- Scientists are working on technology to decipher the imagery, movement and speech of dreams
- However, recording dreams would not be without dangers, experts say
Dreams are designed to be forgotten, explained Antonio Zadra, a psychology professor at the Université de Montréal. It's "very important to not confuse dream experiences with reality."
Experts say it's vital that we have dreams, even if we can't recall most of them. Those experts just can't agree why they're important. "There is no agreement about (the) function (of dreams) among dream researchers," explained Deirdre Leigh Barrett, a psychology professor of at Harvard Medical School, but there are many competing theories.
Sigmund Freud claimed that dreams allow us to fulfill our greatest desires. Robert Stickgold, a psychiatry professor and director of the Center for Sleep and Cognition at Harvard Medical School, believes that they "allow us, within a conscious experimental framework, to imagine events and their consequences."
Harvard University psychiatrists Drs. John Allan Hobson and Robert McCarley proposed the activation-synthesis hypothesis, in which we don't actually dream at all. Instead, everything we consider to be a dream is really our brain, upon waking, trying to make sense of a number of electrical impulses that fire in the brain stem during REM sleep.
Others believe that dreams are a mode of threat simulation, an evolutionary train our brains developed for threats in waking life.
Moran Cerf, an assistant professor of marketing at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, said some people believe that dreams are a way of moving memories from short-term to long-term memory, or a way to elevate suppressed thoughts. Some scientists think they are our brain's way of dumping excess information so we can focus on consolidating important information, but others believe that dreams help us process emotions.
Whatever dreams are, humans are fascinated by these worlds our brain creates. Many people keep dream journals, use dreams for guidance or try controlling them through lucid dreaming. And with technological advancements, many are captivated by the notion that we could one day record them.
Scientists are working on the idea. "We have been fascinated by dreams for millennia, and for the first time in history," we can do something about it, Cerf said.
How would dream recording work?
"We dream to forget," scientist Francis Crick wrote. But what if we didn't have to forget? What if you could revisit winning the lottery, meeting your favorite celebrity or flying above the Grand Canyon? Scientists around the world are working on technology to decipher the content, imagery, movement and speech of our dreams.