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The Tinkered Mind
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December 8th, 2019
A strange sensation shot up into Lucilius’ mind. Like a shock of electricity it was as though all his senses bristled. He froze, realizing that he recognized the moment. The people in the café, at just that exact angle, the car horns muffled by the closing door. The draft from the cold outside evaporating in the warmth of the coffee shop. He’d been prompted by the loud open door to look back, and he knew that when he faced forward again, the girl at the cash register would make a mistake.
“Whoops,” the girl said. “Pressed the wrong button. Hold on just a sec,” she mumbled.
The feeling lingered but it felt as though it was fading, as though the memory were melting back into the moment, fleeting like a dream.
Had it been a dream? He now thought. Did he remember the moment because he’d dreamt this very scene, this very configuration of light and color, of sound and temperature, these people, this girl’s half smile at her mistake.
It had been a long time since he’d experienced that kind of déjà vu, but never before had he wondered whether it was on account of some sort of prophetic dream. If you actually happened to dream of the future, then how would it not feel familiar when you finally get there? The distinction overwhelmed him, filling his mind.
“Vente, Dark and biter. Hello?”
Lucilius snapped out of it and smiled at the young woman holding the coffee out for him. He took the coffee, thanking her and instead of heading straight to his lab, he sat down, pulled out a notebook and began to write about the idea. This connection between dreams and déjà vu.
When he finally got to his lab he called his team together and announced that they were going to put their current project on hold and detour into the curiosity that had struck him. First they had to find the neurocorrelates of pure recognition. Was it an emotion, a thought, and did it have some kind of signature across all things that are recognized. And further more, could it be induced.
After a month of testing with Advanced FMRI scanning, they found their signature, and almost overnight one of Lucilius’ graduate students had devised a way of inducing it in people using transcranial DC stimulation. With a fairly simple DC helmet, they were able to induce a sense of recognition with the right programming and therefore create déjà vu. Everyone in the lab tried it to eerie success. It seemed as though they had cracked the code for the strange mental phenomenon. There wasn’t an obvious application for the discovery but it would still be a paper that the team would be able to publish, and though it had detoured their other research, it had been worth it.
On the night when it was clear they had succeeded, Lucilius was walking home. He was reminiscing over the celebration the team had enjoyed after work. But Lucilius’ slight smile faltered. He stopped walking.
Even if the mechanism for recognition had been cracked, that it could be artificial and therefore it was possible that the brain incorrectly paired the phenomenon of recognition with novel events, it didn’t disprove the use of recognition when something was truly being recognized.
While they could now manufacture déjà vu, they still had not technically invalidated the possibility that someone had seen the future.
Standing under the orange light of a streetlamp on the cold sidewalk, Lucilius fished his notebook out of a back pocket and flipped to the page he’d written while in the coffee shop. It could still be a dream. Certainly it might be possible to dream something mundane that is similar to some probable circumstance in life and therefore seem prophetic. But would it happen as often as people experienced déjà vu?
They had to explore deeper. Lucilius stayed up late into the night, trying to figure out how they might be able to answer the question, and his thirst for the answer again drove his lab away from their work and into another rabbit hole. Over the course of the next year they designed and built a new way to monitor brain activity. Sensors had to be imbedded into key points in the skull where the resolution of neural activity was improved to the point where a supercomputer could deduce the structure of the brain down to the neuron based solely on the activity of that brain structure. With this they began to record the experience of life, of consciousness itself and most importantly to their cause, they recorded the stuff of dreams.
The thinking was that if the pattern of brain activity during a dream ever correlated later on with the stuff of waking life, and if that experience of waking life was accompanied by a sense of recognition, then it would show that a person had somehow managed to imagine the future in a dream.
This was the thinking, but Lucilius and the team simply didn’t anticipate what would happen. Once word got out that they had cracked the vault and that dreams could be recorded, the call for commercial application exploded. Before long people were buying into a simple procedure to record their dreams.
Lucilius founded a company to handle the commercial product, and he did so with the grave worry that they’d have access to people’s dreams. To circumvent the security risk, they simply collected the data in encrypted form and kept it stored that way, and while the customer had access to review their dreams, no one associated with Lucilius’ Dream company had access. They designed the system so that it only looked for matches between dream states and waking states. The company instantly started bringing in money and huge amounts of data. Lucilius was certain they would discover the truth behind déjà vu, and the possibility of dreaming prophecy.
Lucilius was sitting at the computer with his team huddled around as they reviewed the data from the first batch. No correlations found.
“Well, the dataset is still small,” Lucilius announced as the team eased away from the computer and some began to walk back to their own workstations. The computer continued to process as more data registered, and the correlation count stayed at zero. The team got on with their daily work and all grew accustomed to the occasional register of more data.
Later that evening, just as Lucilius was falling asleep, his phone rang. He answered and an ecstatic grad student was babbling.
“Slow down, what’s going on?”
“Correlation. The correlation count is 2.”
Lucilius sat up in bed. “Error?” he asked.
“I looked at the data myself. Nearly identical.”
Within a week it was clear that the number of correlations between dreams and reality was accelerating.
After much research involving thousands of interviews, Lucilius’ team discovered that a high percentage of early adopters had spontaneously developed the ability to lucid dream, that is, they could realize they were dreaming while still in a dream, and with this realization came the ability to control their dreams. It was the productivity community that had discovered the value of recording dreams. Instructions about inducing lucid dreaming had spread across social media platforms across the users, and this community interested in productivity hacking had wondered together and began to experiment with simulating the next day’s events to increase their effectiveness. Just as top athletes will often use visualization techniques and attempt to see themselves physically achieving their goals, these productivity hackers had begun crafting their lucid dreams like the next day’s board meeting, the next day’s sales pitch, the next romantic date, the next work out, and even rough drafts for the next day’s writing.
When this finally became clear, Lucilius knew that he was ready to change the course of is lab’s research. But he wasn’t done dreaming. He wiped the slate of his mind’s eye clear of plans about recording devices and the neurocorrlates of recognition. All of that would come and as it felt, he still had an hour’s worth of dreaming before he had to start his day. It was time to have a little fun.
He looked up in the now blank dreamscape to see a space craft descending. Stabilizing thrusters hissed and sputtered, keeping the craft steady as huge landing gear emerged from compartments in the belly of the metal ship. The hydraulic suspension eased and bounced gently as the starship came to rest before Lucilius. A door opened and a landing ramp extended down to the blank white ground. Lucilius walked towards his spacecraft and as he hiked up the ramp with the intention to explore a particularly strange planet on the outer rim of his imagination, he wondered how it would all go when he woke up. After enough times running the simulation over the last few weeks it was clear he was on to something with all this thought about déjà vu and recognition. He smiled, wondering if there really would be a new girl training at the coffee shop, and if she’d make her mistake on the computer just as his waking self would remember what he’d just lived now in the lucid realm. The hatch to the starship slid shut and the engines began to glow. The blank dreamscape began to melt away as a sandy scene rippled to life from the distance. A clear blue sky with two moons filled in the arching view overhead and the starship’s engine’s began to glow. Lucilius’ space ship lifted off the sandy ground, and then angled for a distant point in the wide sky before glowing engines brightened to a blinding pitch and then Lucilius was gone, off to explore the infinite recesses of his own mind.