Thursday, September 27, 2007

Perchance to Dream?

Just to help put this post in perspective, your reading material for today is a Wikipedia link about dreams and the process of dreaming. The first paragraph is a good summary, but it would behoove you to look at the rest of the article as well.

So. Backstory: Recently I was required to observe a newborn for a Developmental Psychology class, and most of this observation was spent watching the child sleep (yes, I know; imagine the odds of catching a newborn in the middle of naptime...). She slept for about an hour and a half, during which she would occasionally make anxious/distressed grunts and moans in her sleep; these noises were accompanied by the slight shifting of positions (not much, since she can't even hold up her own head...), some gentle kicking, reaching, and grasping.

Sounds like dreaming, doesn't it?

See, the thing is, it's a standing theory that newborns aren't supposed to be able to have dreams. Admittantly, the theory follows a logical train of thought: if dreams are fabrications of the mind and are made from the combination of memories and one's own imagination, then babies, lacking experience in both of these areas, should not have "dreams".
There is also the physiological aspect to consider. In particular, except for some stages of REM sleep, certain neurotransmitters react with associated specific areas of the brain to trigger the emotion- and motor-related responses we see when we watch someone dream.
But which is the cause and which is the effect? Do the neurotransmitters cause a dream, or does a dream cause the brain to fire off the neurotransmitters?
What was making the child distressed? What made her kick or reach to grasp at nothing?

I do not pose this because I have an answer. I merely thought it would make an interesting discussion; if you have any thoughts on the subject or any responses to my musings, feel free to post. I'll try to push the right buttons to make "anonymous" posting possible in my blog settings (still, sign your name so I know who you are), but if not, feel free to drop me an e-mail.

Edit: Anonymous comments have been enabled for a while -- if I start getting spam (which happened a lot last time I left the comments open to Anyone), I'll have to change it back, but it's all good for now.


Jobber said...

I hope my comments will not convey as much ignorance as I feel in making them; however, I wonder if perhaps asking which came first, the neurotransmitters or the dream, is putting too strict a limit on the number of possibilities. No, I'm not trying be senseless. Nor am I suggesting that the physical/emotional aspects of dreaming are all there is too it. Rather, I am wondering if trying to seperate the two is a fallacy. What if our selves are much more closely related to our minds than we expect, and what if that should not lead us to value our souls less by merit of being "limited" within the physical, but to value our minds more as being freed to interact with our "selves"?
Then again, perhaps the infant was simply uncomfortable due to the lack of conversation. *awkward silence*

Elizabeth said...

Ha ha. Don't make me escalade the poking. XP A fork-poke still only counts as one until further notice.
I'm definitely not claiming that those are the only two possibilities. They're the only two I know of that have been explained in my secular textbook, but I did not mean to imply that this was outside the realm of the Almighty. Sometimes it's just kinda fun to try and figure out how He designed us to function the way we do, even though even the smart scientists haven't really figured it out (note that I did say in my post that it was a theory).
I belive humans (as a species) are far more complicated than we think we are. It just wouldn't be fun if we completely understood everything, now, would it? :)

Jobber said...

It certainly wouldn't be any fun if we had everything figured out, and it certainly is fun to try.
And I didn't think you were implying those were the only two possibilities.
I consider the sciences to be very metaphorical. Theories tend to be descriptions that attempt to reconcile all the data to which we are privy. A theory that is an innaccurate description may still work fine for certain applications. In physics we use Newton's laws all the time, even though we have relativity theory, which is our new "the way things really are."
The trouble with metaphorical science is that you quickly run into the question, can we even know what things are really like, or can we just throw frameworks of theories around them that work within our limited sphere of data?

Elizabeth said...

I think this discussion is quickly going out of my league. As concrete as I would like it to be, I suppose Psychology really is a "theoretical" science. Even with all the data collected on the stages of sleep and understanding of what happens to the brain and to the body while a person dreams, some of what is known is based on discoveries of what is -not- "normal" (for instance RBD, REM Behavior Disorder, tells us what happens when neurotransmitters A and B don't go where they're supposed to or aren't present at all in the first place, therefore we make a judgement call on what A and B do when they ARE present).
I have no idea if that's even about the original topic anymore, but it came to mind.

Jobber said...

Wow, this is getting out of my league too. I had to re-read that several times -- "neuro..neurotra...neurotransmitters. *gasp*"
But having done so, what you describe is fascinating. Does it follow that if everything worked perfectly, it would be harder to figure it out? A broader question is, if nobody had any physical imperfections, would we not know as much about the ins and outs of the body?
Veeery interesting.

The Sheep said...

Wow, I should really check blogs more often. I'm coming into this conversation very late!
Yes Joben, neurotransmitters. Take Gen Bio and you'll not only learn what they are but also all the intricacies of how they work. I think you may be right in your assumption that if there were no imperfections then we wouldn't know as much about the body. The study of biology really began as an attempt to correct imperfections in the body and cure diseases. In order to correct these problems or "imperfections" we had to know about the body and what was causing the problem, and thus biology was created. I wouldn't say that psychology grew out of biology, but psychology does clearly use a lot of the information we have learned about the human body through biology (especially where the brain and nervous system is concerned).

Jobber said...

Hmmm. What you say about the origins of biology as a science make sense. But I am concerned; does this mean biologists won't have a job in heaven? I'm serious. But then, I suppose, morticians won't, and once you let some people out of a job, you can let them all go away. However, would it not be a pity to be hampered in our glorification of God by the study of our bodies (part of His Creation) right when we are perfected and able to do the glorifying like we're supposed to?