How we laughed at this year's April Fools joke - a machine that monitors and records your dreams. And yet, a group of European scientists have begun to crack the code that will actually make such a reality possible. Could you one day be able to record and playback your lucid dreams? These scientists are already laying the groundwork...
Scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry in Munich, the Charité hospital in Berlin, and the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences teamed up with a handful of lucid dreamers and an MRI machine.
Sleeping in the lab, the lucid dreamers were told to signal the moment they became lucid (through the classic method of eye movement signals). They were also asked to consciously clench their right dream fist for 10 seconds, then their left one.
At the same time, functional magnetic resonance imaging scans enabled the researchers to gain a live view on what goes on in the brain during this lucid action.
Interestingly, the same areas of the brain were also active when the lucid dreamers clenched their fists in real life - or even simply imagined doing so.
The scientists now have a basis for translating specific brain signals into both physical and dream actions. In time, they can build up whole a database of signals and their meanings - ie what's happening in your dream at any given moment.
"With this combination of sleep EEGs, imaging methods and lucid dreamers, we can measure not only simple movements during sleep but also the activity patterns in the brain during visual dream perceptions," explains Martin Dresler, a researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Psychiatry.
This means that it will soon be possible to interpret and record your dreams just by having your brain scanned while you sleep. But how will dream playback occur?
A separate team of researchers at UC Berkeley are already on the case...
It turns out this brain-scanning-your-thoughts idea is a hot area of research. Scientists are UC Berkeley have been scanning the blood flow in their own brains in an MRI machine while watching Hollywood movies.
They fed the data into a computer program which matched up brain activity with motion picture information. Soon, the computer had built up an enormous “rule book” of brain activity which it could use to decode what the brain was actually seeing.
This team went one massive step further than the European experiment. They put 18 million seconds of random YouTube clips into the computer to give it a "paint palette" to work from. Then, using some remarkable programming, the computer pieced together videos of its own creation, aiming to replicate what the subjects were seeing from within the MRI machine.
Here's the result: on the left you'll see the movie clip being watched by the person. On the right, you'll see the computer's attempt to reconstruct the clip from a library of YouTube images - based only on information about brain activity and blood flow.
Of course, both experiments offer tantalizing leads into the future realm of mind reading and mind recording. If a portable brain scanning device were to be developed (as opposed to sitting in an MRI machine) people all over the world could record their lucid dreams, design video games with their imagination, and even share their live perceptions with other people, a concept explored in the movie Being John Malcovich.
Other applications of its offspring technology might include telepathic video calls and using mind control to drive your car or operate your computer… Fascinating stuff.
If we're completely honest, lucid dreaming isn't really known for being the most social of interests. In fact, often it's a lone pursuit - just you, your dream journal and the landscape of your mind. But this technique called PAL (or Partner Assisted Lucidity) breaks down that wall and turns lucid dream exploration into a social event.
Members of our lucid dream forum have been asking how to create dream characters in lucid dreams. The most common problem is having characters who look nothing like they should. Or they seem disinterested in your company. Or they fail to show up on command altogether. So, how to combat this? It's a matter of finding creative solutions that bypass logical expectations.
To lucid dream, I recommend being able to remember at least one vivid dream per night. That will boost your self awareness in dreams (making lucidity more likely) and also means you can actually remember your lucid dreams. Which is nice. Here are four detailed tips on how to remember your dreams more frequently. And if you don't think you dream at all - trust me, you almost certainly do. It takes an extraordinarily rare sleep disorder to deprive someone of dream sleep.
It is estimated that these wise and wily Indians have been using mugwort in their healing and ritual practices for 13,000 years, where it is known as the ‘dream sage’. They use the herb to promote good dreams, which they consider an essential aspect of normal human functioning! But that’s not all...
Silene Capensis has been used for millennia by the Xhosa shaman of the river valleys in the eastern cape of South Africa, where it is known as Undela Ziimhlophe or 'white paths'. It's fragrant white flowers open only at night, when they emit a fragrant and almost hypnotising aroma. Also known as African Dream Herb or Ubulawu, Silene Capensis induces spectacularly vivid dreams - yet has never entered the mainstream and remains a fringe taste within western culture.
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?