Monday, July 19, 2010

The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of

      Dreams can take us to magical places and into seemingly impossible situations. In a dream we may walk out of our front door into a new and strange, even scary, landscape. We may be transported into a strange and nightmarish land of fantasy. There appears to be no limit to the range of our dreams.
      But a limit does exist. All dreams are personal, and both research and common sense indicate that one can only dream of things that one knows about. That is not to say that one needs to actually experience dizzying heights or fierce dragons, but a person who has never heard of a dragon will not dream of one.
      Dreams are usually triggered by an event which has occurred while one is awake: a problem that is being worked on, a traumatic event, or even something as innocuous as a scene in a book, or a song being played in the background. While one is asleep, the mind tries not only to file the memory of the event, but also to make sense of it in relation to the memories already on file.
      While filing a problem, the mind continues to work on the solution - thinking does not stop when one falls asleep. A well publicized example is the “inter-twined snakes” dream of James Watson, which led him to the discovery of the construction of DNA. In my own case, during the time I worked as a tax preparer, it was not unusual for me to awaken late at night, suddenly aware of how to handle a perplexing problem, or even realizing that I had made a mistake in how I had reported a certain event.
      In a recent experiment, students were taught to navigate a three-dimensional maze, then one group was asked to take a nap before undergoing a test on the maze. Those that had two hours of sleep prior to the test fared better than those who continued to rehearse the maze during the waiting period. Perhaps a good night’s sleep is a better idea than cramming for tomorrow’s test.
      This subconscious thinking also approaches situations in a different way from the thinking that goes on while one is awake. It is this unique approach that leads one from the front door directly into a weird landscape filled with virtual mountains and canyons.
      Scientists have categorized memory into two types: (1) declarative memory - our memory of normal activity and events, and (2) implicit memory, e.g., our memory of how to ride a bicycle after many years of non-riding. By studying amnesiacs, people with implicit memory only, it has been determined that their dreams are similar to those of non-amnesiacs. Indications are that the assembly of dreams from the mind’s contents is performed by the implicit memory rather than the declarative memory.
      Superstitions about dreams are probably as old as the human race, and the scientific study of dreams is still in its infancy. But regardless of where such study leads, dreams will undoubtedly continue to be a fascinating subject for a long time.
      Although language is a part of nature, it has one property that is not found in other actions of the Spirit: it is transformed and transcended at a rate many orders of magnitude faster than any other entity. Concept is piled upon concept until it is difficult to see any relationship between man’s mental images and the passing show. Joyce Carol Oates best describes the situation, “Homo sapiens is the species that invents symbols in which to invest passion and authority, then forgets that the symbols are inventions.”
      Man Takes Control – The Spirit Runs Through It.

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