by Jeffe Kennedy
The world changes. The familiar disappears under cover of darkness. Predators roam and the wise hide indoors, tucked into their beds, safe asleep and dreaming of day.
A prevailing theory among physiologists is that sleep evolved as a way to make us stay put during those times we were most likely to get killed. Animals who do best at night sleep during the day. Those best adapted to daylight sleep all night. It keeps us from getting bored, trotting out and getting munched by the first better-adapted critter that walks by.
Then, because our bodies spent this time essentially suspended, the rest of our physiology began to take advantage of the down time. Sleep became a clean-up function. Run the blood through the liver. Purge the digestive system. Build and repair tissues. Make up new batches of hormones and neurotransmitters.
Our brains particularly use sleep to purge and reboot. The bizarre, flickering images of our dreams come from the waves of neural firing that never occurs while we're awake. (Well, except during REM intrusion, when you're so deprived of dreaming sleep that you actually start dreaming while awake. I understand it's worse than hallucinating.) The brainstem locks down messages to the muscles to keep us still while our brains run tests of all systems.
Many neuroscientists believe that our dreams are just so much junk. Just the flotsam and jetsam of cluttered brains, with no more significance than the clusters of garbage we haul off to the dump.
This is presupposing that we are solely biological machines, however.
And no, I don't believe that, which annoys the other neuroscientists. This is one of the reasons I wasn't all that good at it.
I believe in the unquantifiable.
That the part of ourselves that isn't a conglomeration of fatty acids and chemicals speaks to us when we're quiet. When we're not busily trotting about the world. Race memory, whispers of the universe, they send us messages, spelling them out in the neural outpouring of our souls.
Every one of my stories has started from a dream. Some piece will wrap me up and speak so loudly that it's like being handed a golden egg. Treasure it. Break it open and listen to the story. Passionate, disturbing, sexy, questing, frightening, exalting - they all tell me something.
Like a gold miner, I'm panning for nuggets in the detritus. You'll know them by their gleam.
Listen to your dreams.