Dreams have captivated mankind since the beginning of time and have been the subject of countless studies over the years. Case in point: researchers at the ATR Computational Neuroscience Laboratories in Kyoto, Japan, have been working to visualize the images that a sleeping person sees in real time.

Led by Yukiyasu Kamitani, the team appears to be on the brink of success. By using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) which monitors the flow of blood in the brain, the team was able to build an algorithm that can display images in dreams as they happen. This is believed to be the first time that objective data has been captured from dreams.

The study consisted of three test subjects that each slept for three hours at a time in an MRI machine while attached to an EEG machine. Subjects exhibited brain activity as they drifted into State 1 non-REM sleep. Researchers would then awake the patients and ask them what they saw, a move that was repeated roughly 200 times over the course of 10 days.

Scientists then found images of the 20 most common dream categories and showed them to the test subjects. Then they went back into the machine for more observation. At the end of the study, the algorithm was only able to correctly visualize what the person was dreaming 60 percent of the time – a figure that Kamitani said is too high to be chance.