The Dreamachine (a contraction of Dream Machine) is a stroboscopic flicker device that produces visual stimuli. Artist Brion Gysin and William S. Burroughs’ “systems adviser” Ian Sommerville created the Dreamachine after reading William Grey Walter’s book, The Living Brain.
A Dreamachine is “viewed” with the eyes closed: the pulsating light stimulates the optic nerve and thus alters the brain’s electrical oscillations. As users adjust to the experience, they see increasingly complex animated yantra-like patterns of color behind their closed eyelids (similar effects may be seen when travelling as a passenger in a car or bus; close your eyes as the vehicle passes through the flickering shadows cast by regularly spaced roadside trees, streetlights or tunnel striplights—these were the hypnagogic effects Brion Gysin said he sought to recreate with the device). It is claimed that by using a Dreamachine meditatively, users enter an alphawave, or hypnagogic state. This experience may sometimes be quite intense, but to escape from it, one needs only to open one’s eyes. The Dreamachine may be dangerous for persons with photosensitive epilepsy or other nervous disorders. It is thought that one out of 10,000 adults will experience a seizure while viewing the device; about twice as many children will have a similar ill effect.