Brains in Dreamland Scientists Hope to Raise the Neural Curtain on Sleep's Virtual Theater
Bower, Bruce, Science News
After his father's death in 1896, Viennese neurologist Sigmund Freud made a momentous career change. He decided to study the mind instead of the brain. Freud began by probing his own mind. Intrigued by his conflicted feelings toward his late father, the scientist analyzed his own dreams, slips of the tongue, childhood memories, and episodes of forgetfulness.
Freud's efforts culminated in the 1900 publication of The Interpretation of Dreams. In that book, he depicted dreams as symbolic stories in which sleepers' unconscious sexual and aggressive desires play out in disguised forms.
Later in his life, Freud acknowledged that dreams don't always gratify wishes. For instance, he noted that some dreams represent attempts to master a past traumatic experience. Yet the father of psychoanalysis always held that dreams contain both surface events and subterranean themes of great personal importance. For that reason, he wrote, "the interpretation of dreams is the royal road to a knowledge of the unconscious activities of the mind."
Freud's theory of how dreams work has had a huge cultural impact over the past century, even as it attracted intense criticism. Now, brain scientists--members of the discipline that Freud left behind--have stepped to the forefront of this passionate dream dispute.
One prominent group of scientists asserts that Freud profoundly misunderstood dreams. In their, view, the act of dreaming yields a guileless collage of strange but heartfelt images that carry no hidden meanings.
These scientists say that dreaming occurs when a primitive structure called the brain stem stirs up strong emotions, especially anxiety, elation, and anger. At the same time, neural gateways to the external world shut down, as do centers of memory and rational thought. The brain then creates bizarre, internal visions that strongly resonate for the dreamer.
An opposing view corresponds in many ways to Freud's ideas. Its supporters portray dreams as products of a complex frontal-brain system that …
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Publication information: Article title: Brains in Dreamland Scientists Hope to Raise the Neural Curtain on Sleep's Virtual Theater. Contributors: Bower, Bruce - Author. Magazine title: Science News. Volume: 160. Issue: 6 Publication date: August 11, 2001. Page number: 90. © 2009 Science Service, Inc. COPYRIGHT 2001 Gale Group.
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