There are dog heads everywhere — materializing from the sides of buildings, etched eerily into the overcast sky. A passerby turns to look at you and her body transforms into a hybrid pheasant-poodle. The sidewalk below you is peppered with eyeballs. No, you’re not on drugs, but your brain might have a hard time telling the difference. This is an experience within the Hallucination Machine, a VR headset that immerses users in a 360-degree psychedelic version of reality that is generated with the help of Google’s Deep Dream generator. Researchers at the Sackler Center for Consciousness Science at the University of Sussex in the UK developed the Hallucination Machine to see what altered states of consciousness can teach us about normal consciousness. Early results published in the online journal Scientific Reports point to striking similarities between the experience of virtual hallucinations and the real thing. It’s been nearly 400 years since René Descartes first wrestled with the enigma of human consciousness, and the best minds in neuroscience and cognitive psychology are still trying to unravel the mystery of how our brains conjure up “the self” and process a constant flow of incoming sensory perceptions as “reality.”

One way to understand how a complex system works is to break it. Read more here…

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