But today scientists report for the first time that they’ve successfully decoded details of people’s dreams using brain scans.
Before you reach for your tin hat, you should know that the scientists managed this feat only with the full cooperation of their research subjects, and they only decoded dreams after the fact, not in real time. The thought police won’t be busting you for renting bowling shoes from Saddam Hussein or whatever else you’ve been up to in your dreams.
All the same, the work is yet another impressive step for researchers interested in decoding mental states from brain activity, and it opens the door to a new way of studying dreaming, one of the most mysterious and fascinating aspects of the human experience.
In the first part of the new study, neuroscientist Yukiyasu Kamitani and colleagues at the Advanced Telecommunications Research Institute International in Kyoto, Japan monitored three young men as they tried to get some sleep inside an fMRI scanner while the machine monitored their brain activity. The researchers also monitored each volunteer’s brain activity with EEG electrodes, and when they saw an EEG signature indicative of dreaming, they woke him up to ask what he’d been dreaming about.