I drink wine most nights. And in reasonable, but not excessive quantities. But on the nights when I go to bed without drinking, my sleep is different. First of all, I take a lot longer to go to sleep. And second, I remember my dreams much more vividly. This may be because I dream more, or it may be because the quality of my sleep is different. Who knows?
Dreams are strange. They are often quite vivid, and they aren’t simply replays of the day’s events. It is as if the brain is able to construct realistic perceptions and then deliver them to the un- or semi-conscious mind. This raises the question: why does the brain do this? And if a mechanism exists for constructing ‘reality’, what is its function?
Is it that our perception of what is ‘real’ is generated by the brain using a mix of real time sensory stimuli and memory, so that what we are experiencing is not reality, but instead a model of reality that to us, for all intents and purposes, is reality?
That is, what we perceive is subject to some background tinkering and interpretation by our brains before we are even aware of it. Our brains have a special facility to create ‘reality’ based on what is really there, using a mixture of inputs from our senses, interpreted in light of our memory and understanding, extracting out of a mass of sensory data a more easily understandable version of what is out there.
In this sense, we may each be privy to our own finely tuned version of what is ‘out there’. It would explain why people can have such differing perceptions of the same event. Sensory input is already loaded with meaning that is conferred upon it by specialised brain mechanisms. This is why we are able to attribute motives and even emotions, for example, to a simple animation of a large square being ‘attacked’ by a number of small triangles. We see crudely drawn cartoon animations, and are able to fill in the rest – we can even empathize with stick figures.
What do you think about dreams?