Sussex University have created a hallucination machine, so we went and tried it out
There is more happening at Sussex than meets the eye.
If you venture down to Sussex University's Sackler Center for Consciousness Science, you will find a doctor hard at work attempting to understand the gap between human consciousness and how it perceives reality. This man is Keisuke Suzuki, a post-doctorate research fellow who has developed a machine to simulate what hallucinations do to our brain.
The machine takes footage and is able to form particular shapes and images from that footage in an attempt to replicate tripping on psychedelics. From our experience, it felt as if the machine would process certain stimuli – whether they be shapes or colours – and apply certain distortions and filters to them. For example, the video would show a man walking past and the machine would make it appear as though the man had a dog for a head.
Suzuki explained that the computer represents our brains as they interpret images. The video footage represents the images that our brain receives from our eyes, and the program acts as a hallucinogenic drug does with our brain, by altering the images received and processed.
Suzuki told us that some other tests have utilised using real drugs in order to find out how the brain can be manipulated and have its reality distorted. Whilst some ethical questions could be raised, the quality of the research is not as dependable as you might think as the brain itself can be damaged or severely altered. This machine can allow a sober individual to experience the high and document the results more accurately without the threat of a system being damaged.
The machine was actually a VR headset that utilised the digital engine, Unity. Where previously the machine only processed still images – which changed the shapes, colours, and overall perception of it – Dr Suzuki showed us a pre-rendered video where the machine was transforming moving image.
The process was so intense that Dr Suzuki told us that rendering one frame of the video took two minutes.
The result was the machine altering the reality within the video with different images and shapes. The interesting part of this is whilst we all were able to see the same image, we perceived it all in a different way.
Falmer House morphed into vibrant and psychedelic birds, dogs, beetles, and an image which we all disputed whether it was a rocket, sugar shaker or bottle.
The next step for the machine would be to render the hallucination in real time. This is currently something they are working on.
The general theme for this research centres around the idea of 'what is reality?'. Anil Seth, co-director of the Sackler Centre who has also featured on TED Talks , focuses a lot of his research on how our brains processes information and how it understands reality around it.
Seth argues that we are actually hallucinating all of the time as he calls hallucinations "uncontrolled perceptions". The way we define what is reality is if our hallucinations match those of other people's and so, "when we agree about our hallucinations, we call it reality". Anil then goes on to question how our billions of neurons process information and create a reality that is bespoke to us. He continues by asking if animals and machines are conscience beings as they continue to develop their networks.
To three BA students, the work the Dr Suzuki has accomplished is awe-inspiring, and will remain forever a mystery to us as to how he has achieved this very incredible accomplishment.