What are dreams made of?

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Summary:: What parts of the brain engage in sleep, and how does this differ to being awake?

I had a dream last night that I met a gorilla in a bank foyer playing chess. Hey, it's a dream, right?

But it was sufficiently bizarre that I realised there and then that it was a dream and my dream went on that I then posted this post here on PF (or something like it, you know how dreams are, right?). So I'm just fulfilling the dream, if you see what I mean!?

So the thing I realised in the dream itself was that although the dream was of course unrealistic and those things in the dream were not bound to rigid rules of realism and completely random things plucked from who-knows-where, what actually happened in the dream was all logical and consistent, with cause and effect, logical predicacy, this-equals-that sort of thinking. Chances of a chess playing gorilla slim to none, but if it did happen in the 'real' world, what would I expect next?

Then I woke up and realised I am in a rigidly consistent physical reality but with a mass of illogical stuff happening! Cause and effect on how people behave is often, if not usually blurred, people believe they won elections they lost, stuff like that if you see what I mean.

(Nothwithstanding the caveat in the last paragraph) the thought I dreamt of writing here, then, was;-

It seems to me that whatever parts of the brain are doing the dreaming stuff, there is one bit that is all made up being our description and perception of the reality of the world outside of us, which is completely scrambled and could be anything, whilst the internal thoughts we have about that alternative reality seem to all be 'normal' and logically consistent, and are not part of the same 'nonsense reality' that are scrambled from our incoming senses.

I am wondering if there is something in this, and if anyone might have even looked into this from a scientific MRI scanning study or such, that the processing parts of our brains might be working entirely 'as normal' and sensing no disruption to reality but it is the incoming senses away from the actual thinking and processing parts that get all scrambled up?

(The caveat is that just occasionally, and the exception perhaps demonstrates the usual consistency otherwise, a few times in my life I have woken up to truly scrambled thoughts, logical and reality. In fact, much like coming out of a general anaesthetic where it feels like everything is totally confused, when I am not even aware of who I am, more than being confused about up and down but not even knowing up and down exist. That has happened, and perhaps that is where our 'internal logic' part also shuts down? But that has happened to me maybe half a dozen times in my life, including the three occasions of general anaesthesia.)
 

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Drakkith
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From wiki's article on dreams:

Dreams do more than present visual images. They present them in a running narrative. Following their work with split-brain subjects, Gazzaniga and LeDoux postulated, without attempting to specify the neural mechanisms, a "left-brain interpreter" that seeks to create a plausible narrative from whatever electro-chemical signals reach the brain's left hemisphere. Sleep research has determined that some brain regions fully active during waking are, during REM sleep, activated only in a partial or fragmentary way.[34] Drawing on this knowledge, textbook author James W. Kalat explains, "[A] dream represents the brain's effort to make sense of sparse and distorted information.... The cortex combines this haphazard input with whatever other activity was already occurring and does its best to synthesize a story that makes sense of the information."[35] Neuroscientist Indre Viskontas is even more blunt, calling often bizarre dream content "just the result of your interpreter trying to create a story out of random neural signaling.”[36]

This is one possibility, but the truth is that we just don't know all that much about dream formation or function. It's very difficult to understand brain functions, as the brain is an enormously complex organ in both its physical construction and its electrochemical connections. It has multiple major regions and all of them are usually receiving input from multiple other major brain areas, sensory inputs, and local and global chemical modifiers like hormones and neurotransmitters just to name two.

Not only do we not understand dreams, we don't really even know why we sleep in the first place. To paraphrase a sleep researcher, "I've spent my life studying sleep and still the only concrete explanation I have for why we sleep is that if we don't sleep we die."
 
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  • #3
Keith_McClary
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I recently learned that this is called a "Lucid dream" .
 
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My personal gold standard of dreams...

Thirty years ago... I woke up around 1AM and was staring into the face of my cat. My cat said to me, with a French accent: "You are an idiot." Then, she clawed my arm, drawing blood.

I feel back asleep and woke up around 3AM and went to pee. I felt my arm. There was no scratch--no scratch. "Whew!" I remembered saying, "It was just a dream."

I woke up at 6 am. When I got into the shower, my arm stung: long scratch that had scabbed.
 
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  • #5
jim mcnamara
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We are getting into anecdotes here. The topic is fine, but since it seems posts are diverging from our usual source material, lets move it down to where mentors will not have to close the thread because members describe dreams: General Discussion. They can be an interesting read but they are not the stuff we want to see in the Science section.
 
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  • #6
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If we are into anecdotes, here's one of mine that goes along with my proposition that there is a fundamental difference between 'confused senses', where those parts of the brain somehow get input signals wrong, but consistent logic in the dream state.

Some years back I had a dream that I was at an airport and I witnessed a large jumbo crash on take-off pretty much right in front of me. There was an immediate and very overwhelming smell of kerosene, and some burning. Not only did I wake up in sheer panic to be running away from this crash happening so close, but I woke up because the smell was so strong, and it was still in my nose, I could still smell it!

Realising that I was now awake and this was a dream, I jumped out of bed as I could still smell this. I assumed the house was on fire or something, I was now fully awake and went into 'emergency mode' trying to figure out what the heck was going on.

The smell simply faded away after 30 seconds or so. I searched the house top to bottom and also explored outside, and also stayed up for a half hour just in case there was something more to it, such was my level of conviction that I was truly smelling kerosene and burning as I woke up. I was definitely awake at that stage. (Well, as far as I am sure I am awake right now .... ;) )

We determine sight, sounds, smells and feelings with our brains, not the organs that send those signals, and it seems to me that dreams mess with the connections between those organs and the brain. The rest of the dream seems to me to be just what the brain does normally .. to try to make sense of it.
 
  • #7
rsk
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Dreams fascinate me and the space where dreams and reality crossover.

I've had 'lucid' dreams but mostly just in the sense of that feeling in a dream when you want to scream and can't - and I think to myself 'ah, this must be a dream' and wake myself up.

In one of these I got stuck in a kind of loop, where I would try to scream, realise I was in a dream and think I'd woken myself up, only for something else to make me want to scream (no horror stories, I was just dreaming that there was or had been an intruder in my flat - kept spotting things that weren't as I'd left them). I went round the loop several times, then in one of those loops I got out of bed to chase the intruders out of the hallway and out the front door. In the hallway I heard a news item on the radio in the bedroom and, still in my dream, went back to listen properly. Woke up (really this time) in bed listening to that story.
 
  • #8
rsk
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Also fascinating is the memory of dreams. I know it's normal to not remember dreams clearly, and also not uncommon to remember them. What puzzles me is that there are dreams which you remember, in a flash but clear as day, while awake the next day and yet seconds later they've vanished completely. I suppose that's linked to the lingering smell of burning mentioned above, that your senses or your memory hold on to or recreate the dream for a while, then erase it.
 
  • #9
Any possibility of a Dream Recorder being invented ? Sits by your bed and next day you pop out a CD or DVD or whatever and play it back on your TV or other specialized unit :wideeyed:
 
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Low dose antipsychotics helps numb the intensity of my dreams. Personally I believe that dreaming is simply some sort of psychosis. 100% unsubstantiated claim.
 
  • #13
cmb
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Also fascinating is the memory of dreams. I know it's normal to not remember dreams clearly, and also not uncommon to remember them. What puzzles me is that there are dreams which you remember, in a flash but clear as day, while awake the next day and yet seconds later they've vanished completely. I suppose that's linked to the lingering smell of burning mentioned above, that your senses or your memory hold on to or recreate the dream for a while, then erase it.
I've explored this for myself by trying out the idea of having a notebook by the side of the bed, the principle being that as you come awake you still remember a few things and you can note them down. If you do this more often then you start remembering dreams more.

I thought maybe if I did this I might 'connect' with the 'inner me'!!

Here is what I discovered;

First off, I still forgot the dream(s). I would play a game with myself in which I did not look at what I put until later on the day I woke up, then I had the amusement of trying to recall it. It's really hilarious (in a weird-funny way) trying to remember something you think you should remember, then reminding yourself of it. The memory of it, after you've reminded yourself, is like, well put simply, some shrouded veil being lifted off some memory you had tried to forget. Like someone reminding you of some notorious drunk escapade decades before you got up to that you barely remembered yourself at the time and didn't want to be reminded of.

Secondly, despite having reminded myself of the dream the day after the dream, if I tried to remember the dream of a few nights before, likewise I couldn't remember those either, even though I recall having read 'something'. I would go so far as to suggest that my brain was actively forgetting that sh*t because it knew it was rubbish information and was being selective. (That might be an age thing, I am pretty convinced my brain is now full of stuff and no space left other than to forget things from the past.)

Thirdly, and this is the funniest bit of it, after a few weeks of doing this, I started writing down only the interesting and coherent dreams, I was being selective in which dreams I noted down because I just couldn't be bothered if I felt the dream was just not very interesting when I woke up. In the end, I just stopped putting any down, as I came to realise they were all just trivial sh*t nonsense.

I still have a notepad by the side of my bed in case I wake up to some profound thought. Like the chess playing gorilla, but I wrote that here instead straight away! That's the first dream containing anything remotely noteworthy that I have written down in words for a year.
 
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I believe that dreaming is simply some sort of psychosis. 100% unsubstantiated claim.
You are not far from the truth IMO. A Major psychotic episode resembles a dream for sure.
 

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