Handheld Technology

Maybe 'dream tech' could help solve the mystery of consciousness?

On January 7th an article titled “The ability to control dreams may help us unravel the mystery of consciousness” was published in The Conversation. This was penned by two academics, Dan Denis from the University of Sheffield and Giulia Poerio from the University of York and was re-published yesterday on Science Alert to a fanfare of social sharing.

The piece is engagingly written and in-depth – The Conversation goes by the tagline “Academic rigour, journalistic flair” – and looks in detail at the subject of lucid dreaming.

“Some people - lucid dreamers,” explain Denis and Poerio, “have the ability to experience awareness during their dreams by ‘re-awakening’ some aspects of their waking consciousness. They can even take control and act with intention in the dream world (think Leonardo DiCaprio in the film Inception).”

This is an “understudied subject”, say the authors. Yet it is one that is growing in general popularity because of the large online communities that exist to “share tips and tricks for achieving greater lucidity during their dreams”.

“I think the internet is largely responsible for the increased interest in lucid dreaming,” agreed Jared Zeizel, Creative Director and Manager at Dream Labs and author of A Field Guide to Lucid Dreaming when we spoke to him last year.

Yet the area which holds real potential is tech-enabled wearable devices. These are based on a combination of EEG brainwave monitoring and low-level brain stimulation – and should help practitioners reach a lucid state more easily. Unfortunately however, these devices are very difficult for developers to perfect. And nobody has quite pulled it off yet.

The reason these are so hard to deliver is because there is an extremely tough balance between creating a headset that is comfortable to wear while you sleep, is safe to use – after all you’re zapping your brain with low level electrical current - and actually works. One device has been tipped to be a game changer, though, is the Aurora by iWinks. This raised its target on Kickstarter in the middle of 2014 but is yet to be shipped due to technical issues.

“What could make the Aurora great, is that it's being built to be able to detect when your brain has reached the REM stage of sleep - the stage where lucid dreams happen,” Zeizel explained. “This is big because a lot of recent lucid dreaming masks work off a timer only. If the Aurora can accurately detect REM and cue the dreamer that they're in a dream, than that will help with the biggest hurdle in lucid dreaming – realising one is in a dream.”

We caught up with electrical engineer, neuroscientist and CEO of Aurora, Daniel Schoonover, in June when he still expected the device to ship in October. He clarified the technical issues and added more to the big picture:

“The idea is to open [lucid dreaming] up to a wider audience,” he said. There are massive capabilities in dream control and making people more aware: “There is a lot to learn about ourselves from our dreams.”

This tallied very strongly with the views expressed by Denis and Poerio. They wrote: “How consciousness arises in the brain is one of the most perplexing questions in neuroscience. But it has been suggested that studying lucid dreams could pave the way for new insights into the neuroscience of consciousness.”

All this means technical devices that track sleep patterns and facilitate lucid dreaming could indeed aid the understanding of consciousness. And yet, not surprisingly, there do still seem a large number of obstacles to overcome first. Well, it is certainly something to think about next time you wake up from a dream…


Further reading on IDG Connect:

When dreaming and gaming collide - An overview of lucid dreaming and tech

Aurora and the revolution in active sleep - An interview with, Daniel Schoonover, CEO of the potentially ground breaking, but still unlaunched, tech device iWinks

Brain tech report: The $35 billion niche waiting to break – an in-depth report, based on six months’ research, into the new world of brain technology


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