Some incredible new research is paving the way to literally record and play back your dreams - and lucid dreams - just like movies.
Though the technology is in its infancy, the concept has already been proven by similar fMRI studies. Now, scientists at the ATR Computational Neuroscience Laboratories in Kyoto have applied this system to dreamers' brains, marking the first step on the way to recording and replaying our dreams.
The Japanese study published in the the journal Science, called Neural Decoding of Visual Imagery During Sleep, reveals how scientists used a Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) machine to scan the brains of three volunteers as they started to enter the dreamstate.
"We focused on dream experience which can be detected just a few minutes after the sleep onset," explained researcher Yukiyasu Kamitani.
The researchers then woke the volunteers more than 200 times to ask them what they were dreaming about. As annoying as that may sound, their dream descriptions meant that specific dream imagery could be linked with specific patterns of brain activity.
That's because dream stimulus - just like waking stimulus - creates certain patterns of blood flow in specific areas of the brain. And it's highly consistent. So, if you raise your right arm in your dream, the same parts of the brain activate as when you raise your right arm while awake. This happens across a range of stimuli, whether you're listening to classical music or recalling a nasty smell.
The result? A primitive yet fully functional dream decoder, translating raw brain activity data into moving images representative of dreams. With increasingly more data, the translation will become increasingly more accurate and vivid.
The following video is a demonstration of this emerging technology. The images are a computer's interpretation of what the volunteer was dreaming about.
Now, here's the dreamer's description of what was really happening:
"What I was just looking at was some kind of characters. There was something like a writing paper for composing an essay, and I was looking at the characters from the essay or whatever it was..."
"In this field of dream decoding no-one has managed to successfully do this before," commented neuroscientist Jack Gallant. "If you could build the perfect dream decoder it would create a movie on your television screen and it would just replay your dreams."
While it may be a few more years until we can all play back our dreams in that fashion, the latest study is a landmark event that could one day see us directing blockbusters from our beds...
These days, fMRI research is all the rage when it comes to understanding the brain. A similar study last year led to this extraordinary reconstruction of visual imagery.
Scientists at UC Berkeley built up an extensive library of YouTube clips and trained their software to translate brain scan data into movies. The major difference was they were comparing fMRI scans with volunteers watching Hollywood movies (as opposed to dreaming). While they're both pursuing similar goals, the latest Japanese research is the first attempt to use fMRI to actually record and play back our dreams.
Here's a good question. If a lucid dream is any dream in which you know you're dreaming, then why aren't we always lucid in dreams? Why doesn't it just become the default state of dreaming? Why do we accept our dreams of flying pigs and dinosaurs as an extension of waking life? What is the mechanism for defaulting to non-lucid dreams? Intriguingly, scientists have approached this question from three different angles./p>
What do blind people dream about? Can they "see" in their dreams? Take a look at scientific studies into the dreams of the blind, colorblind, and black-and-white dreamers. In 1999, dream researchers at the University of Hartford analyzed 372 dreams of 15 blind people. They found that both the congenitally blind and those who went blind before five years old did not have any visual dreams at all. That's because our dreams are made up of real world experiences and our innermost thoughts, anxieties and desires. So for someone who has never perceived images or light (or can't remember any) their dreams simply can't manifest visually.
Not long ago, scientists at Frankfurt University discovered how to produce lucid dreams with electronic stimulation. It was a world first. And - astonishingly - it worked in non-lucid dreamers 77% of the time. Now you can buy the same technology for yourself. The foc.us V2 - which delivers the proven optimum 40 Hz transcranial alternating current stimulation (tACS) - was originally developed to increase working memory in video gamers and improve sleep.
As technology continues to move us towards more immersive dreamlike experiences, one can only wonder what digital wonders lay just beyond the horizon of tomorrow. We may also question just how the future of virtual reality will impact the study and practice of lucid dreaming. Are we, perhaps, the last generation to whom lucid dreaming will maintain an appeal?
Jeremiah Morelli is a whimsical fantasy artist and visual storyteller. He places conceptual fairytale creatures in vivid dreamscapes to capture the imagination. He's also a school teacher, and amazingly finds the time and motivation to create this huge gallery of artwork. Such light and dark fairytale paintings make beautiful places to visit in your lucid dreams.
Experts agree that everyone is capable of having lucid dreams. Dreaming itself is a normal function of the mind. We all dream every night, even if we don't remember. And we all achieve conscious awareness while awake every single day. So what does it mean to combine these states? Why, the amazing ability to have conscious - or lucid - dreams. Sounds simple, doesn't it? So why do I keep hearing from people who say they can't achieve their first lucid dream?