Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Googling the brain

Olivia: "I'm missing something; I know I am, Walter."
Walter: "Then I suggest you sleep on it. The brains are remarkable instruments. They can process evidence even when we're not conscious." 
 -- Fringe, Episode 4.18, The Consultant 

I had a strange dream a few nights ago. I'm not sure why I was dreaming about this, but I was in a conversation with a friend about music and we got stumped to remember a song. It was something like, what is the name of the last song on that album? (What album? Not sure - you know how dreams get fuzzy with time.)

Anyway, in the dream, I did what the 21st century man always do when we can't remember something; I pulled out my iPhone to google it. Now here's the interesting part. In real life, I would have sone a search on the album, seen the song list, and voila! The answer. There is almost nothing we can't look up these days.

But in the dream, my iPhone browser failed! No matter what I did to try and find the answer, it was unreachable. I could not find it. When I woke up, my only conclusion was that the answer to that question was buried so deep in my subconscious - or just plain lost - that it could be retrieved even in a dream. Even using Google.

There is a theory that we never lose memories. That they are all in there, waiting to be unlocked. In the above quote from Fringe, it was reflected in the idea that if you just sleep on it, you can process the answer. In the movies, hypnosis is sometimes used to try and pull them out. And it almost always turns out that if the hypnotist gets into the object's dream state, the memory can be pulled out. Many a fictional crime has been solved this way. An maybe some real crimes.

But I'm not so sure. Because in my dream, the iPhone should have been a tool to pull out what was "on the tip of my tongue". But it wasn't. Something I knew in real life - and had forgotten - was really gone. Couldn't even pull it out in a dream.

What does all this mean? I'm not sure. The question fascinates me, and I would love an answer. I have mostly bought into the "deeply buried" theory of lost memories. I have tended to believe what Walter said about what the brain is capable of while we sleep.

But now...who knows? What do you think?

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