The kingdom of Morpheus at all times attracted artists, philosophers and other creative people. On the border of sleep and waking, they tried to catch inspiration. Modern scientists have tried to turn this skill into technology. For those who can not control their dreams (and this is almost all of humanity), they develop special devices. According to researchers, technology will open up access to deeper levels of the subconscious, and if we learn to “crack” dreams, our real life will change for the better.
What are cats dreaming about?
The phantasmagorousness of Salvador Dali’s paintings is amazing. Where did the famous Spaniard take these plots? Turns out he was pulling them out of his own subconscious with a simple trick. Dali sat in a comfortable chair, clutching some metal object in his hand – a heavy key, for example. And he fell asleep. At the moment when the key fell from his relaxed fingers to the floor, the artist woke up from the noise, and the picture he had seen during the afternoon was now at his complete disposal.
Hypnagogy – the state between dreams and reality – is considered a treasure trove of creative ideas. And Salvador Dali was not alone in his desire to learn to control this state. The master of surrealism would have loved the research that is being done in the Dream Lab of MIT these days.
The lab staff developed a biometric device capable of detecting when a person falls asleep and influencing their dreams. The device called Dormio consists of a glove with sensors that monitor the pulse, muscle movements and electrical conductivity of the skin. With their help, the device receives information about the sleep phase. When the user falls asleep, immersing himself in the same state of hypnagogy, the system begins to emit different sounds and to reproduce odors. If a person says something in return, it records it.
50 volunteers took part in the experiments. It’s already been established that Dormio can influence dreams. So, when the device sounded the word “tiger”, the participants were dreaming about cats. Scientists also broadcast to the subjects the scents that they associated with certain memories. Now the researchers will have to analyze the array of data received, but they are already confident that the system will help solve a number of applied problems associated with psychotherapy.
What good would that do?
“People don’t know that a third of the life they spend in their sleep is a time when they can change themselves, structure or improve their condition,” explains Adam Horowitz, one of the project authors. – It’s about mastering a new creative approach, improving your mood the day after you wake up or taking a more successful test.
Intervention in dreaming, according to researchers from MIT, helps to expand and fix the state of hypnagogy, which increases creativity, makes thinking more free, inclined to associations. It also enhances memory and softens traumatic memories.
Another project of Massachusetts scientists, which investigates the influence of smells on dreams, is devoted to the mitigation of psychological trauma. The same laboratory developed the BioEssence scent diffuser, a small wearable device that controls the heart rate and brain waves of a sleeping person by tracking sleep phases. When the sleep reaches the stage associated with memory activation, the device emits a predetermined odour that the user considers pleasant (before the experiment, the test subjects are interviewed). By evoking smells with positive associations during nightmares, people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) can be treated.
Smell is interesting because it is directly related to our memory and brain regions such as amygdala and hippocampus,” says MIT researcher Judith Amores. – Through sense of smell, you can access deeper levels of the subconscious. And improve a person’s life by removing traumatic memories.
Isn’t it dangerous?
Similar research has been done before. For example, in 2012, the US created a special eye mask. It tracked the movements of the pupils, waited for the beginning of the rapid sleep phase (pupils start to “run”) and turned on the LEDs flashing in a certain sequence. Light pulses, the frequency and brightness of which can be set by the program, affected the brain and formed the subjects’ dreams. Scientists assumed that this device would be useful for treating attention disorders.
And Russian radio engineer Gennady Troschenko, working at the Institute of Higher Nervous Activity and Neurophysiology of the Russian Academy of Sciences, studied the kingdom of Morpheus with the help of hand-made equipment. And he tested it on himself. The device allowed him to realize the process of falling asleep, the sensor recorded the phases of sleep, and the tape when he woke up recorded a verbal report.
“In total, I spent tens of hours in conscious dreams, – recalled Troschenko. – In them I carefully studied everything around me, took in my hands and touched objects, listened to the voices of other people, tried different foods. Then I analyzed. I never ceased to be amazed by the absolute realism of what was happening. Sometimes it seemed that the world of dreams is more realistic than the outside.
According to Gennady Troschenko, such research has practical benefits: “Depending on human actions in the dreams changes the structure of the brain neural network. And then body, mimicry and speech are transformed, emotions and habits are changed. The experience of living in dreams is transferred to reality. Say, if you have learned to easily establish contact with the characters of your dreams, then in life will become more communicative.
Still, doubters warn that experiments with attempts to “hack” dreams can harm the body. After all, this area is still poorly studied. In such a situation, the same scientific tool can both help a person and cause disorders. If there is a certain predisposition, it can end up even in psychosis. Therefore, when going on a journey through the kingdom of Morpheus, always be careful, even a scientist.