What makes us remember some parts of our dreams and not others?

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I want to tell you all about my dream on Sunday night. I've been dreaming for nineteen years now, but this one was by far the most vivid dream I have ever had. I remember some of the things I did, but I remember almost everything that I felt. If my dream was so vivid while I was having it, how could I just forget what happened in it within a few hours of waking up? Why could I recall my thoughts and feelings, but not the sequence of events?

Let's start by determining why we forget most of our dreams in the first place. Ernest Hartman, a psychiatry professor at Tufts University, says that our forgetfulness is due to the neurochemical conditions in the brain during our REM cycle. More specifically, he thinks that the lack of norepinephrine in the cerebral cortex does the trick. Norepinephrine is a hormone that enhances our memory, and the cerebral cortex is the part of the brain that deals with memory, thought, and consciousness. But there is more to the story.

Some scientists theorize that when we dream, our brain operates on a broad spectrum that bridges conscious, deliberate thought and carefree, drifting thought. Most of our dreams occur within the mind-wandering realm, and it takes something special to knock parts of them over into the focused realm. It is then that our dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is activated, the region of the brain that helps to create memories.

 What exactly is that "something special?" According to Hartman, "we tend to recall only things [...] that have emotional significance." He says that things that are emotionally significant can be "bizarre," "impressive," "beautiful," and "novel," and "rethought about." The parts of my dream that I remember have all of those characteristics. Would you look at that.

1.       Bizarre. My dream was about the end of the world. First of all, it's not every day that the world ends (obviously). That's pretty bizarre in and of itself. It gets even more "out there" when you take into account how it was going to end. There would be no asteroid crashes, no volcanic eruptions, and no man-eating monsters--whoever is in charge up there had simply decided that it was time. We were all informed that we had four hours left before everything we knew just dissolved into the atmosphere, painlessly. As far as I know, this is not aligned with many scientific theories about the end of the world.


2.       Impressive. My mom passed away very suddenly a few years back. My dad knew, but hadn't told me yet. I ran into the house after coming home from a volleyball tournament, utterly overjoyed about beating our rival team for the first time in three years. My dad did his best to smile, but it was forced and tight. He did his best to sound excited for me, but all that came out was an unnatural, uncharacteristically sugary voice. The image of my dad trying to hold his fragile composure and pretend nothing was wrong really stuck with me. This was the image portrayed by every single person I saw throughout the course of my dream.


3.       Beautiful. Toward the end of the dream, I had gotten sick of seeing the same type of behavior from everyone. If we were going to go out, we might as well go out happy. I made the conscious decision to smile at everyone I saw, and, in turn, they all began to smile at everyone they saw. The smiles became an epidemic and soon the entire world was smiling. My little sister was the first person on Earth to laugh. It was then that I felt a physical change from worried and fake to carefree and lighthearted. I felt so overwhelmingly lucky to be spending my last moments with the people that I love that they hardly even felt like my last moments. I'm having a tough time putting this incredible feeling into words, but just know that it was the truest, happiest, most freeing feeling imaginable.


4.       Novel. It was the first time I had ever experienced a feeling so intense during a dream, positive or negative.

5.      Rethought about. Immediately upon waking up, the chorus of Easy / Lucky / Free by Bright Eyes came to mind:

"But don't you weep. There is no one as lucky, honey, don't you weep. There is nothing as easy, as lucky, or free."

The song stayed there all day long and I could not stop drawing parallels between the lyrics and my dream. As I let my mind wander brushing my teeth this morning, almost a week later, I still caught myself humming the song.

This was one of the coolest dreams I've ever had and I'm so happy that it was bizarre/impressive/beautiful/novel/rethought about enough for my to remember.



1 Comment

Your post is so interesting , it really caught my attention! I always dream, and I remember most of my dreams for a while. It's kind of strange but I solve most of my problems in my dreams ! If I have be thinking about something for a long time Ill usually dream about it but the cool part is that somehow I solve problems or have really great ideas in my dream. Most recently I had a dream I made an Oreo cake where I grated in "Birthday Cake" Oreos right into the batter. When I woke up I knew I had to try making that cake! I went to the store got everything I needed and made it, and it turns out it was one of the best cakes I have ever made ! I love dreaming and Im happy I can remember them ! Here is a pretty cool article on "Learning How You Dream" http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/04/22/learning-while-you-dream/?_r=0

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