Why do we dream? Would you ever want to have a permanent record of them to watch later on?
Whilst we may never really know the purpose, if there is one, for dreaming, we might be getting closer to be able to decipher them. A few researchers around the world are making advancements in dream-recording techniques that might, one day, enable us to record our dreams.
But if they were to be successful would anyone actually want this technology? After all, as the great Ian Malcolm from Jurassic Park once said: "Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should."
Can science explain dreams?
Put simply, we don't really know and may never know for sure.
Dreams are fascinating things both for the individual and for scientists in general. There are many theories about what dreams are and why we have them, but we are still not entirely sure why we dream at all.
Most human beings dream between 4 to 6 times a night. Of these experiences, we only remember around 10% of them, if at all. But what is there purpose?
Do they have one?
Some experts like Antonia Zadra, a Professor of Psychology at the Université de Montréal, believes dreams are meant to be forgotten.
It's "very important to not confuse dream experiences with reality," she says. Whilst it is clear we dream for a reason, it might be necessary for us to forget them as they didn't actually happen in real life.
This might get very confusing for us, to say the least.
"There is no agreement about (the) function (of dreams) among dream researchers," explained Deirdre Leigh Barrett. Deirdre is a Psychology Professor of at Harvard Medical School.
Theories range from living out our greatest desires, as Sigmund Freud believed, to a form of biological simulation for our brains to run through various scenarios to find solutions.
For example, some believe that dreams are a form of threat simulator in our brains.
Yet others, like Dr. John Allan Hobson and Dr. Robert McCarley at Harvard University, believe dreams aren't actually real phenomena at all. They've postulated a hypothesis called the activation-synthesis hypothesis, that states dreams are a figment of our imagination.
They believe that what we think our dreams are actually our brains trying to make sense of a number of random electrical impulses from the brain stem during REM sleep.
Yet others believe dreams are our brain's way of defragging our memory. In this sense, the dream process helps clear our junk data from the brain and store useful bits in our long-term memory.
Whatever is the case, dreams are a fascinating feature of the human experience. So much so, that many take to keeping a dream diary or journal to record them before they are lost to the ether.
But would it be beneficial for us if we could, in some way, actually record them to watch later at our leisure? Would you want someone else to actually see them?
Why do we dream?
As we have seen, we are not entirely sure. Ideas range from it being a form or combat/threat simulator to a means of uncluttering the mind.
Yet others believe dreams are not real at all, at least as a cogent mechanism of the mind.
But most do agree that dreams are a form of hallucination that occurs during certain stages of sleep. They appear to be at their strongest during the REM stage of sleep.
Unfortunately for us, this is also the phase of sleep we are less likely to recall any of them. Though for some, this might be a blessing in disguise - for example in cases of extreme emotional trauma.
What we do know is that sleep serves a very important biological function. It is vital for regulating our metabolism, blood pressure and, of course, brain function.
Dreams, on the other hand, are harder to pin down as to their actual purpose. There is no definitive proof, but they do seems to be autobiographical in nature and tend to include imagery and experiences from the real world.
This includes recent activities, conversations and other issues and stresses in your life. Nightmares, for example, are thought by some to be caused by anxiety, stress and, in some cases, reactions to certain medications.
Whether dreaming performs the role of some kind of internal therapist, is a fight-or-flight simulator or muse for your artistic tendencies, we may never know.
Could we ever see other people's dreams?
As interesting as all this is, could it ever be possible to record our dreams? Wouldn't it be nice to have a lasting recording of those dreams of flying, or winning the lottery?
As it happens, there are a few scientists who have been working on this very thing for several years. They hope to be able to decipher the content, imagery, movement, and dialogue of our dreams.
One example is the work of Daniel Oldis and David M. Schnyer at the University of Texas, Austin. Their team has been using an electromyogram, or EMG, to measure nerve impulses to muscles while subjects sleep.
Although you don't usually move during dreams, "nerve impulses are still going to those muscles," Oldis explains. Electrodes are placed on the subject's limbs to attempt to signals synonymous with movements like walking or picking something up.
They are also hoping to decipher speech pattern neural activity in the brain during sleeping.
"Before subjects go to sleep, they pronounce every phoneme (specific sounds in the English language) to record muscle patterns," Oldis explained. "This then becomes a template when they're speaking in a dream."
Other researchers, like Moran Cerf at Northwestern University, have also been studying the human decision-making process. By putting electrodes on the brains of brain surgery patients, they have been attempting to listen in on the activity of specific brain cells.
Yet another research team at Kyoto University, have made some interesting developments towards recording and reconstructing dreams. They have developed a means of deciphering imagery from a walking person's mind and hope to develop the technique for those in slumber.
Yet another fascinating development was a project called Dreamweaver. Researchers at the Gallant Lab at the University of California were able to partially reconstruct how the brain records visual data.
They had participants watch movie trailers and were then able to reconstruct low-resolution videos of what they were viewing just from their brain activity. The actual reconstructions were rough patterns rather than high-definition reproductions of the trailers.
But whether this will ever be achieved is anyone's guess. A more interesting, and more important question, is probably whether we should actually try to?
Only you can ever answer that question.