Our dreams' weirdness might be why we have them, argues new
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Inspired by techniques used to train deep neural networks, the investigator argues for a new theory of dreams: the overfitted brain hypothesis. The hypothesis, described in a review in the journal Patterns, suggests that the strangeness of our dreams serves to help our brains better generalize our day-to-day experiences.

The new theory suggests that dreams happen to make our understanding of the world less simplistic and more well-rounded—because our brains, like deep neural networks, also become too familiar with the "training set" of our everyday lives. To counteract the familiarity, the doctor suggests, the brain creates a weirded version of the world in dreams, the mind's version of dropout. "It is the very strangeness of dreams in their divergence from waking experience that gives them their biological function," he writes.

the researcher says that there's already evidence from neuroscience research to support the overfitted brain hypothesis. For example, it's been shown that the most reliable way to prompt dreams about something that happens in real life is to repetitively perform a novel task while you are awake. He argues that when you over-train on a novel task, the condition of overfitting is triggered, and your brain attempts to then generalize for this task by creating dreams.

But he believes that there's also research that could be done to determine whether this is really why we dream. He says that well-designed behavioral tests could differentiate between generalization and memorization and the effect of sleep deprivation on both.

While you can simply turn off learning in artificial neural networks, he says, you can't do that with a brain. Brains are always learning new things—and that's where the overfitted brain hypothesis comes in to help. "Life is boring sometimes," he says. "Dreams are there to keep you from becoming too fitted to the model of the world."

Source: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.patter.2021.100244