Do we then Become More Animal-like?
Sometime ago I attended an international conference in Finland on brain development and brain function. Apart from an excellent discussion on when, at what time of the development during foetal or post-foetal life, pain stimuli are registered and processed by the human brain, it was the session on dreaming that interested me most. Some of the more surprising pieces of information from the dream presentations I still remember and it is those that I shall now elaborate upon.
Everyone who owns a cat or a dog and has observed his or her pet when asleep, knows that not only humans dream. A sleeping dog may growl, snarl, kick with its legs, whimper or even urinate. A sleeping cat may swish its tail around for no apparent reason, flick its ears and smack its lips with its eyes closed. These animals dream and during their dream phases the eye balls behind their closed eyelids move rapidly, just as they do in a dreaming human. There are ways to record these “rapid eye movements” (which, for short, are termed REMs) and relate them to brain activity.
When humans are woken up immediately after an REM-phase, they can report a dream. But which part of the brain is the culprit? Where are the dreams produced or located? Electroencephalograms, called EEGs, provide part of the answer. The cortex is what we might call our ‘thinking cap’, where all our logical decisions during wakefulness are made, but it changes its functional characteristics like brain-wave frequency and amplitude completely during REM/dreams and therefore has to be involved. However, what is even more fascinating and was presented as a novel twist in the research on dream generations was that those brain areas we share with other mammals like dogs, cats and even lower vertebrates, namely the hind/brain, the cerebellum and the diencephalum, ─ areas of the brain in other words, in which reflex movements and automatic motor reactions are linked with instinctive behaviours, fear, flight, aggression, and desires ─ those areas of the brain are active, too!
Young mammals, in which the cerebral regions of the brain are not yet fully developed have more and longer REM/dreams than older animals. And, would you believe it, even in the human foetus REM-phases exist, which suggests that it already creates its own dreams unless, of course, the cerebellum only moves the eyeball without a proper dream. In adult dreamers, however, it is believed that sensory-motor memories and other tasks of the cerebellum are transferred to the cerebral cortex and in this way strongly influence the flavour of what and how we dream. What this suggests to me, if I understood the speaker correctly, is that during dreams, we take a giant time-leap back to our archaic, animalistic roots, to our beastly ancestors. It seems that in our dreams we are, indeed, more closely related to our four-legged friends than during hours of wakefulness. And that leaves me wondering now if I might have actually barked, meowed or perhaps even crowed like a rooster in my sleep sometimes.
© Dr V.B. Meyer-Rochow and http://www.bioforthebiobuff.wordpress.com, 2016.
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