Owen Flanagan:
DREAMING SOULS (Oxford Univ Press, 2000)

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The declared intent of the book is to analyze the relationship between sleep, dreams and the evolution of the conscious mind. In contrast to Jouvet, Hobson and Winson, the American philosopher Owen Flanagan thinks that both sleep and consciousness are products of evolution, but consciousness during sleep (dreaming) is merely an accident of nature, a side effect of the two. Both consciousness and sleep have a clear biological function, but dreams don't. During sleep, the brain stocks up neurotransmitters that will be used the next day. By accident, pulses that originate from this stockpiling chore (coming from the brain stem) also reactivate more or less random parts of memory. Unaware that the body is actually sleeping, the sensory circuits of the cerebral cortex process these signals as if they were coming from outside and produce a chaotic flow of sensations. Thus we dream. Dreams are just the noise the brain makes while working overnight. If Flanagan is correct, dreams are meaningless and pointless. Of course, indirectly, dreams tell us something about how our mind works, because, after all, whatever we perceive while we dream is the product of what is in our memory and of how our cerebral cortex processes those memories. But the usefulness of the dream-narrative is really limited to an almost "diagnostic" purpose. As our cerebral cortex tries to make sense of that chaotic input, we can learn something about its cognitive functioning, just like by running the engine of a car when it is not moving we can learn something about a noise it makes on the freeway (but the engine running while the car is not moving has no hidden meaning).

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