Dreams: What goes on in our brain when our body is at rest?

Dreams: What goes on in our brain when our body is at rest?

 

Fascination in complexity 

The human brain is known to be one of the most complex networks in the universe, if not as complex as the universe itself. Containing billions of signal-transmitting neurons, these cells practically carry out all internal and external functions in our bodies. 

How complex is the brain you might ask? To answer that question, scientists till this day are still trying to uncover all the why’s and how’s that lie deep below the brain’s surface, one of which, is probably one of the most fascinating phenomenons― Dreams. 

In order to understand some of these why’s and how’s that revolve around dreams, we must first understand the basics of sleep, when and where do dreams occur, and what exactly are they? Most importantly, what do dreams convey about the brain itself when our bodies are at rest? 

Understanding sleep 

It has been calculated that humans spend an average of one third of their lives sleeping. Who would have thought that sleeping would take up so much time of our life? Although it might seem so time consuming, the importance of sleep goes beyond its basic necessity for survival.

Researchers from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke have proven that within the 7-9 hour period that the body is asleep, the brain uses this time to restore itself by clearing out all toxins that build up during the day, a process that cannot be done when the body is in its conscious state. 

The exact process of the brain’s restoration however, is still unknown. The brain’s ability to restore and clear toxins for the improvement of its overall function proves to show how active the brain is during that period of time when our body is not. 

Stages of Sleep 

In the unconscious state during which our body is asleep, our brain produces different brain waves and neuronal activity, causing our body to go through two phases of sleep: non-REM sleep and REM sleep. 

The abbreviation REM is short for rapid eye movement, however, this eye movement behind our closed lids does not occur until the last stage of sleep. 

Non-REM sleep occurs in the first three stages in which our body enters its unconscious state. In the first stage, the brain transitions from its conscious state to sleep. This light sleep stage slows brain activity, breathing, and heartbeat as the body eases itself into slumber. 

In the second stage, the body’s functions continue to lower, as well as its temperature. Although the brain’s activity remains to slow down, small sparks of electrical activity are detected. 

The third stage is the stage your body enters its deep sleep. At this stage, your brain and body’s functions drop to their lowest points. 

Soon after, the body enters its last stage ― REM sleep. It is at this stage that rapid eye movement begins, and the brain becomes strikingly active, as if it were in the body’s conscious state. This is when our brains start creating all sorts of visual imagery, with familiar characters in distorted situations. Dreams unravel and become the most vivid in this final stage. 

This cycle eventually repeats itself, and the brain enters the REM stage 4 to 5 more times, which might explain why we experience a series of fragments of different dreams that have no correlation between them whatsoever!

What about dreams?! 

Dreams are scientifically described as hallucinations that we experience when the brain is at its most active state during sleep. 

Dreams carry a mysterious quality to them, as they leave people and scientists with questions that have no definite answers as to why exactly we experience dreams and if they hold some sort of importance on the brain’s or body’s overall function. 

In REM sleep, significantly more brain activity is observed in the hippocampus, a section of the brain responsible for memory and learning. This observation allows scientists to conclude that there is a strong connection between dreams and memory. 

Dreams are different from one individual to another, the reason being that dreams reflect on the individual’s reality. These dreams are a distorted mirror of the environment we live in, the people in the past and present we associate ourselves with, our inner thoughts and emotions, and everything we have ever experienced or observed in our life. 

All of this information is stored in our hippocampus as memories, which later on at night, our brain uses small fragments of to create a bizarre, happy, or even a frightful conscious-like experience while our body is in deep sleep. 

A forgetful mystery… 

The mechanism and function behind dreams continues to show how complex our human brain is, and how much more there is to discover.

Although we might not have all the answers to why our brain functions the way it does, or what the exact purpose of dreams are, or even why we remember only some parts of our dream and forget the rest, this mystery behind these unanswered questions is what keeps people fascinated simply by not knowing the unknown. Maybe dreams uncover emotions, thoughts, or desires that our conscious mind is not aware of itself? Maybe the purpose of dreams is to shine light on the true person we are deep down? Or maybe it is preparing the brain itself for the unknown, whatever that might be.

However, of all these questions, perhaps the one we should be more focused on is: Maybe some mysteries are meant to be left unsolved? 

 References 

“Brain Basics: Understanding Sleep | National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.” Brain Basics

www.ninds.nih.gov/Disorders/Patient-Caregiver-Education/understanding Sleep#2. Accessed 17 Feb. 2021. 

Dhikav, Vikas. “Hippocampus in Health and Disease: An Overview.” PubMed Central (PMC), Dec. 2012, 

www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3548359/#:%7E:text=Hippocampu s%20is%20a%20complex%20brain,of%20neurological%20and%20psychi atric%20disorders. 

  1. Eugene, Andy. “The Neuroprotective Aspects of Sleep.” NCBI, MEDtube Sci., Mar. 2015, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4651462. 

Wamsley, Erin. “Memory: How the Brain Constructs Dreams.” ELife, 8 June 2020, 

elifesciences.org/articles/58874#:%7E:text=Deep%20inside%20the%20te mporal%20lobe,to%20remember%2C%20imagine%20and%20dream.

Is time nothing but a human-made illusion?

Is time nothing but a human-made illusion?

Our perception of time may be completely flawed.

Have you ever sensed that time felt weird in 2020 or that it speeds up as we get older?

We, human beings, are actually considered to have a naive perception of the flow of time. The way we think about time and its one-way direction flow, in fact, doesn’t correspond to physical reality. We believe that time is irreversible and the past can never be experienced again. We can feel its flow when the season changes, when the sun sets, and thereafter rises again, when we get older and when we are reminded of our memories. The past is a part of history. The present is the moment we live in. The future is the present that is yet to come, and will soon become a part of the past. However, the question that should be asked is whether these assumptions are actual realities of the physical world or created by the human mind. In fact, several studies show that our perception of time is unstable and prone to illusions.

Time Perception

Sometimes, we feel like years pass in a blink of an eye, or some memories from ten years ago seem very real to us that it makes it hard to believe that such a long period of time has actually passed. Other times, a minute can last forever while we are waiting for a light to turn green. In fact, Humans are likely to rely on their memory rather than their knowledge to recall the events occurring within their lifetime. However, one must consider that the memory distorts the perception of time, and affects the sense of when an event has actually taken place. 

 There is a theory, known as the “proportional theory”, which suggests that our perception of time is proportional to the length of our lifespan. This hypothesis states that as we age, our sense of present starts to feel relatively short in comparison to our entire lifespan. 

It is also determined that how long a duration feels depends on how many events in it can be recalled. Therefore, when only a few special events happen in our personal life during a year, that year will relatively seem shorter to us compared to a year full of important events.

The Idea of Timeless Reality

According to the operational meaning, time is simply what a clock displays. Nevertheless, the scientific definition of time completely differs from what we have in mind. Physicist Victor J. Stenger, in the book “Timeless reality”, declares that, based on established principles of simplicity and symmetry, reality is literally timeless at its deepest level. Furthermore, he explains that time is actually reversible. In opposition to our basic sense of time, the fundamental reality of the phenomena occurring around us might be with no beginning, no end and no arrow of time. 

In fact, the one-direction flow of time is not found in any of the laws of physics . All the basic physical phenomena are entirely or mostly time-symmetric and can occur in either direction of time. Therefore, if you watch a video of a physical process, you would not be able to tell if it is being played forwards or backwards, as both would be equally feasible. Specifically, when it comes to quantum phenomena and events on an atomic and subatomic level, no trace of time direction can be found.

Neuroscientist Abhijit Naskar, in his book “Love, God & Neurons”, argues that time is basically an illusion created by the mind to aid in our sense of temporal presence in the space. Furthermore, he mentions that there is no actual existence of the past and the future and all that there is, is the present. All we sense is the virtual perception of the past and the future which is created by our neurons, based on all our experiences.

Einstein’s Theory of relativity

Albert Einstein also showed that time is an illusion. According to his theory of relativity, not only there is no significance to the present moment but also all the other moments of life are equally real. Moreover, he suggests that simultaneity is relative. This argues that spatially separated events occurring at the same time is not an absolute fact. Distant simultaneity, in fact, depends on the observer’s reference frame. 

Gravity and speed are two key factors of the observer’s reference frame in the concept of Relativity of simultaneity. As claimed by Einstein, the faster one moves through space, the slower they move through time. Also, the closer one is to a gravitational field of an object, such as the earth, the slower the time goes for them. For instance, time goes faster at the top of mount Everest due to lower gravity and higher rotational velocity compared to the sea level. If you were standing on the top of Mount Everest, it may feel as though the new year begins a few minutes earlier for you compared to people standing at the sea level.

Conclusion

All in all, although many things may seem real to us, they may be only the constructs of the human imagination and don’t correspond to the actual truth. Reality might completely differ from how we see and feel it. We might have been given wrong information all along our lives. So it’s good to doubt our knowledge once a while and ask yourselves questions. Why do we believe certain things? How do we feel a certain way about something? What is the science and logic behind the phenomena we are surrounded by? Even though definite answers might not be found for some questions, at least we will be one step closer to reality.

 

Sources

Matthews, William J., Meck, Warren H, “Time perception: the bad news and the good”, (2014) (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4142010/)

Eagleman, David M., “Human time perception and its illusions”, (2010) (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2866156/)

Stenger, Victor J., “Timeless Reality : Symmetry, Simplicity, and Multiple Universes”, (2000) 

Irish, Muireann, O’Callaghan,Claire ,“How did it get so late so soon? Why time flies as we get older”, (2015) (https://theconversation.com/how-did-it-get-so-late-so-soon-why-time-flies-as-we-get-older-44296)

Howell, Elizabeth, “Einstein’s Theory of Special Relativity”, (2017) (https://www.space.com/36273-theory-special-relativity.html)

Redd, Nola T., “Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity”, (2017) (https://www.space.com/17661-theory-general-relativity.html)

Callender, Craig, “Is Time an ILLUSION?”, (2010) (https://www.jstor.org/stable/26002066?seq=1)

Davies, Paul, “That Mysterious Flow”, (2006) (https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/that-mysterious-flow-2006-02/)

 

Gift of Life:  My Bone Marrow Donation Experience

Gift of Life: My Bone Marrow Donation Experience

As I write this article, I’m on a small plane, throttling over the clouds somewhere between Florida1 and Montreal. Someone behind me is snoring, and I’m tapping away quietly on my laptop, trying not to wake them up. I’ve just returned from one of the most incredible experiences of my life, and I’d like to share the story.

In the summer of 2018, I went on an organized trip to Israel, called Birthright, or Taglit in Hebrew. The trip is sponsored by the Israeli government and is made free for young Jews, in an effort to encourage a connection and immigration to Israel. We spent ten days hauling around the beautiful country on a bus, visiting various sites and attractions. One evening, a man from an organization called Gift of Life came to speak to our group. He explained that GoL is a registry with a mission to cure blood cancer through cellular therapy,2 and we could get involved. The organization runs drives on campuses and elsewhere, and that to join the registry of potential donors, we had to swab our cheeks. If anyone of us were found to be a match for someone with leukemia, we would have the opportunity to donate bone marrow. I completed the kit and joined the registry without much thought.

A few months ago, I got an email from GoL that I was a potential match for a man suffering from leukemia. At that point, I was told, I had a 25% chance of being a match. That was much better than the 1 in 430 chance most donors had, but I still didn’t think much of it. I was asked to do another cheek swab test, which was sent to me through expedited delivery from GoL’s lab in Florida. Blood tests followed, all hurriedly done in clinics that had been transformed into Covid-19 testing sites. Montreal was under lockdown and travel was restricted, so it was a nerve-wracking time. 

After the tests, things picked up pace. I still remember the phone call I received, telling me that I was a match. The plan was to fly me Florida to go through a procedure where my stem cells could be extracted and transplanted into the leukemia patient, saving his life. 

In late October, GoL flew my sister and I to Florida, all expenses paid. We were there for a week, since for 4 days prior to the procedure I had to be injected each morning with a medication to increase the stem cell count in my blood. We were put up in a hotel by the beach, and each day after my morning injection my sister and I got to explore the area. We visited museums, the wetlands, Trader Joe’s and the beach. As this was the height of the election, we witnessed multiple Trump rallies, a mask burning ceremony, and we were told who to vote for by cashiers, Uber drivers, and an anti-vax protester (too bad neither me nor my sister are American).  

At the end of the week, a sleek car service drove us to the donation center. It didn’t seem clinical at all- we were greeted warmly, and offered snacks, a blanket, and other comforts. I was shown into a cubicle where the nurses administered some tests and gave me my final shot of medication. Then, I had a needle inserted into each of my arms. During a process called Peripheral Blood Stem Cell (PBSC) donation, blood was taken out of one arm and run through a machine called a blood cell separator. The machine took PBSC, some platelets, and some white blood cells, and then returned plasma and red blood cells into my other arm.3

After about six hours, the machine was still chugging away beside me. Two women in lab coats, with clipboards and somber expressions, came into the cubicle. 

Photo: “Pinning my location on the map of donors… I had to estimate my city’s location since the map only included the United States” by Ita Sonnenschein

“We have bad news,” they said.

At that point, I was tired, calcium deficient and cranky, and I feared the worst. Maybe my stem cells weren’t good enough. Maybe the patient’s condition had deteriorated. My worries proved to be unfounded when they said was that my stem cells were slow and I would need to stay in Florida for an extra day to finish the process. Our flight was changed and our hotel stay was extended.

Day two of the extraction process was rough. Both my arms were sore so I couldn’t move much. My fingers and nose were tingling and I was light-headed. After a total of eleven hours, they had collected all the stem cells and plasma that they needed. (For comparison, the guy in the next cubicle took three hours to donate.) 

I’ll have to wrap up this article because the plane is landing, and I should probably stow my laptop. I feel really blessed to have been afforded this opportunity. Not many people get the chance to save a life, and in sunny Florida, no less. This experience restored my faith in humanity just a tiny bit. First, it’s thanks to modern medicine and technology that I could fly to another country, have some of my insides removed, and have that flown across the world to save someone’s life. Second, the existence of Gift of Life facilitated this entire process, thanks to all the financial donors, employees, and everyone who’s gotten their cheeks swabbed and joined the registry. I’m enormously grateful to have been a part of it all. 

To find out how you can join the registry and potentially save a life, visit www.giftoflife.org.

An Interview with the President of the TAV College Students’ Association

An Interview with the President of the TAV College Students’ Association

Tell us a little bit about yourself:

My name is Karin Etemadi and I’m a science student. I am now the president of the TCSA. I like to work with my peers. My objective is to help them try to achieve what they want in life. Every one of us may have different goals and we should use our talents together to build something greater. It’s not like one person can do something perfectly. There may be some exceptions but mostly not. In my opinion, it’s just finding those people, involving them in what they can do best and encouraging them to go beyond what they think they are capable of.

Why did you run for TCSA?

The reason I ran for TCSA was because I felt TAV, as a community, was lacking a lot. I see that my friends think there should be changes made, but none of them stepped up to implement their opinions. I know what people are complaining about so I decided to just go for it and do it myself.

What would you say is your main role in your position as president?

As the president of TAV, my whole ideology is to promote a sense of community. I want to make things possible for the students. I want to help create opportunities for their future. For example, we’re planning another event like the stress management one, to help students acquire the skills they need to nail an online interview. 

What are some of your goals?

I want to raise awareness about our community to high school students. I would like to be an advocate for change to ensure that some of the students’ basic needs are met and change will be implemented into the new building. For example, I’d like to make sure that there will be a library that students will have access to in person and online. Students care a lot about their studies.

What is your vision for TAV?

As a freshman, I was lost. I didn’t know anybody, I didn’t know how to move forward or the available opportunities. I feel like, as a community, we have to welcome them and show them how to move forward. It may be because I was coming to a new place but it’s also the responsibility of the college to create the right atmosphere. 

My personal dream for TAV is to make themselves more known. I want to initiate collaborations across other colleges. I’d Like to create more opportunities for students. I want everyone to have an enjoyable year. I want people to experience positive change.