What happens when we dream is something that has fascinated and eluded philosophers and scientists alike for thousands of years. A recent neurological study from Tel Aviv University, however, may actually shed more light on the strange world of dreaming and how our eyes play an integral role.
The study is the first of its kind to examine brain cells during the dreaming stage. What scientists found was that the rapid eye movements (REM) that occur when we're dreaming are virtually identical to how our eyes function when we're awake and processing images. The research found that our eyes are responsible for "changing scenes" when it comes to our dreams and that the visual component of dreaming is far more complicated than scientists once thought.
The study also found that the neurons in our brain behave in a similar fashion whether we're seeing an actual image or simply imagining it in our mind. This means that your eyes aren't scanning images in your dream, they're reorienting your visual thoughts, serving as a kind of reset switch for whatever scene you're dreaming about.
According to Dr. Yuval Nir, one of the head researchers on the project, the effect is like the way a slide projector functions. Your brain sends a signal and your eyes switch to the next slide in the dream.
This could explain why blind people also move their eyes during REM sleep. Despite being unable to see images when they're awake, a blind person's brain can process acoustic and emotional information, with their eyes indicating a change in scenery within the dream world.
While the study has provided a small glimpse into the human brain, one of the biggest questions remains: Why do we dream at all and what larger mental and physical purpose does it serve? For Dr. Nir and his team of researchers, the answer to that mystery will likely remain the stuff of dreams.
To learn more about how your eyes work, visit one of our eye care specialists at your nearest Visique location.