The reason for dreaming is one of those event horizons of human experience. Maybe there are people that know what dreams are for, but they’re not talking—or can’t talk at all. Researchers have shown we remember roughly 10% of what we dream. Are we “meant” to forget them according to some evolutionary requirement? Your guess is a good as mine.
One thing we know for sure is not dreaming is a recipe for a health disaster. Chronic lack of REM sleep can lead to increased inflammatory responses, increased sensitivity to pain, increased risk for child and adolescent obesity, and memory difficulties that could lead to dementia and Alzheimer’s. None of these illnesses sound like any fun.
We need dreams, but the reason why is anything but clear. Sorta like experiencing dreams themselves, huh? People have speculated that dreams are a form of wish fulfillment, a way for our primate brains to deal with an uncaring and cold world. Others think they are threat simulation, that our brains are preparing us for any and all menaces our imaginations can come up with. Dreams could also be a byproduct of the brain, artifacts of moving memories from short-term to long-term.
The theory I find the most intriguing is dreams are the result of the brain forcing a narrative upon the stimuli of the random firings of neurons. As a storyteller, I gotta say I like this one. We are narrative-driven animals. When things don’t make sense, we make it make sense. There was an experiment where they isolated the neurons that fired when the subjects made a fist on either their right or left side. The experimenters had the subjects tell them which side they were going to make a fist on. Right before the subjects made a fist, the experimenters stimulated the neurons for the opposite side. When asked why they made a fist on the opposite side, the subjects said, “I changed my mind.” When a narrative is lacking, we impose one onto the situation even if it’s not what really happened.
One way we might be able to push that event horizon back is by the attempts to record dreams. When we dream, we send signals to our muscles to move. Most of us are paralyzed during this period. Both sleep paralysis and sleepwalking are problems that occur when this process goes awry. Researchers at the University of Texas have been measuring these signals figure out when dreamers are moving in their dreams and—more importantly—what they say. Japanese researches at Kyoto University have been successful in reconstructing images for their subjects waking minds. They are now working on technology that would do the same for dreaming ones. It’s crazy to think that these advancements are being made at a uni only a half-hour’s ride from my house.
While half of the inspiration of my novel, Dreaming Alejandro, came from Jodorowsky’s Dune, the other half was from these advances of understanding the sleep process. Cass, my main character, uses this technology to make a living by recording her lucid dreams. At first, she makes porn according to her client’s specifications, then uses it to film a previously unfilmable movie. I hope you all give a read when it comes out in the next few months.
Until next time!
Your humble scribe,
This Week’s Question
Why do you think we dream?
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