Dreaming Is Free

1 comment November 10th, 2009at 07:43am Posted by Eli


Yet another new theory on the purpose of dreams:

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.


In study published in September in the journal Sleep, Ursula Voss of J. W. Goethe-University in Frankfurt led a team that analyzed brain waves during REM sleep, waking and lucid dreaming. It found that lucid dreaming had elements of REM and of waking — most notably in the frontal areas of the brain, which are quiet during normal dreaming. Dr. Hobson was a co-author on the paper.

“You are seeing this split brain in action,” he said. “This tells me that there are these two systems, and that in fact they can be running at the same time.”

I’m not entirely sure I buy the parallel systems theory, unless that parallel system serves some other function when we’re awake.  Another sleep scientist mentioned in the story believes that dreaming is simply what happens when our consciousness is cut off from sensory inputs, but I don’t think I buy that either, but perhaps it was inelegantly explained.  I have a hard time believing that our whole consciousness is online when we’re dreaming, but I can certainly believe that there’s some kernel or submodule of consciousness that’s always on, and which produces strange and unpredictable output when separated from the rest of the mind and senses.  In which case it’s not really all that different from Hobson’s theory.

Anyway, I’m fascinated by brain stuff, especially anything that suggests that there are multiple semi-autonomous modules in there.

Entry Filed under: Coolness,Science

1 Comment

  • 1. Spear and Magic  |  November 10th, 2009 at 8:57 am

    If the only purpose dreaming served was to provide a topic for this Blondie song, it would still be well justified. And I vividly remember every dream I have ever had about 70’s era Debbie Harry.

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