An MIT Lab is building devices to hack your dreams – and change your life

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Cat Mules

An MIT Lab is building devices to hack your dreams – and change your life.

MIT lab researchers altering dreams

The Dream Lab, part of MIT’s Media Lab’s Fluid Interfaces Group, is seeking to examine and alter dreams based on the idea that dreaming is another form of intelligence that can be tapped into. They have a radical goal to prove once and for all that dreams are not random slush, but do have meaning, and that they are creating technologies capable of mining the subconscious to do so.

Adam Horowitz, a PhD student at and a Dream Lab researcher, explains “Dreaming is really just thinking at night… When you go inside, you come out different in the morning. But we have not been asking questions about the experience of that transformation of information or the thoughts that guide it.”

One such technology is the Dormio, a glove-like device equipped sensors capable of detecting, and tapping into, the wearers’ sleep state. Once the state between conscious and subconscious, hypnagogia, has been reached, the researchers extend on and interact with the state using a pre-recorded audio cue of words, which is then tracked to see if it shows up in the wearer’s dreams.

Another is BioEssence, a project that works to alter the content of dreams by accessing deeper trigger points through smell. Monitoring heart rate and brain waves, a wearable device releases a pre-set scent that the user subconsciously associates with memory or learned behaviour.

Beyond altering dream content, the MIT Lab researchers also extend on and interact with the hypnagogic state to improve users’ performance on creative tasks, and change maladaptive memories associated with trauma and PTSD.

“People don’t know that a third of their life is a third where they could change or structure or better themselves,” Horowitz says. “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.”

Even though the idea of augmenting a dream might seem like a science fiction movie, it’s actually surprisingly relatable. Consider a time when you’ve incorporated a sound from the ‘waking world’, like your alarm, someone speaking or a storm outside. It this natural inclination to pull our external surroundings into our dreams that the MIT Lab researchers are interested in – and that may be a source of much life-changing potential in time to come.

Photography credit: MIT Media Lab

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Cat Mules

Umbrellar's Digital Journalist, coming from a background in tech reporting and research. Cat's inspired by the epic potential of tech and helping kiwi innovators share their success stories.

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