Paul Tholey
Paul Tholey and the Lucid Dream
(-> gehe zur deutschen Version)


Paul Tholey (1937 - 1998) was a gestalt psychologist and professor at the Psychological Institute of the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University in Frankfurt and later professor for sports psychology at the Technical University of Braunschweig, both in Germany. He began studying the phenomenon of lucid dreaming in 1959 and was led to it in an attempt to prove whether dreams are in color (it has been commonly maintained that they are not). By nature he was a bad dream recaller, though, and realized, too, that memories of his dreams did not supply him with very reliable data.
As a gestalt psychologist he was committed to critical realism which distinguishes between objective reality and experienced reality, and had the idea that it should be principally possible to bring a critical consciousness into dreaming by asking repeatedly now and then during the day: "Am I dreaming?" He hoped that the repetition of the critical questions would become second nature and it would also manifest itself in his dreams. After an intensive and long training he succeeded in obtaining a critical consciousness while dreaming and that led to a completely new quality of dreaming.
Tholey was now able to examine critically whether his dreams were in color or not. After that he initiated a study group with students and they all became experienced lucid dreamers. He researched with them the fascinating phenomenon systematically and scientifically according to the gestalt theory of psychology. Unfortunately, this pioneer of lucid dream research died much too early. Some of the results of this research are available on the Internet. On this site I have tried to collect them all.


Lucid dreams, or clear dreams as Tholey named them, are a phenomenon which is more and more recognized scientifically in our culture since pioneers like Stephen LaBerge (USA) and Alan Worsley (GB) independently proved the objective existence of lucid dreaming using EEG measurements. The lucid dream is distinguished from normal dreaming by the following features:

  • Clarity of the state of consciousness: The dreamer knows he or she is dreaming and his or her body is lying in bed asleep, in spite of experiencing another body in the dream world which may look as real as the physical one.
  • Clarity of one's own freedom of decision: ühe dreamer is able to intervene actively in the happenings and is not at the mercy of the events.
  • Clarity of consciousness: The quality of consciousness is experienced as clear as in day consciousness, sometimes even clearer.

Tholey defined additional criteria that can be found in his articles. In my eyes lucid dreams and similar projections of consciousness, like out of the body and near death experiences, are key cultural experiences and key cultural techniques because lucid dreaming is in principle available to everyone since everyone has access to the raw material - normal dreams.

Besides, lucid dreams have played a major role in older, less materialistic times: shamanism was based on such experiences and mythologies evolved from them which led to culture-shaping religions. Also, many fairy tales and legends, belonging to the cultural possessions of each tribe and nation, are based on such experiences. Today lucid dreams belong to the experience of the mystic and the initiate. It is known and used in Buddhism, Dzogchen, Hinduism (Yoga Nidra) and Sufism, as well as in Theosophy and similar movements.


The links mentioned below lead to German and English articles of Paul Tholey which I found in the Internet and other publications and which I transfered to the pdf format. They provide deep insights into the phenomenon of lucid dreaming and into his thinking. Besides one can find practical hints on how to dream lucidly. A complete list of all of his articles can be found here. Unfortunately some of his most interesting research can not be found on the internet in English. For example "Haben Traumgestalten ein eigenes Bewusstsein? (Do dream characters have an independent consciousness?)

All documents are in the *.pdf format. If your browser does not support it you can download the free Adobe Acrobat Reader to view them.

(in German)

  • Paul Tholey und Kaleb Utecht: Schöpferisch träumen
    (Klotz, Eschborn, ISBN: 3-88074-275-8)
  • Paul Tholey: Gestaltpsychologie
    (in Asanger und Wenninger: Handwörterbuch Psychologie;
    Buch: Beltz Psychologie Verlags Union, ISBN: 3-621-27435-9
    CD-Rom: Directmedia Publishing, ISBN: 3-89853-123-6)

Another German speaking pioneer in that field is Werner Zurfluh. He created a large website and wrote some of his articles in English: "Over the fence"

© Christoph Gassmann.