Friday, September 7, 2012

Dream Sequence

Are dreams just nonsense, or a functional part of your brain?

I was having a dream the other night, and in the middle of the dream, they interrupted it to have advertisements.  It went something like this...

DREAM:  "We pause now, for these messages from our sponsors!"

ME: "Huh?  WTF?"

DREAM:  "Come on down to Billy-Bobs Ford-Lincoln-Kia, where with every new car lease, you get free gas for a year!"

ME:  "Ads, in my dreams?  Do they have no shame?"

DREAM:  "Be sure to stay tuned for this week's episode of Monsters Under the Bed!  Only on Dream-TV!"

ME:  "I haven't had that dream since I was a kid.  Must be a re-run."

DREAM: "Now back your Dream!"

ME:  "mgrflxshansyy...."
Maybe it didn't quite go like that.  But it got me thinking, dreaming is the last venue that the Madison Avenue types haven't co-opted.  Or maybe they have, and we just don't know it.  It seems half of America is on Ambien, or some other sleep-aid, and they end up sleep-walking or sleep-driving their cars into the sides of buildings.   Perhaps the pills are packaged with a suggestion to go to the all-night drive-through at Wendy's.

Sort of like that old Sci-Fi story, We Can Remember it For You, Wholesale, whose title was shortened when it was made into the 1990 movie, Total Recall, for obvious reasons.

Dreams are weird, though, and we have them only, it seems, for brief periods during that REM state of Rapid Eye Movement.  And although they may seem to go on for days or even years, they take but a few seconds or minutes at most.  And usually, we don't remember them, unless we are woken in the middle of the dream.  And even then, only if we think to write them down.

What are dreams, exactly?  Freudians would say they are symbolic of neuroses in your mind.  Psychics would claim they are premonitions of future events.   Some medical researchers might argue that they are just electrical storms in your brain - having no meaning and essentially nonsense - a car engine revving while not in gear.  And perhaps they are all correct.

As I noted before in Understanding Neural Networks, your brain is a big and very complicated Neural Net - the most sophisticated, in fact, on the planet.  And the brain has evolved over time, and it is doubtful that it does things simply by accident.  Dreams have a purpose, and people who dream must have survived longer than those who did not, and hence this capability has evolved in us.

I believe that dreaming is your brain's way of training itself.  A neural network needs training to work, and by running through test scenarios, your brain modifies the weighting of its neural nodes to "learn" new things.  Dreaming may be a way of the brain presenting test scenarios to itself, and then predicting outcomes and adjusting itself.

For example, do you ever worry about things - fantastic scenarios that are largely unlikely to occur?  Suppose you left the iron on, and it tipped over, and set the house on fire?  It is the kind of nonsense that makes you say, "Stupid brain!  Go to sleep!"   But then again, such scenarios, worked out in your brain, may be a way that your brain works through problems, by doing what Einstein called "thought experiments" (which is a pretty powerful experiment, as it allowed him to formulate the general theory of relativity).

So maybe dreams are symbolic of neuroses in your mind, as they are based on the existing weighting of the nodes in your brain.  And maybe they are "premonitions" in that your brain, "racing" as it does while dreaming, works out all sorts of possible scenarios that might happen in the future, and when one does, you will get that sense of Déjà vu, as you think to yourself, "I've seen this situation before!" - and you have an idea how it turns out.  And yes, likely most of your dreams are electrical static - random scenarios worked out in the brain and discarded, as they are too bizarre or weird.  And those are the ones that wake you up, the so-called "nightmares" we have sometimes.

Perhaps.  It is all just conjecture on my part.  But I suspect dreams have a purpose.  Nothing happens by accident.  And the first person on Madison Avenue who figures out how to co-opt dreams, will be a Billionaire.

Talk about a captive audience!