Setting the stage for insight

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Jonah Lehrer’s post this past Friday, Dreaming and Remembering, shares research around the role dreams play in sorting, consolidating and strengthening memories. In a New York Times post from March, Lehrer relates an experiment from Jan Born that showed sleeping between problem solving increased their pattern detection ability allowing the participants to use a short-cut instead of the more complex brute force method.

Born argues that deep sleep and dreaming “set the stage for the emergence of insight” by allowing us to mentally represent old ideas in new ways.

Lehrer ends presenting…

One of the main remaining controversies for sleep researchers is whether or not REM dreams are a mere side-effect of a subterranean process – this would suggest that the narratives themselves don’t matter – or are actually a core feature of the sleep-remembering cycle. This is an academic question with plenty of practical relevance, as it will determine whether or not it’s worth recounting our dreams in polite conversation.

Regardless of the potential findings people respond to storytelling as a method of engagement and understanding. Stories provide context for other more important content. Done well it involves the listener in a mentally interactive exercise making it easier for them to find meaning and relate the underlying messages to other important ideas. Dreams may be a “side-effect of a subterranean process” but it would be such a waste of fantastic stories.