In a move that sounds like it could be the kernel of an idea for a sequel to Christopher Nolan’s Inception, the US Army is developing an experimental procedure to help combat soldiers deal with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder-induced nightmares using the power of “good dreams.”
In a project known as Power Dreaming, soldiers will fight their service-related night terrors with a series of digitally crafted “virtual dreams” designed to reduce their stress level and help them deal with the pressures of armed conflict.
The experiment is still in the planning stages, but it’s picking up steam and officials expect it will be fully underway come next year. In preparation, the Army has already awarded half a million dollars to a consulting company to help develop the experiment.
The theory behind Power Dreaming is similar to biofeedback – a method of stress reduction where participants’ physical state is monitored to let them know when they’re under duress so that they can work on calming down. The new program looks to take things a step further – by giving soldiers custom-designed “dreams” they can view to help lower their heart rate and stress levels after experiencing a nightmare.
The digital dreams will be created using Second Life – a popular online social game wherein players interact with each other in a virtual world. In the game, players can create fairly realistic recreations of themselves and detailed virtual worlds to play in – they can be anyone and do almost anything – making the game a pretty good tool for helping soldiers combat bad dreams with pleasant scenarios of their own choosing.
Of course, this isn’t exactly like Inception or when Nancy takes on Freddy in A Nightmare on Elm Street. There’s no real dream manipulation happening from what we can tell. Instead, soldiers will awaken from a bad dream and use the digitally created imagery on their computer to calm down and “to develop physio-emotional states to counteract the reactive stress response inherent in trauma memories.” Perhaps in time this will become so ingrained in the soldier’s memory that he’ll be able to “flip a switch” and change over to the good memories without the aid of the PC and 3D goggles, but only time and research will tell.
The program does face some hurdles, both in terms of technology and security. The military is very strict about taking things from their computer networks and moving them to civilian machines because of the potential for security breaches. Then there’s also the issue of compatibility – the military doesn’t exactly use Windows, so there would have to be a way to make the files work with a standard PC or Mac. That’s putting the cart in front of the horse, though – first thing that needs to be done is to see if this will actually work effectively for soldiers struggling to overcome the stress of war. If it does, then crossing these other problems off the list shouldn’t be a problem.