Like your typical Labrador retriever, Yours Truly needs his sleep and like his human friends, his dreams are varied, wild and often surprising. Not too surprising are theories about dreams that attempt to explain the dog “chasing rabbits” or Yours Truly making progress in the mystery of Overton’s death by way of a symbolic dream. Very surprising are a recent set of theories on dreaming from neurologists suggesting that dreams are our true consciousness and that waking “reality” is the dream reality shaped by the five senses. Other theories suggest that dreaming is always going on inside of us, dog or man, but it is drowned out by waking distractions.
J.F. has spoken to me about the act of writing and has told me of a few Coleridgian moments of his own when flying somewhere north of normal (when does he not?) on a rush of caffeine and sleep deprivation, an almost dream-like state has enveloped him (this is particularly evident in a few places in the latest, A Dog At Sea, where not to spoil the “fun” Yours Truly also finds himself intoxicated). Ah, but we’re getting off the scent. This fascinating article appeared today in the Times. Here are a few paragraphs below and the link:
By the way, it is also National Shelter Appreciation week! As you know, we hope to one day be able to say New York is a no-kill shelter zone. Please consider visiting the humane society here and to read the inspiring tale of Mogley from the Rockies who was rescued moments from death and discovered a “forever home” with humans who kindly let him blog visit his site here.
The dream article:
Yet what if the primary purpose of dreaming isn’t psychological at all?
In a paper published last month in the journal Nature Reviews Neuroscience, Dr. J. Allan Hobson, a psychiatrist and longtime sleep researcher at Harvard, argues that the main function of rapid-eye-movement sleep, or REM, when most dreaming occurs, is physiological. The brain is warming its circuits, anticipating the sights and sounds and emotions of waking.
“It helps explain a lot of things, like why people forget so many dreams,” Dr. Hobson said in an interview. “It’s like jogging; the body doesn’t remember every step, but it knows it has exercised. It has been tuned up. It’s the same idea here: dreams are tuning the mind for conscious awareness.”
Drawing on work of his own and others, Dr. Hobson argues that dreaming is a parallel state of consciousness that is continually running but normally suppressed during waking. The idea is a prominent example of how neuroscience is altering assumptions about everyday (or every-night) brain functions.
“Most people who have studied dreams start out with some predetermined psychological ideas and try to make dreaming fit those,” said Dr. Mark Mahowald, a neurologist who is director of the sleep disorders program at Hennepin County Medical Center, in Minneapolis. “What I like about this new paper is that he doesn’t make any assumptions about what dreaming is doing.”
The paper has already stirred controversy and discussion among Freudians, therapists and other researchers, including neuroscientists. Dr. Rodolfo Llinás, a neurologist and physiologist at New York University, called Dr. Hobson’s reasoning impressive but said it was not the only physiological interpretation of dreams.
“I argue that dreaming is not a parallel state but that it is consciousness itself, in the absence of input from the senses,” said Dr. Llinás, who makes the case in the book “I of the Vortex: From Neurons to Self” (M.I.T., 2001). Once people are awake, he argued, their brain essentially revises its dream images to match what it sees, hears and feels — the dreams are “corrected” by the senses.
These novel ideas about dreaming are based partly on basic findings about REM sleep. In evolutionary terms, REM appears to be a recent development; it is detectable in humans and other warm-blooded mammals and birds. And studies suggest that REM makes its appearance very early in life — in the third trimester for humans, well before a developing child has experience or imagery to fill out a dream.