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Your Weirdest Dreams Could Be Making You Smarter

June 4, 2021 – “I had the strangest dream last night.”

It’s a common refrain made by people whose sleep experiences have taken them to places beyond the waking imagination. And that’s for good reason, says neuroscientist Erik Hoel, PhD, of Tufts University in Medford, MA.

Strange dreams serve an important purpose, he says, and help our brains understand everyday experiences in a way that allows for deeper learning. Humans, he suggests in a recent study, actually develop their brain power in the same way that artificial intelligence systems are trained to become smarter.

In fact, scientists are using deep learning neural networks to train AI systems.

But when an AI system becomes too familiar with the data, it can oversimplify its analysis, becoming an “over-equipped brain” that assumes that what it sees is a perfect representation of what it will encounter in the world. the future.

To counter this problem, scientists are introducing a degree of chaos and randomization into their data to deepen machine learning and improve the accuracy of AI systems.

Likewise, “our brains are so good at learning that we are always at risk of being over-equipped,” warns Hoel. This can lead to overly simplistic and overly familiar perceptions of the world around us. As a prompt, just like in AI training, our brains introduce chaos while we sleep, which often takes the form of weird dreams.

“The very strangeness of dreams and the way they diverge from waking experience gives us an idea that there must be a biological function behind it,” says Hoel. “Our experience with deep neural networks, which themselves have been inspired by brain function, gives us a possible clue as to why this is happening.”

This theory is interesting, says Christopher Winter, MD, of Charlottesville Neurology and Sleep Medicine in Virginia. However, he doesn’t know how scientists will ever be able to prove it.

It has become common for neuroscientists to examine neural activity during sleep, but capturing dreams so that they can be evaluated presents obvious challenges.

Dreams are primarily assessed by recall, acknowledges Hoel. Most people only remember fragments of their dreams, and usually just the parts that occur right before they wake up.


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