Can brain simulation manipulate dream content

Shilpa Sawant 

Principal, SNBP's International School, Manjri, Pune

Sigmund Freud, the founder of psycho-analysis, quotes “Dreams are the royal road to the unconscious” in his famous book The Interpretation of Dreams. The author had introduced his theory of the unconscious with respect to dream interpretation. Freud had claimed that every dream has some connection of the previous day happenings. He also believed that the content of dreams relates to wish fulfillment.

There is lot of research on the topic, ‘Dreams’, however we have to give a thought on can really brain simulation manipulate dream content. I remember reading an article of a German study where 25 to 30 people were made to sleep in a laboratory and an electric current was passed to the scalp. This was for ten minutes of the REM (rapid eye movement) sleep and once the participants awoke they informed that they had all sorts of dreams. However, here the participants experienced lucid dreaming meaning that - you know when you are dreaming. It has some kind of control over your brain’s imagination. It proves to some extent that brain simulation does manipulate dream content.

Speaking from neurophysiology to phenomelogy, both are connected to the brain and imaginations which are remarkable. Dreaming is an amazing experiment in psychology where talking in layman’s language, where as we switch off the lights before hitting the bed; in the same way our brains switches us off from the environment and takes us to a different world altogether. One can claim that we are unconscious throughout the sleep and we can confabulate during the transition to wakefulness.

There are people like Cartwright who found some clues stating that dreams may help with mood regulation which is monitored in the EEG where changes in the physiology of a body is noticed. Factually speaking brains are active during dreaming and most of it in the REM state. There are scientists trying to prove that some dreams do occur during the post REM state too. Also the terms of dreaming brain and waking brain are used in many studies. Probably, there is a connection between the two or are similar because when you wake up you remember some of the dreams wholly or partially. Our brain is active during dreaming and that’s why we face-recognize some people whom we dream. Similarly we can see, touch, smell, hear and taste things around us when we dream. This means that our brain manipulates our dreams to some extent.

As a child I remember my grandmother narrating a story of a child who wished to eat sweetmeats at night and the mother refuses to provide him. Unfortunately, the child dies in sleep and his wish is unfulfilled leaving the mother in repentance. It seems the soul of the child would travel to the kitchen late night and would create a mess. My grandmother therefore used to inform all of us that fulfill your wish before retiring to bed or else you will have a nightmare. I do not know how much it is true but somewhere or other our brain senses our body situation where we are deprived or happy or tired or some other feelings we experience and dreams are formed.

There were some researchers who had experimented with some rats in a maze where they had placed food pellets in the right side and left side was a reward. There were some audible chimes played and the rats were aware of the sounds while running around the maze. When the rats went off to sleep after the tiresome run, the researchers played the similar chimes and it was noted that the rats would begin dreaming of the section of the maze. Here the researchers manipulated the dreams of the rats which they later named as ‘Dream Engineering’.

In today’s Hi-tech world, we come across of animated videos or clippings where without any hint an object appears or disappears. In our dreams too we experience the same. It says that we dream as per the recollection of the memories which we have collected. So our brain is like a painter who paints dreams from the cupboard of stored memories. I have often hear people say that they have experienced some one banging their doors in a dream and when they wake up it’s really someone banging on the door. So we can agree that to some extent our brain simulation manipulates dream content.

Shilpa Sawant 

Principal, SNBP's International School, Manjri, Pune