Last week, I was in the midst of writing my second novel, which I haven't titled yet. (Like when you first find out you're pregnant and you're not ready to check out Baby Name books at the library). I had a very restless night after a day of delving into the plot and the male love-interest character, who just happens to be a ghost (what can I say? I love using ghosts in my stories).
All night long, I kept waking up, feeling like this ghost was in my bedroom. He wasn't scaring me, just creeping me out a little bit. Needless to say, it was a very restless night and I woke up tired, but with a feeling like I knew my character better. When I sat down to write that day, although I was a little tired, I knew the character better, and the book is coming along at quite a clip.
Thinking about dreams and what they mean, I decided to see if my buddy Jonah Lehrer had anything to say about the topic. I first heard about Jonah when his second book, How We Decide came out and I've been visiting his blog ever since. It seems whenever I'm pondering a topic concerning our brain, I can go to his blog The Frontal Cortex and he's written something about it.
Last weekend, Jonah had an essay in the New York Times, entitled Why We Dream and in the essay he cites numerous research done on this topic, dating all the way back to Freud. The most recent research he discusses is from a paper published in 2004 by Sara Mednick, a neuroscientist at University of California. In her study, she points to the importance of dreams and specifically, the R.E.M. state and how there's a direct correlation between R.E.M., long term memory and creativity. Ah ha!
Researchers have discovered that when we dream, our minds are filing information away, deciding what things to leave in our memory and what things to throw away. As silly as dreams sound when we retell them (and people roar with laughter at us) believe it or not, all the information contained in our dreams is based on our life and what's happening in it. While we sleep, our mind does Administrative Assistant duties for us.
This brings me my own completely unscientific conclusion about dreams. I think I've cracked the code as to why we can't seem to remember a lot of stuff as we get older: We forget a lot because in the middle of the night, when our administrative assistant is supposed to be organizing and filing, it's slacking off. So when we go to retrieve information from our brains, we can't. The memory has been either misfiled or got thrown away without our consent. The solution? Fire and replace.
One last note: Jonah Lehrer points out at the end of his essay that although much has been proven to explain our dreams, there is still a ginormous amount of information we don't know concerning our dream-state-of-mind.