by the main character to confirm that he is dreaming.
- Reality Check — Software to assist with reality checks (Link broken).
- How To Perform Reality Checks by World of Lucid Dreaming website
- Consensus Reality Testing in Lucid Dreams
- Can Virtual Reality Technology Become the New Training Ground for Lucid Dreamers?