The Brain and Memory Processing

I was impressed by the following article about how memories are processed. Real life events, factual data learned, and fictional data imagined or seen in a movie are processed the same way. Similar memories are grouped together regardless if they were real or imagined. This is how a distorted perspective can be created.

Dr. John Medina discusses in his book and on his web site how memories are processed during sleep. Some memories are still being processed a decade later from being exposed to that event! Ironically, last night I had a dream about my grandparents house and I havent been there in over 25 years.

I have heard stories about peoples’ dreams coming true, as if they were premonition of the future. I do not believe in the supernatural, I believe that there are valid scientific explanations for all events. In the case of a dream coming true, we think and dream about many things, the vast majority are not noteworthy and are totally forgotten about. On rare occasion we have a coincidence where a random thought or dream parallels with an actual event in life. We take exceptional notice to these coincidences and they make a tremendous inpact on our beliefs.

The Reticular Activation System (RAS) was first introduced by Anthony Robbins in his bestselling book Awaken the Giant Within. It shouldn’t be confused with the part of the brain known as the Reticular Activating System, however they are related.

The RAS determines what we consciously decide to give our attention to at any moment in time, while the remaining data gets filtered out and transferred to the unconscious parts of the brain.

The RAS will discount or forget data that is irrelevant, predictions that don’t come true, assumptions you made that turned out to be wrong. This is from evolutionary psychology. Our ancestors’ survival depended on assimilating accurate data while discarding anything that was irrelevant or didn’t serve them. We do this even today in our modern lives. So dreams that coincide with actual events appear to be premonitions of the future. They make a big impact on us emotionally, and as you remeber from the above references, the brain responsible for emotions is also critical for memory. This makes sense because important things are emotional, like survival and mating, are the most memorable. So the next time you have a dream that comes true, think about the many countless dreams you had that didn’t, and that were long since forgotten about.

An analogy can be made to travel. Statistically speaking, flying is much safer than driving. Yet many people are terrified to fly. I must admit that I even hold that irrational fear and occasionally get a bit anxious when flying. One big reason why we fear flight is that when a plane crash actually happens, it is covered extensively in the news. While car accidents happen every day and something like 1.3 million people a year die globally due to driving, nobody thinks twice about getting in their car to go somewhere. 

Nearly 1.3 million people die in road crashes each year, on average 3,287deaths a day. An additional 20-50million are injured or disabled. More than half of all road traffic deaths occur among young adults ages 15-44.

This is a cognitive bias at work. The trauma of an airplane accident is amplified by media and our fears. Just as a dream coming true is amplified by our amazement that it happened. While all the other dreams that never come to fruition are like all those uneventful days that we drove to work, the store, or to a friends house.