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02-10-2011 - Dreams

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Dreams and dreaming can be a fascinating part of life. We all dream, but we recall them to varying degrees. Some of them we never forget:

I was working at the ranch for the summer like usual. There was a local rancher that had threatened to kill our dogs Captain and Major; two beautiful lab/bloodhound mutts. They looked like Black and Tans if you you've ever seen the breed. They are long gone now some 25 years or more. Anyway, one morning I dreamt that the dogs were out running around the property. The rancher had gotten on his horse and was heading out on the property to kill them. I jumped up, grabbed my lever-action Marlin .44 Magnum rifle and headed out to take care of the issue. Out on the property I spied the rancher on his horse. He was almost upon the dogs. He was about sixty to eighty feet away. I leveled the rifle across a wooden fence post and drew a bead on the back of the rancher's head. As I watched through the sights of the rifle, the rancher drew his pistol while turning and in one fluid motion planted a round directly between my eyes. I felt the bullet, I felt the back of my head disappear in a cloud of chunks and mist, I felt the blood dripping down my back. I felt myself slowly sinking into an inky, silky black darkness with a feeling of ultimate peace and contentment. I woke up with a huge smile on my face.

There have been others, but that dream is just as crisp as the day it occurred. What makes some dreams different? I don't know why exactly, but from experience, an issue or pressing matter, a clean physiological state, the proper sleep conditions and enough REM (rapid-eye-movement) time can produce these reults. But why death? And why did I allow myself to die in my own dream? We've all fell during a dream and woke up prior to hitting the ground. When I was very little I had another dream that has not suffered degradation. I fell over and over in this dream and the ground would swallow me up and I'd bounce back into the air. The "falling" feeling was there every drop, but I loved it. Maybe there's a connection.

Whatever our personal experiences may be, there are distinct physiological reasons for sleep and new information is being uncovered. Sleep gives our bodies a chance to repair DNA. Our metabolism requires about eight hours of sleep per day. The amount of sleep required is proportional to the amount of cellular damage potentially incurred which is a function of metabolism. Smaller mammals require more sleep due to their higher metabolism, for instance. It is also believed that the sleeping brain processes the information of the day, lays down memories and prepares the mind for perceived future events.

The electrical activity generated by the unconscious mind has been extensively studied. What some researchers found, however, was that many experiments disregarded many signals because they were seen as "static" in the brain. It turns out that these signals carry relevant information. It has also been found that the electrical fields generated by individual neurons collectively produce feedback fields that entrain the brain into synchronized rhythms affecting the same neurons that initially generated the field. It is being shown that the sleeping mind can be more active in certain respects than the conscious mind. Advances in technique (electrocorticography) are showing that high resolution frequency analysis can provide much more information than previously thought possible.

Evidently, much is happening in the sleeping and dreaming brain. Besides physiology and survival-related processes, is there anything unquantifiable going on? Brain patterns indicate we dream mainly during REM time, although alternate states of consciousness have been associated with non-REM patterns. The movement of our eyes is assumed to force the mind to create its own imagery...kind of the reverse of waking life. Dreams are supremely subjective since all the information is internal. They can give us a window in which to view our lives from a familiar, but distinct, perspective. The questions they generate are as fascinating as their occurrence.

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