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Do animals dream?

8 Nov

The answer appears to be yes:

University of Chicago biologists Amish Dave and Daniel Margoliash looked into the brains of zebra finches and discovered something similar. These birds are not born with the melodies of their songs hardwired into the brains; instead, they have to learn to sing their songs. When they’re awake, the neurons in part of the finches’ forebrain called the robutus archistriatalis fire following their singing of particular notes. Researchers can determine which note was sung based on the firing patterns of those neurons. By piecing together the electrical patterns in those neurons over time, Dave and Margoliash can reconstruct the entire song from start to finish.
Later, when the birds were asleep, Dave and Margoliash looked again at the electrical activity in that part of their brains. The firing of those neurons wasn’t entirely random. Instead, the neurons fired in order, as if the bird was audibly singing the song, note for note. It might be said that the zebra finches were practising their songs while they slumbered.

You can find the original papers here.

Philip K. Dick dreams of bookstores

20 Oct

A few weeks ago, I wrote about books appearing in dreams. Recently, I have been reading Philip K. Dick’s novel Valis and last night I came across this:

“The Empire never ended,” Fat quoted to himself. That one sentence appeared over and over again in his exegesis; it had become his tag line. Originally the sentence had been revealed to him in a great dream. In the dream he again was a child, searching dusty used-book stores for rare old science fiction magazines, in particular Astoundings. In the dream he had looked through countless tattered issues, stacks upon stacks, for the priceless serial entitled “The Empire Never Ended.” If he could find it and read it he would know everything; that had been the burden of the dream.

What is striking to me is that I have had similar dreams of looking in bookstores for some important book that would clear up the great mysteries of life.

My guess is that “The Empire Never Ends” is a reference to Asimov’s Foundation series, which first appeared as a serial in Astounding Stories.

Tip of Tongue: Dreamland Edition

12 Apr

Last night I dreamed that I had a tip of the tongue experience. Tip of the tongue states are situations where you forget some piece of information, but have a strong sense that you actually know it. Often the information comes to you later in the absence of any outside reminder, strong evidence that the information was there all along.

In my dream, I could not recall the name of a university administrator I was meeting with. I experienced it just like a real TOT state. On waking, I not only remembered the dream, but I also had no problem recalling the administrator’s name. The TOT experience was completely confined to my dream.

This reminds me a bit of the phenomenon of state dependent memory, where a person’s physiological state serves as a memory cue. For example, some people will learn a fact well drunk, forget it when sober, but recall it again when inebriated. This was a central plot point in Chaplain’s film, City Lights.

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