In the largest digital dream study so far, researchers at Cambridge University’s Nokia Bell Labs in the U.K. recently created an artificial intelligence system to probe for broad patterns in the evocative stories our unconscious tells. To test the system, they used it to analyze transcripts in the largest known public collection of dream reports, called the DreamBank. Its 38,000 documented dreams range from the yearnings of a young girl coming of age to the nightmares of a Vietnam War combat veteran and stretch back well over a century.
“By using automated techniques to study these reports, we can understand a lot of who we are,” says [computational social scientist] Luca Aiello.
The team’s initial findings, made public last month in the journal Royal Society Open Science, also support the well-established theory that our dreams reflect the situations we encounter while awake, with no deeper prophetic, mythological or religious meanings.
Our dreams reverberate from the shock of current events, such as the Black Lives Matter movement and Covid-19 pandemic, other scientists discovered from dream surveys this summer.
In a study of 9,000 pandemic-related dreams collected between March and July, psychologist Deirdre Barrett at Harvard Medical School encountered visions of “armies of cockroaches, masses of wriggling worms and swarms of bees….There was a woman who dreamed she saw a huge tarantula crawling into her apartment through the mail slot.”