Consciousness Redux: Dream States; November / December 2010; Scientific American Mind; by Christof Koch; 2 Page(s)
If you have seen the recent Hollywood blockbuster Inception, a movie that does to dreaming what The Matrix did for virtual reality, you may have been holding your breath as Ariadne, an architecture student, folded the streets of Paris over herself like a blanket. This stunning sequence, an homage to M. C. Escher, is testimony to the bizarre nature of dreams. Watching it made the neuroscientist in me reflect on what dreams are and how they relate to the brain.
The first question is easy to answer. Dreams are vivid, sensorimotor hallucinations with a narrative structure. We experience them consciously—seeing, hearing and touching within environments that appear completely real (though curiously, we do not smell in our dreams). Nor are we mere passive observers: we speak, fight, love and run.