What also fascinates Seth is that participants reported very different experiences even though they were immersed in the same environment. “Of course, this is not only true in the Dreamachine,” he says. “One of the lessons is that everywhere, all at once, all the time, we’re all having a different experience, even when we share the same objective reality.“
To further map out that inner perceptual diversity, Seth and his team have also started a project called the Perception Census, an online survey that aims to measure how different people perceive different dimensions like sound, time, color, and even expectations. “The idea is to understand the latent space,” he says. “The underlying organizational structure by which we all vary on the inside because it’s so hard to see. It seems to us that we see the world as it is, so it’s very hard to realize that other people might see it very differently.” Already, 20,000 people from more than 100 countries have taken part in the census, making it one of the largest experiments of its kind.
In spite of that diversity, participants in the Dreamachine do overwhelmingly report experiencing one emotion in common: peace. This finding might show that in the near future, the Dreamachine could also lead to new forms of mental health therapy. “There’s a long history of light-based treatment for things like depression and grief, whether it’s treating seasonal affective disorder or other forms of depression,” Seth says. “The experience has certain parallels to psychedelics in that they bring about an unusual, unexpected, vivid perceptual experience in your brains. The experience really made people feel different and, in most cases, a lot better.”
This article appears in the July/August 2023 edition of WIRED UK magazine.