Your brain knows better

I had a dream recently. I dreamed I was walking down a road. When I woke up I did not remember it immediately but little later as I was having a cup of tea it came to me.

I recognised the thought as the memory of a dream but something occurred to me: How did I recognise it as a dream? Why did I not consider that it might be a real memory? And then I thought: What is the difference between the memory of a dream and the memory of something that really happened?

A few days ago I stayed up a bit late, drank a bottle of wine and watched a film. The film was The Last King of Scotland about Idi Amin in Uganda. A good film that contained a bit of shooting.

Later I dreamed about some soldiers and one soldier went out to rescue an injured man. He walked straight out into the firing. The essence of the memory was that this guy walked into the gun fire without a qualm.

The next day I recalled this memory but was a little unsure whether ti had been in the film about Uganda. So why was that? Why did I not recognise the memory as the memory of a dream? Could it have been the alcohol? Or perhaps the fact that the memory was recalled so soon after watching a film with similar content?

Again, the question: What is the difference between the memory of a dream and the memory of a real event? Perhaps there is none. Perhaps we recognise memories of dreams to be memories of dreams because of their lack of context in our current reality. Perhaps when we have particularly coherent dreams the memory of the dream may, over time, become confused with memories of reality. Or did I dream that?

I was researching dreams on the web recently and read a theory that the unconscious is like a sea of thoughts and it only becomes evident when we are asleep and our conscious minds are shut down. This idea appeals to me as it would help explain day dreams and artistic bouts of creativity.

Serendipitously yesterday evening there was a program on telly about the brain and how it works. The program was Your brain knows betterHorizon – The Secret You on BBC2 and they had a couple of scientists who use Magnetic Resonant Imaging to examine the brain. One guy had done some work to try to discover if patients who were in a persistent vegetative state were in fact conscious but paralysed. First he examined the bairn activity of people who were well. He got them to imagine that they were playing tennis and he found that this caused certain areas of the brain to “light up” on his MRI scans.

Then he stuck the veggies in an MRI scanner and asked them to imagine that they were playing tennis and according to him some had the same reaction as the well people.

Interested? I was. The program went on to perform an experiment where they give a bloke two buttons, one in each hand. They stick him in an MRI scanner and tell him to press either the left or the right button. The scientist said that he could tell which button the guy was going to press 6 second in advance.
Now presumably they had told the guy to press the button once every ten seconds, or some such plan, to give the scientists some time to analyse his brain. The point was that the guy thought he was making the decision at the last moment but in fact his mind had already made the decision it was just his intellect which had found out about the decision at the last moment.
This is not so strange. When we drive a car we make decision in split seconds without the decision rising up to a conscious level. It cannot be uncommon for us to drive home from work with some problem on our minds. We are so absorbed with our work worries that we sometimes don’t realise that we have driven miles without even thinking about it.

And it is this that resonated with the idea about dreaming. Our sub-conscious can drive a car! Think about that. It’s amazing. Could this be the same sub-conscious that is active during sleep?

If so then why do we crash when we fall asleep?

2 thoughts on “Your brain knows better

  1. The prog left me a bit “gob smacked” too to be honest, so like you I ended up blogging (and strangely we both share the same WP color scheme)

    So The Secret You forced a blog out of me as well –

    I was interested in the possible similarities between the way the mind was explained and the way in which Twitter works – does Twitter have consciousness? And if it does what does that make us…..neurons?

  2. Yes, it’s an interesting idea.

    We had the theory of memes prior to all this Internet palaver but now with The Web and twitter and all the other ways to connect people these memes might be able to move and evolve much quicker. It’s sort of depressing that although vast amounts of information is now at everyone’s finger tips we can see from most youtube comments that many people still don’t think.

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