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Yow. I just had a complicated dream involving Pee Wee Herman, a series of really bizarre quests ("Find the grave of the Bicycle King!" "Kill the marauding Darklion!") me being an occasionally-disembodied ghost who was supposed to be helping Pee Wee, a male romantic lead who was short, blond, rangerish and missing part of his soul for unexplained reasons, and a few really hot moments (yes, I did blow off finding the grave of the Bicycle King in order to get laid. I have priorities, and if you're only occasionally embodied, you gotta take advantage of your corporeal moments.)

Just as it was building nicely--"I'm off to kill the Darklion! I'll come back for you!" "Woot!"--and it looked like we'd get the final apocalyptic battle scene, Pee Wee would slink back to his playhouse in disgrace, and possibly there would be celebratory corporeality afterwards--there was a knock on the door.

I woke up, staggered out of bed, signed for my new iPod, realized that I was never getting that dream back, and got up instead.


I recall the dialog being really romantic, but what I recall of it specifically was just completely nonsensical, which leads me to suspect that romance in dreams is like art in dreams--your brain is not generating either great art or romance, it is generating the sensation of having been exposed to it. Which is an interesting thought.

And now I have to go play with my iPod for awhile.

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It's generally accepted by the scientific community at this point that REM sleep (and therefore dreams) are the brain's way of committing events to long term memory and discarding events that aren't needed. There's some controversy because some scientists assume either one or the other must be going on (either solidifying memories or discarding) but the idea that both are happening at the same time is gaining popularity. Basically electrical signals pulse through the brain that make memory formation more difficult and all of the affected memories are then strengthened (if they can still reform after that pulse, thus indicating their connections were strong to begin with) or discarded (if they cannot reform). It's a kind of culling of the herd.

Dreams arise from the fact that every neuron has connections to about ten thousand other neurons. All of our memories and experiences are cross-referenced to dozens of other pieces of information. The very smell of coffee can incite memories of the taste, texture, temperature and color of coffee. Even though technically only the "smell" memory was called for, many other connection neurons are also triggered. This is what's happening when we reinforce information during REM sleep - our brain is solidifying connections on certain memories, which then activates/triggers other memories, and stories start to form.

Discover's August issue had an article about this (10 unsolved mysteries about the brain). The human brain is very concerned with continuity. It will actually play tricks on you to make you think time is still flowing smoothly. For instance, when you snap your fingers, of course the sound is created as a result of the physical action. But your brain is actually able to process sound faster than it can process light/visual information, so we should hear the sound before we see our fingers move. But our brain delays the auditory information so it synchs up with what we see. Even more telling: We should see about 80 milliseconds of darkness every time we blink, but we don't. Our brain creates the illusion of uninterrupted vision.

The human brain is also very good at pattern recognition, able to pull imagery from where there is none (such as seeing shapes in clouds, and so on). So it's not much of a leap to say that the brain forms stories and continuity during memory solidification.

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