Everyone hates waking up in the morning; that eternal fight against the snooze button, the likelihood of a lengthy commute, the promise of endless tasks and chores ahead. But what we all hate most is that feeling of awaking from a wonderful, restful dream. As you open your eyes, that fantastic feeling starts to slide away while you cling to whatever it was that made your sleeping brain so happy. The harder you to try to remember, the faster that dream slips away. And poof! That dream is gone. Forever.
But with #technology ever-present in our waking lives, all that might be about to change. We walk around with cellphones glued to our hands, Bluetooth headsets on our ears, Fitbits on our wrists. So why are we not using technology while we sleep? Products are already being developed that help manage our slumber time, affect our moods and relax our brains. And these aren’t gadgets whose access is limited to scientists or elite military personnel; they are available to all of us. You can even order them on Amazon!
Sleeping badly? You can wear this headset at night to analyze what’s happening in your brain while you’re asleep and to learn about the different factors affecting what’s going on in your head as you slumber. Waking up in the middle of the night? There’s an app that can adjust the light in your bedroom to make sure you have sweet dreams after even the toughest of days. And when the morning rolls around, there’s even an alarm clock that wakes you up at the perfect moment in your sleep cycle (is there really a perfect moment to wake up?!).
So far, so good. But if technology can already do that much, how far are we from a breakthrough that would allow us to know what’s going on inside our heads and that could decode our dreams? Delving so deep into the human psyche could help us solve countless problems, whether small and personal — like a fear of the dark — or huge issues that affect society as a whole — such as violence and racism. While the meaning of dreams remains open to human interpretation, being able to peer into our own subconscious would be an incredible window into the inner workings of the human mind.
In The Divergent Series, technology is used to induce a state of lucid dreaming, or dreaming while you’re awake, in order to find out what people’s greatest fears are and how they’ll react when faced with them. By tapping into the subconscious mind, each person's true personality is revealed and that information is used to group people into different factions according to their behavior. But do our dreams really reveal our true feelings, fears and desires? Well, the answer to that depends entirely on what purpose you think dreams serve, and much like dreams themselves, right now nobody really knows for sure what our dreams actually mean.
Some believe dreams are an expression of the essential desires of our subconscious, which emerge during sleep when the moralizing and rationalizing parts of our brains are switched off. This is why dreams can often be so disorganized and seem as if they take place in an alternate reality, as they are based on purely instinctive drives and impulses and have no basis in fact. This is why some dreams can be awesome — because it’s your brain giving you the chance to live out something you really want to happen. For one night only!
Others suggest that dreams are actually devoid of serious meaning, but are simply a series of random patterns or brainwaves that we try to string into a narrative in an attempt to make sense of them. It's basically a defragging process for the mind, a way of clearing out all the junk left over from the day and hitting reset before morning comes. While this option seems very believable, it’s a lot less fun than the idea of having a fantasy world springing up in your head each time you drift off.
There's even an evolutionary theory suggesting our dreams are akin to a prehistoric training simulator that alerted our ancestors of the dangers and fears they faced, in a bid to help them survive. We all have that “running away from something scary” dream — this could just be a leftover from caveman times, where our primitive brains remind us to run like the wind if a wolf or mammoth came after us.
Many scientists, thinkers and neurologists have been debating the ethical implications of a mind- or dream-reading machine. In 2016 the kind of technology that can quite literally read our minds is no longer just a fantasy; it genuinely has the chance of becoming real, so we need to think very carefully as a species about how we harness it. As we move forward into such sensitive, unknown territory, let’s make sure that these advances help us improve the world for everyone.
Such technology could offer a large amount of beneficial uses, including aiding mental health professionals in helping disabled individuals to communicate with ease, helping children with learning difficulties, or rehabilitating people with depression or mental illnesses. Imagine if a parent could communicate with a child who had never spoken? Imagine if we could get to the root of people’s biggest fears and phobias, and cure them? A world of opportunity and experiences would be opened up for people who otherwise would never have been able to enjoy it.
However, there are also some potential uses for the tech that won’t be universally popular.
Experts have raised concerns that mind reading could be used for surveillance, interrogation and policing purposes, which could theoretically breach the United States Constitution. Could the government peer inside our minds and find out what we’re thinking? They already read all our WhatsApp messages and see all our Snapchats, so if they could find out our thoughts, would they do it?
As researchers and engineers draw nearer to creating the machines of our science fiction (and perhaps dystopian) worlds, along with technological advances such as human cloning, genetically modified food, advanced robotics, virtual reality, human augmentation and more, one must wonder: Have we developed the necessary moral and ethical structures to allow for their use? As a wise man once said, “With great power comes great responsibility.”
The choice of how we use such technological advances is entirely ours and we need to make sure that we choose the right path. In The Divergent Series, we see this technology used to divide people, not unite them, and build barriers between people under the guise of creating a superior world. We need to make sure that we use these advances to build a better future for everyone; it is our responsibility to make sure that our governments and authorities do just that.
For the time being, you can sleep safe in the knowledge that no-one is reading your dreams — yet.
'The Divergent Series: Allegiant,' hits theaters on March 18!