We may all dream four-to-six times a night but we forget 90 percent of our dreams. Finding a way to record dreams would give us a proper peek into this mental dimension. In this article, I’m taking a look at the concept of dream recording. I explore its ethical implications and various experimental methods used to record dreams.
- What can we accomplish dream recording-wise right now?
- Scientists explore ways to record motion, sound, speech, and visual images in dreams.
- Lucid dreaming and pre-sleep hypnagogia may help with dream-recording.
- There are alternative options for dream-recording.
- What ethical issues does the recording/manipulation of dreams entail?
- To what end could we use recorded dreams in the future?
Recording Dreams – The Theory
When talking about recording dreams, we generally tend to think of full-HD video. With sound, no less. Having the ability to record dreams in such a format is a long way off – if possible at all. Still, that is the sort of result to which science aspires.
If we ever got that far in regards to dream recording, what kind of use would we find for it? We have a decent idea of how we would accomplish the deed. Why we would do it is a more difficult question to answer.
Hopefully, we might finally learn why we dream. As surprising as it may be, we do not have an answer to that question either. Some of the greatest minds have floated may theories in this regard. But we are no closer to knowing why we dream than we were centuries ago.
- According to Sigmund Freud, dreams are a way to live out our greatest desires. As such, they act as a peculiar virtual-reality environment. Lucid dreamers have found ways to control this environment. Thus, they can derive great value from it.
- Harvard Medical School psychiatry professor Robert Stickgold subscribes to that theory. He considers dreams to be an experimental framework generated by our consciousness. This framework test-runs events, simulating their consequences.
- Dreams may also serve as a way for consciousness to process emotions.
- Some scholars see dreams as threat-simulation. Dreams allow us to assess threats in waking life.
- Dreams may also help us process memories. They eliminate surplus information and consolidate what matters.
- According to the Kellogg School of Management’s assistant professor of marketing, Moran Cerf, dreams may bring suppressed thoughts to the surface. They may also consolidate memory, moving bits of it from short-term memory to long-term storage.
- An interesting theory about dreams is that they are simply hallucinations. During REM sleep, the brain fires haywire electrical impulses, of which it cannot make sense. Dreams result from its efforts to process these signals.
What we know for certain about dreams is that they are the indispensable companions of sleep. And we cannot exist without the latter.
REM Sleep – The Key to Dreams and Dream Recording
Dreaming mostly happens during the REM sleep stage. In his book titled “Why We Dream,” researcher Matthew Walker notes a few exciting details concerning REM sleep and dreaming.
Differences in the way the brain functions in deep sleep and REM sleep are striking. According to Walker, certain areas of the brain become very active during REM sleep. He and his team have identified four such regions:
- The regions at the back of the brain which allow for complex visual perception.
- The hippocampus, where autobiographical memories reside.
- The areas responsible for emotions, namely the amygdala and the cingulate cortex.
- The motor cortex, which is responsible for movement initiation.
This fits the picture. The mentioned brain areas are up to 30 percent more active during REM sleep than while awake. Researchers have found it odd, however, that at the same time, the brain regions that handle rational thought and reasoning were almost completely deactivated.
The prefrontal cortex usually manages the activity of the entire brain, as far as logical thought is concerned. During REM sleep and dreaming, it takes a break, however.
This activation/deactivation pattern is indicative of the beginning of dreaming. The finding is significant. It lets researchers know when a test subject begins dreaming. They can thus focus their recording efforts on this period and they know when to wake up study participants for a dream report.
Finding out whether one is dreaming or not is one thing. Visualizing and recording the content of a dream is quite another.
The Current State of Dream-recording Science
Knowing When to Record
The first step in attempting to record a dream is to know when to record. As mentioned, scientists have already solved this problem.
A research team at the University of Wisconsin-Madison has confirmed the above theory regarding hot- and cold brain-zones, in April 2017. The study added another important detail to the tally. According to its findings, the regions of the brain involved in perception behave the same way during dreaming as they do while awake.
Detecting In-dream Motion and Speech
Perception is not the only brain function that works similarly during sleep and wakefulness. During a dream, the brain sends impulses to muscles the same way it does during wakefulness.
In the REM sleep stage, however, the body is fully paralyzed. Therefore, it cannot act out the movements/speech the brain wants it to perform.
The body may be unresponsive to these signals, but scientists can intercept them. That is exactly what a team of researchers at the University of Texas at Austin accomplished. “The Lucid Dream Manifesto” author, Daniel Oldis led the team.
Scientists used an EMG (electromyogram) to intercept the mentioned nerve impulses. They fed the captured signal into an animated avatar, which then performed the movement test subjects likely also performed in their sleep.
The same way they read dreamers’ movements, researchers intercepted impulses directed towards the lips/throat. This way, they managed to gain a grasp of in-dream speech.
Despite the complexity of these experiments, the results were not overly impressive. Oldis and his team published them in 2016 regardless. Even the video of the movement-reproducing avatar is available online:
Imaging a Dream
This is where the real challenges begin. Researchers have already done quite a bit of work in this regard.
The Gallant Lab at the University of California, Berkeley took the first steps in this direction in 2011. Shinji Nishimoto, Thomas Naselaris, An T. Vu, and others tried to reconstruct complex visual experiences from brain activity alone.
Their study had participants watch movie trailers. Scientists then used fMRI (functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) to reconstruct these trailers from brain activity alone. The results were promising, albeit not spectacular.
The team had to overcome technical difficulties stemming from the slow nature of blood oxygen level-based signal readings via fMRI. Eventually, they did prove that current fMRI technology is suited for the measuring of dynamic brain activity.
Reconstructing images from the brain activity of fully awake test subjects is one thing. Taking this technology into the realm of dreams is more difficult.
The greatest body of experimental work in this regard is tied to the name of Dr. Yukiyasu Kamitani, of the Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute in Kyoto, Japan. Kamitani and his team may have achieved a breakthrough in dream recording. Despite that, their results are preliminary. Only three individuals took part in the study.
The 2013 study, by Y Kamitani, T Horikawa, M Tamaki, and Y Miyawaki, took a logical approach to dream recording, in the context of existing technology.
The scientists placed test subjects into an MRI machine, and they let them fall asleep. When they did, researchers woke them up and obtained a dream report from them. While the study participants were dreaming, the MRI recorded their brain activity. This way, Kamitani, and his crew were able to compile a reference list of brain activity patterns associated with specific dreams.
This list was then distilled into sub-categories. Researchers then matched up the patterns to the brain activity patterns of the subjects recorded while awake, when they were presented images corresponding to the said categories.
The final step was to predict the dreams of participants, independently of the dream reports. The study attained significant success in this regard. That said, the results of this method are far from the HD-quality movie alluded to at the beginning of this article.
Through it, researchers can tell whether the subject is dreaming of a car, man, or building. They cannot discern any specifics, however. Even so, Kamitani’s work is a major step in the right direction.
Since the mentioned study, attempts have been made to refine rough dream approximations. Machine learning has been added to the fMRI readings. Image-reconstruction was taken to the pixel level, with considerable success.
Most studies in regards to dream imaging have focused on short dreams, encountered just after falling asleep. The technique can be extended to REM dreams as well though.
Dr. Moran Cerf of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University took a different approach to dream imaging. Instead of readings based on fMRI, he planted electrodes right into the brains of brain surgery patients.
Cerf’s method yields dream imagery approximation as well. It too lacks specifics, however.
The Sounds of Dreams
Capturing dream imagery is quite a challenge. Capturing the sounds of dreams, to complete that HD movie experience, is even more difficult.
According to Martin Dresler of the Max Planck Institute of Psychiatry in Germany, the techniques used to capture dream imagery do not work for sound. fMRI, for instance, is noisy. Its external sound makes its use for the capturing of in-dream sounds impossible.
Still, at least theoretically, Dr. Cerf’s direct electrode implant method may suit this purpose…
Lucid Dreamers and Dream Recording
For now, lucid dreaming is the easiest and most complete way to intercept dream content. It thus makes perfect sense to employ the phenomenon in the service of “conventional” dream recording.
In a 2011 study, Martin Dresler, Stefan P Koch, Renate Wehrle, Hellmuth Obrig, and others employed lucid dreamers to establish connections between brain signals and in-dream movements, such as clenching a fist.
Lucid dreamers activate their prefrontal cortex during dreaming, achieving awareness. They also retain control over the dream content.
Researchers assigned these dreamers some tasks. They then tracked brain activity as lucid dreamers performed the assigned tasks within a dream. The study concluded that in-dream movements do result in sensorimotor cortex activation. It also found that EEG and fMRI can be used concurrently to track dream image content via eye signals.
The “Steel Ball” Technique Perfected
Some lucid dreamers take advantage of the phenomenon of pre-sleep hypnagogia. They prevent the onset of proper sleep, to remain in this halfway region between being awake and asleep. This way, they keep consciousness, while dreaming.
Many of history’s greats have reportedly resorted to this method to achieve an altered state of consciousness. Thomas Edison and Salvador Dali were two such geniuses.
Holding a steel ball in your hand while falling asleep is one way to achieve prolonged hypnagogia. As you fall asleep, the ball drops, waking you up.
Researchers of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have come up with an evolved version of the “steel ball” technique in 2018. They called their device Dormio.
Dormio is a type of sensor-filled glove, that goes on the wearer’s wrist/fingers. It monitors several variables such as heart rate, skin conductance, and muscle tone. Based on these variables, it can determine when the wearer is in the hypnagogic state preceding proper sleep. As soon as the Dormio user drifts into real sleep, the device delivers a gentle audio cue. The cue is usually a word.
The goal is to keep the user from falling asleep while not waking him/her up either.
Dormio then starts a conversation with the half-asleep user. As a result of this conversation, it compiles a dream report. It then leaves the user alone, only to nudge him/her back from the edge of real sleep again.
Lucid dreamers using Dormio have reported the incorporation of the cue word into their dreams.
Like most mentioned methods, Dormio focused on the short dreaming period that precedes sleep. It does not work with REM stage dreams.
Dormio is an interesting tool for recording dreams/keeping a dream journal. It does not directly contribute to the movie-like imaging and recording of dream content, however.
Mystical Alternatives to Dream Recording
Record-keeping crystals have long been known in the psychic community. Such crystals possess special powers, allowing their users to access information from the Akashic Records.
What is a record keeper crystal?
A record-keeping crystal will have one or more raised or sunken triangles visible on its surface. There are two types of record keepers.
- Straight record keepers are triangles pointing towards the top of the crystal.
- Trigonic record keepers are triangles pointing towards the base of the crystal.
There is a logical explanation as to why these triangles form and why they point the way they do.
According to lovenadlightschool.com, record keepers are formed when mineral-rich solutions flow across the surface of the crystal. The direction of the triangles indicates the direction of the flow.
Some psychics swear that record keepers may appear on crystals spontaneously. There is no evidence of any kind to support such claims.
Record keeping crystals are infused with information through energy-programming.
What role can record keepers play in dream recording?
In addition to offering users a way to access information, record keeping crystals can also be used for information storage. Some psychics place record keepers over chakras. There is no clearly defined way to use such crystals for dream recording. Those who use them to this end, attempt to program them energetically.
Dream Recording Entails Some Ethical Issues
If it is possible at all, we may at some point gain the ability to read and replay dreams. According to some of the scientists involved in research, this point may only be a decade or two away.
Reading the minds of those in a coma this way might certainly be useful. Such a technology would also make it possible to communicate with those who, for whatever reason, cannot communicate through conventional channels.
Beyond such use cases, the act of reading someone’s dreams would raise some ethical questions.
- Reading someone’s dreams without consent is a problem. The technology may quickly devolve into an interrogation tool this way. Since we cannot control our dreams, this tool would be quite an effective one.
- Do we hold people responsible for what they dream? After all, with few exceptions, no one retains control over what they dream.
- If the dreamer is not responsible for the content of his/her dreams, then who is?
- Will commercials invade our dreams?
- Will governments use the technology for spying?
- What if we are meant to forget our dreams? Will some grow to confuse dreams with reality? Will dreams be granted more importance than they deserve? Most dreams are nowhere nearly as serious as our waking thoughts.
- Will dream recording make waking thought recording possible as well?
Having considered all that, dream recording does take on a dystopian dimension.
What Is The Future of Dream Recording?
With the increasing adoption of artificial intelligence and big data, the HD film-like recording and playback of dreams may become reality.
For now, dream enthusiasts may have to settle for a less capable device. Such a device may be able to tell you whether you dreamt or not. You may also learn the general content of your dreams.
For the time being, no tech giants are involved in the development of dream recording technology. As soon as someone proves the feasibility of the idea beyond doubt, that will likely change.
Until then, the best way to record your dreams would be to write them in your dream journal.