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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    Apr 1 2013: Hey John,

    I really like this topic! It seems that throughout history, people have been interested in the mechanics of the unconscious mind. Being able to manipulate the dream state (at least, somewhat) would therefore seem to be a great way to begin understanding how the unconscious mind works. Since so little about the mechanics of the brain is well-understood, it's difficult to determine with our current knowledge how the ability to "interact" with your subconscious can influence your well-being. I think it would also be relevant here to consider the ages-old, but not well-characterized world of meditation, which I think falls under a similar category in terms of exploring one's mind.
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      Apr 2 2013: Awesome that you bring up meditation as we just spoke about this subject in class!

      I think that meditation is another form of mind control and something that is definitely relevant. Meditation is supposed to calm the soul, from what I understand. Perhaps lucid dreaming also calms the human body in its conscious state.
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      Apr 2 2013: Hey Osaze, I was also reminded of meditation when I was reading this question! (PS Jonathan, great question!) When I was in high school, a friend of mine introduced me to meditation, and it really helped me with anxiety issues when nothing else worked. Manipulating a semi-unconscious, dream-like state gave me a clarity and comfort that translated over to my conscious life.

      Also, I think the fact that humans can train ourselves to lucid dream is really similar to the way we can focus our creative efforts on a single topic. At its most basic level, it is a training of the mind. I've personally never been able to experience lucid dreaming, but I can imagine it definitely crosses the line between consciousness and dreaming. To be able to control a surrounding situation that your mind is producing is a really powerful skill, if one can harness it.

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