Electric Dreams

Dreams and Connectionism

Richard Catlett Wilkerson 

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    Wilkerson, Richard Catlett (2000 January). Dreams and Connectionism. Electric Dreams 7(1). Retrieved July 14, 2000 from Electric Dreams on the World Wide Web: http://www.dreamgate.com/electric-dreams  

There was a time when finding models for the notion of neural nets in the brain was hard to do and talking about the subject was pretty much limited to computer geeks who got excited about computers being able to simulate thinking in anyway analogous.

One of the most common models we have of the brain is a densely packed system of interconnected neurons. Bundles in various areas of the brain function in related, but distinct ways. However, this view has always had a very biological bias. On the cognitive plane, we are more apt to how and why our thoughts work in a psycho-social setting. A large gap has always existed between the hardware and software. With the rise of the early computer models of the brain, this gap only further widened as computers were seen as being able to function in only a serial fashion. That is, the computer performs one operation, then another. It may appear as if you are running more than one program at a time on your computer, but in fact, the computer is quickly switching back and forth between tasks. New generations of computers attempted to develop PDP or parallel distributed processing. In these computer, there are several central processors working at the same time and communicating with one another. One of the models to come out of this is Connectionism. In this model, the machine is a rich interconnection of nodes which influence but don't directly control one another. Rather, one network is influenced by the variety of input it receives from other networks and balances this with its own sets of harmony and the overall harmony of the other networks it is in contact with.

Frances Crick, famous for his discoveries about the structure of DNA, became somewhat notorious in the dream field for his suggestive essays with his friend Mitchison in the 1980's. They combined this research with a model of neural networks to suggest that the brain is actually unlearning during dreaming. They suggested that the neural networks that the mind loads during the day get saturated with information and create false links between neural nets that produce what we see as bizarre dreams. The random firing or REM cleans these out during the night. Thus, they hypothesize, remembering dreams may be counter productive to the unlearning process.

Gordon Globus has suggested that the brain works not only with stimulus-response and chemicals, but with models of *whole worlds*. He uses a similar model to Crick and Mitchison, but points out that there is a complex interactive brain system best described as neural nets that *produce* as well as respond to events. In waking life there is feedback and corrections from a more concrete world. In sleep we continue to produce models of worlds, but they have their own rules and we then interact with these.

With the deployment of the Internet as a model and reality, these notions of the neural nets are clearer to understand. When events occur, such as threat of a war, a political scandal or the availability of a celebrity, the Internet begins to buzz. The neural nets might be seen as newsgroups, e-mail discussion lists, bulletin boards and other interactive groups. The information and stories flow into these areas, and are responded to in variety of ways and passed along or absorbed. Eventually the perturbations settle back into the normal ebb and flow. But the process is not just passive, nor does it ever return to exactly the same state of harmony. These stories lead to discussions that become actions in the world and online that change the world.

Crick, Francis & Mitchinson, Graeme (1983). The function of dream sleep. Nature, 304(14), July, 111-114.

Crick, Francis & Mitchinson, Graeme. (1986). REM sleep and neural nets. Journal of Mind and Behaviour, 7(2&3), 229-50.

Globus, G. G. (1987). Dream life, wake life: The human condition through dreams. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Globus, G. G. (1989). Connectionism and the dreaming mind. Journal of Mind and Behavior, 10(2), 179-196.

Globus, G. G. (1991). Dream content: Random or meaningful? Dreaming, 1, 27-40.

Globus, G. G. (1993). Connectionism and sleep. In A. Moffitt, M. Kramer, & R. Hoffmann (Eds.), The functions of dreaming (pp. 119-138). Albany: State University of New York Press.

Globus, Gordon G. (1991). Dream content: Random or meaningful? Dreaming, 1(1), 27-40.

Globus, Gordon G. (1987). Dream Life, Wake Life: The Human Condition Through Dreams. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Globus, Gordon G. (1989). Connectionism and the dreaming mind. The Journal of Mind and Behavior, 10(2). 179-196.

Globus, Gordon G. (1993). Connectionism and sleep. In A. Moffitt, M. Kramer, R. Hoffman (Eds.), The Functions of Dreaming. Albany, NY: SUNY Press.