- Human beings and other animals learn to use mistakes made so as not to repeat them without the need for extensive teaching.
- This ability is facilitated by certain states such as sleep, where lived experiences are systematically replayed.
We know: sleep and dreams are important for learning and memory. “What we lack is a theory that links this to the consolidation of experiences, the generalization of concepts and creativity”said Nicolas Deperrois, lead author of the study, in a statement. This researcher from the University of Bern, Switzerland, decided to carry out a study, recently published in the scientific journal eLife, along with other scientists. In this work, the authors propose a new theory on the meaning of dreams using a methodology inspired by machine learning and brain simulation.
During sleep, there are two types of phases which alternate one after the other: non-paradoxical sleep, where the brain “replays” the situations experienced during wakefulness, and paradoxical sleep, where puffs spontaneous bursts of intense brain activity produce vivid dreams. For the purposes of their work, the researchers used simulations of the cerebral cortex to model how different phases of sleep affect learning.
“In our model, learning is organized through three different global brain states mimicking wakefulness, non-rapid eye movement, and REM sleep”, can we read in the study. While awake, the model is exposed to images of boats, cars or dogs. To test the performance of the model, a classifier assesses how easily the identity of the object can be read from brain representations.
Having strange dreams, a way for the brain to “organize our experiences”
According to the authors, wakefulness, non-REM sleep and REM sleep seem to have complementary functions for learning. “Non-paradoxical and paradoxical dreams become more realistic as our model learns. While non-paradoxical dreams quite closely resemble waking experiences, paradoxical dreams tend to combine these experiences in creative ways,” explained Jakob Jordan, leader of the research team.
According to the findings, bizarre dreams during REM sleep are key to learning from our experiences. “It should come as no surprise that dreams are weird: that weirdness has a purpose. The next time you have weird dreams, maybe don’t try to find a deeper meaning: your brain may be simply organizing your experiences”, concluded Nicolas Deperrois.
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Having weird dreams is good for our brain!
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