Tag Archives: neuroscience

Who said that? The Conversation with Dreams Continues

What exactly is the source of our dreams? Is it our Subconscious? Is it Deep Intuition? Divine Consciousness? Is it God? While some scientists will say dreams are merely the by-product a unique neuro-chemical cocktail that’s stirred up in the dreaming brain, I think they’re more than just that.

I recommend you think of your dreams as a really good pal. You know, the kind of friend who tells you when you’ve got a big gob of spinach stuck between your teeth; the one who will tell you your fly is open or that the shade of orange you’re wearing doesn’t work on you. That’s the kind of friend your dreams are. You won’t always like what you hear, or what they say about how you’ve been behaving out in public these days, but the message is given with love, for your own good, and often with a dollop of humor thrown in for good measure.

Yes, sometimes your dreams will lay it out on the table with painful urgency—but you can trust that there’s loving intent behind the disturbing imagery with which the message may sometimes be delivered. Yup, even that nightmare that shook you awake was meant to help you out, not just to scare you silly.

Whatever the source of dreams, I recommend you listen to them in a way that lets your dreams know you are paying attention, so they, in turn, will show up for you.

Your dream journal is a good place to start.

Open the conversation by putting your journal beside your bed. Before sleep, write down you intention to remember your dreams. And in the morning, write down whatever you recall, whether just a snippet or a lengthy saga. And if you don’t remember your dream, just jot down a sentence or two about the quality of your sleep—that way you let your dreams know you are listening. And when you do, sooner or later, they will begin to speak up so you can hear them.

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Your Brain on Dreams

Deficient, or just plain different?

Throughout history, dreams have alternately been hailed as messages from the gods and dismissed as random hallucinations. But rather than place dreaming on a mystical pedestal, or look at dreaming as a deficient form of consciousness, let’s instead look at dreaming as an alternative form of consciousness and a different way of thinking.

Your brain on dreams

Sure, equating dreams with thinking might seem at first to make dreams less interesting or less meaningful. But I believe that understanding the brain basis for dreaming makes them all the more intriguing and significant.

After all, knowing the science of how the heart works, and the biochemistry of oxytocin which is released when we embrace another person, or even when we pet a dog or cat, doesn’t make love any less desirable, mysterious, or spiritually significant, does it?

guy w teddy bear

Likewise, understanding a bit about the brain science of dreaming will deepen your connection to your dreams.

The logic behind those illogical dreams

For example, ever wonder why dreams seem to operate in their own world of crazy logic? Well that’s because at least two important regions, the dorsal lateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) and the precuneus, are de-activated during rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, the period when most dreaming takes place. This makes it difficult to fully exercise short-term memory when we dream, both within the dream and upon awakening. Thus you might dream your college professor is dancing with your deceased mother, even though the two of them never met in waking life. This also helps to explain why it’s difficult to recall dreams on waking. Making decisions or directing our will is likewise difficult while dreaming because of these changes in brain activity during sleep.

The dreaming brain is highly active and operating with a different chemical makeup that gives it a distinct array of abilities as compared with the waking mind. But a lot remains the same, too. Thoughts, attitudes, memories, and feelings result from brain activity when awake. When dreaming the same is true—just with altered brain activity. If we see these alterations as imperfections, or evidence that the brain is simply firing on too few cylinders, it is easy to dismiss dream content and write it off.

If, on the other hand, we accept dreaming as a different but valuable form of consciousness, there is much to learn, wonder at and explore.

Adapted from Consciousness in dreamsKahn D1Gover T. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20870068

Freud v JungCatching up on my reading, I came across this in The Sunday New York Times Magazine’s story, “Tell it About Your Mother: Can brain-scanning help save Freudian psychoanalysis,” by Casey Schwartz:

“Throughout Freud’s writings… again and again [Mark Solms, neuropsychologist and Freud scholar] said that he was eagerly looking forward to the day when it would be possible to reunite his observations from the psychological perspective with the neuroscientific ones.”

The day has come! This is an exciting time to be exploring dreams and the unconscious, taking advantage of what we know from science, psychology, and mysticism.

Read the full article, reflect and enjoy.


Filed under Dreams and Consciousness

Q&A: Waste Not Want Not … “Aren’t dreams just the mind’s waste basket?”

Q: What is your opinion of the scientific explanation that dreams are merely a by-product of the consciousness; the mind is just processing what’s happened or what’s been perceived during the day? If this is true, then there is nothing mystical about them, right?


Scientifically Minded

A: Dear Scientific,

Tuesday is trash pickup day in my neighborhood. You can tell because the street is lined with blue recycling bins and those big brown plastic trash containers on wheels.

As I walk down the block on my morning constitutional I notice, for instance, that the house where sweet floppy-pawed dog I love to stop and pet lives, always has a recycling bin overflowing with empty cans of organic beans and soy milk cartons, and of course some empty dog food cans. The house next door to that has a recycling bin filled with discarded Amstel Light bottles. Another house has old New Yorker magazines in theirs, and the next is all filled with old issues of Time Magazine. I make up little stories about what the people are like inside each house based on what they throw away. “These guys were probably watching the Patriots game this past weekend,” I muse, and “These folks were probably at the literary reading at the bookstore downtown.” And then there’s the bachelor who’s throwing away a perfectly nice charcoal-gray sweater just because of one tiny moth hole in the elbow! I can just imagine his pristine closets and I don’t even know his first name!

Know what I mean? There are the folks who have three Hefty bags stuffed with non-recyclables, and then there are those who have just one small grocery sack of garbage beside their overflowing recycling bins. Plus they have a compost bin in the back yard that the bears are always getting into.

Yeah, we’re talking trash here, and we can tell a lot about the people on our streets based on what they throw away.

So, even if it’s true, my Scientifically-Minded friend, and dreams are just our mind’s equivalent of the contents of the blue plastic bins and 30-gallon trash barrels that line the curb on Tuesdays, couldn’t we learn a lot about ourselves by sorting through our brain’s castoffs?

But here’s the deal. I don’t think that dreams are just the mind’s dust bin. That doesn’t explain the dream, for example, that predicted the exact apartment I would end up renting months before I even knew I’d be giving up my plans to buy a condo across the state and settle down in the next town over instead. Nor does this scientific theory explain how I was able to use dreams to heal from deep emotional scars when I was in college. Nor what to make of the dreams that have helped to predict a friend’s health conditions before she or her doctors knew she was sick.

Scientists have meaningful dreams, too. Get one alone and ask her about it and she will reluctantly admit that yes, there are dreams that have offered her new and helpful perspectives, or even inspired some of her best theories. (Go ahead and Google Kekule’s ouroborus dream for just one example of how dreams have led to scientific breakthroughs.)

But scientists can only definitively state what they can prove using scientific methods. And there is no microscope strong enough to see the psychologically meaningful or the mystically mind-blowing properties of dreams. But just because science has yet to prove something does not mean it doesn’t exist. So, my friend, I encourage you to read up to your curiosity’s content on the neuroscience of dreaming. But don’t expect to find all the answers there. Dreams are very difficult things to study using Newtonian science.

Bottom line? Be your own sleep and dream scientist, my dear. Keep a dream journal, and record your dreams. See what meaning they do or don’t hold for you. Track any traces of precognition or clairvoyance. And please report back.

Dreamily yours,

Tz …


Want to learn more about your dreams? Contact me to find out about upcoming dream groups in western Massachusetts, or individual dream sessions by phone, Skype, or in person.

Have a Dream Question? Send it along! I’d love to hear from you.


Filed under Dreams and Consciousness, Q & A, Uncategorized

Dreams and Improvisation: by Guest Blogger David Kahn (CV)

This week I invited my friend David Kahn to be a guest blogger here at “All The Snooze That’s Fit to Print.” David, a neuroscientist at Harvard who studies the dreaming brain, is currently preparing a paper on dreams and music that he’ll present in June at the International Association for the Study of Dreams conference in the Netherlands. Since part of that paper will explore the connection between improvisation and dreaming, I asked him if he’d give us a preview of some of those ideas. He generously agreed. Here’s what he has to say:

Is it improvised?  When we engage in conversation some of what we say is determined by a conscious decision, but then the words come out in correct syntactical form without continuous conscious micro management.  How much of our conversation is improvised?

When we improvise on a musical composition, how much of it is improvised and how much is culled from past experiences?  I personally enjoy a form of dance called contact improv that has no set steps.  It is improvised as the dancers come into unplanned contact.  But, even here, how much is truly improvised?   Often the dancers find themselves doing the same moves over and over falling into pre-learned patterns of “improvisation.”

When we dream we are not consciously directing our thoughts, yet here too, much of the content of dreams comes from previous thoughts, activities, feelings and over learned experiences.

Of course, all of our improvisations come from and draw from our past experiences.  However, scientists have shown that in dreaming and musical improvisation, the brain’s connectivity changes in a way that largely excludes the planning and executive decision making portions of the brain.  In fact, while dreaming the brain undergoes a radical change in its chemical neurotransmitter balance, as well.  It is these neurological changes that help make the dreaming experience unique and important.  The neurological changes during dreaming allow us to improvise within entirely new scenarios that we are unlikely encounter when awake.

Is this important?  Well, if nothing changes in our wake world then it is not important to explore alternatives.  However, we live in a world that is unpredictable where improvisation is necessary and may even be life saving.

In dreams we encounter novel situations, and we improvise. The profound brain changes that occur when dreaming may induce us to improvise how to deal with situations when we are awake, too: whether it be a threatening situation, the need to find a way out of an unfamiliar airport or train station, or even how and with whom to make love. Looked at from this point of view improvisation in dreaming may indeed by very important.

–David Kahn, Ph.D., Harvard


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