How are memory and dreams related?

A new theory just published in the international peer-reviewed journal Neuro-Psychoanalysis suggests that a modified version of Freud’s dream theory describes not only how dreams are generated but how they are related to our memory. The strangeness of dreams is hypothesized not to come from a censor being turned on during sleep, but from daily perceptions and thought being forced at the time of storage to conform to a brain structure largely frozen in childhood and then interpreted with the executive function turned off. According to the theory, when turned on, the executive function transforms the memories back from the primitive memory structure into real daily perceptions and thought. The article, authored by Dr. Eugen Tarnow, a researcher in New Jersey, also removes the hitherto rigid boundaries between memory and dream research, and reaffirms the importance of the old Penfield Rasmussen findings (they were looking for memory, and found dreams — because memory is stored in dream format.)

The theory summarized:

Perceptions and thought are conjectured to be stored in the brain according to what is already stored. The brain structure of a human being is largely frozen during childhood. Freud’s dream work, which can be thought of as a list of mnemonic devices, describes how perception and thought is transformed at the time of storage to conform to the childhood brain structure. Dreams are proposed to be focused versions of ever present excitational responses to new perception. It is believed they only become conscious when the executive function ceases. The existence of a consciousness pointer is proposed, to help to explain why dreams are relatively focused to a single storyline rather than consisting of unfocussed masses of parallel storylines.

Irwin Feinberg. Chief of the Sleep Research Laboratory at UC Davis, one of the researchers who discovered that REM sleep is not dream sleep, says of the theory: “It is very interesting. I have no problems with it.”

The author concludes that Freud’s mysterious “unconscious,” previously thought to only be accessible by psychoanalysts via dream interpretation, is really long term memory accessible also by memory researchers. Dreams, previously ignored by memory researchers, become another tool to probe our memory structure.

Now, if they’d just get people like me into a dream study . . . I have all sorts of parallel, unrelated dreams, and also have seen radical changes in how my dreams occur as I’ve healed various psychological and emotional traumas. Interesting stuff!

7 thoughts on “How are memory and dreams related?

  1. Interesting indeed.

    “Perceptions and thought are conjectured to be stored in the brain according to what is already stored.”

    This just seem so self-evident in so many ways…philosophical, physiological, information theoretically, etc…

  2. I get the e-mail alert of that journal since I get all of the neurology scientific journals and I have to admit I always delete it right away, because I feel that type of research is such BS.

    I mean, we don’t even know what kind of molecular signals are going on in neurons never mind what kind of phenotype you could have resulting from those signals… I guess I just never was a Freud fan ;)

  3. OK, so let’s assume the research is completely bogus. What can we still gain from reading this text? The core concepts are still valid: dreams and memories are linked, consciousness being understood as a pointer is fascinating (especially for computer programmers like me), and that the unconscious state is more intimately linked to long term memory than to the creative mind.

    I discarded most of the rest, but in the process I remembered that science turns up some “facts” that closely mirror what I go through when I dream.

    I don’t really feel we’ll ever prove out consciousness as purely a side effect of biochemical processes, so for me, science could never fully explain what we go through anyway. What research like this does is remind us that there is something beyond the biochemical, namely the review of empirical data. What I perceive is, ultimately, more important to me than any proof, theory or claim by some microscope-toting Ph.D. They do, however, help me think of different ways of synthesizing the information I already maintain. :)

  4. Hey, I’m a microscope-toting PhD!

    I hope you didn’t think I was being too harsh about my opinion on this. I can see your point of view though.

  5. Not at all! And no offense intended to your PhD or your microscope (I would love to have a really nice microscope!) ;)

  6. Thanks for posting my paper!

    I agree with Wohali’s comments on the theory.

    About the lack of a biological basis – you want to check out the writings of the Harvard group (Hobson, for example) who seems to claim they understand the neurochemical underpinnings of dreams and that Freud was wrong and that dreams are purely random. I think they are wrong and get way too much attention but what do I know?

    I do disagree with the Freud bashing. Freud came up with free association, stated dreams had personal meanings, that personality is set at an early age and that sex is important, etc. No psychologist today is working outside of some Freudian framework. If one does not agree with one of this theories, chances are one agrees with many others. There is no current living psychologist with half his brains and certainly none that comes close to him in importance for the field.

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