What is actually happening in the brain when we dream? What happens if we stop dreaming?
Is the neural activity of the “sleeping brain” meaningless or do dreams have meaning? Do dreams have a purpose? Is that purpose solely biochemical or is it also psychological? Could it be that dreams help us learn? Do other animals dream and why? Is the mind “time traveling” when dreaming?
These are some of the questions dream and sleep researchers focus on. Here are some thoughts from a few of the researchers featured in the intriguing NOVA documentary special “What Are Dreams” available below from My Dream Life:
“If you want to understand human nature, the human mind, what makes us tick, you need to look at dreams.”
Patrick McNamara, PhD, Director of the Evolutionary Neurobehavior Laboratory, Boston University School of Medicine
“What’s amazing is that those processes of extracting what is important, integrating it with our other memories and projecting it into our future – these critical, brilliant functions of the human mind – might actually occur, not while awake, not while we’re trying to figure it out consciously and intentionally, but while we sleep and are dreaming.”
Robert Stickgold, PhD, professor of psychiatry, Harvard Medical School
“The speculation is that during non-REM sleep the brain is taking the past and trying to figure out how that might relate to the future, but in REM we’re actually trying to experience the future, to move into the future. In REM we may have the opportunity to step into the future world with no risk…these states may be what are essential in allowing us as individuals to reach our maximum level of potential.”
Matthew Wilson, PhD, MIT professor of neurobiology
PBS Nova – What Are Dreams, approximately 52 mins.
“REM sleep helps you with creativity because then your brain is sometimes even more active than when waking. You have different areas of the brain that are speaking to each other…it’s able to freely associate between its own memories and ideas and finding new solutions to problems.”
Sara Mednick, PhD, University of California, San Diego
“I think the value of dreams is in being a different mode of thought. They are so much more an intuitive and visual mode of thinking. In our culture we spend so much time in this logical and linear mode of thinking that the main benefit of dreams lies in presenting such a different point of view.”
Deirdre Barrett, PhD, professor of psychology, Harvard Medical School
“My sense is that while dreaming we are actually conscious and figuring out what is important about what has happened to us and how that relates to everything that happened in the past and figuring out how that might relate to the future.”
Robert Stickgold, PhD, Harvard Medical School
“Dreaming seems to be biologically programmed into our brain….we get the training benefits even if during wakingfulness we have no idea we’ve actually been training all night.”
Antti Revonsuo, PhD, professor of cognitive neuroscience at the University of Skövde and of psychology at the University of Turku
“It’s a whole new adventure every night…we don’t know whether its going to be fun, scary or poignant.”
G. William Domoff, PhD, professor of psychology, University of California, Santa Cruz
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