Bizarre brain science: What causes hallucinations? Pixabay

The potential of Virtual Reality (VR) technology paired with Artificial Intelligence (AI) is endless. This technology that could alter your reality and also learn from your responses and surroundings to create a customized world that morphs as it progresses, make possibilities seem endless.

Now, researchers have taken this to experience the realm of hallucinations, without drugs. Using Google AI and a virtual reality headset, scientists have built a device they have named the Hallucination Machine. This machine can cause a user to "trip" like on drugs, but without using potentially harmful drugs.

Hallucinations and hallucinogens have always held the fascination of scientists and the adventurous. In fact, LSD was the result of a science experiment. Scientists, looking to study the brain processes involved during hallucinations and understanding the altered perception that we experience when we "trip," developed hallucinogens over years to try and understand how the brain processes what we’re perceiving, and how that might differ between reality and hallucinations.

Researchers from Sussex University’s Sackler Centre for Consciousness Science in the U.K. have published a paper in the journal Scientific Reports, on Wednesday, detailing their findings from the first few tests of the Hallucination Machine and have pitted it against traditional drug induced hallucinations.

"We’re hallucinating all the time," the Sackler Centre co-director, Anil Seth, said in a recent TED talk. "It’s just that when we agree about our hallucinations, we call that reality."

Hallucinations help scientists focus their study on areas of the brain that are affected when there is an altered reality. Using hallucinogens alters the chemical composition of the brain, which makes it hard to isolate just the visual effects. So the team used Google’s DeepDream system, which uses a neural network approach to try and identify patterns and features in images. You can actually try it out for yourself online.

DeepDream works by creating patterns and over emphasizing on certain recurring details that helps put our brain into perception overdrive, so much so that it starts to imagine stuff that isn’t actually there.

In the study, the team showed 12 volunteers a panoramic video of their university campus that was altered using DeepDream. After the study the users reported visual hallucinations which were similar to those brought on by psilocybin, the active ingredient in magic mushrooms.

A second experiment was used to determine how hallucinating can affect someone's perception of time. The team had 22 participants say whether or not they felt "temporal distortion." Nearly all of the participants had similar responses to these control videos, indicating that the technology cannot induce the time dilation and the full spectrum of the psychedelic experience yet.

According to the study, the team feels that the technology is still in it’s developmental stages and can be tweaked based on the results of the initial studies. In the future, participants could even get to adjust the parameters of the experience themselves further tuning the technology to replicate a drug induced hallucination which can be controlled with dosages.

"Overall, the Hallucination Machine provides a powerful new tool to complement the resurgence of research into altered states of consciousness," conclude the researchers in the study.