He acted out a dream he had recently had to illustrate how our night time fantasies can influence our waking lives, and how technology can help us access them. To achieve this, he invented a hand worn device he calls Dormio.
“Dreams are such a strange, murky, inaccessible space and there is so much poetry, metaphor and analogy in them,” he told the BBC when it visited him at the Media Lab in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
“The idea that you can take something concrete that can help you access that poetic and metaphorical side of your own cognition is really exciting.” The device collects biosignals that in turn track transitions in sleep stages.
The goal is to study a particular stage of sleep – the period between wakefulness and deep sleep, known as hypnagogia. It is a period of slumber which has fascinated scientists and artists for hundreds of years.
The Dormio gadget is connected to a smartphone app or robot, which speaks word prompts to the subject as they slip into deeper sleep. These words can be used to influence their dreams or to knock them back into lighter sleep.
“We have found that in the subjects we tested, those words reliably entered the hypnagogic dreams as dream content,” said Mr Horowitz.
“After this slight wake-up, we initiate a conversation about dream content with users via the Jibo social robot and record anything that is said, as hypnagogic amnesia is reported and we don’t want people forgetting their useful ideas.”
After this conversation, the system lets users drift back towards sleep, interrupting again when the biosignals suggest they are falling into deep sleep.
“This is done repetitively to intercept dreams and extract dream reports,” said Mr Horowitz.
So far it has only been tested on 15 people but the hope now is to widen the trial and eventually make it commercially available.