Deep in the dead of night, science, religion and art come together and dance a merry jig in the minds of sleeping Londoners.

For millennia, we have woken from curious dreams and attributed them to messages from God. Artists have interpreted the dreams in dark and gloomy nightmares.

But is only now that the veil is slowly being drawn back to reveal how the brain works and science is starting to hesitantly pick out what causes such strangely surreal dreams.

Science treads carefully though, tip-toeing around the issue of what makes us… us. What is consciousness, how does it work? Are we simply a bio-chemical device, or is there some mysterious “other” that creates the sensation that the thoughts in our head are generated by a higher method? The Wellcome Collection in central London is exploring this conjunction of science and art in the second of its year-long explorations of the human consciousness.

It’s a mix of documents and drawings from scientists, intermixed with art that seeks to explore the emotions that the brain so mysteriously generates.


For anyone who has suffered it, and I include myself, one of the greatest terrors is sleep paralysis, and the utterly unreasoning fear of something malevolent being in the room.

When so many people experience the same exceptionally graphic phenomena, it’s very difficult to argue that individual brains all dream the same thing, and see the same things, so there has to be another unseen world out there which we all share, if only in the darkest moments of our awareness.

The Nightmare Henry Fuseli 1781 Trustees of the British Museum

With human consciousness being such an integral part of what makes the unique us, it is difficult for science to explain that what you are reading and thinking right now is simple chemicals bonding and breaking in a fleshy lump in the head.

As such the exhibition is more art than science, and turns to art at times to try and describe what people experience in their heads, while being convinced that it is an external effect.

Do you really float above your body in a dream-like state, looking down at yourself, which is an external effect, or is it all imagination, and internal?


If anything, even as science tries to explain, and art to describe, ponder for a moment, regardless of what causes the brain to cook up such extreme situations — what a remarkable thing it is to be able to do so at all.

The exhibition, States of Mind is open at the Wellcome Collection until 16th October. Entry is free.

Wellcome Collection,
183 Euston Road,





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