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Neuroscientists built a ‘Dreamachine’ that makes people hallucinate

Published Jun 4th, 2023 9:02AM EDT
Image: Liam McBurney/PA Images / Getty

Last summer, a group of researchers created what they call the Dreamachine, which is a large, lab-like space designed to induce hallucinations in people using white strobe lights and electronic music. The machine, which was designed by collaborators with the University of Sussex. 30 people would file into the space, lay down, and close their eyes. Then the sequence would kick off, lasting roughly 30 minutes.

The entire experience was quite unique, often inducing hallucinatory experiences in the people that headed inside. After the Dreamachine session, the participants were asked to describe the experience. Many described it as powerful or magic as well as vivid or kaleidoscopic.

“Seeing the response of participants when they come out on the other side of the curtain and they’ve just had this experience was so rare and magical,” Anil Seth, a neuroscientist with the University of Sussex, told Wired. Seth is one of the collaborators working on Dreamachine.

The researchers say that one of the aims of the entire experience is to try to shine a light on the effects that stroboscopic light has on the brain. The effect these lights have on the brain is still sorely misunderstood. The researchers also think it could be key to understanding the neural basis of the visual experience that Dreamachine causes.

Further, the hope is to better map out the inner perceptual diversity. Seth and his team are already working on a project called Perception Census, which aims to measure just how differently people respond to those different dimensions of sound, color, time, and expectations. It’s also possible that Dreamachine could one day help lead to new forms of mental health therapy.

However, the extent of the therapy’s effectiveness is yet to be determined, as the researchers aim to learn more about the potential it offers first. What we do know, though, is that the Dreamachine was capable of making people feel different, and according to the researchers, it was usually a better feeling.

This isn’t the first device that researchers have used to mess with people’s dreams, either. MIT engineers also built a device that can tell you what to dream, which could also help provide new avenues for therapy options.

Josh Hawkins has been writing for over a decade, covering science, gaming, and tech culture. He also is a top-rated product reviewer with experience in extensively researched product comparisons, headphones, and gaming devices.

Whenever he isn’t busy writing about tech or gadgets, he can usually be found enjoying a new world in a video game, or tinkering with something on his computer.