We argue that the rapid eye movement (REM) dream experiences owe their structure and meaning to inherent self-organizing properties of the brain itself. Thus, we offer a common meeting ground for brain based studies of dreaming and traditional psychological dream theory. Our view is that the dreaming brain is a self-organizing system highly sensitive to internally generated influences. Several lines of evidence support a process view of the brain as a system near the edge of chaos, one that is highly sensitive to internal influences. Such sensitivity is due to several factors. First, the dreaming brain normally gates out external input and thus operates without the stabilizing influences of external feedback. Second, the pre-frontal cortex is only minimally activated during REM sleep, and hence the brain operates with weakened volition, reduced logic, and diminished self-reflection. Third, because the neuromodulatory inhibition mechanism is turned off during REM, the brain responds spontaneously to the least provocation. In addition, the dreaming brain is also subject to powerful intermittent cholinergic stimulation which may stimulate creative patterns of dream activity.
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