Piero Scaruffi(Copyright © 2013 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions )
These are excerpts and elaborations from my book "The Nature of Consciousness"
Dreams Are Made Of This
There are three main categories of explanation for dreams. The simplest explanation is that dreams are just an evolutionary accident. By accident we have five fingers rather than four. By accident we dream while we sleep. Another explanation is that they are fossils of a previous form of mind, accidental remnants of previous brain processes. Yet another explanation is that they are a window on some kind of processing that goes on in the brain while we sleep.
Imagine that somebody is filing a lot of newspaper clippings into folders and that you are standing in front of him: you will see a rapid sequence of titles flashing in front of your eyes. While you understand each of them, the flow of titles is cryptic: it may form, by mere chance, stories, but stories that you cannot understand. In reality the sequence of titles is not random, because the person who is filing the titles is following a method (for example, they are filed in chronological order, or in order of importance, or by subject matter). It is just that you are only a spectator of the process, trying to make sense of the output of that process. This could be exactly what is happening to our consciousness while we are sleeping. The brain is rapidly processing a huge amount of information in whatever order and our consciousness sees flashes of the bits that are being processed. These bits seem to compose stories of their own, and no wonder that the stories look weird if not indecipherable.
This third hypothesis is consistent with the behavior of the brain. The brain, far from being asleep, is very active during sleep. Most nerve cells in the brain fire all the time, whether we are awake or asleep.
The process that takes place during dreams is most likely about remembering and forgetting, i.e. REM sleep is important for consolidating long-term memories.
An important clue is that the brain is not only very active during sleep, but sleep states and awake states are quite similar.
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