TED Conversations

Jonathan Huang

Zeta Psi Fraternity of North America

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What good is being able to control our dreams?

This week in my Bioelectricity class, we discussed electrical stimulation and extracellular fields. We learned about how voltages far away from electrical sources in the body (eg the brain and heart) are directly linked to voltages across cell membranes.

We learned that in 1924, a German physiologist and psychiatrist Hans Berger recorded the first human electroencephalogram (EEG). From our discussion in class, it was evident that EEG activity for awake humans is quite similar to EEG activity during REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. An intriguing correlation arrises as lucid dreaming, the act of controlling ones dreams or at least being aware of dreaming, occurs during the REM cycle of sleep.

My question is what does controlling our dreams mean to us as humans? Beyond treating those who suffer from night terrors, is there some correlation between the ability to control our dreams and having more control of our brains during our awake phase? Since people are able to "teach" themselves to lucid dream, does that mean we can use our brains in other ways that we don't yet know of? Or should we allow our dreams to remain "free..."

We can even talk about different forms of dreaming. Shilo Shiv Suleman shows in her INK talk (http://www.ted.com/talks/shilo_shiv_suleman_using_tech_to_enable_dreaming.html) an iPad app that enables the user to enter a fantasy world of dreaming. She says that this form of dreaming is missing from todays youth.

In Daniel Wopert's "The Real Reason for Brains" he says that brains exist solely to control movement. Does this mean that dreaming has no meaning? (http://www.ted.com/talks/daniel_wolpert_the_real_reason_for_brains.html)

Lastly, we can even ask what exists between the lines of dreaming and consciousness? Antonio Damasio shines light into this question in his TED talk "The Quest To Understand Consciousness" by looking at the living brain. (http://www.ted.com/talks/antonio_damasio_the_quest_to_understand_consciousness.html)

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  • Mar 28 2013: I dream regularly and vividly and my dreams are generally exaggerated emotions, humor, or fear that tie together the days activity.

    As an example, I was taking apart the interior of my car because there was water getting in somewhere and I had to dry out the flooring and noise dampening material. When I removed the seats I saw the black floor vents with four vanes to direct the blowing air (these were normally covered by the front bucket seats so I never took note of them before). Later that night I had a dream I was pulling on a pair of black socks that only had four toes and the tips were cut off like a pair of gloves smokers would use. My mind had conjured up a comical way to remember the floor vents as in my dream I'm looking down to put my socks on, my socks are black, the individual toes looked a lot like the vanes, and if I were sitting in the backseat those vents would be pointing at my feet. This is one of many examples that come to mind. Sometimes I'll be in a house that feels familiar and I know it's mine but it's just not quite the same...our minds thrive on novel experience, and I am of the opinion dreams afford us that opportunity so that our memories become more memorable.

    As for being able to control dreams, I've experienced it, can't relate it to the previous days activities, but I feel pretty damn awesome when I wake-up.

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