Neuroscience of Dreams

For my new feature film "The Marriage Project" (WIP title) I did mountains of research (it actually seemed like a Kilimanjaro of research, am still mentally drained from that brain effort) in the fields of anthropology and neuroscience. I wanted to explore the idea of how we as human beings are influenced by biochemical processes within our bodies while carried away by near mystical experiences of falling in love. 

While doing the research of course I had conversations with my human fellows about this research. Some of them expressed great hostility towards the idea that any of their actions might be a collections of chemical and neuron chain-reactions.

- I am more than just my body! - they proclaimed. - I have dreams. I sometimes have feelings of something Divine touching my Magical Essence. Don't reduce me to chemicals!

Indeed, chemicals lately have been getting bad rep, with Bernie Sanders leading the fight against Big Pharma and media exposing presence of bad chemicals in our food.

But some chemicals actually make us human. And being a human without being aware of own chemical undercurrents means to be at mercy of those unmentionable chemicals. Like a string puppet who doesn't know and doesn't control what it is going to do, like eating a whole chocolate cake on an impulse.

Those objecting-to-be-just-chemicals humans hostile to my research were onto something. It made me think of what is human spirituality and why our need for feeling Divine Creature's touch on our Magical Essence survived the trials and tribulations of Evolution.

A recent article in Aeon "Dreams and Revelations" by Patrick McNamara examines neurochemistry of dreams, and what is it about dreams that make them such potent vehicles for the supernatural.

From the article:

"We know that rapid eye movement sleep (REM), when eyes move rapidly back and forth under closed eyelids, is the phase when we have the most vivid dreams. REM is associated with heightened levels of the neurotransmitters dopamine (associated with reward and movement) and acetylcholine (associated with memory), as well as a surge of activity in the limbic system, the amygdala, and the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, all areas of the brain that handle emotion. Conversely, there is lowered activity in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain that handles personal insight, rationality and judgement; likewise, the neurochemicals noradrenaline and serotonin, involved in vigilance and self-control, are regulated down. The very low levels of serotonin allow steady release of the excitatory transmitter glutamate, which overstimulates the brain activity thought to underlie the cognitive and perceptual effects of hallucinogens. In other words, in REM sleep, our emotional centres are overstimulated while our reflective rational centres are impeded or narrowly refocused on issues of emotional significance. We are left free to ponder the endless meanings of the emotions and interactions that we experience but we do so with wildly fluctuating levels of reflective insight."

And it reached conclusion:

"Where does all this leave us today? On one hand, the link between REM dreams and spiritual experience disturbs some religious people because they fear it suggests that religion is nothing but delusional dreaming and hallucinations. On the other hand, the connection upsets some die-hard atheists, who dislike the idea that spirituality is rooted in our biology – that it is functional and adaptive, and central to who we are."

As always, the truth is between the two extremes.

Meanwhile, some of my own dreams are so strong that I have a hard time believing for a few days that flying over Manhattan with the help of my Magic Scarf actually didn't take place. But the feeling of being powerful wears off in 72 hours. The interpretations I have for my dreams are highly practical, without any sense of Supernatural or Divine: Shit means money. Babies mean trouble. Dogs mean friends. 

As a biochemical creature I am trying to make my life simple and humble. Divinity is busy touching more worthy biochemical material than me.