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 31 2013: Hi Jonathan,
    I think that the phenomenon of dreaming is often overrated. Scientists have conducted electrical recordings of mice while they are awake and while they were sleeping, and have shown that the same regions of the brain that were active while a mouse was running during the day, lets say, were later active that night while the mouse was sleeping. This seems to suggest that during sleep, our brain is simply reactivating the neurons which were active during the day which in a way is "recalling" what occurred during the day. Obviously, this doesn't fully explain the intricacies of the more complex human dreams, however it could be that those more dreams are due to the parts of our brain responsible for our thoughts and emotions firing. As the neuroscience field continues to make more progress in developing understandings of how we think and learn mechanistically, I'm sure we'll one day we'll understand what our dreams are due too
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      Apr 2 2013: Lauren,

      Interesting take on dreams. We do often hear of dreams being this magical thing. However, I think there is a valid reasoning to it. In our dreams we can often do things that are impossible in real life. Yet, in this subconscious state our minds truly believe that we are in reality... until we wake up that is

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