Functional importance of Dreams?

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    Nov 11, 2009 7:40 AM GMT
    Ok, so I think I'm going to do my individual research topic in neuroscience class on Dreams. The neuroscience book for class hardly goes into it (it's a shitty book) and essentially says that the importance of dreams is still up for debate, much like the "cure" for Tinnitus or AIDS is up for debate.

    My goal is to convey that DREAMS are not just a superfluous or bi-product construct of sleeping, but actually serve a deep-rooted purpose that has benefitted our species for a LONG time, in fact long enough where dreaming is apparent in other mammalian species as well. In fact, dreams are so deep rooted in our circadian rhythms that our body has designed a mechanism to inhibit skeletal muscle movement during dreams as opposed to just inhibiting our dreams. Essentially, I want to show that dream has real physiological structural implications and changes in the brain, or some sort of maintenance or equilibrium that dream serves to reinforce.

    On the contrary, what if dreams are simply our cerebral cortex making sense of random firing from the base of the brain and NOTHING beyond memories? I've read up on an article that elaborated on this (though I can't find it at the moment). If this is the case then does the absense of REM/dreaming alter brain function in any way? If it does not, then there is no functional purpose of dreaming beyond psychological meaning and entertainment.

    Anyone into this topic and wants to dive in please feel free! =)
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    Nov 11, 2009 9:28 AM GMT
    theantijock said"My goal is to convey that DREAMS are not just a superfluous or bi-product construct of sleeping, but actually serve a deep-rooted purpose that has benefitted our species for a LONG time, in fact long enough where dreaming is apparent in other mammalian species as well."

    Why would it be that since we've been dreaming for a long time that this is somehow significant to dreaming in other species? Please clarify what connection you are trying to make here and why.


    If other types of species are exhibiting the same thing we are exhibiting (dreaming in this case), then this appears to be a characteristic that evolved a long long time ago before the separation and evolution into different species. So I think it HAS to have some purpose if it has prevailed among other species. The absense of a characteristic humans have in other species does not mean it's necessarily trivial, but the presence of a characteristic humans have in other species means that there's a greater likelihood this characteristic is not just complex form of thought patterns unique to humans but has some physiological survival component to it as well, and possibly a functional component. I could be wrong on "dreams" though, but it follows a logical pattern that has been tested with other physical components. The premise behind this is: the longer it's been around, the more deeply rooted it is and has survived through more trial and errors in evolution.

    For example, the mutant gene of "Huntingtin" is what causes Huntington's diease, a deteriorating illness that inevitably leads to death. Neuroscientists don't know WHAT Huntingtin does exactly but they KNOW it's important because the gene is not only apparent in other species, but the removal of that gene (in lab rats for example) leads to death before birth. So we know that Huntingin serves an extremely important purpose that has aided the evolution of our species from a very early point. Again, like dreaming, we have no idea what the purpose of Huntingtin is, but since it's in other species we know it's a lot more important evolutionarily speaking than if it was just in humans (which would imply we developed this species-specific protein in recent human evolution as opposed to millions of years ago).

    So if a certain internal physical characteristic is apparent in more than one species, then I think it's more than logical to assume that it did not develop simultaneously independently in two different species, but that both species had a common ancestor a LONG TIME AGO that evolved this characteristic.

    If dreaming is not significant, then why do dogs dream too? They're pretty far removed from humans (as opposed to chimpanzees for example). How do dogs exhibit the same phenomenon people do if dreams are just trivial and serve no physiological purpose?
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    Nov 11, 2009 9:31 AM GMT
    theantijock said
    Are you looking for some function besides the organization of memory? What do you suspect?


    Possibly. I don't just think it's the organization of memory but suspect (this is just a hunch) that dreams often revisit newly forms short-term memory and crystalize those short-term memories into long-term memories (there's different physical structures underlying each). I also think it's a defragging mechanism, where it organizes relevant and important information and gets rid of irrelevant information. Moreover, there's a possibility that it serves to sustain long-term memory. I've read studies on individual neurons that can retain long-term changes for over a year; which reflect the cellular basis of long-term potentiation. But what if that cell needs to be routinely visited, say in the form of a dream, to maintain that memory throughout life?

    What do you think?

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    Nov 11, 2009 9:40 AM GMT
    theantijock said"Essentially, I want to show that dream has real physiological structural implications and changes in the brain."

    Since thinking is thinking, whether the body is awake or asleep, aren't structural implications a given, as new thoughts format the brain with new neurological paths.


    Yes you are correct. But I actually want to see if there are unique neural structures to dreaming that specifically elicits dreaming when excited. There are some herbs that "enhance" dreaming and I logically assume because they make dreams more memorable, vivid, and sometimes lucid, that there are certain receptors on certain cells that are tuned to this.

    Another way to think about the relevance of dreams: why are they only present in one stage of sleep and not all stages? Maybe this specificity can lead to better hunches...

    theantijock said
    Keep in mind that some muscles still work during dreaming (grinding teeth, boners, etc.). I believe there was a study done, perhaps by Stephen Laberge (has been a long time since I read up on it), on willfull muscle control from within a dream by a lucid (conscious) dreamer.


    I know many facial expressions are regulated by cranial nerves which have totally different pathways, as opposed to the body's skeletal nerves which have an organized segmented pathway from the spinal cord. So yah there's some muscles in the face that are not inhibited during REM.

    Also some people can still move their muscles while dreaming. This is NOT supposed to happen though because in many cases your dreams are hallucinations, do not correlate with reality, and you may act out your dreams hurting yourself or others. This is not to say it never happens, but it shouldn't happen.

    The penis is not a muscle and is regulated by Nitris Oxide. So that explains the boner at night.
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    Nov 11, 2009 12:25 PM GMT
    I too, believe dreams are the brains defragging mechanism, as you put it. Hard wiring; as it were, with myelin sheeting, throwing out superfluous crap that no longer needed in everyday life.
    The theory goes a long way in explaining why infants need more REM then geriatrics, also why studies have shown that students who study then sleep have better retention then those who stay up and cram; not to mention, the incidences of someone not able to figure out a problem then waking up with the answer.
    However, this does not explain why people have recurring dreams/nightmares, or explain night sweats/terrors. The fact that these are often written off as the brains way of telling you there is something wrong and are brought on by stress is not expectable—we all have stress.
    Then there is the claim that it is a chemical imbalance a hypothesis, in my opinion, has not been substantiated.
    Consequently, I have never thought about why dogs dream or cats for that matter—interesting
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    Nov 11, 2009 2:17 PM GMT
    Not sure that I completely understand the medico / psychological jargon, but there are a few interesting points to be made.

    I know that blind people still have dreams, although they are apparently very different to those who have sight.

    Dogs dream, well at least mine does.

    There is a phenomenon known as lucid dreaming - many people (myself included) have experienced this. It is where you are semi-awake when you dream. You may feel that you are lying in your bed, wanting to get up out of bed but you can't. This can be overlayed with dream-like occurrences, such as the feeling that someone has entered your bedroom and you want to get up to speak or confront that person, however you are unable to move. It's quite scary.

    It's also quite common for foods and digestive functions to affect the content of your dreams. Many people experience vivid dreams or nightmares when they have eaten cheese before bedtime. Alcohol can dull dreaming to the point where you may not feel like you have had a dream at all.

    It's all weird to me, but fascinating nonetheless.
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    Nov 11, 2009 4:08 PM GMT
    Jake,
    You are interested in the REM dreaming state, but what about what we commonly refer to as the "day" dream. Where you are sitting at your desk, working away and then all of sudden you are in "la la" land. "Dreaming" of the new guy/girl you want or that great vacation you always wanted but didn't have, or taking off into space?

    Are you considering taking into account the "day" dreaming aspect of your study? Or do you consider "day" dreaming as a non-contributory factor? Could increase visualization affect the person's mind to force one's dream content?

    I am studying Sports Psychology and we use a lot of visualization with our athletes (especially the ones who are engaged in the upcoming Olympics). We even use the team "dream" a lot in getting the athlete to focus their minds. Feedback I have received from the athletes I am working with is they have had a "dream" the night before crossing the finish line first, or had a nightmare about a technique etc.

    Of course their is always Carl Jung's perspective of the dream state: Jung treated the archetypes as psychological organs, analogous to physical ones in that both are morphological constructs that arose through evolution.

    I agree that you have a very interesting abstract, I would be interested in reading your results.

    GI
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    Nov 11, 2009 4:40 PM GMT
    I don't know, but most of my books have come from dreams I have...all of the good ones that flow onto the paper really easily have come from dreams.

    and it's not like I'm doing a dream journal or anything, I just have a particular type of dream and when I wake up and as I'm trying to remember it all, the plot of a story or book emerges, sometimes having nothing to do with the actual dream itself.

    The weird thing about it is, that the plot points just fall into place like it was fate or something...it's one long 'a-ha!' series of events until the book is done.

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    Nov 11, 2009 7:27 PM GMT
    Cool topic, Jake. I always thought of dreams as the brain/mind just letting off steam or processing what it considers to be unfinished business.
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    Nov 11, 2009 11:15 PM GMT
    dustin_K_tx said
    The theory goes a long way in explaining why infants need more REM then geriatrics, also why studies have shown that students who study then sleep have better retention then those who stay up and cram; not to mention, the incidences of someone not able to figure out a problem then waking up with the answer.


    Ah yes, I think REM may be an important part of development. But the theory could also mean that though it is important during this critical "window period" in earlier development, it may not be necessary and becomes superfluous later in life.
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    Nov 11, 2009 11:30 PM GMT
    gidopey saidJake,
    You are interested in the REM dreaming state, but what about what we commonly refer to as the "day" dream. Where you are sitting at your desk, working away and then all of sudden you are in "la la" land. "Dreaming" of the new guy/girl you want or that great vacation you always wanted but didn't have, or taking off into space?

    Are you considering taking into account the "day" dreaming aspect of your study? Or do you consider "day" dreaming as a non-contributory factor? Could increase visualization affect the person's mind to force one's dream content?


    I think you're right that they're very similar and could mean that dreaming is just the same thing as awake-state drifting off and imagining. However, during REM I think you're in a completely different state of consciousness and in fact you don't consciously drift off into imagination as you do with day-dreams, but often times the scenery and sequence of your dreams happens without much control or thought. So I think there's different underling components. Moreover, REM is not you simply sleeping and then drifting off into imagination. These thoughts in REM dreams are elicited by neural changes as opposed to day dreams being regulated by conscious thought patterns. So the crux of the difference I think would be:

    1. Day dream = regulated and initiated by conscious thought
    2. Night dream = regulated and initiated by pure physiological/neurological change in neural activity in the brain, THEN possibly regulated by conscious thought if consciousness during dreams (lucid dreaming) is attained.

    Another thing to consider the difference between day dreams and REM dreams is this:

    day dreams - motor control
    REM dreams - motor control disinhibited

    This means two things: (1) when you day dream you can at any point move your body, where as when you dream during REM stage of sleep you cannot move your body (unless there's a physiological problem)., and (2) when you day dream your thought patterns do not trick your consciousness into thinking you are in an alternative reality and thus move your muscles correspondingly (i.e. you don't see someone day-dreaming then suddenly acting out a scene as if they were fighting off dragons), meaning when you dream in the REM stage, you truly think you are in that alternative reality and your brain WANTS to move the muscles accordingly (which is why they are inhibited, so you don't move them).

    So while both kinds of dreaming (day dreaming & REM stage dreaming) involve drifting off into imagining an alternative reality set apart from the reality you are in, during REM stage dreaming your brain is far more active and engaging in the alternative reality and is unaware of the reality your body is actually in, while in your day dream you can "snap out of it" at any point and your body remains stationary through conscious control.
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    Nov 11, 2009 11:37 PM GMT
    theantijock said
    JakeBenson said...So if a certain internal physical characteristic is apparent in more than one species, then I think it's more than logical to assume that it did not develop simultaneously independently in two different species, but that both species had a common ancestor a LONG TIME AGO that evolved this characteristic...


    Good explanation and such reasoning does make it seem more than casual coincidence. However, there seems still a bit of a leap of faith to presume the dream is shared thusly, and not just the sleep.

    All mammals also defecate as a process of all mammals eating. So dreams could just be a bi-product of the sleep which might be the commonality, particularly considering that rats die due to sleep deprivation*. I don't know if an experiment has been done on the poor rat to show if it would die due to deprivation of the type of sleep which allows for dreaming, Also, as defecation is not the purpose of eating, dreaming might not be the purpose of sleep.


    This example does not mean defecating is a bi-product, but stresses the general importance of it for every species. In fact, this example shows that the act of pooping is SO important that virtually every species has developed a mechanism for it. And if you don't poop, the toxic waste builds up and you die. So this example actually reinforces my notion that the more species a characteristic is in, the more likely it developed a longer period of time ago and withstood the trials and error of evolution, in other words served some purpose to keep the species alive generation after generation.

    Regarding your last sentence, the comparison is misleading. You do not defecate only when you eat. On the contrary you only dream (REM stage) when you sleep. Therefore the correlation is much stronger: that sleeping is correlated with dreaming as the onset of dreaming ONLY occurs during the onset of sleeping. Now what exactly CAUSES dreaming is completely up to debate. But we do no it happens during sleep, so studying the neurological and physiological aspects of sleep can possibly lead to understanding more about dreams.
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    Nov 11, 2009 11:42 PM GMT
    theantijock said

    gidopey saidwhat about what we commonly refer to as the "day" dream. Where you are sitting at your desk, working away and then all of sudden you are in "la la" land. "Dreaming" of the new guy/girl you want or that great vacation you always wanted but didn't have, or taking off into space?


    This is an interesting point because it is possible to go seamlessly from a daydream into a regular dream, sometimes considered as entering into a so-called trance, whereby the dreamer begins with a daydream and then puts his body to sleep, "entering" the dream (the feeling is of walking into a new space or swimming into a cold or warm ocean pocket), while dreaming, and consciously continuing with all the thoughts and vivid images which the dreamer had produced when the body was awake.


    This happens to me ALL the time. I'd like to point out that I go immediately into REM sleep when I take a nap ONLY when I have been sleep deprived. This leads me to believe that REM is a necessary part of sleep as the stages of sleep are completely ignored and I go STRAIGHT to REM when I lay down to rest.

    Also notice if you ever go from a daydream to a regular dream that once you're in a regular dream you cannot move your body. Sometimes during this process you can become aware of your body, called Sleep Paralysis. This is where you are aware of reality somewhat but are also dreaming. Thankfully your body should keep you paralyzed as you are in transition between the two realities. But this process also makes you feel uneasy, like you start to think that someone is in the room standing over your for example!
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    Nov 11, 2009 11:46 PM GMT
    God damn you guys have helped me SO MUCH. I seriously have enough material to write a 3-5 one-spaced paper now. Keep questioning my motives because it helps me introspect and differentiate dreaming from other aspects and scenarios, further specializing the uniqueness of it, and hopefully the importance of it.
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    Nov 11, 2009 11:54 PM GMT
    SAHEM62896 saidCool topic, Jake. I always thought of dreams as the brain/mind just letting off steam or processing what it considers to be unfinished business.


    OMG, I think the exact same way. It's like it is taking up all of the mind clutter and wrapping it into one big funky wacky dream experience. I always feel refreshed when I have intense dreams and can remember them.
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    Nov 12, 2009 12:01 AM GMT
    wrestlervic said
    SAHEM62896 saidCool topic, Jake. I always thought of dreams as the brain/mind just letting off steam or processing what it considers to be unfinished business.


    OMG, I think the exact same way. It's like it is taking up all of the mind clutter and wrapping it into one big funky wacky dream experience. I always feel refreshed when I have intense dreams and can remember them.


    Yup same here! After having intense dreams I wake up and I'm like "whoaaaaaa THIS is reality huh?" And I go about my day as if I just got back from an intense field trip into outer space or something, feeling like I've experienced to much.
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    Nov 12, 2009 12:15 AM GMT
    A very interesting topic indeed.

    What I have personally felt that usually I dream about stuff that I always imagine might happen. So its way of my brain to vent out what all I think but never got a chance to actually do or be a part of.
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    Nov 12, 2009 12:58 AM GMT
    Props to JB, great way to get your homework done, well played.
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    Nov 14, 2009 5:21 AM GMT
    RST2009 saidProps to JB, great way to get your homework done, well played.


    hahahahah thanks. Yeah I haven't even had much time to flame many people on here. Sorry about that.
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    Nov 14, 2009 8:52 AM GMT
    Functional importance of Dreams?

    I dunno...but I woke up all hot and sweaty and totally naked with a foot long between my legs!! Where were you when I needed you?
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    Nov 14, 2009 10:08 AM GMT

    Jakebenson

    I tend to agree that dreams are not a mere by-product of sleep. Personally I feel it is so important in resolving subtle tensions and problems in the subconscious. And expressing things that were not expressed in the waking state etc.

    What I find really fascinating though is the way in which the mind constructs an entire separate universe so to speak. Each dream character is imbued with a personality. They all emerge from the dreamer, apparently separate yet united in consciousness. This may also be relevant in understanding 'reality' in the waking state.

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    Nov 14, 2009 3:42 PM GMT
    JakeBenson saidGod damn you guys have helped me SO MUCH. I seriously have enough material to write a 3-5 one-spaced paper now. Keep questioning my motives because it helps me introspect and differentiate dreaming from other aspects and scenarios, further specializing the uniqueness of it, and hopefully the importance of it.


    And people thought we were all just pretty faces on here. LOL icon_razz.gif
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    Nov 14, 2009 4:03 PM GMT