The Science and Potential of Targeted Dream Incubation

The interesting emerging field of “dream engineering” is a double edged sword with incredible potential for psychotherapy, entertainment and memory consolidation. Unfortunately it could also be exploited for advertisement, psychological manipulation and outright sabotage of the unconscious mind.

It is important that this emerging technology remain in the right hands. Furthermore it is fundamental that we have a solid regulatory framework for it’s ethical introduction in to society. Remember that once a technology such as this moves from hardware and software to something that is remotely activated it would mark an ethical inflection point in the development of the technology that could make its application nearly impossible to control.

Targeted Dream Incubation or “Dream Engineering” relies on biofeedback technology, including hardware and software that can detect what stage of sleep you are in through reading your brain waves. In a stage of sleep called Hypnagogia or NREM1 you are beginning to dream, but are still vulnerable to sensory input. Which is why the devices depend on broadcasting an auditory signal in to the ear during mid-stages of NREM1.

Imagine for example an auditory message like “fish swimming through the air”, because the brain is more creative, AND highly suggestibility in the state of Hypnagogia it is actually capable of generating an entire scene like this from thin air. It’s not difficult to imagine how this could be utilized for purposes of entertainment and psychotherapy. It may in fact rival the emergence of virtual reality for example.

At least in this case, you do not have to rely on something outside of your own consciousness to generate the novel material. Furthermore, because targeted dream incubation would occur in the sleeping state, unlike VR you are basically using time that has previously remained untapped, for the purposes of entertainment, psychotherapy of memory consolidation. Think of the benefits for mitigating nightmares from PTSD. Or even insomnia for example they can already “deepen sleep by 81% simply by playing the audio clip “sleep deeper” (Cordi, 2014).”

Proponents of Dream Incubation Technology seem to think that it will enable further research in to the phenomenology of dreaming

“Scientifically, having a method to control dreams means that we can now do controlled experiments on how dreams influence emotion, creativity, memory, and more.”

They also think that it might enhance creativity through a a more fluid-dynamic thinking style, devoid of executive control.

“Scientists like Jonathan Smallwood, Paul Seli and Jonathan Schooler have done work on mind-wandering and creativity, inspiring our idea that fluid thinking outside of executive control in hypnagogia (like mind-wandering) could augment creativity.”

Another article explains how biofeedback technology would cue an individual to remember their dream, which is the most difficult part for a lot of people.

“But if subjects get too far into sleep, they are likely to forget their dream! This leads us to TDI Step 2, where we play audio prompting a dream report, i.e. “can you tell me what you are thinking about?” Subjects mutter a dream report for ~30s, after which they are allowed to fall back asleep again. When sleep onset begins, TDI Step 1 is prompted again. This cycle continues, allowing for serial dream incubations and serial dream reports. “

Dream Incubation technology is similar to, and beginning to blend in with the technological methodology for “targeted memory reactivation”. A similar biofeedback technique that can inject terminology in to your subconscious mind during the sleep state in order to enable better recall.

“When retrieval is tested after sleep, memory for items that were played during sleep (cued items) is typically better as compared to memory for items not played during sleep (un-cued items). “

Who or what is in control of that auditory content is the main concern. In order for people to remain open to this technology, in an increasingly tech-skeptical society, it is absolutely vital that the auditory content remain under voluntary control. I guarantee you that if we were to begin letting an AI observe our dream content and “recommend” topics for introduction, much like Netflix or streaming services, then it will invoke fear and distrust among the population

I find it strange that people believe AI would take over the world bthrough robotic killing machines. Probably no thanks to Hollywood. What is far more likely is that the an invisible, mutating algorithm would begin having a deleterious effect on us far before any robot. Either through social media, or the algorithmically powered autosuggest feature on video platforms such as youtube AND Netlix.

Because technology has a tendency to merge throughout time it’s important we consider how AI may be able influence the subconscious mind. Give it control over your dreams for example and what might happen? By creating an advanced form of dream technology are we assuming that AI is far more intelligent then a genome built out of billions of years of constant evolution? Furthermore, perhaps what we WANT to see in our dream is not what we NEED to see. All questions that needs to be asked before we begin tinkering with the natural forces of the psyche.


Further reading:

Dream Incubation Devices:

Dormi Website: Scientific Article



Do it Yourself, without advanced technology

DIY Dream Hacks

Other News Coverage:

MIT Tests ‘Dream Incubation’ Device That Manipulates The Content of People’s Dreams

MIT’s Targeted Dream Incubation Device Is Fresh Out Of Inception

Dream “hacking” with a novel device

Targeted Dream Incubation (TDI) takes sleep tracking and dream research to the next level

This New Device Can Manipulate Your Dreams While You Sleep

Scholarly Articles

Towards Engineering Dreams

Dream engineering: Simulating worlds through sensory stimulation

Incubating Dreams: Awakening Creativity

Targeted Dream Incubation (TDI): Manipulating Your Dreams

Special Issue on Dream Engineering

Incubating Dreams

Microdream neurophenomenology

Special Issue on Dream Engineering

Sleeping in a Brave New World: Opportunities for Improving Learning and Clinical Outcomes Through Targeted Memory Reactivation

^^^Not a fan of this title by the way

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s