Early this month, news reached us from the scientific world that scientists can now see our dreams. In a fourth April publication of the journal Science by a team of Japanese scientists, the findings showed that science has progressed in getting an image of what we see in our dreams and determining what we’re dreaming about. Masako Tamaki, a neuroscientist at Brown University, together with her team was able to achieve this feat. From the news articles online, the method is quite understandable. Here’s a quote from the story by Livescience writer Tia Ghose:
Tamaki and her colleagues tracked brain activity using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) of three people as they were sleeping; the researchers woke up the trio every few minutes to have them describe their dreams. In total, the scientists collected about 200 visual images.
The researchers then tied the dream content that participants described in their waking moments to specific patterns in brain activity (as seen in the blood flow in fMRI scans) and had a computer model learn those signatures.
The computer model then analyzed each person’s dreams. The model was able to pick out the time when each person dreamed of specific objects based on their brain activity when they were awake.
Those findings showed the same brain regions are activated when people are awake as when they are actually having the associated dream.
I am very much skeptical about the importance ascribed to this discovery and I will state my views in another post. Taking all of this for granted however, I am highly intrigued at such news for two reasons.
In Descartes First Meditation, he points out a salient truth which leads him to a major argument for the veracity of mathematical and geometric truths. This is one aspect he touches on while he still deliberates on the nature of dreams. To quote him:
Nevertheless, it really must be admitted that things seen in sleep are, as it were, like painted images, which could have been produced only in the likeness of true things. Therefore at least these general things (eyes, head, hands, the whole body) are not imaginary things, but are true and exist.
Clearly, Descartes in 1639 realized the logic behind the particular scientific method being employed by Tamaki and her colleagues today. That is, things seen in sleep are in the likeness of true things or things that exist in the real world when we are awake and that connection can therefore be drawn. Tamaki may never have read Descartes and it does not seem to me that the recondite French philosopher can be accorded the honour of pioneering this thought. I just happen to find the parallels intriguing, especially since I have been tutoring philosophy freshmen on Descartes First and Second Meditations this semester.
Also enthralling, is the prospect of the technology for this science being able to retell our dreams, even if we forget them. Imagine that. On one hand, we won’t have to struggle to relay a dream, record it through some means and then replay it to ourselves. Once the technology is available to tell us exactly what we dreamt, we can cut through the red tape. Now, is there one significant part of human history where this has already taken place? Here’s a quote from the Bible in Daniel 2:26-28:
26 The king asked Daniel (also called Belteshazzar), “Are you able to tell me what I saw in my dream and interpret it?”
27 Daniel replied, “No wise man, enchanter, magician or diviner can explain to the king the mystery he has asked about, 28 but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries. He has shown King Nebuchadnezzar what will happen in days to come. Your dream and the visions that passed through your mind as you were lying in bed are these:
If you read further, you will come to see how Daniel narrates Nebuchadnezzar’s exact dream to him and goes on to interpret it. Wonderful stuff! And that’s putting it mildly.
Like I said earlier in this post, I will be expressing my doubts about this ‘breakthrough’ in another post. For now though, join me savour the links with Descartes and Daniel.