Expansion of Time During Dreams
Is it possible to induce a dream that lasts for weeks or months on end – but in reality, only lasts for a few seconds?
Daniel Schoonover, founder of the startup iWinks, certainly thinks so. In fact, he is selling a $300 product called the Aurora Dreamband, which supposedly helps people overtake their dreaming process to create highly lucid dreams,and in the process, extend those dreams for as long as they wish. In fact, the phenomenon of using electronic devices to enhance dreams has caught fire across the world, with startups in countries like the Netherlands and Ukraine creating products similar to the Aurora Dreamband. But amidst the fanfare, scientists are asking: is there any legitimate science behind this idea? Is it possible to manually alter the timespan of dreams? And more fundamentally, can dreams even have a distorted timespan to begin with?
Much of the scientific research on lucid dreaming suggests that although lucid dreams may feel as though they can span periods ranging from days to decades, the dreamer doesn’t actually “live through” this entire time span. Instead, narratives that range over large time spans can be created in the brain in a matter of seconds, according to Dr. Allan Hobson, emeritus professor at Harvard Medical School. Rebecca Turner, a former journalist and head of the World of Lucid Dreaming instructional guide, likens this to watching a two-hour film that spans over 100 years. It is possible to have a deep understanding of what happened over the 100 years without experiencing every second of them.
There may, however, be recent scientific evidence in mice that suggests the contrary. Dr. John M. O’Keefe, research scientist at the University of London and winner of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize, discovered a neural phenomenon in mice known as hippocampal replay. Mice have cells in their brains known as “place cells”, or neurons that fire every time a mouse is in a particular location. When they sleep, the place cells that were activated during a given day become reactivated – but not necessarily in the same order or for the same period of time as they were previously. Therefore, the dreams that these mice experience can legitimately be perceived as spanning long periods of time and in an odd mix of places they’ve seen or inhabited throughout the previous day. Dr. O’Keefe isn’t certain that this logic extends to people just yet, but he speculates that humans could have “experience cells” or “episode cells” that store a large amount of cognition and activity. These cells could be reactivated randomly and erratically to create time-expanded dreams.
It may not be possible to inhabit one’s perfect fantasy dream world for 100 years on end, but some individuals certainly believe they have experienced indefinitely long dreams. The concept of a dream remains notoriously difficult for scientists to understand, but if the folks at iWinks have finally cracked the dream code, we might all be in for some truly interesting bedtime stories.