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Point of view

Why do we dream?

Ernest Hartmann, a professor of psychiatry at Tufts University School of Medicine and the director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Newton Wellesley Hospital in Boston, Mass., explains.
The questions, "Why do we dream?" or “What is the function of dreaming?" are easy to ask but very difficult to answer. The most honest answer is that we do not yet know the function or functions of dreaming. This ignorance should not be surprising because despite many theories we still do not fully understand the purpose of sleep, nor do we know the functions of REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, which is when most dreaming occurs. And these two biological states are much easier to study scientifically than the somewhat elusive phenomenon of dreaming.

Some scientists take the position that dreaming probably has no function. They feel that sleep, and within it REM sleep, have biological functions (though these are not totally established) and that dreaming is simply an epiphenomenon that is the mental activity that occurs during REM sleep. I do not believe this is the most fruitful approach to the study of dreaming. Would we be satisfied with the view that thinking has no function and is simply an epiphenomenon--the kind of mental activity that occurs when the brain is in the waking state?

Therefore I will try to explain a current view of dreaming and its possible functions, developed by myself and many collaborators, which we call the Contemporary Theory of Dreaming. The basic idea is as follows: activation patterns are shifting and connections are being made and unmade constantly in our brains, forming the physical basis for our minds. There is a whole continuum in the making of connections that we subsequently experience as mental functioning. At one end of the continuum is focused waking activity, such as when we are doing an arithmetic problem or chasing down a fly ball in the outfield. Here our mental functioning is focused, linear and well-bounded. When we move from focused waking to looser waking thought--reverie, daydreaming and finally dreaming--mental activity becomes less focused, looser, more global and more imagistic. Dreaming is the far end of this continuum: the state in which we make connections most loosely.

Some consider this loose making of connections to be a random process, in which case dreams would be basically meaningless. The Contemporary Theory of Dreaming holds that the process is not random, however, and that it is instead guided by the emotions of the dreamer. When one clear-cut emotion is present, dreams are often very simple. Thus people who experience trauma--such as an escape from a burning building, an attack or a rape--often have a dream something like, "I was on the beach and was swept away by a tidal wave." This case is paradigmatic. It is obvious that the dreamer is not dreaming about the actual traumatic event, but is instead picturing the emotion, "I am terrified. I am overwhelmed." When the emotional state is less clear, or when there are several emotions or concerns at once, the dream becomes more complicated. We have statistics showing that such intense dreams are indeed more frequent and more intense after trauma. In fact, the intensity of the central dream imagery, which can be rated reliably, appears to be a measure of the emotional arousal of the dreamer.

Therefore, overall the contemporary theory considers dreaming to be a broad making of connections guided by emotion. But is this simply something that occurs in the brain or does it have a purpose as well? Function is always very hard to prove, but the contemporary theory suggests a function based on studies of a great many people after traumatic or stressful new events. Someone who has just escaped from a fire may dream about the actual fire a few times, then may dream about being swept away by a tidal wave. Then over the next weeks the dreams gradually connect the fire and tidal wave image with other traumatic or difficult experiences the person may have had in the past. The dreams then gradually return to their more ordinary state. The dream appears to be somehow "connecting up" or "weaving in" the new material in the mind, which suggests a possible function. In the immediate sense, making these connections and tying things down diminishes the emotional disturbance or arousal. In the longer term, the traumatic material is connected with other parts of the memory systems so that it is no longer so unique or extreme--the idea being that the next time something similar or vaguely similar occurs, the connections will already be present and the event will not be quite so traumatic. This sort of function may have been more important to our ancestors, who probably experienced trauma more frequently and constantly than we (at least those of us living in the industrialized world) do at present.

Thus we consider a possible (though certainly not proven) function of a dream to be weaving new material into the memory system in a way that both reduces emotional arousal and is adaptive in helping us cope with further trauma or stressful events.

Monsoon and some rainy thoughts

Suddenly the whole atmosphere changed, and the sky was adorned with thick grey clouds. I looked up and realized the time had come. A gust of wind made the trees sway. I began to run as fast as I could but it didn't help. A heavy downpour began, and by the time I reached home I was completely drenched. Cursing my luck, I went up to my room. Thunder rumbled in the distance and the rain kept pouring right down in torrents. The rain had totally disrupted my routine for the day and to add to my misery, the electricity went off. I had nothing else to do but to wait for the Rising Stars to come. But later, the hawker didn't turn up, my frustration knew no bounds. It got me thinking about the Monsoon season as a whole.

Monsoon comes as a blessing after the scorching heat of the summer sun and it creates a very soothing environment. Let's not forget to mention that this season is solely responsible for long hours of sleep and also boredom.

To most of us television is the key to entertainment and when there is no electricity, life is worse than getting stranded in the middle of a desert. The main reason for power failure is rain. Whenever we plan our activities, we wish for things to work out perfectly. Then along comes the rain and hopes get shattered.

Apart from these reasons, the monsoon season also makes life difficult. In other words, it makes travel more difficult. A person not having access to his own transport is forced to rely on a three-wheel convertible (rickshaw) to his destination. And if there is a traffic jam, life just comes to a stand still.

I have also noticed that it is in this monsoon season when commitments become very difficult to maintain. Let me elucidate. During monsoon a person cannot meet his/her beloved partner easily since the rain creates a lot of problem. Hence promises, which are made in earnest, get broken. In this season the usual hangouts, i.e. the parks are cut off the list and the mini restaurants and fast food shops come into scene. So much for romance.

During the rainy season the telephone line stays very busy, since a lot of teenagers who easily get bored, get tied to their telephone sets and can't be detached from them. Well I hardly see people who love solitude, and frankly speaking I also use the phone to get in touch with my friends.

Well monsoon shows us other scenes. The street scenes in this season are really awesome. Just the other day I saw a small group of urchins jumping and dancing in the rain on the sidewalk. Oblivious to who was watching them, they splashed away to their hearts' content. I then realised that even in this hard world, they find reasons to laugh, and the rain is one of these reasons. As for the people who live in the slums, life can't get any worse than the rainy season, but still they fight hard for their survival.

The doorbell interrupted my thoughts. After a while my friends entered the room. I was really astonished to see the whole gang as I didn't expect them in this weather. I was very happy that they have come and soon we were engaged in a good adda session.

The monsoon brings smiles to some faces, while it also brings frustrations and disappointment. But hey, that's what life is all about, so live it up as much as you can. Until then, adios!

By Yamin Tauseef Jahangir

Doggy facts

· There are about 700 to 800 breeds of dogs across the globe.

· Crossbreeds dogs are those of which the parentage is known when one pure breed dog is mated to another pure breed.

· The skeleton of dog and man are remarkably similar, although man's posture is upright. However, a dog has no collarbone.

· A dog has 42 teeth in total. Two more in the lower jaw than the upper because of an additional pair of pre-molars. Roots on a dog's teeth are extremely long.

· In a natural environment, dogs typically shed hair in spring and autumn.

· Human has five million scent receptors in the nasal folds, a dog has about 200 million.

· Dogs can detect one part of urine in 60 million parts of water.

· Dogs are capable of hearing sound four times further away than a human can.

· Pips are spots above the eyes of most breeds that are black and tan in colour. Such as in Doberman, Rottweiler.

· A dog's appetite increases during cold weather.

· Jackals, Wolves are the dog's closest relations.

· The Greyhound is the fastest dog in the world and the 18th fastest land mammal.

· Like humans, dogs also have eyebrows, which are formed by the skin and hair that covers the ridges of the skull's frontal bones. The development of the eyebrows varies greatly according to the breed of the dog.

· Uncooked carrots are a good replacement instead of biscuits for the dogs, as it is a good aid to the teeth cleaning process. They can be given as snacks and can also be chopped up and mixed in with a meal to be more substantial.

· Raising a bowl for large dogs will aid digestion. Stainless steel feeding bowls are the most hygienic ones to use.

· Ticks (external parasites) blood sucking insects, which attach themselves to the skin of the dog, are very dangerous. Careful removal of these is necessary, making sure that the head, too, is removed. Smothering the dog's body in oil to prevent the tick from breathing is one of several methods of removal. Any type of coconut oil, which is available in the market, will do.

· A Tibetan Mastiff or any other Tibetan breed with tan marking above the eyes, is called "four eyes". It is believed that such dogs can foresee evil as much as three days in advance.

(Source: Information collected from "The Encyclopedia of Dog Breeds")

By Zabeen





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