The possible dream

Ten fruit flies, encased in individual test tubes, pace the lengths of their glassy quarters like the prisoners they are.

On a screen, a graph is plotting each fly’s horizontal position over time. For periods, the flies are still. The occasional nudge spurs a flurry of activity.

Bruno van Swinderen, a professorial research fellow at the University of Queensland’s Brain Institute, has dedicated the better part of two decades to investigating the brain of the common fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster.

This experiment, which I’m watching online, involves a system van Swinderen and his colleagues created in 2015, the Drosophila Arousal Tracking (DART) system. Van Swinderen investigates attention, sleep and memory in these creatures, all of which he links to the slippery concept of consciousness.

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