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Why are dreams so weird?

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woman in dark room holding electrode cap, Erin Wamsley
Erin Wamsley in Furman Sleep Lab, Department of Psychology.

In an article appearing in The Boston Globe about why dreams are often wacky, journalist Veronique Greenwood turned to Erin Wamsley for her thoughts. Wamsley, a professor of cognitive neuroscience at Furman University, says dreaming is the brain’s way of consolidating memories.

Whether it’s neural networks in the digital world or the human brain, the ability to learn based on memory depends on recognizing larger patterns for organizing data. “You want to use all your past experiences to see the commonalities,” Wamsley says. “If you dreamed about this phone conversation, it would not resemble the actual phone conversation. It would be really different, and weird, and bizarre. But we know that that actually is how memory so-called replay is. It’s not exact,” she adds.

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