Understanding dreams and the dreaming brain has proven to be one of the most complex and enduring problems in the history of science. In early 20th century a new paradigm for understanding dreams emerged, based on complex structural theories of the psyche, particularly of the unconscious mind. Such philosophical and anthropological theories are based on abstract models of higher-level cognitive and emotional functions of the brain, where symbols, metaphors and latent meanings of dreams play important roles. However, recent advances in neuroscience have been able to show us another aspect of dreaming brain: its functions. High-resolution imaging of brain activities and analyses of physiological processes of the brain have begun to usher in yet another revolution in understanding dreams. Such empirical studies suggest that dreaming serves a spectrum of biological functions, such as learning, memory consolidation and emotional regulation.
Both paradigms – theoretical and empirical – can help us to systematically understand dreams: (1) its content and relationship with higher-level cognitive functioning of the brain; and (2) its physiological processes.
Another field that could have a profound symbiotic relationship with dream studies, is the area of data science and Artificial Intelligence (AI): What can one learn about the structure of dreams, and hence, functioning of the brain, if one could analyze the daily dreams of tens of millions of individuals? Can the burgeoning technologies of Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) be used to induce and analyze immersive dream-like states in subjects?
The symposia is sponsored by the UCLA Interdisciplinary & Cross Campus Affairs committee as one of their flagship events for 2018/2019. The first symposium was scheduled for October 10—11 2018 and a second one is taking place on April 16th, 2019. Both events bring together various theoretical and empirical approaches to Dream science by exploring:
(i) rich cultural experiences and oral history of dreams
(ii) structural qualitative theories of the 20th century pioneers
(iii) recent advances in data, neuroscience, and computing, and how they can be synthesized to define a new frontier for cracking the dream code.
The main goal of both events is to offer a multidisciplinary platform for sharing knowledge about dreams and creating a roadmap of specific ideas that can potentially answer questions such as the following: Are we at the cusp of a burst of new insights and advances in dream studies? If so, which recent advances in neuroscience, data science, cognitive psychology and computer science hold the most promise and how?
The symposium will be organized around three topics:
(i) A critical look at the quantitative dimensions of dreams (i.e. physiological, psychological and multi-modal sensory data that constitute dreams) and an overview of current advances in data analytics
(ii) An integrated examination of the qualitative aspects of dreams based on vast knowledge on dreams from humanities, anthropology and psychology: What is the relation between culture and dreams and to what extent are dreams culturally conditioned? Can dreams be conceptualized as a bricolage of personal fragments and culturally-grounded features?
(iii) Initiation of an entirely new and integrative dialogue that lies at the intersection of computer science, cognitive and social sciences, and neuroscience and that can envision a predominantly data-driven approach to dream science. Given the access to online data and modern computational tools, it might soon be possible to bring the diagnostic value of dreams to the general public.