THE OTHER SIDE OF SLEEP: DISCOVERIES IN BRAIN PHYSIOLOGY
THE OTHER SIDE OF SLEEP: DISCOVERIES IN BRAIN PHYSIOLOGYDiscoveries in brain physiology—new understanding of the structure and functioning of the brain, information not available to Freud—also make it difficult for some scientists to accept his concepts of dreaming. One school of thought holds, for example, that the very processes at work in the sleeping brain are themselves directly responsible for dream activity. In this model the activity of rapid eye movement is believed to stimulate the neural pathways that connect the eyes to the brain. Such stimulation directly affects the motor regions of the brain, in turn generating dream images of movement; it can also affect the forebrain, thus triggering memories or causing feelings of emotion to enter the dream picture. This theory, however, fails to account for the fact that dreaming occurs, to one extent or another, in all stages of sleep—a fact I’ll expand on shortly.During REM sleep the brain experiences a firestorm of electrical activity, which some scientists refer to as the “dream state generator.” Originating in the pons (“bridge”), a structure that spans the gap between the midbrain and the medulla, this electrical activity spreads over the cerebral cortex, the structure responsible for thought and motor activity. The bizarre and random nature of dreams reflects the randomness of the electrical discharge. Obviously, the theories of Freud can be dispensed with in a scientific model that portrays dreams merely as arbitrary accumulations of images, like a scrambled television signal. Some investigators, however, carry the “dream generator” concept a step further. According to this school of thought, the creation of visual and auditory hallucinations may indeed be a random process. The actual dream, however, is the process by which the cortex tries to weave unconnected images, sounds, and feelings into some kind of meaningful fabric. Our unconscious wishes, then, may serve as the loom on which this fabric is woven. Contrary to Freud’s view, these wishes do not actually cause the dream, but they exploit the existence of confused signals by imposing their own order upon them.*287\226\8*
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