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Getting a glimpse into the "movies in our minds"

It sounds like a scenario from the pages of a Ray Bradbury novel but researchers at the University of California, Berkeley have moved a big step closer toward an era where scientists can record and replay our dreams.

In previous studies, scientists investigating  brain activity recorded static visual patterns but until now nobody had been able to successfully decode brain signals generated by moving pictures.

The breakthrough experiment, reported in the current issue of the journal Biology, used brain imaging and computer simulation to decode and reconstruct Hollywood movie trailers shown to test participants. Encoding models that described how movies get transformed into brain activity were then deployed to decode brain activity and reconstruct the stimulus generated during the act of watching a film.

Although the current technology now only reconstructs video that people had already viewed, the door is open for future work to reproduce dreams and memories. News of the experiment naturally conjures up futuristic scenarios where doctors would be able to read the mind of a coma patient or use brain-machine interface technologies to help stroke victims and people with neurodegenerative diseases such as cerebral palsy.

Jack Gallant, a UC Berkeley neuroscientist and coauthor of the study, described the results as a "major major leap toward reconstructing internal imagery," adding that "we are opening a window into the movies in our minds."

You can find out more about the experiment here.