Rat Dreams Manipulated By Scientists

MIT researchers believe that "dream engineering" might be possible, thanks to recent advances in manipulating the dreams of rats. MIT neuroscientist Matt Wilson was able to accomplish this feat by exploiting the way the brain's hippocampus encodes self-experienced events into memory.

The hippocampus is essential for encoding self-experienced events into memory. During sleep, neural activity in the hippocampus related to a recent experience has been observed to spontaneously reoccur, and this 'replay' has been postulated to be important for memory consolidation. Task-related cues can enhance memory consolidation when presented during a post-training sleep session, and, if memories are consolidated by hippocampal replay, a specific enhancement for this replay should be observed. To test this, we trained rats on an auditory-spatial association task while recording from neuronal ensembles in the hippocampus. We found that, during sleep, a task-related auditory cue biased reactivation events toward replaying the spatial memory associated with that cue. These results indicate that sleep replay can be manipulated by external stimulation and provide further evidence for the role of hippocampal replay in memory consolidation.

This is a tiny step towards the dream console envisioned by Roger Zelazny in his award-winning story The Dream Master. This fictional device allows the therapist to join a dreamer and influence the content of dreams:


(A Dream Console shown on the cover of Zelazny's The Dream Master)

Charles Render sat before the ninety white buttons and the two red ones, not really looking at any of them. His right arm moved in its soundless sling, across the lap-surface of the console - pushing some of the buttons, skipping over others, moving on, retracing its path to press the next in the order of the Recall series. Sensations throttled, emotions reduced to nothing, Representative Erikson knew the oblivion of the womb...

Render freed his arm and lifted off his crown of Medusa-hair leads and microminiature circuitry. He slid from behind his desk-couch and raised the hood.

"Neuroparticipation is based upon the fact that two nervous systems can share the same impulses, the same fantasies…"

"When the therapist is in-phase with a patient he is narco-electrically removed from most of his own bodily sensations."

Update 12-Sep-2012: The 2010 film Inception also worked with this idea of dream engineering:

Cobb: I can access your mind through your dreams.
Cobb: The seed that we planted in this man's mind may change everything.
Eames:You mustn't be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling. [And pulls out a grenade launcher]

Thanks to Randall Glenn for pointing this out. End update.

From Biasing the content of hippocampal replay during sleep via Discovery.

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