Imagine Science Films: The Science of Sleep & Dreams

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NYC Skyline from 7 WTCLast night, I ventured up to the 40th floor of the new 7 World Trade Center building at 250 Greenwich Street for a panel discussion that was held at the New York Academy of Sciences. The subject of the discussion was “The Science of Sleep & Dreams” and is part of the continuing Imagine Science Film Festival, running until November 16th throughout New York City.  The evening started with a visually stimulating experimental short that utilizes animation to simulate what it would look like if we could see the brain “dreaming“.  This short presentation was followed by a flickering light display called “The Dream Machine” – which creates an effect that essentially puts people into a state of sleep (or near sleep for some). You can see a picture of its effect on Imagine Science Films’ Facebook Page.

This performance was followed by a panel discussion moderated by Tim McHenry, the Director of Public Programs & Performance & Producer of the Brainwave Series at the Rubin Art Museum.

Imagine Sci-Films Panel Discussion: Sleep and DreamsFirst up to talk was Professor Matthew A. Wilson, a professor of Neuroscience. He studies memory, how it is formed and how it is used. A part of his research delves heavily into dreams and he explores how dreams help with memory creation and maintenance. His experiments involve rats, mazes and the like. Hearing him talk about his experiments is intriguing and thought provoking. Mr. Wilson has found a mechanism to “hear” the dreams of his rodent subjects and can interpret what is heard into graphics, thus studying the rat’s dreams literally on a visual level. What he has established is that rats who are trained to run a maze, often dream about running mazes. There are some statements Mr. Wilson made that, for one reason or another, have stuck with me through the course of the night and I’m unsure as to why. Statements like “when the rat moves, it thinks about where it is, when it stops it thinks about where it could be“.

Erin J. Wansley from the Harvard Medical School was next to speak.  What is a dream and how do our minds select which of the barrage of experiences will be dreamed?  She explores this and the idea that sleep helps us to remember.  Her tests have shown that her human subjects who have dreamed tend to retain knowledge and those that don’t dream tend to have a more difficult time with retaining knowledge.  Her discussion also delved into the structure of dreams and how those structures change through the course of the night.  For example, early in the night the dream is in rehearsal mode, exercising what was learned while in an awake state and later on in the night it connects with historical experiences to help refine its own understanding of what it has learned. So the next time you have a dream in a strange locale you haven’t been to in decades or a dream that features people you haven’t thought about in years – it’s likely that your brain is using what is available to make sense of certain information.

WIDE AWAKE by  Alan Berliner

Filmmaker Alan Berliner is a documentary filmmaker who describes his profession as  about having “access”.  So it’s easy to understand why this self-described insomniac made himself the subject of his own film WIDE AWAKE, which explores his inability to sleep.  While they didn’t show the film in its entirety, they did show clips and the filmmaker talked briefly about his insomnia and a little about his experience making a film about it.  As soon as I get around to watching it on Netflix, I’ll post my thoughts on it separately, but I will say that I am genuinely intrigued by what I saw.

Fun Ideas I took from the panel discussion last night:

1. Did you know that babies smile in their sleep long before they learn to smile while they are awake? As we all know, smiling is an essential survival skill so it makes sense that the early on the brain would be actively teaching itself how to work it.

2. Dreams are no stranger a phenomenon than being awake, in that we don’t quite understand being awake as much as we don’t understand being asleep.

3. Lack of control of sleep and dreaming is what disturbs us, not necessarily the content of our dreams.

4. Drowsy driving is equivalent to drunk driving on a cognitive level. I knew this, but wanted to reiterate it since I am an advocate of safe driving. Human error is normally the result of fatigue. So get some sleep friends, especially if you’re operating heavy machinery!

5. Lack of sleep and psychosis have a connection.

6. Dreams are often a depiction of movement through space, where time has been altered (or at least the dreamer’s perception).

7. Dreams are in part, a reflection of the processing of memory in the brain.

8. Studies have shown that the direction an athlete flies and the jet lag can often determine who the winner of an NFL or MLB game will be.

Imagine Science Films

 

IMAGINE SCIENCE FILMS: The Imagine Science Film Festival is in their fifth year and is intended to bridge the gap between science and art by featuring films that feature scientific themes in a unique way. This includes documentary, experimental/avant-garde cinema, narrative fiction (like sci-fi yehehe)… basically an infinitesimal collection of styles.  The festival will run from November 8 through the 16th at various venues throughout New York City. For screening & other events that are a part of this film festival, I urge you to visit their website: http://www.imaginesciencefilms.org/

Peter Mettler: THE END OF TIME

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The End of TimeLast night I had the pleasure of attending the opening night film of the Imagine Science Film Festival. The lucky filmmaker to grace the screen at the Museum of the Moving Image was none other than Peter Mettler and his film THE END OF TIME.  Peter’s film is an experimental work that explores the concept of time in a way that might make movie going audiences uncomfortable if they come in with typical expectations.  The work explores a perspective that in itself seems to manipulate time, in that, at moments we feel like time has either sped up or slowed down (not to be confused with a movie dragging at parts or at other times picking up pace, to understand this element you’d probably have to view the film for yourself).  Moment to moment, we shift and squirm almost as if we’re being manipulated, or the space around us is being changed in some way and that we have to alter our own consciousness to adapt.   CERN Hadron ColliderWe’re fed marvelous imagery as we hear quotes from some of the featured characters that stimulate our respective imaginations, that test our mental resolve.  We explore the worlds of these characters – real life people like scientists working at CERN or the astonomers at the Mauna Kea Observatory on the Big Island of Hawaii.  Peter’s subjects aren’t limited to the scientific elite, he also explores the lives of a young family that, at the time of his filming, are renovating a home in a derelict neighborhood in the outskirts of Detroit. He explores the neighborhood of a man who lives within steps of on-going volcanic lava flow. From the Hadron Collider in Switzerland to the slums of Detroit and quaint (but sort of dangerous) world of a volcanic Pacific – Peter manages to unite all these different worlds, cultures, backgrounds and the subject’s thoughts into his exploration of time.

Q&A With Peter MettlerThere were moments that stood out to me, some in the form of lines of dialog but mostly in plain imagery. Time lapse imagery of the Hawaii Observatory at night – while in operation – really blew me away. Line after line of haiku-like statements, strung together to plant the seed of Peter’s own ideas, convincing us that these are our own. Ideas like “If you have a beginning, then you always have a problem” was my favorite line (and apparently the director’s favorite as well).  “In reality there is no such thing as time by itself” and the idea that “We still operate on the level of Past, Present & Future” helps us understand that Time isn’t a thing, but an idea and not much more, albeit an idea that rules our lives.  He even comforts us with facts about human evolution, stating that by the time the sun burns out, the beings that will be around to witness the event will be as far from us as we are from bacteria today.  I haven’t slept so good in years.

The film would have been incomplete without a Q&A session with the director – and I’m happy he had flown in for the screening because his views on the film, the story behind the film, are all important to understanding the work.  I’ve been attending experimental film screenings at the Anthology Film Archives for a long time now and the one thing I can attest to about this art form is that while it can stand on its own legs with or without a trained audience, it’s so much better to be able to talk with the creator about the work.

Imagine Science Films

IMAGINE SCIENCE FILMS: The Imagine Science Film Festival is in their fifth year and is intended to bridge the gap between science and art by featuring films that feature scientific themes in a unique way. This includes documentary, experimental/avant-garde cinema, narrative fiction (like sci-fi yehehe)… basically an infinitesimal collection of styles.  The festival will run from November 8 through the 16th at various venues throughout New York City. For screening & other events that are a part of this film festival, I urge you to visit their website: http://www.imaginesciencefilms.org/