What happens to a dream deferred? Mark Hay, Bwog’s Oneirologist-in-Residence, will attempt to use his meager talents to convey the jaw-dropping revelations and gut-busting humor of the evening’s lecture, “Brain Neuromechanisms of Dreams.”
We begin, as all dreams must, with Sigmund Freud, the first man to create a “science” of dreams, although as Solms notes, “his method was shit.” Those few who followed Freud’s theory of dreams – i.e., that dreams represent some suppressed vision of our deepest (usually incestuous or sexual) urges creeping out while our sense of reason sleeps – became psychoanalysts. Unfortunately, as Solms notes, “Most of them were Central Europeans, and many of them were Jewish, and there was this chap named Hitler who didn’t like them.” So the psychoanalysts left and came here to America, contributing to the 1950s rise in prominence of psychoanalysis within the field of psychology and dream study. (This, ironically, resulted in a longstanding Freudian penis inferiority complex for the mental sciences.)
And so it stood until someone noticed a nearly one-to-one correlation between rapid eye movement, brain wave spikes, and reports of dreams. Scientists soon decided to take a hack at isolating dreams in the brain and began slicing away at cat brains. It was not until he sliced into the pons, “a pretty fucking basic brain structure,” that he managed to stop REM, presumably finding the “dream switch.” These random pons firings, which were increased in sleep, would wreak havoc with the sensual, experiential forebrain, producing chaotic images tied together vaguely into dreams. And with this discovery, Freudian theory was pronounced dead.
And then came Solms who, as a doctoral student, made some amazing discoveries while studying sleep and the forebrain: he found five coherent individuals who had lesions of the pons but could still dream. Frantically he searched the literature for cases of pons lesion victims who could not dream. There were none. “I nearly fell off my chair,” Solms recalls. “Mind boggling…”And with this discovery, the REM-dream relation was pronounced dead.
To summarize a lengthy process of lesion studies and literature review: Solms eventually isolated dreams to spikes of activity in a system connected with desire, the reward systems of our brains; several times a night, this desire pathway “lights up – woaaaaaa! – like a Christmas tree and makes you want to party.” Solms describes this experience as such: “If any of you have been naughty enough to snort cocaine, you know what that system does! Feel a little active, a little sexy – that’s what that system does!” It turns out that this is the same system active in hyper-drive for the severely mentally ill and the same pathway damaged in frontal-lobe lobotomies. Attacking this pathway kills motivation, kills hallucination, and kills dreams. So there you have it – your dreams: loosely bundled desire-driven sense episodes, something akin to a spike of cocaine or a psychopathic experience.
Hence dreams may not be so random as we once thought. If dreams are driven by desires, Solms suggests, perhaps they do tell us something about what is on our minds. Perhaps there is meaning to dreams, although rarely if ever incestuous, obscene Freudian meaning. But, Solms suggests, while Freud’s method was shit and his analysis out of order, his basic idea of meaning within dreams may still be alive.