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Dreaming
Minority Report (2002)

Scientists have found a freaky way to communicate with lucid dreamers

A groundbreaking new study saw scientists successfully ‘talk’ to sleeping people in real-time through their dreams

As a society, every day it seems we are getting closer and closer to starring in our very own, very real, science fiction movie. With this latest news from a team of scientists at Northwestern University we are surely taking a big step towards it. In a study published yesterday (February 18) in Current Biology, neuroscientist Ken Paller and his team revealed they have been experimenting with how to reach out to people while they are dreaming and get them to answer back. 

Dreaming is an activity that is common to all humans and neuroscientists believe it is an important part of processing memories. However, research into dreams has historically been limited since people cannot communicate while they are asleep and often forget their dreams once awake. 

In an attempt to come up with a solution, Dr Paller has been researching lucid dreams – the term given to those moments when you are aware that you're dreaming. Lucid dreams seem to be associated with only one type of sleep, known as REM (rapid eye movement) sleep during which brain activity looks similar to that seen during waking hours. Studies have shown that during REM sleep, it is possible for people to be influenced by events happening in the outside world. Dr Paller therefore hypothesised it might be possible to contact people while they are in that state as well.

In order to test this theory, Dr Paller and his team trained 35 volunteers to be mindful of their mental states and be aware of whether they thought they were awake or in a dream. Participants were also trained to make distinct eye movements to indicate they were aware they were dreaming, and in response to questions, and to interpret numbers conveyed as flashes of light or taps on their arm.

After training was completed, the researchers monitored the participants while they slept, waiting for eye signals after which they would ask questions. After waking, the several subjects reported that the questions had been incorporated into their dreams. One volunteer, for example, heard an audio question as through a car radio while for another one of the numerical questions manifested as the street number of a house. On the whole, however, the method tended not to work. In just 26 percent of the sessions did people signal they were engaged in lucid dreaming, and of that group only 47 percent answered a question correctly.

Dr Paller and his colleagues, however, have not been discouraged and say their findings refute the notion that attempting communication with dreamers is pointless. So who knows, maybe in the future Zoom will be obsolete as we all take meetings over REM cycles.

See you in your dreams.