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Scientists learn to 'see' your dreams with MRI scans

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 (iStock) Japanese researchers say they've developed a way to decode your sleeping brain's activity using an MRI machine in real time - or in other words, "watch" your dreams.

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), which monitors the brain's activity by examining blood flow, the team created an algorithm that can accurately make out which images are appearing in one's mind while dreaming up to 60 per cent of the time.

Researchers from the ATR Computational Neuroscience Laboratories in Kyoto went into detail about the methodology behind their potentially groundbreaking experiment in a study published by the journal Science this month.

Scientists used MRI machines to scan the brains of three voluntary subjects as they slept, while simultaneously recording their brain waves using electroencephalography (EEG).

First, the scientists would monitor the electrical activity in a participant's brain as they drifted into Stage 1 non-REM sleep.

Then, after mapping the active parts of the brain, scientists would wake the dreamer up and ask for a verbal description of what they'd been dreaming about.

The process was repeated 200 times per subject over the course of 10 days, at which point the participants' verbal responses were compared to data from the brain scans and used to build a database.

 Your caption goes in here. (T. Horikawa et al./Science/

The second part of the experiment involved developing a visual imagery decoder using images from the web. Participants were asked to look at images from 20 different categories such as "car" "computer" and "female" while researchers examined their brain activity to see if the dream patterns matched up.

Researchers we able to predict the visual imagery found in dreams at a 60 per cent accuracy rate according to the report - though they caution the world not to get too excited.

"Our dream decoding is still very primitive," said study lead Yukiyasu Kamitani in the report, noting that things decoding things like color, action, and emotion are also still beyond the scope of this technology.

Furthermore, a decoder is unique to each person, which means that anyone who would want to have their dreams read at this point would need to view hundreds of images with the research team before having their dreams "read."

That said, many are excited by experiment's potential for future work.

"It took just a huge amount of non-glamorous work to do this, and they deserve big props for that," said brain scanning pioneer and neuroscientist Jack Gallant of the University of California, Berkeley to WIRED.

"There's the classic question of when you dream are you actively generating these movies in your head, or is it that when you wake up you're essentially confabulating it. What this shows you is there's at least some correspondence between what the brain is doing during dreaming and what it's doing when you're awake."

Joseph Stromberg of the Smithsonian agreed, writing that "Although it's only capable of relatively crude predictions, the system demonstrates something surprising: Our dreams might seem like subjective, private experiences, but they produce objective, consistent pieces of data that can be analyzed by others."

What is the significance of dreaming in your life? Would you consider having your dreams recorded if the technology existed?

Tags: POV, Science, Science & Technology

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