ce399 | research archive: (electronic) mind control

In Cybertherapy, Avatars Assist With Healing (NYT 22/11/10)

Posted in Uncategorized by ce399 on 23/11/2010

His talk was going just fine until some members of the audience became noticeably restless. A ripple of impatience passed through the several dozen seated listeners, and a few seemed suddenly annoyed; then two men started to talk to each other, ignoring him altogether.

“When I saw that, I slowed down and then stopped what I was saying,” said the speaker, a 47-year-old public servant named Gary, who last year took part in an unusual study of social anxiety treatment at the University of Quebec.

The anxiety rose in his throat — What if I’m not making sense? What if I’m asked questions I can’t answer? — but subsided as his therapist, observing in the background, reminded him that the audience’s reaction might have nothing to do with him. And if a question stumped him, he could just say so: no one knows everything.

He relaxed and finished the talk, and the audience seemed to settle down. Then he removed a headset that had helped create an illusion that the audience was actually there, not just figures on a screen. “I just think it’s a fantastic idea to be able to experience situations where you know that the worst cannot happen,” he said. “You know that it’s controlled and gradual and yet feels somehow real.”

For more than a decade, a handful of therapists have been using virtual environments to help people to work through phobias, like a fear of heights or of public spaces. But now advances in artificial intelligence and computer modeling are allowing them to take on a wider array of complex social challenges and to gain insight into how people are affected by interactions with virtual humans — or by inhabiting avatars of themselves.

Researchers are populating digital worlds with autonomous, virtual humans that can evoke the same tensions as in real-life encounters. People with social anxiety are struck dumb when asked questions by a virtual stranger. Heavy drinkers feel strong urges to order something from a virtual bartender, while gamblers are drawn to sit down and join a group playing on virtual slot machines. And therapists can advise patients at the very moment those sensations are felt.

In a series of experiments, researchers have shown that people internalize these virtual experiences and their responses to them — with effects that carry over into real life.

The emerging field, called cybertherapy, now has annual conferences and a growing international following of therapists, researchers and others interested improving behavior through the use of simulations. The Canadian military has invested heavily in virtual-reality research; so has the United States Army, which has been spending about $4 million annually on programs with computer-generated agents, for training officers and treating post-traumatic stress reactions.

The trend has already generated a few critics, who see a possible downside along with benefits.

“Even if this approach works, there will be side effects that we can’t anticipate,” said Jaron Lanier, a computer scientist and author of “You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto” (Knopf, 2010). “And in some scenarios I would worry about defining humans down: defining what’s normal based on what we can model in virtual environments.”

But most researchers say that virtual therapy is, and will remain, no more than a therapist’s tool, to be used only when it appears effective. “There’s a real and understandable distrust of technology as a shortcut for good clinical skills,” said Albert Rizzo, a psychologist at the University of Southern California, “but I think, deep down, most therapists will want any tool that can help them do their work, and they’ll be open to using virtual approaches.”

Virtual Humans, Real Therapy

“My abilities are somewhat limited,” says a female voice. “For example, I can speak and listen to what you say, but I can’t do any physical activity.”

In an office at the Institute for Creative Technologies at the University of Southern California, a virtual woman named Angelina is addressing a college student from a computer screen.

Angelina looks to be about 30 or so, a pretty, athletic figure with an open, intelligent face framed by short black hair. Her eyes and expression, guided by video cameras and microphones, stay in sync with the student’s, as an empathetic therapist’s would. “What are some of the things you hate about yourself?” asks the voice.

The student stalls for a moment. “Well,” she says, in a video of the exchange, “I don’t like that I can be really quiet in social situations. Sometimes people take that as me being rude, but it’s just me being quiet.”

Angelina nods sympathetically and then asks another question, about what the student fears most.

Interacting with a virtual human programmed to be socially sensitive in this way is oddly liberating. The figures are clearly not human; some are balky with language, others mute. Many have a two-dimensional graphic-arts quality.

But the faces are mobile, blinking, alive, the body language and gestures seemingly natural; in some cases, the voice recognition and choice of replies are good enough to conduct a stiff but convincing conversation. The result is a living presence that is responsive but not judgmental.

In a recent study using this virtual confidant, researchers at U.S.C. have found that Angelina elicits from people the crucial first element in any therapy: self-disclosure. People with social anxiety confessed more of their personal flaws, fears and fantasies to virtual figures than to live therapists conducting video interviews, the study found.

The researchers are incorporating the techniques learned from Angelina into a virtual agent being developed for the Army, called SimCoach. Guided by language-recognition software, SimCoach — there are several versions, male and female, young and older, white and black — appears on a computer screen and can conduct a rudimentary interview, gently probing for possible mental troubles.

Using SimCoach on a laptop, veterans and family members would anonymously ask about difficulties they’re having, whether due to post-traumatic stress or other strains of service.

“It does not give a diagnosis,” said Jonathan Gratch, a co-author of the Angelina study with Sin-Hwa Kang, also of U.S.C. “But the idea is that the SimCoach would ask people if they would like to see a therapist; and if so, could then guide them to someone in their area, depending on what it has learned.”

Once people are in treatment, therapists can use virtual technology to simulate threatening situations — and guide patients through them, gradually and incrementally, calibrating the intensity of the experience.

In person-to-person sessions to address anxieties or phobias, for instance, therapists may have patients do this in their imaginations. Revisit a dreaded experience — say, a rooftop party, for a person afraid of heights — while defusing the physical reactions to the memory in the office. Out in the world, patients then practice the same techniques, gradually increasing their exposure, beginning with modest heights, for instance, and working up.

Using virtual environments, therapists can run this entire drill in their offices. At the Virtual Reality Medical Center in San Diego, psychologists have treated hundreds of patients using gradual virtual exposure, for post-traumatic stress and agoraphobia, among other anxieties. At U.S.C., Dr. Rizzo has designed a program specifically for veterans of the Iraq war.

In one scenario, wearing a headset, the patient is in a virtual Humvee, motoring along a desert road toward a small Iraqi village. To the right is a passenger, another soldier; behind and above rides a gunner; in front is another Humvee. As the motorcade approaches the village, engines rumbling, there is a flurry of gunfire, and more. A roadside bomb goes off, bullets pierce the window — your fellow soldier on the right is wounded badly, now dying — all of it under control of the therapist.

“We can control the intensity of the experience, and then work on the patient’s response,” Dr. Rizzo said.

When it works, the therapy breaks the association between reminders of an upsetting experience and the racing heart, the flushing, the panic that the person has been struggling with.

Adding autonomous virtual humans to the landscape allows therapists to begin addressing some of the most complex problems of them all — social ones. In one continuing study at the University of California, Davis, for instance, researchers are trying to improve high-functioning autistic children’s ability to think and talk about themselves while paying attention to multiple peers.

The hope is similar for people with social anxiety: that practice interacting with a virtual boss, suspicious strangers or virtual partygoers who are staring as one enters the room will also lead to increased comfort, with the help of a therapist. “The figures themselves don’t even have to be especially realistic to evoke reactions,” said a psychologist, Stéphane Bouchard, who directs the cybertherapy program at the University of Quebec in Ottawa. “People with social anxiety, for example, will feel they are being judged by virtual humans who are simply watching them.”

In the pilot study that included Gary, the University of Quebec researchers tracked two groups of patients: one that received an hour of talk therapy once a week for 14 weeks and another that got talk therapy with a virtual component, practicing virtual interactions. Both groups showed improvement, faring much better than a comparison group put on a waiting list, preliminary results suggest. But those who got virtual therapy achieved the same gains without having to practice interactions in the real world, deliberately putting themselves in embarrassing situations or dreaded encounters. The researchers are now working to identify which people benefit most, and whether combining virtual and real-world experiences accelerates recovery.

My Avatar, Myself

The face in the mirror does not look familiar; it has a generic, computer-generated look. Yet it does appear to be staring out from a mirror. Lift a hand and up goes its hand. Nod, wave, smile, and it does the same, simultaneously. Now, look down at your own body: and there, through the virtual reality headset, are a torso, legs, clothes identical to those in the mirror.

In a matter of minutes, people placed in front of this virtual mirror identify strongly with their “body” and psychologically inhabit it, researchers at Stanford University have found. And by subtly altering elements of that embodied figure, the scientists have established a principle that is fundamental to therapy — that an experience in a virtual world can alter behavior in the real one.

“The remarkable thing is how little a virtual human has to do to produce fairly large effects on behavior,” said Jeremy Bailenson, director of the Virtual Human Interaction Lab at Stanford and the author, with James Blascovich, of the coming book “Infinite Reality” (HarperCollins 2011).

In one recent experiment , Dr. Bailenson and Nick Yee, now at the Palo Alto Research Center, had 50 college students enter a virtual environment and acquire a virtual body, an avatar. Each student then participated in a negotiation game with a member of the experimental team, who was introduced as another student.

But all the avatars were not created equal. Some were four inches taller than their human counterparts, and others were four inches shorter. The participants didn’t notice this alteration, but those made taller negotiated in the virtual game much more aggressively than those made shorter. A later study led by Dr. Yee found that this effect carried over into face-to-face negotiations after the virtual headsets were removed.

The researchers have demonstrated a similar effect in the case of attractiveness. In another experiment, they created generic avatars for some participants that were about 25 percent “more attractive” than average, based on features that the group had rated as attractive. Compared with study participants whose avatars were made 25 percent “less attractive,” the virtual beauties were more socially confident, standing closer in virtual conversation, revealing more about themselves — an effect that also seeped into social interactions after the headsets came off.

Again, no one noticed the manipulation; its effects were entirely subconscious.

The authors argue that the participants, in effect, psychologically internalized their virtual experience. “What we learn in one body is shared with other bodies we inhabit, whether virtual or physical,” they concluded.

It seems people will psychologically inhabit almost any virtual body if the cues are strong. In recent research a team led by Mel Slater, a computer scientist at the University of Barcelona, induced what it calls body-transfer illusion — showing that men will mentally take on the body of a woman, for instance, if that’s the body it appears they’re walking around in virtually. The experience is especially powerful, Dr. Slater said, when the men feel a touch (on a shoulder, in a recent study) at the same time the avatar is touched.

“You can see the possibilities already,” said Dr. Slater. “For example, you can put someone with a racial bias in the body of a person of another race.”

These kinds of findings have inspired a variety of simple experiments. Dropping a young man or woman into the virtual body of an elderly person does in fact increase sympathy for the other’s perspective, research suggests.

“This is to me the most exciting thing about using virtual environments for behavior change,” Dr. Bailenson said. “It’s not only that you can create these versions of reality; it’s that you can cross boundaries — that you can take risks, break things, do things you could not or would not do in real life.”

Mini-Me in Action

In the virtual studio at the University of Quebec, patients wearing a headset can have a short conversation with a diminutive, attentive virtual therapist. Except for slight stature, it is a ringer for Dr. Bouchard: the same open face, the same smile, the same pelt of dark hair around a bald pate.

“Mini-Me, we call it,” Dr. Bouchard said.

The hologramlike figure seems at first to be minding its own business, looking around, biding time. Then it approaches slowly, introduces itself and kindly asks a question, like some digital-age Socrates: “What is the best experience you’ve ever had?”

For now, Mini-Me cannot do much more than cock its head at the answer and nod, before programmers begin to guide the conversation; the scientists are adding more language-recognition software, to extend interactions. Yet Mini-Me offers a glimpse of where virtual humans are headed: three-dimensional forms that can be designed to resemble people in the real world.

“You could scan in a picture of your mother or your boss or someone else significant and, with some voice recording samples, use a system that would automatically and quickly recreate a virtual facsimile of that person,” said Dr. Rizzo of U.S.C., where programmers have set up an Old West bar scene, complete with a life-size, autonomous virtual bartender, a waitress and a bad guy. “Then, perhaps, we’d be able to stage interactions that might closely resemble those in a patient’s life to help work through challenging issues.”

Anyone could rehearse the dance of social interaction, tripping without consequence, until the steps feel just about right.

“The great thing about it,” said Gary, the civil servant, referring to his own virtual therapy, “is that you can do anything you want and just see what happens. You get to practice.”


US Launches Giant Eavesdropping Satellite (Agence France-Presse 22/11/10)

Posted in Uncategorized by ce399 on 23/11/2010

The United States has placed in orbit a vast reconnaissance satellite reputed to be the largest eavesdropping device ever launched into space.

The largest unmanned American launch vehicle, the Delta-4 Heavy rocket, roared into the the night sky in Cape Canaveral, Florida on Sunday carrying the mysterious satellite on a mission dubbed NROL-32.

The National Reconnaissance Office did not disclose the purpose of the satellite but widespread reports in the US media suggest it is for eavesdropping on enemy communications.

“This second Delta IV Heavy launch for the NRO is the culmination of years of hard work and dedication by the combined NRO, Air Force, supplier and ULA team,” said United Launch Alliance vice-president Jim Sponnick.

“ULA is pleased to support the NRO as it protects our nation’s security and supports our warriors defending our nation around the world.”

It was only the fourth time that the Delta-4 Heavy — the most powerful liquid-fueled rocket booster with a massive two million pounds of thrust — has flown.

The launch of the NROL-32 had been moved back from October 19 due to delays for undisclosed reasons.
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Genessender Today 02:54 PM
The better to hear you with, my dears.
Like Reply Reply

hneftafl Today 02:03 PM
Cool, now our military can listen in on the Chinese as they laugh at us for basically handing them our economic prosperity on a silver platter.
2 people liked this. Like Reply Reply

dgenzle2001 Today 02:41 PM in reply to hneftafl
Did they also built the satellite? It seems to be the American way.(sarcasm)
Like Reply Reply

bklny Today 01:54 PM
Too bad they don’t put this much effort in Eavesdropping on corrupt government officials
1 person liked this. Like Reply Reply

comet67 Today 01:48 PM
Hope that big boy gets a good look at China and the Middle East for us- should help US global interests. Congrats to the NRO and Air Force for getting it to space.
Like Reply Reply

ya_right Today 01:22 PM
Do you really think they is for spying on the “enemy” only?

4 people liked this. Like Reply Reply

dgenzle2001 Today 02:42 PM in reply to ya_right
Smile you’re on candid camera!
Like Reply Reply

edwards_com Today 01:58 PM in reply to ya_right
Like Reply Reply

hauksdottir Today 01:20 PM
What about the missing weather satellites? Shouldn’t THEY take priority? More people will die or be harmed by inadequate storm monitoring… while this foolish bird collects gossip.

I would rather our tax money was spent on projects that actually benefit US.
1 person liked this. Like Reply Reply

Rush Goofbaugh Today 12:51 PM
All paid for with “tax payer dollars”. When did we vote for this program? Democracy is a nipple for the masses to suck on to give them a feeling of participation and control…. fools.
2 people liked this. Like Reply Reply

thefreedomship Today 12:26 PM
Greaaat. What an excellent use of money, I’m really glad we have people in charge that blow billions of dollars on technology they can use to spy on people around the world. I mean we really have nothing better to spend the money on, it’s not like there are billions of people living in poverty or anything. It’s not like half the countries states are going bankrupt, it’s not like millions of Americans are loosing their jobs, houses and dignity at the hands of bureaucracy gone mad. Oh wait…. never mind. Sigh.
4 people liked this. Like Reply Reply

Knot Today 12:15 PM
I wonder how long it is going to take for Banksy, or some other graffiti artist, to tag it with a laser.


Implants and our Government

Posted in Uncategorized by ce399 on 19/11/2010

The Fall, 1989 issue of ‘WORLD WATCHERS INTERNATIONAL’ published a letter from ‘M.C.’ of Canoga Park, California, which alleged the following:

“The intercerebral implants in the heads of many (UFO)abductees correspond surprisingly well with a description of adevice known as the ‘stimoceiver’ invented in the late ’50s byneuroscientist Jose Delgado. A miniature depth electrode whichcan receive and transmit electronic signals over FM radio waves. With a positioned stimoceiver, an outside operator can wield asurprising degree of control over the subject’s response. It can be attached to the tympanic membrane, transforming the ear intoa sort of microphone, and I assume, a loudspeaker. StanfordResearch Institute discovered that sub-vocalized words formrecognizable EEG patterns, which can be read by computer.

“A technique called RHIC-EDOM (Radio Hypnotic Intracerebral- Electronic Dissolution of Memory) uses stimoceivers to induce post-hypnotic suggestions. Is this the ‘missing time’ of abduct-ees?” (Note: although many ‘abductees’ have observed only the’saurian greys’ or other types of ‘greys’ — or even greys working with ‘Military’ personnel — during their experiences, a few have actually described Military-CIA types operating the craft exclusive-ly. One subscriber whose letter appeared beside the one mention-ed here, an ‘R.D., of Pennington, New Jersey’, referred to one abduction case wherein “…the principle ‘alien’ spoke to a womanin the English language, not via telepathy. She recognized the voice as that of her close friend, who was then employed by theCIA.” One other case described by Charles Berlitz concerned a hunter who fired on some ‘men’ who had emerged from a disk-shaped craft. One of the men got a bullet in the leg and fell down cursing, yelling in English at the gunman and asking what the hellhe did that for. The hunter later had visits from government types who warned him to keep quiet about the incident, and he got the impression the men he saw in the craft were some type of CIA or government agents. Such cases to date have been rare however — when compared with the majority of the ‘encounters’, and should not be mistaken with the contacts with ‘other’ human groupswherein the occupants respect the individual’s privacy and free willin obedience to some universal ‘prime directive’ [unlike the gray’abductions’ themselves wherein the persons free will or privacy is considered of little or no value] – Branton).

The letter continues: “Another technique uses a ‘hemi-synch’device to produce different frequencies in each ear to ‘entrain’ the subject’s brain with alpha or theta waves by the operators wishes, which could lead to vivid, directed hallucinations… Abductees describe a ‘stereophonic sound’ preceding their ‘encounters’. These psycho-electronic devices may seem esoteric, and difficult to believe, but bio-electronics has been the primary focus of mindcontrol research since the cessation of MKULTRA (i.e. the CIA ‘mind control drug’ experiments – Branton) in the ’60’s. Experiment-ation has been carried out not (only) by the CIA, but by military intelligence agencies, especially the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

“(UFO ‘skeptic’, and possible intelligence agent) Philip Klass relied on hypnotist/psychiatrist Martin Orne for his abduction book, BUT NEVER MENTIONED THAT ORNE WAS FUNDED to doMKULTRA work on amnesia by DARPA, the Air Force and the Navy. Orne of course denies the possibility of a ‘Manchurian Candidate’ (i.e. that is, the use of a powerful hypnotic subject asdescribed in the movie of the same name, to be ‘programmed’ forpolitical assassination and then ‘forget’ any involvement with thehead-doctors who controlled him – Branton), but BROTHERHOOD OF MURDER, about the neo-Nazi group called ‘The Order’, notes that they made contact with a Defense Department scientist to gain access to an esoteric mind control device. This implies thetechnology is advanced enough, and portable enough for a smallgroup to use. Jacques Vallee (Ufologist) mentions a UFOcontactee who murdered an East-bloc politician under the ordersof the ‘space brothers’… M.C…”


Army Embeds Active-Duty PSYOPS Soldiers at Local TV Stations (Yahoo! 1/10/10)

Posted in Uncategorized by ce399 on 17/11/2010

The US Army has used local television stations in the US as training posts for some of its psychological-operations personnel, The Upshot has learned. Since at least 2001, both WRAL, a CBS affiliate in Raleigh, N.C., and WTOC, a CBS affiliate in Savannah, Ga., have regularly hosted active-duty soldiers from the Army’s 4th Psychological Operations group as part of the Army’s Training With Industry program. Training With Industry is designed to offer career soldiers a chance to pick up skills through internships and fellowships with private businesses. The PSYOPS soldiers used WRAL and WTOC to learn broadcasting and communications expertise that they could apply in their mission, as the Army describes it, of “influenc[ing] the emotions, motives, objective reasoning, and ultimately the behavior of foreign audiences.” WRAL and WTOC were on a list of participants in the Army’s Training With Industry program provided to The Upshot in response to a Freedom of Information Act request, and a spokeswoman with the Army’s Human Resources Command, Lt-Col Bathrick, confirmed that PSYOPS soldiers worked at the stations, saying:

Both of those stations are very supportive of the military, and think very highly of the program. Our officers are there to learn best practices in terms of programming and production side that they can use when they deploy. To be able to get hands-on interaction with a news station, there’s nothing like that.

Bathrick said the soldiers were never involved in newsgathering. The relationship between PSYOPS, Training With Industry, and television news operations has stirred controversy in the past. In 2000, after a Dutch newspaper reported that PSYOPS troops had been placed in CNN’s newsroom under the program, CNN discontinued the internships and admitted that they had been a mistake. A spokesperson said at the time:

It was inappropriate for PSYOPS personnel to be at CNN, they are not here now, and they never again will be at CNN.

WRAL’s news director, Rick Gall, feels differently, saying:

My sense was, this was an educational opportunity to see how the broadcasting industry operates. They’d spend time in the various departments of the station, including the newsroom. I wasn’t concerned about having someone learn what we do, and there was no influence on newsgathering. It was like shadowing.

WRAL is owned by Capitol Broadcasting Company, which owns a variety of media outlets in North Carolina. Gall said WRAL hasn’t hosted a soldier, which he described as an “embed,” since 2007. According to Bathrick, the Army’s relationship with WTOC in Savannah is ongoing; a PSYOPS officer is currently embedded there. Bill Cathcart, WTOC’s vice president and general manager, did not return phone calls or an e-mail seeking comment. WTOC is owned by Raycom Media, a television chain based in Alabama. WRAL and WTOC are not alone among media outlets that the US military has sought to learn from through Training With Industry. The Upshot has previously reported that the Marine Corps placed public affairs officers with the Chicago Tribune for several years in order to better understand how to influence and work with the news media, and CNNMoney.com hosted an officer in 2007 and 2008, despite the network’s embarrassment over the program in 2000.


The Control of Candy Jones: Hypnosis and Age Regression

Posted in Uncategorized by ce399 on 17/11/2010

This provocative phenomena of hypnosis, which can only occur in a subject with an extremely high trance capacity, is best left to the professionals. That is not to say that a non professional such as John Nebel is incapable of fostering age regression in a good subject. To be more correct, it is the subject who fosters the regression to times and places in the past, the non professional hypnotist is often nothing more than an interested bystander while the subject “does his or her thing.” Such was the case with the age regressions experienced by Candy and recorded by John over the many months of their adventure with hypnosis.

In a medical setting, in which is a physician uses age regression as part of his treatment strategy, there is a more structured approach, one in which the physician, usually a psychiatrist, applies very specific techniques and principles in order to direct the patient’s flow of regression in an attempt to reach repressed memories considered vital by the psychiatrist.

Pg. 40

(post in progress…check back tomorrow)

Goats Declassified: The Real Men of the First Earth Battalion (mp3 file)

Posted in Uncategorized by ce399 on 17/11/2010

Did the CIA Drug Paul Robeson? A Look at the Secret Program MK-ULTRA (DN! 7/1999)

Posted in Uncategorized by ce399 on 16/11/2010

In the 1950s, in the midst of the Cold War, the Central Intelligence Agency developed a highly classified psychological warfare program called MK Ultra. After the Second World War, the Western intelligence community became interested in the use of mind control drugs when it was learned that Nazi scientists engaged in similar experimentation. Described as the CIA’s version of the Manhattan Project, MK Ultra was developed in response to rumors that the Soviets planned to plant brainwashed assassins in the White House and other citadels of Western power.

Some believe that MK Ultra was used to silence dissident voices in the United States. Paul Robeson Jr., son of the singer, actor and activist Paul Robeson, believes that the CIA poisoned his father with the mind-altering drug BZ. He says that a doctor who treated his father had links to the program. Robeson Sr. was targeted by Senator Joseph McCarthy’s House Un-American Activities Committee. In 1943, the CIA opened a file on Robeson, and between April and June 1961 the FBI kept a “status of health” file on the artist-activist.


* Paul Robeson, Jr.
* Dr. Eric Olson, a clinical psychologist, and son of Frank Olson, an Army scientist who died after CIA experts, experimenting with mind-bending drugs, had secretly slipped him a dose of potent LSD. Frank Olson’s death was ruled a suicide, since he had apparently jumped out of a window to his death. But Eric Olson believes that his father was assassinated.
* Martin Lee, coauthor of ??Acid Dreams: the CIA, LSD and the 60s Rebellion.


Dream Recording Device “Possible” Researcher Claims (BBC 27/10/10)

Posted in Uncategorized by ce399 on 05/11/2010

By Pallab Ghosh Science correspondent, BBC News
Brain The researchers have developed a way to record higher brain activity

A US researcher has said he plans to electronically record and interpret dreams.

Writing in the journal Nature, researchers said they have developed a system capable of recording higher-level brain activity.

“We would like to read people’s dreams,” says the lead scientist Dr Moran Cerf.

The aim is not to interlope, but to extend our understanding of how and why people dream.

For centuries, people have been fascinated by dreams and what they might mean; in ancient Egypt for example, they were thought to be messages from the gods.

More recently, dream analysis has been used by psychologists as a tool to understand the unconscious mind. But the only way to interpret dreams was to ask people about the subject of their dreams after they had woken up.

The eventual aim of Dr Cerf’s project is to develop a system that would enable psychologists to corroborate people’s recollections of their dream with an electronic visualisation of their brain activity.

“There’s no clear answer as to why humans dream,” according to Dr Cerf. “And one of the questions we would like to answer is when do we actually create this dream?”

Dr Cerf makes his bold claim based on an initial study that he says suggests that the activity of individual brain cells, or neurons, are associated with specific objects or concepts.
Continue reading the main story
“Start Quote

It would be wonderful to read people’s minds”

End Quote Dr Moran Cerf UCLA

He found, for example, that when a volunteer was thinking of Marilyn Monroe, a particular neuron lit up.

By showing volunteers a series of images, Dr Cerf and his colleagues were able to identify neurons for a wide range of objects and concepts – which they used to build up a database for each patient. These included Bill and Hilary Clinton, the Eiffel Tower and celebrities.

So by observing which brain cell lit up and when, Dr Cerf says he was effectively able to “read the subjects’ minds”.
Dream catcher

He admits that there is a very long way to go before this simple observation can be translated into a device to record dreams – a “dream catcher”. But he thinks it is a possibility – and he said he would like to try.

The next stage is to monitor the brain activity of the volunteers when they are sleeping.

The researchers will only be able to identify images or concepts that correlate with those stored on their database. But this data base could in theory be built up – by for example monitoring neuronal activity while the volunteer is watching a film.

Dr Roderick Oner, a clinical psychologist and dream expert, believes that while this kind of limited visualisation might be of academic interest, it will not really help in the interpretation of dreams or be of use in therapy.
Continue reading the main story
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* Robot reads minds to train itself
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“For that you need the entire complex dream narrative,” he said.

Another difficulty with the technique is that to get the kind of resolution needed to monitor individual neurons, subjects had to have electrodes surgically implanted deep inside their brain.

In the Nature study, the researchers obtained their results by studying patients who had electrodes implanted to monitor and treat them for brain seizures.
Translating thoughts

But Dr Cerf believes that sensor technology is developing at such a pace that eventually it might be possible to monitor brain activity in this way without invasive surgery. If this were to happen it would open up a range of possibilities.

“It would be wonderful to read people’s minds where they cannot communicate, such as people in comas,” said Dr Cerf.

There have been attempts to create machine interfaces before that aim to translate thoughts into instructions to control computers or machines.

But in the main these have tried to tap into areas of the brain involved in controlling movement. Dr Cerf’s system monitors higher level areas of the brain and can potentially identify abstract concepts.

“We can sail with our imaginations and think about all the things we could do if we had access to a person’s brain and basically visualise their thoughts.

“For example, instead of just having to write an email you could just think it. Or another futuristic application would be to think a flow of information and have it written in front of your eyes.”

Professor Colin Blakemore, a neuroscientist at Oxford University, believes that it is quite a jump from the limited results obtained in the study to talking about recording dreams.
More on This Story
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* Robot reads minds to train itself 25 OCTOBER 2010, TECHNOLOGY
* World premiere of brain orchestra 24 APRIL 2009, SCI/TECH
* Paralysed man’s mind is ‘read’ 15 NOVEMBER 2007, HEALTH
* Brain scan ‘sees hidden thoughts’ 25 APRIL 2005, HEALTH

Related Internet links

* On-line, voluntary control of human temporal lobe neurons

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