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6 Surprising Things That Can Influence Your Dreams

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By Aatif Zubair, Delhi Technological University, India

What goes into creating dreams is a subject of great interest to almost everyone—including scientists. Here are some things which they've discovered can influence what happens after you close your eyes.

1. Sleeping on your belly gives you erotic dreams

People who sleep on their fronts are way more likely to have erotic dreams compared to those who go to sleep in other positions. According to a study, people who sleep on their tummy tend to get short of breath at night, and because of that, they often get dreams of wild sex. The people who sleep in such a position often experience racier dreams, like those involving being “tied up” or “locked up.” Another interesting fact to note is that most people who have experienced such dreams report that they also often involve a really famous personality.

2. Nightmares can be Shared/Genes influence your nightmares

Identical twins may usually have the same interests and habits, but scientists have discovered that their genetic basis is much stronger than anyone can imagine. It’s so strong that they can even experience nightmares on almost the same frequency. In a large study that involved nearly 2700 identical twins and 4200 non-identical twins, scientists found that identical twins are twice as likely to have the trait of having frequent nightmares as fraternal twins, which is both awesome and slightly creepy.

3. Earth’s magnetic field triggers weird dreams

It's possible that the Earth’s magnetic field has a profound effect on dreams in people. Psychologist Darren Lipnicki has been recording his dreams for over eight years and concluded that low geomagnetic activity caused weirder dreams, but when the geomagnetic activity was high, the dreams got more normal and sensible. His findings are strictly anecdotal but have provided the impetus for further controlled studies.

4. Black and white television gives you black and white dreams

Trying to think of a world in black and white might sound impossible, but some people actually do so in their dreams. A study published in 2008 by psychology student Eva Murzyn at the University of Dundee has shown that the type of television you watched as a child has a profound effect on the color of your dreams. Murzyn found that her respondents aged 55 and over had colorless dreams 20 percent of the time, leading her to believe that children who were exposed to black-and-white film and TV from ages three to 10 are more likely to dream in greyscale throughout their life. Other studies have shown that since the 1960s, 83 percent of the population dreams in color, a timeline that coincides with the advent of color TV—so it is possible that media has as much influence on our subconsciousness as life experience.

5. Different Cheeses affect your dreams

This might be a bit hard to digest, but a study has found out that different types of cheeses can affect your dreams. All cheeses contain an amino acid called tryptophan, which is helpful in normalizing sleep and reducing stress levels. A 2005 study conducted by the British Cheese Board discovered that the subjects who normally ate cheddar cheese dreamt more about celebrities; the people who ate Blue cheese (Blue Stilton) experienced bizarre dreams. Cheshire gave the best night's sleep, but it caused dreamlessness. The people who ate Red Lancashire had nostalgic dreams about their families and childhood and the ones who ate Blue Lancashire dreamt mostly about their work.

6. What you hear and smell influences your dreams

Our mind interprets the noise occurring around us while we’re asleep, and makes it a part of our dreams. This means that sometimes in our dreams we hear a sound from reality which is incorporated it a way that makes sense to our subconscious. For example, you may be dreaming that you are in a concert while your brother is playing a guitar during your sleep. In one study, researchers found that there was a significant difference between the dreams of the people who heard no music and the people who did. The ones who did hear reported that they had heard music in their dreams.

Even smells have an influence on dreams. Similar to noise, our brain interprets smells as a signal and incorporates it in dreams. For example, the scent of rose gave people pleasant dreams while the scent of rotten eggs gave weird dreams to people.

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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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May 23, 2017
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