UK researchers devise machine to induce drug-free hallucinations

29 November 2017

UK researchers have devised a wall-melting machine that can induce hallucinations. No drugs are involved but participants reported visual hallucinations much like those induced by LSD or psilocybin (magic mushrooms).

The experimental setup comprises a virtual reality platform into which scientists plugged in Google's DeepDream, a neural network mainly designed to identify features in images but which also does the equivalent of 'dreaming' for robots.

Twelve participants at Sussex University's Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science in the UK were asked to strap on the virtual reality headset into which panoramic natural landscapes were streamed.

At one point, the scientists switched on DeepDream which produced ''biologically realistic visual hallucinations.''

Following the mind-bending experience, each participant was asked to fill in a questionnaire describing their experience.

They were asked questions like whether they felt a loss of control or a loss of their sense of self, and whether they saw patterns and colours.

The team found the induced hallucinations to be very much similar to those caused by psilocybin, the active ingredient in 'magic mushrooms'.

The research was aimed at isolating the visual effects of hallucinogens from the chemical alteration of the brain.

Given that Google DeepDream is basically a pattern interpreter, the resulting imagery is on overdrive so much so that the machine started to 'imagine' things that should not really be there in the first place.

Hallucinations have always interested scientists studying the human mind.

However as hallucinogens change the chemical composition of the brain and can cause side effects, the Hallucination Machine is being considered as a safer alternative.

According to the researchers, their technology is still in its developmental stages but they say it could be a stepping stone for further studies.

''Overall, the Hallucination Machine provides a powerful new tool to complement the resurgence of research into altered states of consciousness,'' the researchers concluded.

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