Monday, June 25, 2007

Dreams and Funny Stuff

Irenie asks,

What are dreams?
What a great question.

The ancients thought it messages from the Gods. Freud thought it was the unconscious seeping into the conscious. The oversimplified picture we generally get from pop science is that there are REM periods which are dream periods.

We know that the pons, a part of the middle brain that is not connected with the higher functions, is what stimulates various parts of the brain during sleep. It releases the neurotransmitter acetylcholine to parts of the brain which then become active. This activity then translates into dreams.

We dream throughout the night, not just during REM, we have dreams, but it is during REM phases that the hippocampus, the part of the brain associated with memory, tends to be stimulated by the release of dopamine. For this reason, the dreams during REM sleep are more intense. The more dopamine, the more vivid the dreams. Dreams are one way the brain strengthens the connections. If you were working on something during the day, the pathways created will be reinforced during dreaming.

Then there's lucid dreaming, the ability to control your dreams. Some people have this ability. It occurs when you realize during the dream that you are dreaming, at which point you can determine what happens. We know that the dorsolateral prefontal cortex, the part of the brain that controls attention, which is usually not active during REM sleep becomes active, this allows for the conscious ability during sleep.

Gwydion asks,
Which is funnier: a monkey dressed as a pirate, with an eyepatch and a parrot and a fake pegleg, or a monkey dressed as an aviator, with the goggles and the hat with the earflaps and the scarf billowing in the wind?
The pirate.

Brock asks,
Who was the funniest philosopher?
I beat me to the punch on Sidney Morgenbesser, well repected wise ass of the analytic set. His most famous one occurred in an APA meeting when J.L. Austin was musing on the point that a double negative is equivalent to an affirmative, but a double affirmative is not equivalent to a negation. To which Morgenbesser replies, "Yeah, yeah."

As for other stand-up philosophers, I would second Hume, Rorty, add the obvious Nietzsche, and also include a few others. I always found Bertrand Russell particularly funny in that snarky British fashion like when he referred to causality as being like the royal family -- kept around because it's wrongly assumed to do no harm. A lot of great punsters amongst the philosophers of language. One of my favorties is Fred Dretske from Duke who replied to a piece entitled "Dretske's Dreadful Question" with the response, "Dretske's Awful Answer." Then there's Nathan Salmon's classic paper on saving Mill's view of reference called "How to be a Million Heir." Pretty clever those philolang folks.