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Dreaming and Mind Wandering

September 8, 2013

Image Credit: Bruce Rolff / Shutterstock


Talk September 19

Dreaming, a process in which our minds creatively combine elements of the day and other sensory experiences, during our sleep, is a hot new topic in topic in brian science.  With our current technology, researchers are able to link activity patterns seen on neuroimaging with sensory processing in the mind.  Although currently the dreaming brain is an emerging science composed more of theory than evidence, the implications are interesting to explore.

Dreams have long been a realm of curiousity. In ancient times, dreams were the subject of shamanic interpretations in primitive societies.  The Greeks ascribed a god to the area of dreaming, by the name Morpheus, who visited the dreamer during sleep and was in charge of the many smaller gods who brought messages to the dreamer.  Sigmund Freud significantly influenced our modern interpretation of dreams, that within the events and images therein are revealed the deeper hopes and fears of the dreamer. Daydreaming has been a popular topic in neuroscience, more recently, with the act of daydreaming being linked to a widespread area of connectivity in the brain called the “default network”, or default mode networkDaydreaming has been shown to improve problem solving, with inhibition of daydreaming and thus default network activity, shown to decrease cognitive abilities and impeded problem-solving skills in study subjects (Christoff et al, PNAS 2009).


On September 19, 2013, two speakers will talk about dreaming and mind wandering, with a discussion afterwards. Please RSVP to our eventbrite page at:

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Talk Descriptions: 

Talk #1

Dreaming as Mind Wandering: Evidence from Neuroimaging

Isolated reports have long suggested a similarity in content and thought processes across mind wandering (MW) during waking, and dream mentation during sleep. This overlap has encouraged speculation that both ‘daydreaming’ and dreaming may engage similar brain mechanisms. To explore this possibility, we systematically examined published first-person experiential reports of MW and dreaming and found many similarities: in both states, content is largely audiovisual and emotional, follows loose narratives tinged with fantasy, is strongly related to current concerns, draws on long-term memory, and simulates social interactions. To relate first-person reports to neural evidence, we compared meta-analytic data from numerous functional neuroimaging (PET, fMRI) studies of the default mode network (DMN, with high chances of MW) and rapid eye movement (REM) sleep (with high chances of dreaming). Our findings show large overlaps in activation patterns of cortical regions. We argue that dreaming can be understood as an ‘intensified’ version of waking MW.

Kieran Fox is a member of Kalina Christoff’s Lab at UBC. Currently completing his PhD in Psychology, he recently published an article in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. His areas of interest include: dreaming, mind wandering, metacognition, and hypnagogic memories.

For more information, visit the lab webpage at:

Dreaming as Mind Wandering – Frontiers of Human Neuroscience


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Talk #2

An Integrative Theory of Visual Mentation and Spontaneous Creativity

It has been suggested that creativity can be functionally segregated into two processes: spontaneous and deliberate. In this paper, we propose that the spontaneous aspect of creativity is enabled by the same neural simulation mechanisms that have been implicated in visual mentation (e.g. visual perception, mental imagery, mind-wandering and dreaming). This proposal is developed into an Integrative Theory that serves as the foundation for a computational model of dreaming and site-specific artwork: A Machine that Dreams.

Ben Bogart is an artist working in installation, audio-visual improvisation, and software design. He holds a Masters in Science in Interactive Art and Technology from Simon Fraser University. His compositions create content live in response to their sensed environments. His interests include: physical modeling, chaos, feedback systems, evolutionary algorithms, and artificial intelligence.
For more information, visit his website at:


Related popular press:

Neuroscience: Idle Minds – Nature Journal

Science of Daydreaming – Dartmouth University

Scientists Decode Content of Dreams – Telegraph UK

Scientists Decode Dreams with Brian Scanner – Wired Magazine

Brain Scans used to determine content of dreams – Red Orbit report on talk at Society for Neuroscience Annual Meeting


Video from the talk:

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