Saturday, April 03, 2010

Dreams Help Create Patterns

One thing that attracts me to both economics and improvisation is patterns. Trying to connect small stories into a larger picture. Patterns are so important in life that it may be why we dream. It's clear that what we do during the day greatly impacts what we dream about, but it's more literal than you might think:
As expected, [rats] running on the track generated a distinct pattern of neural firing in the rat hippocampus, a brain area essential for the formation of long-term memory...

The scientists examined 45 dreams and found that 20 of the dreams repeated the exact same patterns of brain activity exhibited while running in a circle. In fact, the correlation between the dream and the reality was so close that Wilson could predict the exact position of the rodent on the track while it was asleep.
But yet dreams are not literally our day:
Why the non-sequiturs, the long forgotten characters and the unexplained state of public undress? Wilson speculates that dreams are also an attempt to search for associations between seemingly unrelated experiences, which is why it’s so important for the controlling conscious self to disappear. What does this maze have to do with that maze? How can we use the lessons of today to get more food pellets tomorrow? This suggests that the strangeness of our nighttime narratives is actually an essential feature, as our memories are remixed and reshuffled, a mash-up tape made by the mind.
Teaching random facts don't explain much unless it is weaved into a larger pattern. This is key to education. The article is from Jonah Lehrer, a man worth Googling (hat tip to Justin Wehr).

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