Since the early 1900s, people have studied the concept of lucid dreaming. In other words, the idea that it’s possible to train oneself to control a dream. While that’s already a mind-bending theory, MIT scientists are taking things a step further.
Researchers from the MIT Dream Lab have created a device that could help people tap into their dreams and control them. Sure, it sounds a lot like “Inception,” and that’s because it is—minus the secret stealing part.
The MIT team has already had success inserting something into people’s dreams by monitoring their sleep patterns and intervening at just the right moment.
MIT’s Dream Lab first opened in 2017. A small group of researchers is working on an open-source wearable that allows users to track and interact with their dreams. The latest prototype is a glove-like device called Dormio.
It boasts a multitude of sensors that work together to detect which state of sleep the wearer is in. Of course, the glove is far more sensitive than sleep-tracking gadgets like a Fitbit or Apple Watch.
Dormio continuously monitors for the state of hypnagogia—the middle ground between conscious and subconscious. Once the wearer reaches hypnagogia, the device plays a pre-recorded audio cue. Although this can be anything, it typically consists of just one word.
Valdas Noreika, a Cambridge psychologist not associated with the Dormio project told VICE, “Hypnagogic imagery or hallucinations is a normal state of consciousness in the transition from wakefulness to sleep.”
Although this approach sounds like a longshot, the MIT researchers are finding success with it. In an experiment with 50 participants, Dormio was able to insert a tiger into people’s dreams by repeating the word “tiger.” It’s unclear if Joe Exotic also made an appearance.
Regardless, the fact that researchers were able to noticeably alter a person’s dreams without training them to do so is impressive.
Why Control Your Dreams?
The idea of hacking into the subconscious to control someone’s dreams can be a bit unnerving. After all, it’s easy to see how it could be used as a tool for evil. However, the team has a different vision for it.
Adam Horowitz, a Dream Lab researcher at MIT, says, “People don’t know that a third of their life is a third where they could change or structure or better themselves.”
He adds, “Whether you’re talking about memory augmentation or creativity augmentation or improving mood the next day or improving test performance, there’s all these things you can do at night that are practically important.”
The researchers believe that everyone should have a chance to control their dreams. In line with that, they posted step-by-step instructions and their biosignal tracking software online. Theoretically, this means that anyone could make their own Dormio glove with a little hardware know-how.
For now, it appears that any commercial version of a product like Dormio will be a long way off. Nonetheless, a gadget using the principles of hypnagogic imagery could one day allow casual users to control their dreams every night.