'By monitoring the brain activity of people while they watched Hollywood movie trailers, researchers were able to recreate a moving picture similar to the real footage being played.
While the technology is not yet capable of reading our thoughts, it could eventually lead to ways of translating our dreams and memories onto screen.
If it is refined enough the method could even be used to explore the minds of stroke patients, experts said.
Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, used MRI scanners to monitor the blood flow in people's brains as they watched films including Madagascar 2, Pink Panther 2 and Star Trek unfold on a screen.
After analysing how the brain's visual centre responded to on-screen movements, the scientists created a computer program which could accurately guess what the person was looking at.
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When the researchers watched a second set of clips, this time Hollywood film trailers, the programme was able to produce an approximate version of what they were watching.
It did this by scanning a library of random YouTube videos, pulling out the most similar clips to what it guessed the person was watching, and blending them together.
Because the program's video library contains just 18 million seconds of footage – a relatively small amount – it is highly unlikely that any clip will be very similar to the real footage.
To combat this problem, the program averages together the 100 shots from the video library that it thinks are the best match.
The result is a blurry but continuous video in which the movements of the shapes on screen reflect the action in the genuine Hollywood trailer.
Prof Jack Gallant, one of the study's authors, said: "We're trying to reconstruct the movie that was seen by searching through a large library of completely different, random movies.
"This is a major leap toward reconstructing internal imagery. We are opening a window into the movies in our minds."'