Incubating Dreams: Awakening Creativity

Haar Horowitz, Adam. "Incubating Dreams: Awakening Creativity." Program in Media Arts and Sciences, MIT Media Lab. August 2019.


This research centers on the question of whether interfacing with dreams can help us explore and augment the creative potential of our minds. The dreaming experience at sleep onset, called hypnagogia, is the main focus of this thesis: these first minutes of sleep provide ideal conditions for incubating specific dream content and recalling it after awakening. This thesis presents Dormio, an interactive system which uses biometric-based audio interaction in hypnagogia to incubate and capture sleep onset dreams.

Dormio incubates specific dream themes; allows for multiple bouts of hypnagogia in one nap session; has automated capture of dream reports; and enables users to explore phenomenology at adjustable levels of consciousness. Dormio further augments human creativity, benefitting both objective and subjective ratings on a battery of creative performance metrics including Creative Self-Efficacy, Creative Storytelling Task, Alternative Uses Task and Verb Generation Task. Both the hypnagogic state and specific hypnagogic content confer creative benefits, suggesting a causal effect of dream content on creativity.

The incubation of dreams has fascinated people for millennia, yet reliable protocols have proved elusive. Dormio offers a mobile and inexpensive protocol, enabling controlled experimentation on all the ways in which nightly dreams help construct daily cognition. Understanding sleep onset allows us to understand the mechanisms that bridge daytime and nighttime thought, consciousness and unconsciousness. Understanding creative boosts in hypnagogia allows us to understand cognitive flexibility across the sleep-wake cycle, from how we see ourselves to how others see us. Understanding devices which go beyond design for daytime to interface across levels of consciousness opens a broad swath of possibilities for interacting with humans as we truly are — thinkers on a 24 hour cycle.

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