Yo Science: Please Don’t Try to Control my Dreams!

Great. Science is doing some weird stuff again. Researchers at MIT claim to have discovered a method to “successfully control the dreams of rats”. Right now the method has only been tested on rats, but “it also holds potential for the prospect of ‘dream engineering’.” Not cool, science, not cool.

The neuroscientists made the rats associate a certain tone with certain actions. Then they played that tone while the rats were sleeping, and the rats dreamed about those certain actions. “The content of a rat’s dream can be biased by re-activating certain memories while they’re asleep,” says a writer who knows more about science than me. I personally have experienced this, and you may have too – when an alarm or other background noise playing in your sleep integrates itself into the “plot” of your dream. That happens to other people too, right? I feel like it’s a common occurrence in movies: our protagonist dreams of making out with his one true love, then wakes up to find his dog licking his face or something. What does this mean for the ability to “manufacture” dreams?

An interesting note in io9’s coverage is: “Scientists know that our hippocampus is busy at work replaying a number of the day’s events while we sleep — a process that’s crucial for memory consolidation. But what they did not know was whether or not these ‘replays’ could be influenced by environmental cues,” which raises questions of how abstract recollection of the day’s events must become. I dream some pretty zany things that have little relevance to the waking time proceeding.

Even more disconcerting is the implication that scientists have a basic reading of what a creature is dreaming about. I don’t want neuroscientists messing around with (or in) my dreams. Sure, I dream about neuroscientists sometimes, their labcoats majestically flowing in the wind, sensually doing sciency-research-stuff as they whisper cool facts/sweet nothings about consciousness in my ear… Erm…

Anyway, the implications of dream control are pretty mind-boggling. Dreams are something that all of humanity shares in a general sense, but no one shares in a specific sense. Dreams are also all we really have to ourselves anymore; sure, your dreams are entirely affected by the society you live in, but in the era of oversharing your dreams are your only bastion of true privacy. Sure, “dream manipulation” could provide you with your greatest dreams, literally, but with the inside of your own mind being the only true frontier left to explore in our lifetimes, don’t you want to explore it as it’s meant to be explored: completely under your control?

Go into the comments to talk about how cool dreams are, or what you think about the whole dream manipulation thing.

(Image via Shutterstock.)