Brain scanner reads dreams? Dream on…

Posted on December 23, 2011


Daily Mail

Dateline: 28 October 2011 // Posted by: Mac
Source: Daily Mail

Story: “Brain scanner ‘reads’ people’s dreams- accurately enough to see what they are dreaming about”

Summary: Scientists at the Max Planck Institute in Germany have predicted that it is highly possible that within the next few years we will be able to clearly and easily observe a person’s dreams. These scientists have recently revealed that they have been able to operate brain scanners that are capable of observing the dreams of people who are thought to be able to manage their dreams. It is reported that the brain scans of these particular people, known by the scientists as ‘lucid dreamers’, when analysed by the scientists showed that the activities that the dreamers performed when they were asleep looked very similar to the brain scans taken when the participants completed the same activity while awake.

The scientists reportedly examined this by using magnetic resonance imaging and near infrared spectroscopy that examined the dreams by examining a person’s brain movement from the regular forms of temperature that were present in the brain. It is stated that this procedure may aid in reading a person’s dreams by generating shifting representations of what a person is dreaming about that allow for scientists to create virtual pictures of the dreams which can be readily observed.

Why is this PseudoNews? It is evident that this particular assumption is pseudoscientific due to the presence of some erroneous beliefs in this article. One of the erroneous beliefs stated in this article relates to the assumption that brain scanners and restoration devices can enable scientists to observe and record what people have dreamed about by producing moving representations of a person’s dreams. Magnetic resonance imaging only allows for pictures of the brain to be viewed, while near infrared spectroscopy allows for certain brain actions to be situated according to where they occur in the brain, so it is impossible for these scientists to be capable of using this technology to be actually able to view exactly what a person is dreaming about.

Another reason that the procedure described in this article is pseudoscientific is due to the fact that the experimentation carried out that the scientists are basing this assumption on is not very valid or significant. It is clear that the scientists tested this assumption in a very weak experimental design structure as it is confirmed that the scientists have only been able to recreate two dreams so far. As this is an extremely small sample size in which to base this assumption on it is not in any way possible to draw any plausible results from it and this drastically reduces the reliability and accuracy of this claim. Also, it is not mentioned whether or not the scientists used suitable and effective controls or any other experimentation methods to test their assumption. This further decreases the possibility that their claim can be proven to be correct.

What features of pseudoscience are on show? One of the features of pseudoscience that is present in this article is the absence of precision and clarity in the measurement of the assumption stated. This is apparent as it is not clearly established anywhere within the article how many participants were examined during the experimentation stage carried out by the scientists. The absence of this greatly important information has a significant impact on the accuracy and validity of the assumption that brain scanners are capable of reading people’s dreams as due to the fact that it is not clear as to whether a small or large sample size was used in this experiment it can not to be fully determined whether the results are significant as it is quite possible that the sample size may be too small to provide accurate results.

A feature of pseudoscience that was also displayed in this article was the presence of examples of anecdotal evidence as opposed to the much more valid empirical evidence. The anecdotal evidence present in this article included the presence of experimentation knowledge and results discovered by the scientists that appear to demonstrate that the results obtained from the experiments were acquired from experiment situations that were not fully legitimate or did not fulfill certain standards of experimentation. Also, the explanation provided explaining how the technology works appears to provide a more observational and informal approach to explaining the process rather than a more accurate scientific approach.

Another feature of pseudoscience that was visible in this article is the avoidance of falsifiability. It is evident from the article that the scientists are very confident in the technology they claim is able to read a person’s dreams and that they did not encourage or consider the possibility that their assumption could be challenged by further examinations, even though they have only be able to recreate the dreams of two people so far.

The moral of the story: While it is true that images from the brain can be easily viewed and that the site of brain actions can be found, it is apparent that there are many reasons not to consider the assumption that brain scanners can read people’s dreams as a valid claim. It is clear from this article that although many scientific technologies may be identified as methods by which we can observe and record dreams it is evident that this claim is not at all accurate.