Simanaitis Says

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THERE YOU’D BE, just entering REM slumber enticed by your smart speaker playing a Chopin nocturne. Inexplicably, though, you dream that Ivory is 99.44-percent pure—it floats. Or that Budweiser is the King of Beers. Or even worse, that some has-been pol didn’t really lose the election. 

Image from Science, June 25, 2021.

Far fetched? Alas, no. Sofia Moutinho writes in Science, June 25, 2021, “Advertisers Could Come For Your Dreams, Researchers Warn.”

Moutinho writes, “This week, a group of 40 dream researchers has pushed back in an online letter, calling for the regulation of commercial dream manipulation. ‘Dream incubation advertising is not some fun gimmick, but a slippery slope with real consequences,’ they write on the op-ed website EOS. ‘Our dreams cannot become just another playground for corporate advertisers.’ ”

To Sleep, Perchance to Dream. Moutinho observes, “Researchers can now identify when most people enter the stage of sleep where much of our dreaming takes place—the rapid eye movement (REM) state—by monitoring brain waves, eye movements, and even snoring. They have also shown that external stimuli such as sounds, smells, lights, and speech can alter dreams’ content.”

An Example. Adam Haar, a co-author of the warning letter, is a cognitive scientist and Ph.D. student at MIT. Moutinho reports that he has “invented a glove that tracks sleep patterns and guides its wearers to dream about specific subjects by playing audio cues when the sleeper reaches a susceptible sleep stage.” 

Moutinho writes, “He says he has been contacted by three companies in the past two years, including Microsoft and two airlines, asking for his help on dream incubation projects. He helped with one game-related project, but says he wasn’t comfortable participating in any advertising campaigns.”

The warning letter notes, “It is easy to envision a world in which smart speakers—40 million Americans currently have them in their bedrooms—become instruments of passive, unconscious overnight advertising, with or without our permission,”

Pre-Madison Avenue. Moutinho writes, “People throughout the ancient world invented rituals and techniques to intentionally change the content of their dreams, through meditation, painting, praying, and even drug use. Greeks who fell ill in the fourth century B.C.E. would sleep on earthen beds in the temples of the god Asclepius, in the hopes of entering enkoimesis, an induced state of dreaming in which their cure would be revealed.”

Been There, Dreamt That. I suspect, thankfully enough, that I would not be a good candidate for REM advertising. Back when I was in grad school, I’d often go to sleep while puzzling the proof of some mathematics or other. The next morning, I’d vaguely recall that I had dreamt an elegant solution, but drat! I couldn’t quite reconstruct it. 

I read that some people keep a pad and pencil at bedside for jotting down these dreamt bits of genius. So I did the same. 

And, sure enough, in response to a particularly thorny aspect of dynamical systems theory, I awoke the next morning to the following nocturnal scribbling: It read something like “if I define a differentiable function between Mickey Mouse and Marlene Dietrich, then it’ll be easy to prove its inverse will be a chocolate sundae with peanuts.”

Who knows what I’d make of an electronics ad or a pol’s pitch. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2021 

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