Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Dreams Explained.

It appears that, like a few other people I know, I've been having some pretty strange and vivid dreams lately.

After a discussion about dream and what dreams 'mean', I thought I'd share my theories on what dreams are and where they come from.

Now, his first bit isn't theory, it's fact. I'm sure I'm explaining it (because it was explained to me this way) in 'discovery channel special' terms, but it makes it very easy to understand.

When we learn something new, the information is stored by new physical connections being formed in your brain. When you first learn something, this new connection is weak and easy to break, but the more often that information is repeated, the stronger and more robust that connection comes. That's why you can be introduced to someone in passing and have forgotten their name an hour later and the connections for the things we do every day, like drive, become so strong that they seem to require almost no conscious thought. It's why when someone tells you a phone number, you repeat it over and over to yourself while looking for something to write it down with, because the repetition strengthens the connection and also keeps it active while you look for your pen.

Basically, the more often you do something or think about it, the stronger those connections in your brain become, and because that stronger connection has better electrical conductivity, it's easier to recall that information.

Also, our brains are essentially 'pattern recognition engines'. Our brains are bombarded by so much sensory input that we just wouldn't be able to function if we were consciously aware of everything we sensed around us all the time (imagine trying to follow a hundred conversations at once). So our brains take everything in and look for things that we recognize or consider important. For example, while you're sitting down reading this, until I mention it, you're probably not conscious of the feel of your feet in your shoes, or the sound of the clock ticking on the wall or the TV in the other room.

The other side of this is that our brains often recognize and report patterns where there really are none. That's why people can see the Virgin Mary in a slice of burnt toast, look up at the clouds and see a bunny rabbit, or mistake the robe hanging on the back of the bedroom door for a ghost/attacker when we wake up at 3am.

Long story short, what we perceive isn't just 'reality'. It's what's left after every bit of sensory data available has been filtered for importance and interpreted in the way that makes the most sense. If you want an experiment to prove this, have two or three people start talking to you at once. The one you're looking at and paying attention to you'll be able to understand easily, while the other two will just sound like noise…unless one of them mentions your name.

So, what has this got to do with dreams?

When we dream, the synapses in our brain fire randomly, meaning what we're experiencing, in essence, is a series of random, non-related thoughts, memories and ideas. Now, because the things we think the most about have the strongest connections and better electrical conductivity, they are far more likely to 'fire', and fire strongly, than something we haven't thought about in years.

So when we're dreaming, we have this huge rush of random thoughts, memories and ideas, with the things that we've been thinking about the most being the most common. Then our brain fills its other main function, to filter and interpret all this input and present it in the form that makes the most sense.

That's my theory on what dreams actually are. It's why they can seem so nonsensical but meaningful at the same time. When you've spent all day trying to decide whether to go for that other job or ask out that girl you like, it's not surprising that those subjects would feature heavily in that night's dreams. Also, if you're convinced that you'd fail the interview or the girl would laugh in your face, there's a good chance that that will happen in your dream, also.



Sunny said...

So, does that mean that when you dream of something, that dream can actually trigger something else in your mind that's been not thought about for a long while?

Evan 08 said...

That's as valid a theory as anything else.