A hallucination machine created by scientists in the UK can send your brain on a psychedelic trip without drugs. Pairing together a virtual reality headset and Google AI technology, the device alters a user’s perception, imitating the visual stimulation experienced after taking LSD or magic mushrooms.
The hallucination machine was developed to help researchers better understand how the brain responds to altered realities. Experimenting with the device may answer the question whether the brain really knows the difference between real life and fantasy.
“We’re hallucinating all the time,” said Sackler Center for Consciousness Science co-director Anil Seth, as reported by International Business Times. “It’s just that when we agree about our hallucinations, we call that reality.”
Using the hallucination machine can provide invaluable data when studying the brain, especially when trying to predict the onset of mental illness. Typically, scientists are unwilling to perform tests on people who are actually tripping on drugs, as hallucinogens like magic mushrooms often lead to other adverse effects.
For the hallucination machine to work, a visual software program alters the user’s experience by repeatedly showing selected images and patterns blanketed over reality when viewed through a headset. In recent testing, the software, called Deep Dream, displayed an unusual amount of dog images to users. As the brain tried to compensate for the extra stimuli, the person began to imagine things that were not present in real life.
The first experiment asked 12 participants to use the hallucination machine. They were shown a panoramic video that was enhanced by Deep Dream. A survey of the group after the test revealed users experienced mind-altering hallucinations similar to ones seen after consuming magic mushrooms.
Intrigued by the results, a second experiment was done. This test was to find out if volunteers sensed any “temporal distortion,” or an inaccurate sense of time. The volunteers reported no difference in the passing of time between watching a standard video and the Deep Dream-altered video. The researchers concluded that the hallucination machine cannot mimic a true psychedelic experience just yet. According to the tests, it can reproduce some effects, but not all.
The researchers intend to make adjustments to the system and continue testing. The plan is to fine-tune the hallucination machine’s level of distortion – from high to low – to better match the brain’s visual processing of reality.
“Overall, the hallucination machine provides a powerful new tool to complement the resurgence of research into altered states of consciousness,” wrote researchers, as cited by Science Alert.
As the hallucination machine does not alter brain chemicals like hallucinogenic drugs, the door is opening to more research of cognitive function. Scientists can now design experiments to learn how our minds perceive and process reality without subjecting volunteers to potentially risky substances like LSD or magic mushrooms.
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