Science Says the "Weird Dreams" You Have Actually Help Your Brain Understand Real Life
"Dreams are there to keep you from becoming too fitted to the model of the world," a Tufts University researcher explains.
Previous research has shown that how our dreams change throughout the night has to do with our sleep stages—specifically, when we're in REM and non-REM sleep—but a recent study published in the journal Pattern set out to examine why our dreams are so different than everyday life to begin with. If you've ever experienced a seemingly weird dream, know that this is perfectly normal. "There's obviously an incredible number of theories of why we dream," Erik Hoel, a research assistant professor of neuroscience at Tufts University who worked on this study, said. "But I wanted to bring to attention a theory of dreams that takes dreaming itself very seriously—that says the experience of dreams is why you're dreaming."
When training artificial intelligence, Hoel noted that the technology begins to mirror data as an exact representation of what it will come in contact with. He says data scientists combat this by throwing in "chaos," or what's formally called "dropout," during the training. So, if the artificial intelligence were to be driving a car in a simulation training, the experience would include general surroundings people would see on the road to imitate what it would actually be like to normally drive a car. Hoel explained that this is how the brain works, too. "The original inspiration for deep neural networks was the brain," he said. "If you look at the techniques that people use in regularization of deep learning, it's often the case that those techniques bear some striking similarities to dreams."
Simply put, brains create "dropout" during dreams, so people can have a better grasp on reality. "It is the very strangeness of dreams in their divergence from waking experience that gives them their biological function," he wrote.
Hoel noted that the way to notice similarities between your real life and dreams with "dropout" is by repeatedly performing a task in your day-to-day, and then your brain will create this generalized action in your dreams. "Life is boring sometimes," he said. "Dreams are there to keep you from becoming too fitted to the model of the world."