Why do we dream? Stanford neuroscientist’s theory gives deeper insight

Eagleman’s theory centres on the brain’s adaptability and the need to safeguard the visual cortex

Why do we dream? Stanford Neuroscientist’s theory gives a deeper insight.—The Swaddle

The age-old question of why we dream may find a new perspective in neuroscientist David Eagleman’s groundbreaking theory, which argues that dreams, occurring during Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep, serve as a defence mechanism for the brain’s visual cortex against potential takeovers by other sensory functions. 

Rather than focusing on traditional theories about emotional processing or memory enhancement during dreams, Eagleman’s theory centres on the brain’s adaptability and the need to safeguard the visual cortex.

Eagleman draws parallels between neuronal competition and international territorial disputes, suggesting that experiences over a lifetime reshape the brain’s map. 

Notably, when sensory inputs slow or shift, neurons engage in a competitive struggle for neural territory. Eagleman’s theory emphasises the dynamic nature of the brain, pointing to cases of neuroplasticity where the remaining brain reorganises to compensate for missing sections.

REM sleep, occurring approximately 90 minutes after falling asleep, aligns with the visual cortex’s defence timetable. Dreams, as observed through brain scans, predominantly activate the visual cortex during REM. 

Eagleman contends that the more adaptable the brain, the greater the need for REM sleep, illustrating this correlation by highlighting the substantial REM sleep requirement for babies, whose brains are highly plastic.

While some researchers express scepticism, Eagleman acknowledges that his theory can coexist with other explanations for dreams, emphasising the multifaceted nature of REM sleep. 

As the scientific community grapples with understanding the intricate realm of dreams, Eagleman’s hypothesis introduces a fresh perspective, positing dreams as nightly guardians of the brain’s visual territory.

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