Can your brain create imaginary people when you dream?
July 28, 2007 10:43 AM   Subscribe

Can your brain create imaginary people when you dream?

I've been having very clear dreams lately featuring people I don't recognize. Are these imaginary people, wholly created by my brain for the purposes of the dream, or are they actual people that I've seen somewhere along the way (on the subway, on TV, etc.) and don't consciously remember seeing?
posted by jtfowl0 to Science & Nature (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I create imaginary people when I dream. So I guess the answer is, probably! And that's about as good as you're probably going to get, answer-wise.
posted by MadamM at 11:09 AM on July 28, 2007

I think the brain doesn't necessarily create new things, locations or people, but combine your experiences - so the people, things and locations you dream about are usually "mashups" of your past.
posted by fredoliveira at 11:11 AM on July 28, 2007

Brain does not create something out of nothing .. image wise...

however, it can mix and match your previous consciouss or unconsiciouss images.... i guess it can mean brain can mix and match images to create a new image.. but not out of nothing. so.. a person in the dream can have lips you saw in the subway... eyes from your work.. etc.. etc... but it is very rare... usually the images comes from some one you saw ...

I may sound confident about this .. but... this is just my 2 cents...
posted by curiousleo at 11:17 AM on July 28, 2007

I don't think there's any way of answering this one way or another.

I dream of unknown people all the time. Just last night I dreamed an extensive and very lucid dream featuring an unknown child named Twinny. She was a totally random blond girl in appearance, not like any kids I know, and the only Twinny I actually know is an old Chinese man...

Your brain does funny things. I wouldn't be surprised if the people in your dream come from both random people that you saw on the street and from totally made up amalgamations of people that only exist in your head.
posted by gemmy at 11:18 AM on July 28, 2007

oh.. one more thing... i think tv plays big part in seeing some one u don't know in dreams... i personally seen some people in dreams.. .. and much later i realized that most of them are from repeated tv commercials....
posted by curiousleo at 11:19 AM on July 28, 2007

Yes. It can.

If you can imagine it, then you can dream it. You could argue that all imagined characters are "mashups" of existing people, but the wealth of fictional characters (Spock, Hagrid, Sherlock Holmes, etc) who have unique physical or mental characteristics would suggest that dream people can be wholly unique and imagined.

Although the straw haired fat headed old lady who tries to tempt me with biscuits when the zombies are coming would probably disagree.
posted by seanyboy at 11:26 AM on July 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

Sure, why not? Your brain creates reality from the external stimuli you receive. Think of reality and logging into second life network. Think of dreaming as connecting the second life client to something that randomly generates characters and events. When you wake up, you plug back into the proper second life network.
posted by damn dirty ape at 11:27 AM on July 28, 2007

Dude. When you pick up a pen and write a story your brain can create fictional characters right? What makes you think your sleeping brain is less capable?

Whether these characters, events etc. actually are fictional or a product of past experience is a mostly philosophical question. You can argue that all imagination is derived from experience, or that they're entirely 'new' entities.

Scientifically nobody knows what dreams really are. Don't get too caught up in psychoanalytical explanations of dream significance, they're mostly not testable.
posted by Firas at 11:27 AM on July 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

Just to throw a few other ideas into the mix, the people in your dreams could also be "spirit guides," facets of your subpersonalities, or the energetic image of someone you know (I know it sounds funny but I've had that experience of meeting someone and for some reason when I remember them in my head it's different than how they physically look).

These are all guesses. You might want to check out these sites- or google subpersonalities (or psychosynthesis)
posted by healthyliving at 11:50 AM on July 28, 2007

Last night I dreamed of someone called the "coach" The coach had a big white plastic prothesis on his hand and when he moved he could only move to the right, he could never move straight ahead, kind of like a (dream) human chess piece.

I don't think the "coach" was a spirit guide and certainly wasn't an extension of my waking experiences. I wish I had concious access to the part of brain that created the "coach".
posted by Xurando at 12:23 PM on July 28, 2007

It's been theoretically discussed for decades - and some really interesting stuff has been happening experimentally in recent years - that sleep, both non-dreaming and dreaming, serves in part as a way of processing memories. Some might argue that the whole narrative aspect of dreams are an unimportant and meaningless side effect of these critical memory-managing processes. (I'm not one of these people but it could be argues, though I think "proving" a hypothesis like that would be very difficult). Another interesting article, though mainly about nondreaming sleep processes, but showing the sort of experimental investigation is going on.

It seems likely your (perhaps not particularly conscious) memories contribute to these individuals (which are obviously imaginary in at least some important respects). On the other hand, I know I have dreamed things and people that never existed, because they are, you know, crazy and fantastical - so some degree of invention must be present in dreaming. Short of, like, attaching cameras to your head and taping every person you look at throughout the day, then poring over the tapes looking for matches, I don't think you could easily demonstrate to what degree you're brain is remembering versus inventing.
posted by nanojath at 12:34 PM on July 28, 2007

OMG! I have always wondered about this. What I figure is, the dreamworld is much more abstract than the rational brain would like it to be. You only "remember" your dreams when you're awake, and using your "awake," or rational brain.

So, perhaps when you're dreaming, the imaginary people are vague black and white shapes, or maybe figments altogether, and then when you're awake your brain scrambles to put some logic around what you remember, and uses people you've seen and places you've been to "flesh out" the dream.
posted by sweetkid at 7:27 PM on July 28, 2007

Absolutely...happens to me all the time.

In fact (and I'm hesitant to say this), I had a long series of dreams when I was a teenager, lasting over three years about the same native indian woman. It was almost an obsession, as I'd wake up either head-over-heels in love with her or disgusted by the life she led in my dreams. The series followed her from being my age (or thereabouts) to her decline into drugs and prostitution and the whole set of dreams basically ended with her slicing her wrists with a razor blade. From there on I had sporadic continuing dreams about razor blades...from normal size ones to ones the size of skyscrapers, including me being sliced to pieces by them or committing suicide in the same way this indian woman did.

During a lot of this period, these dreams were so constant and pervasive that I started believing in reincarnation and question whether I was this woman in a previous life. FWIW, I don't believe this at all now and consider myself a relatively sane and stable person.
posted by Kickstart70 at 8:05 PM on July 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

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