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Pioneering Research

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Immersive Experience

Our immersive experiences generate an extraordinary amount of data in the form of writing and drawings created by visitors of the Dreamachine. 

As well as being beautiful acts of creativity, these reflections are also valuable research material. They help map, and make visible, the invisible – the diversity of patterns, colours, shapes and emotions that people experience from the same sequence of just white light. Browsing through our Reflections Gallery, you will see many similarities, as well as many differences – revealing what connects us all, as well as what makes us unique.

This feedback helps our research team paint a fascinating portrait of human consciousness –  exploring why certain people have certain experiences in the Dreamachine, and how this may relate to other aspects of their perception.

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The Perception Census

A major citizen science study led by world renowned neuroscientist Professor Anil Seth and philosopher Professor Fional Macpherson, The Perception Census investigates the unique ways we experience the world around us.

In total, 33,780 people from 133 countries took part, completing 102,689 sections of The Perception Census, making it the largest study of its kind. People aged 18 to 80 have contributed to this growing body of scientific and philosophical data – from Shetland to the Scilly Isles, the US to Indonesia, on every continent except Antarctica! The current phase of data collection is now complete and results will be released over a 3 year period.

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What have we learned?

The insights from the Dreamachine immersive experience, combined with the developing findings from The Perception Census, will support major new studies on the nature of perceptual experience, and provide a unique body of scientific and philosophical research that will be valuable to the fields of neuroscience, philosophy, psychology, and more. 

Bringing to light perceptual diversity, or our inner differences, could be transformational for society. Our research will provide better understanding of how neurodivergence relates to the differences in perception that exist between all of us, in turn shedding new light on our understanding of the mind.

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"The Perception Census has the potential to help society as a whole build new platforms for empathy and communication by embedding a recognition that the way we see things might not be the way they are, and we all experience our shared reality in richly diverse ways. "

Anil Seth, Professor of Cognitive & Computational Neuroscience at the University of Sussex, and Co-Director of the Centre for Consciousness Science

Initial Findings

Our research team will analyse the data sets generated by the Dreamachine Programme, conducting new studies to assess and corroborate their findings – leading into a major body of work on the nature of perception. In the meantime, here are some initial findings and the areas we’re excited to explore further.

Participants in the Dreamachine immersive experience reported a wide range of emotional reactions in response to the same white light. The most commonly reported emotion – by more than 60% of around 9,000 respondents – was peacefulness, other emotions expressed included amazement, anxiety, compassion, connection, euphoria, grief, isolation, love, optimism, fear, and surprise.

Many visitors described surprisingly profound emotional responses: one even said that the experience had such a positive effect on his mental health that he came to the Dreamachine live experience in Woolwich Public Market in London 27 times.

Many participants in the Dreamachine reported increased wellbeing, and as a result, the University of Sussex are now developing a new research programme to explore how the technology underpinning the experience could form novel interventions for mental health conditions, including depression and anxiety.

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Participants in the Census supported the Purves Cube finding that two identical brown squares on a Rubik’s cube appear to be different shades of brown, however they also revealed that we all experience this illusion differently.

20% of people experienced the illusion strongly, perceiving a much greater difference in the shade of brown than the average. However another 20% of people barely experienced the illusion at all. This result provides fascinating new clues into how the human brain takes light and shade into account when perceiving colour, revealing that this process works in different ways for different people.

These findings could also help explain why the internet was intensely divided over the colour of “the dress” - which to some people appeared to be blue and black, while others were convinced it was white and gold. These newly revealed individual differences in visual perception echo the startling variation in what people experienced in the Dreamachine, forming the basis of a new major study on the nature and diversity of perceptual experience.

View the Purves Cube
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31% of people who participated in the Body and Belief section of the Census reported having an ‘out-of-body’ experience at least once in their lifetime, and 66% of those people said they had such experiences many times. Reports of ‘out-of-body’ experiences – in which a person feels that their consciousness has left their body – have circulated for centuries, but are usually confined to rare events such as moments of spiritual ecstasy.

The number of people reporting this experience in the Census are surprisingly high. Further analysis and more participation from the public in the Census will help the team explain why.

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We asked people how much they agreed or disagreed with different statements about perception and consciousness. Questions which had not previously been asked to a public audience on such a large scale.

36% of people (out of nearly 6000) strongly agreed that the world might actually be very different from how they personally perceive it to be. This raises new questions about the relationship between perceptual experience and reality and when we can trust our experience.

92% of people (out of nearly 6000) think that a creature that can’t speak or understand language could be conscious, and about 42% think that computers or robots could someday be conscious - giving a fascinating insight into the current public view of the role of AI and technology in everyday life.

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"The study will help us reflect on what happens when differences in perception lead to apparent disagreement between people. Perhaps no one is perceiving a shared objective reality, rather, each of us is getting a glimpse of the creations of our own minds."

Fiona Macpherson, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Glasgow and Director of the Centre for the Study of Perceptual Experience
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