Monday 27 May 2013

Dreams are grown-from memories


Although dreams (and presumably the Dreaming phase of sleep, of which dreams are only a sample accessible to awareness and persisting in memory) - are in a sense made-from-memories - but more accurately they are grown from memories.

If dreams were just combined from memories, some memories being intact and accurate while others are incomplete and distorted to to entropic degradation - then this does not account for the experience of dreams as narratives that are both unpredictable and open-ended.

So, it is best to thing of dreams as not merely permutations of combinations of memories (including damaged memories) but as a creative process in which memories are used as the basis for novelty.

In a sense dreams are extrapolated memories; but the extrapolation is not so much like the predetermined rigor of the growing crystal seed; but more organic - more of a speeded-up evolutionary process.

So dreams are evolved memories - evolved according to a transformative process in which one thing serves as the basis for what comes next, in a linked yet open-ended sequence of transformation-built-upon-transformation.

Yet an evolution and transformation that is not chaotic - always with some kind of logic behind it.

We do not know and cannot predict where a dream is going - not least because a dream has no necessary end but can keep-going indefinitely - but we feel that the dream has each moment a direction - a direction which is consequence of the processes which make the dream. 

Always according to rules - the presumed rules of dream logic which are only faintly intuited in advance, whose operations seem obvious in retrospect - yet which defy summary...



dearieme said...

Are hallucinations - e.g. those brought on by opiates - recognisably different from dreams?

Bruce Charlton said...

@d - Not ultimately different, although they may be in emphasis. eg hallucinations are often mostly hearing voices, while dreams are often mostly visual.

This is because sleeping and waking have several differences, and the quality of an experience depends on the mixture of typically sleeping and typically waking phenomena (ie dissociations between phenomena that are usually associated).

Opium as a specific instance usually produces vivid visual dreams or dream-like states (between sleeping and waking) rather than hearing voices.

Wm Jas said...

eg hallucinations are often mostly hearing voices, while dreams are often mostly visual

I very often have entirely non-visual dreams, which I call "recitations" because they usually consist of a voice speaking rapidly for several minutes as if reading something aloud or reciting it from memory. I don't know how many other people experience such things.

Bruce Charlton said...

@WmJas - I don't recall having a 'language' or verbal dream of that sort - but I wonder if Tolkien did sometimes; because that is almost exactly how he describes Lowdham's dreams in Part 2 of The Notion Club Papers.

The only purely auditory dream I have experienced is the fairly common hynagogic 'hallucinatory' one of hearing a voice say or shout a single word just as I drop off to sleep, and this waking me up with a jerk so I instantly realize that the voice was not real.

But this is an important topic, because some of the best biological ideas on sleep I have read - from my friend/ collaborator the veteran Zoologist J Lee Kavanau of UCLA, who knows about sleep in many animals - explain it as mostly a mechanism to cope with the demands of the *visual* system on the brain in the context of a complex visual environment, and with complex and rapid behaviours.