Wednesday, January 20th, 2021

This Scientist’s Ability to Hack Your Dreams May Be the Stuff of Nightmares

Published on June 7, 2016 by   ·   1 Comment

Vancouver, British Columbia — “So we spend a twelfth of our life dreaming. And most of it is forgotten. What if we could peek inside our brain and see our dreams? Maybe even … shape them.”

This is how a professor of neuroscience and business at Northwestern University opened his TED talk back in February. His presentation, posted by TED in March, is titled “Moran Cerf: This scientist can hack your dreams.”

“I am a neuroscientist,” Dr. Cerf continues, “and I study how thinking works inside the brain.”

By the time he was 24, Moran Cerf had received a B.S. in Physics and an M.A. in Philosophy from Tel Aviv University. He went on to earn a Ph.D. in neuroscience from Caltech by age 31, in 2009.

The following year, Cerf and a team of scientists published a landmark study demonstrating that it’s possible for human beings to control their own temporal lobe neuron activity.

But due to the nature of the research and some confusion over the study’s accompanying short film, many were immediately asking if Cerf and his team could record dreams.

“Just to be clear,” explains Cerf in his TED talk. “My work had nothing to do with recording people’s dreams.”

But when the BBC pressed the issue back in 2010, and asked if dream recording is possible, Cerf says he answered: “Well in theory it’s possible.”

The media ran with the story, and suddenly Cerf and his team were supposed to be able to record the dreams of human beings.

The barrage lasted a short while until, as Cerf puts it at TED, “Prince William proposed to his girlfriend, which was much more important. And I got to go back to my work.”

But the idea had taken root in the scientific community, and soon Cerf was being asked to comment on breakthroughs in the area of dream recording. This prompted the scientist to take a harder look at the field he’d — seemingly inadvertently — sparked to life.

“But I study the brain in a very non-traditional way,” Cerf says at the talk. “Partially inspired by my background. Before I became a neuroscientist, I was a computer hacker. I used to break into banks and government institutes, to test their security.”

For the remainder of the presentation, Cerf explains how he uses techniques he learned as a hacker to “eavesdrop on the brains of patients while they’re awake and behaving.”

To do this, Cerf partnered with neurosurgeons from around the globe, seeking out patients undergoing a specific type of brain surgery. He needed subjects whose craniums would be open, whose brains would be exposed and hooked up to electrodes, but who also would be conscious and communicative.

But somewhere along the way, as Cerf talks of his team’s accomplishments — some of which are quite astounding, such as getting someone to dream a sequence just as it had been shown to them in waking life — the work starts to sound less and less like research, and more and more like brain manipulation.

This assessment would seem to be backed up by Cerf, himself.

The last segment of his TED lecture ties directly back to his opening statement. After explaining how the team successfully taught a computer to reasonably translate someone’s dreams into a linear sequence, Cerf tells the audience: “So this gets us now thinking about the ability to maybe also … change things when you’re asleep.”

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Readers Comments (1)

  1. The movie “Dreamscape (film) is awesome and possibly chilling at the same time….

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