Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Brain scanner 'reads' people's dreams - accurately enough to see what they are dreaming about

Brain scanner ‘reads’ people’s dreams – accurately enough to see what they are dreaming about

by Rob Waugh,
October 28th 2011

Most of us forget our dreams when we wake up – but scientists from German’s Max Planck institute have demonstrated that it could be possible to ‘read’ and even record what people are dreaming about

Most of us remember only a tiny fraction of our dreams – but that could soon change.

Scientists predict that we could soon use computers to ‘see’ what we have dreamed about – and perhaps even record dreams to watch the next day.

Psychiatrists at the Max Planck Institute in Munich, Germany think have already demonstrated that brain scanners can see into the dreams of ‘lucid dreamers’ – people who can control their dreams.

It means that recent breakthroughs in ‘reading’ the thoughts of waking subjects using brain monitors could apply to dreamers too.

The Planck institute scientists proved that scans of ‘lucid dreamers’ dreams looked the same as scans of their brain when they do the same thing while conscious.

The research, published in Current Biology, could be used with recently demonstrated ‘reconstruction’ technology to create moving images of people’s dreams.

The lucid dreamers agreed to move their eyes and hands from side to side to show the researchers the moments they ‘controlled’ their dreams to dream about clutching a hand.

The scientists monitored the dreamers with both magnetic resonance imaging and near-infrared spectroscopy to see patterns of heat in their subject’s heads, which gives a picture of brain activity.

The dreamers did not clench their hands while they dreamt – but the scans of their brains showed identical brain activity when they clenched a real hand, and when they clenched a dream hand.

The discovery paves the way to use recently demonstrated ‘reconstruction’ technology to build images of people’s dreams.

The scientists used a combination of magnetic resonance imaging and near-infrared spectroscopy to ‘see’ hot and cold patches in their brains. The activity was identical when people did something consciously, and did it in a dream

So far, the Planck institute scientists have reconstructed just two dreams. The number of scanners, and the difficulty of controlling dreams, has meant that the experiment was extremely difficult.

‘The participants have to fall asleep in a scanner, reach REM sleep and enter a stable lucid dream state,’ says Michael Czisch.

But Czisch is optimistic about the technology.

‘This is a proof-of concept study and provides the first evidence that it may be possible to use brain imaging to read the contents of a person’s dream,’ he told New Scientist.

Earlier this year, academics from the University of California, Berkeley, managed to decipher brain activity by measuring blood flow through the brain’s visual cortex, and used this information to construct images of what they were ‘thinking’.

They converted this information into visual patterns after feeding it through a computer filled with video clips, in a process which scientists say ‘opens a window into the movie of our minds’.

As yet, the technology can only recognise and reconstruct movie clips shown to the test subjects before they braved the scanner.

Professor Jack Gallant, a UC Berkeley neuroscientist, said: ‘This is a major leap toward towards reconstructing internal imagery.’

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