Monday, November 9, 2009

It's all in our heads


As I awoke this morning, my brain greeted me with a song: Felix the cat, the wonderful, wonderful cat...

I recently read a fascinating article about a sleep study. The goal of this study was to identify what the subjects' brains were up to while they were sleeping. Researchers looked at the activity in fresh ways and were surprised to learn that the brain kicks into much higher gear after we slip into slumberland.

Their theory is basically this: my brain needs a break in the same way I need an occasional vacation from my usual routine. While I'm awake, my brain is busy with monitoring and maintaining my organic functions, along with the secondary stuff - decisions to make, problems to solve, etc. When I sleep, those secondary functions decrease and my brain essentially gets to put on its party clothes. It gets refreshed by playing, not by slowing down.

The "party" is what the researchers are most interested in. What does all that activity represent? Their conclusion: processing all the information that the brain didn't have a chance to work on during the day, along with stuff it didn't get to mess around with in the past. The brain is doing the gleeful equivalent of emptying out dresser drawers - accessing memories, sensations, old books I've read...you name it. Dreams come from some of that whirlwind activity as the brain takes random bits and ties them together in a story.

My dreams tend to be adventures with a lot of comic relief. Many of them take place in the same "town", a place that doesn't actually exist in my waking memory. I once described it to my mom, hoping she'd say oh, that's where we lived when you were a toddler, but no. Apparently my brain simply made it up and enjoys going there. I've been there in my dreams often enough that I could draw a map.

I wondered, this morning, where my brain had been while I slept. Did it visit a dusty mental cabinet labeled "Cartoons I Watched As A Child"? Perhaps I should be grateful that I was serenaded with the theme from Felix rather than Deputy Dawg.

By the way, if you aren't familiar with Felix the Cat, you can learn all about him on The Classic Felix the Cat website. Scroll down to "felix in song" and click on the 1958 mp3 link. Watch out, though. This is a tune that can, potentially, stick to your subconscious like glue.

Overheard on Twitter: "Catch 22" was an early, darker "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy".

Next time: viral humming in the library. Stay tuned.

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