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Science can now read your mind while you’re dreaming

inceptionAs everyone who’s seen Inception already knows, technology that allows other people entry into your dreams isn’t something to play with. But what about technology that could let other people read your dreams? Surely there’s no danger there – aside from, you know, the fact that other people would be able to see the stuff your subconsciousness comes up with when there’s nothing you can do to regulate it. That just comes with the territory.

The technology in question is the creation of a group of Japanese neuroscientists from the ATR Computational Neuroscience Laboratories in Kyoto, led by Yukiyasu Kamitani. More specifically, the tech has been adapted from existing technology which uses functional magnetic resonance imagining machines (fMRIs) to scan the brains people during their sleep cycles. In their experiment, the machines monitored three test subjects while also recording their brain waves via electroencephalography (better known as EEG).

As soon as the scientists started noticing brain wave patterns consistent with early stages of sleep, they woke the test subjects and asked what they had just dreamed about before letting them go back to sleep. Scientists then woke them up again as soon as those brain wave patterns reappeared, continuing to inquire about their dreams. Don’t worry about a ruined night of rests for the sleepers; the experiment was carried out in multiple three-hour windows across multiple days.

The descriptions of dreams were logged, then compared with the data from the brain scans and brain wave recordings to see if any patterns emerged. Then, they selected nouns that appeared in multiple dreams, and showed the (awoken) test subjects images representing those nouns while again scanning their brains. The intention was to discover whether there was a way to “read” brain activity and know what was being thought about.

According to Kamitani, the experiment was surprisingly successful. “We built a model to predict whether each category of content was present in the dreams,” the scientist explained. “By analyzing the brain activity during the nine seconds before we woke the subjects, we could predict whether a man is in the dream or not, for instance, with an accuracy of 75 to 80 percent.”

Though this doesn’t translate as the ability to know exactly what is being dreamed of, Kamitani says that the predictions are more “about [the dream objects’] meaning” than their visual appearance, although he added that he “still think[s] it’s possible to extract structural characteristics like shape and contrast” from the information. “I don’t have a pet theory about the function of dreams,” Kamitani admitted, but added that “knowing more about their content and how it relates to brain activity may help us to understand them.”

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Graeme McMillan
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