Researchers use computers to probe minds in attempt to decode dreams
LOS ANGELES — Dreams defy even the dreamer, slipping away as stealthily as they arrive in a mind made credulous by sleep. But what if scientists could read our dreams by using the most advanced medical imaging machines and employing the sophisticated algorithms that flag fraudulent transactions among millions of credit card purchases?
Researchers in Japan have taken an early step toward this chimerical goal by training computers to recognize the images flitting through the minds of sleepers in the earliest stages of dreaming. Their results, published online Thursday by the journal Science, suggest that machines may be able to read our minds — at least while we're in the anteroom of dreamland.
“We're all intrinsically interested in dreaming, but neuroscientists to this day aren't certain what it does for us,” said Jack Gallant, who studies the brain's visual system at the University of California at Berkeley.
Like other researchers applying their brains to the brain, the Japanese scientists are probing dreams to understand how they relate to such core functions as memory consolidation and learning.
The researchers put three volunteers into a functional magnetic resonance imaging machine capable of tracking blood flow in the brain, a sign of neurons at work. They also hooked up the volunteers to electroencephalograph machines, which record the electrical activity of those neurons.
Then the scientists waited for the subjects to fall asleep.
The EEG readings showed when the volunteers entered an early stage of dreaming called hypnagogic hallucination. The researchers woke the subjects about 200 times, about every six minutes, to get verbal reports of what they “saw” before the images faded from memory.
The volunteers' responses were charted, and researchers focused on the nouns in these descriptions and combined them into generic categories, which were represented by images — a human face, a key, furniture — and presented to the subjects while awake.
The rest was a giant math problem. The scientists wrote a computer program to sort through the patterns of brain activity captured by the functional MRI in both waking and sleeping states; then the program looked for links between those brain activity patterns and specific images.
The computers learned to decode dream imagery with an average accuracy of 60 percent, according to the study. In some cases, the accuracy was significantly higher.
The fact that the computer models used data from waking minds and still made accurate predictions about dreams suggests the researchers are onto something about the links between waking and dreaming states, Gallant said.
“There's something in common between what goes on in dreaming and what goes on in perception,” he said.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Obama wants to end U.S. companies skirting tax laws by merging with overseas entities
- Head of troubled CDC anthrax lab quits
- Psychiatrist returns fire in hospital shooting; caseworker killed in gunplay
- Obamacare enrollees strain Medicaid in Oregon
- Tornado slams Virginia campground, killing 2
- Feathered dinosaur fossil found
- Russia firing into Ukraine, U.S. intel finds
- Southwest water loss troubles experts
- U.N. school in Gaza shelled; 15 Palestinian civilians killed, many children wounded
- After 40 years, Wyo. fossil trove to get another look
- Glenn Beck takes on Common Core