posted by owen on 2010-Mar-26.
I have always been interested in the inner workings of the brain. Being a programmer, I spend a great deal of time thinking of ways to create different systems of solving problems. This article is about a theory I have about dreams and why humans need to have them.
Dreams are a succession of images, thoughts, sounds, or emotions passing through the mind during sleep. The content and purpose of dreams are not fully understood, though they have been a topic of speculation and interest throughout recorded history. The scientific study of dreams is known as oneirology.
Why do we dream?
The consensus is that you dream because you are asleep and you brain needs something to do in its idle time. Which makes sense because we spend almost half of our lives asleep. "Sleep in humans, other mammals, and a substantial majority of other animals that have been studied (such as some species of fish, birds, ants, and fruit flies), regular sleep is essential for survival."
the nature of dreaming: that it is regular nightly, rather than occasional, phenomenon, and a high-frequency activity within each sleep period occurring at predictable intervals of approximately every 60â€“90 minutes in all humans throughout the life span.- wp
My theory is that dreaming is not simply "busy work" being done while the body is sleeping but I think the brain is actually running a series of comparison tests across the information it has learnt during the day and in the past. The brain not only "thinks" at the point when there is a problem to be solved but actually is making up problems to think about when you are asleep. This is my theory as why we dream and why dreaming is necessary.
Dreams and learning
My assumption that the brain is running tests on you during your sleep leads me to directly imply something else about the brain; If my hypotheses that dreams are tests is correct and the fact that a dream is mostly a none physical activity, then it leads me to assume that there would be no benefit to running these tests unless it is a very necessary part of learning.
But then again if you are learning while you are awake why would you need to learn while you are asleep? I think the reason for this is because the brain is not one BIG computer but infact multiple little computers each doing its own thing, constantly changing while you are awake and gathering information. It would seem that it is while you are asleep that the brain gets a chance to run tests on the information that is gathered during the day.
These tests maybe some sort of maintence process. In my own experience my dreams seemed to always be a mishmash unrelated information, people and places. It is as if my brain is comparing scenarios, events, people and things I have learned in unusual ways to see how the "sub-brains" will react to it. I imagine that nightmare occurs when the brain runs a comparison on something that is feared by the person (or a sub-brain). It also seems that these comparison tests/processes are not limited to current, or previous events but can involve anything learnt or experienced in a person's lifetime. I could go further to guess that at one point or the other, everything learnt is tested against everything else in a constant shifting and sorting process best on relevance.
I can only speculate on how the brain determines when a test is successful or when it has failed (nightmares?). Though often times a person will find themselves in a deja-vu situation. "DÃ©jÃ _vu is the experience of feeling sure that one has witnessed or experienced a new situation previously (an individual feels as though an event has already happened or has happened in the recent past), although the exact circumstances of the previous encounter are uncertain.". Usually a person will only encounter "good" deja-vu scenarios and will seek to avoid any scenario which "feels" wrong or invokes some sort of fear emotion.
A Comparison Engine
Maybe there is no right or wrong, true or false scenario. There is a chance that the brain is in fact not a computer but in fact a complicated comparison engine which is updated during the sleep phase of our life. This might explain why we spend so much time sleeping. And further more explain why we have to sleep so frequently. The brain as a "comparison engine" would explain why people who are taught the same thing often think about them in different ways depending on their perspective and previous experiences. This would mean that if there was a way to raise 2 people, teaching them exactly the same information and exposing them to the same situations independently, then they should have the same dreams.
This Theory has lead me to speculate that the brain is not simply a "big" computer, running a single big program but infact a series of independent, parallel, micro programs, all learning and changing at the same time without any sort of uniformed synchronization. There are no consistent rules as to the structure of each program or how it interacts with each other part of the brain - it is not a network in the traditional sense but a pool.
Apart from the parts of the brain which are hardwired for specific tasks, all the other cognitive parts of the brain must then be running at kernel level, at the same time, independently and yet cooperatively casting votes at the same time. In the sleep state the brain allows the normally independent processes to interact which results in dreams. Dreams which help to create bonds and links between thoughts and processes which are normally too busy consuming information while the person is awake. If this is truly the case then computers of the future need not only be able to think but also to dream. Because it is in the dream state that the brain gets a chance to solve the hard problems.