In Dreams

Writing in Nature this month, neuroscientist Dr Moran Cerf claims to have developed a system that can read and record people’s dreams. That’s the attention-grabbing headline at least; the actual technique seems somewhat less refined, though the researchers do appear to be able to identify which neurons are activated when the subject thinks of a particular image. It does involve planting electrodes into the brain, which I imagine might limit its attraction to the casual dreamer.

Dr Cerf does hope to come up with more user-friendly mind-reader, and I guess eventually we might have the sort of machine one reads about in pulpy sci-fi, a helmet connected to a TV set which shows pictures of the subject’s thoughts, or the perception-recording devices they had in the classic cyberpunk movie Strange Days.

This might seem to pose a threat to those of us in the psychiatric profession; who needs to see a shrink when you can just wire up your head and look straight into your unconscious? I’m not too worried though – knowing what someone is thinking or dreaming is one thing, deciphering why these things are in their mind and what it all means is quite another. The interpretation of dreams (and nightmares) has been a lucrative wheeze for thousands of years; it will take more than some new technology to put us out of business.

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