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‘Hallucination machine’ gives drug-free psychedelic trip

A ‘hallucination machine’ that sends your brain on a psychedelic trip without the need for drugs has been developed by scientists.

Using Google Artificial Intelligence and a virtual reality headset, the device makes users hallucinate as if they have taken LSD or magic mushrooms.

The machine was developed to help researchers better understand how the brain responds to altering realities.

Brain scans taken on people using the machine could help determine if our ‘reality’ is just a type of hallucination, the researchers claim.

Through a virtual reality headset, the hallucination machine repeatedly shows selected images and patterns, such as a dog (top right) or colourful lines (bottom left) and spirals (bottom right) layered over reality. Deep Dream works the brain so much it goes on a partial psychedelic trip

HOW IT WORKS 

The system runs through Google’s Deep Dream system, which uses an AI neural network to try and identify features and patterns in images.

Through a virtual reality headset, the hallucination machine’s visual software program repeatedly shows selected images and patterns layered over reality.

Deep Dream works the brain’s pattern recognition system so much that it begins to interpret the world in overdrive, seeing things that aren’t really there.

The Sussex researchers used a modified version of Deep Dream to present 12 volunteers with a ‘trippy’ panoramic video of the university’s campus.

They found that the visual hallucinations experienced by participants were similar to those reported by users of psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms.

‘We’re hallucinating all the time,’ Professor Anil Seth, co-director of the University of Sussex’s Sackler Centre, which is running the research, said in a recent TED talk.

‘It’s just that when we agree about our hallucinations, we call that reality.’

Studying the brain as it struggles to distinguish between hallucinations and real images could provide invaluable research into how the brain works.

The data could be particularly useful when trying to predict the onset of mental illnesses that distort people’s perception of reality.

Scientists typically shy away from performing research on people who have taken hallucinogens due to inherent safety and legal concerns.

The drugs also chemically alter the brain in a wide range of areas, making it difficult to isolate how they affect specific brain functions.

Using the hallucination machine, scientists can look at how visual hallucinations affect the brain while the organ is still chemically balanced.

A 'hallucination machine' that sends your brain on a psychedelic trip without the need for drugs has been created by British scientists. Using Google AI and a virtual reality headset, the device makes users hallucinate as if they have taken LSD or magic mushrooms (stock image)

A ‘hallucination machine’ that sends your brain on a psychedelic trip without the need for drugs has been created by British scientists. Using Google AI and a virtual reality headset, the device makes users hallucinate as if they have taken LSD or magic mushrooms (stock image)

THE STUDY 

The researchers presented 12 volunteers with a ‘trippy’ panoramic video of the university’s campus, using a modified version of Deep Dream.

They found that the visual hallucinations experienced by participants were similar to those reported by users of psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms.

Volunteers were asked whether they felt a loss of their sense of self or control during their ‘trips’, and whether they saw patterns or colours.

Their answers matched closely to a controversial 2013 study from a host of British universities into the experience of taking magic mushrooms.

The system runs through Google’s Deep Dream system, which uses an AI neural network to try and identify features and patterns in images.

Through a virtual reality headset, the hallucination machine’s visual software programme repeatedly shows selected images and patterns layered over reality.

Deep Dream works the brain’s pattern recognition system so much that it begins to interpret the world in overdrive, seeing things that aren’t really there.

The Sussex researchers used a modified version of Deep Dream to present 12 volunteers with a hallucinogenic panoramic video of the university’s campus.

They found that the visual hallucinations experienced by participants were similar to those reported by users of psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms.

Volunteers were asked whether they felt a loss of control or their sense of self during their virtual reality trips, and whether they saw patterns or colours.

Their answers matched closely with responses collected during a controversial 2013 study into the experience of taking magic mushrooms. 

But the machine does not appear to distort people’s experience of time in the way users of psychedelic drugs report. 

In a second experiment, 22 volunteers were asked whether the hallucinations warped their sense of time.

The responses were similar to those given after watching non-hallucinogenic, control videos.

The researchers concluded that the system cannot mimic a true psychedelic trip yet, but that it can reflect certain elements of the experience.

The technology is flexible and can be tweaked, and the researchers say that participants could one day adjust the parameters of the experience themselves.

‘Overall, the hallucination machine provides a powerful new tool to complement the resurgence of research into altered states of consciousness,’ the researchers wrote in their paper.

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk


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