Have you ever remembered a dream and wanted to snap a picture of it? With brain scans and MRI imaging and other technological advances, surely this should be possible, right? The history of capturing thoughts and dreams goes back centuries and is steeped in both science and the supernatural. Most of the results have been dismissed as hoaxes, but scientists may have figured out a new way to see what’s really going on inside someone’s head.
In 1911, Louis Darget believed he could produce a physical image of a person’s dream. Using his wife as his subject, he put a headband over her head, so a photographic plate pressed against her forehead. Believing the brain was sending out rays of phosphorus whenever a thought crossed his wife’s mind, Darget’s experiment produced blurry images of what he claimed were bottles, a walking stick, and an eagle. Wanting to separate himself from the supernatural “spirit photographers,” Darget wrote extensively to scientists and even convinced a few of them. However, upon further study, we know now that the images were just smudges from contact with the subject’s skin and the developing solution.
One of the most famous cases of what became known as “thoughtography” happened during the 1960’s. Ted Serios and a psychiatrist claimed to have produced Polaroid photos of Serios’ thoughts, including the Parthenon. All the photos were in black-and-white. The psychiatrist published a book, The World of Ted Serios: “Thoughtographic” Studies of an Extraordinary Mind” and psychic photography became a hot topic for a long time. Photography experts consider Ted Serios a fraud and have reproduced similar images without the psychic element, debunking his “powers.” Believers still exist, however.
The most recent attempt to capture dreams and thoughts is firmly rooted in science. Using MRI technology, researchers at Berkeley were able to reconstruct internal images from people’s minds, specifically, movie trailers that the subjects had seen. With something concrete to compare the MRI results to, scientists are able to more confidently say that the technology works. It’s a very young project as of yet, but the team is hoping their work will one day be able to reproduce thought images from people who can’t verbally communicate, like coma patients.