By Prarthana Mitra
Researchers from the Massachusetts Insitute of Technology (MIT) recently developed a “dream interface” to augment human creativity, by allowing a person to extend their semi-lucid state between wakefulness and sleeping. Since a third of our lives are spent in dreaming, ‘Dormio’ will allow a person to have a semblance of control over their own consciousness.
Here’s what happened
Using an interactive social robot accompanied with an EEG system, muscular sleep stage tracking system, and auditory biofeedback, the team of researchers from MIT were able to hack into the human brain with sleep-interruption techniques simulated in the lab. Dormio, named after the Italian word for sleep, is a wearable device that can access the window of opportunity known as hypnagogia, a twilight zone where we begin dreaming but are not fully unconscious.
For MIT’s Adam Haar Horowitz, who developed the dream machine with colleagues Ishaan Grover, Pedro Reynolds-Cuellar, Oscar Rosello, Tomás Vega and Aby Jain, Dormio is essentially a 21st-century take on Edison’s technique of napping with a steel ball in hand. The ball was used to capture creative ideas generated in hypnagogic micro dreams when it dropped to the floor below.
When a person dons the glove and makes a fist, a sensor is activated and electrical activity of the brain starts to get recorded. As they descend into sleep, the grip is naturally loosened and the sensor detects relaxation of muscular and brain activity. Once Dormio senses the passage from hypnagogia to sleep, it interrupts the sleeper with an audio reminder, to prime the sleeper’s brain so as to change the content of the dream.
So far Horowitz has tested the device on a handful of subjects and the results look promising, especially when it comes to maximising the time spent by users in the liminal state, as well as shaping the content of the micro dreams they experience.
Why you should care
According to Horowitz, sleep offers an opportunity for promoting creative thought in the absence of directed attention, if our dreams can be controlled. Some of the most brilliant scientific and artistic minds in history including Thomas Edison, Nicola Tesla, Edgar Allan Poe, Vladimir Nabokov, Mary Shelly, and Salvador Dalí have reported their experience of the sudden burst of creativity and clarity during the hypnagogic state.
In the liminal world that marks a descent into deep sleep, we may experience micro dreams whose content we have no memory of when we wake up. Notwithstanding the debate whether these visual and auditory hallucinations can be regarded as dreams, these micro dreams are almost always repressed memories and based on real experiences, from the distant past or the previous day’s residue.
Active use of hypnagogia with the system would not only enable us to influence, extract information from, and extend hypnagogic micro dreams, but also augment human creativity. Dormio’s objective is to suspend sleepers in that borderland a little longer, based on the principle of “conscious access to underlying, unconscious forces” to harness a state which we usually have no control over. Dormio marks the stepping stone for future research into an understudied and undermined state of mind that is vital for memory, learning and creativity: the forgotten country of sleep.