Dreaming Often Is Nonlinear Problem-Solving

(p. A15) Antonio Zadra and Robert Stickgold, two of the world’s leading researchers in the science of sleep and dreams, have written a remarkable account of what we know and don’t know about this mysterious thing that happens during the night.

. . .

To many, dreams are prophecies, implanted in our brains by God or angels; to others, they exist to encode our memories of the previous day, to others they are simply random neural firings.

. . .

The weight of the evidence supports a more elaborate, nuanced and wondrous version of the memory-encoding hypothesis. Messrs. Zadra and Stickgold have designed a conceptual model they call Nextup (“Network Exploration to Understand Possibilities”), using it to describe the progression of dreams throughout the four sleep stages and their different functions. They debunk the common myth that we only dream during REM sleep and show that, in fact, we are typically dreaming throughout the night and in nonREM sleep states. They tie all of this into the brain’s “default mode network,” in which our minds are wandering and, often, problem-solving. When we’re awake, our brains are so busy attending to the environment that we tend to favor linear connections and thinking; when we allow ourselves to daydream, we solve problems that have distant, novel or nonlinear solutions.

For the full review, see:

Daniel J. Levitin. “Destination Anywhere.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, March 6, 2021): C7.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review was updated March 5, 2021, and has the title “‘When Brains Dream’ Review: Night Shift.”)

The book under review is:

Zadra, Antonio, and Robert Stickgold. When Brains Dream: Exploring the Science and Mystery of Sleep. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2021.

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