Despite all the field of neuroscience has uncovered about the human body, the brain is still largely a mystery. However, a recent study conducted by scientists from the Max Plank Institutes of Psychiatry in Munich and Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Leipzig, as well as The Charité in Berlin, may be a step towards better understanding our brain's enigmatic functions. 

These scientists have examined the brains of lucid dreamers, those who become aware that they are dreaming within the dream, and were able to identify which centers of the brain become active when we become aware of ourselves. 

The studies, which employed magnetic resonance tomography (MRT), show that the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, the frontopolar regions, and the precuneus are activated when the lucid dreamer gains awareness within the dream. These regions are associated with self-reflective functions, such as self-assessment, perception, and the evaluation of our thoughts and feelings. 

Lucid dreaming varies significantly from normal dreaming. Author Martin Dresler explains that in normal dreams, consciousness is "basal," that is, minimal. We can perceive and experience emotions, but we are not aware enough to realize that it is simply a dream. The lucid dreamer, on the other hand, gains "meta-insight" into their state. They are aware of themselves as dreamers, and can even exercise control over their dream. 

Scientists compared the brain during a lucid period to the prior activity measured in a normal dream, and were able to identify the characteristic brain activities of lucid awareness. 

Michael Czish, head of a research group at the Max Plank Institute of Psychiatry, says that the "general basic activity of the brain is similar in a normal dream and in a lucid dream." However, in the lucid state, "the activity in certain areas of the cerebral cortex increases markedly within seconds." 

This is the first time that the neural networks of a conscious mental state have been made visible. 

Image by eflon, courtesy of Creative Commons licensing.