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Memory and Dreams: The Creative Human Mind

by George Christos.
Rutgers Univ. Press, New Brunswick, NJ, U.S.A., 2003.
237 pp., illus. Hardcover. ISBN: 0-8135-3130-6.

Reviewed by Rob Harle


This book covers a lot of ground, and quickly. It could quite easily have been three times the length and still not exhausted the subject of memory and the purpose of dreaming. What Christos has achieved is a sharp, clear, no "waffling on" presentation of the latest findings in neurophysiology, neurobiology and dream sleep experiments concerning how the brain stores, processes and develops memory and the relationship of dreams to memory. From his exhaustive research into memory and how the brain is involved in "creative" pursuits, Christos has developed a unique and highly plausible theory to explain the cause of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). Any theory which attempts to explain the cause of this mysterious and tragic syndrome should be welcomed with open arms. Especially when such a theory does not contradict any of the existing empirically known facts of the syndrome.

The book is conceptually divided into two sections. First, a discussion and an investigation into the structure and function of the human brain and its role in memory, dreams and creativity. Secondly, the presentation of Christos’ provocative theory on the cause of SIDS and a discussion regarding its prevention.There are six chapters, together with an excellent index and bibliography as one would expect in such a well researched treatise.

Chapter One: Introduction & Overview.
Chapter Two: The Electrochemical Brain – describes the main components of the brain and analyzes the functions of learning.
Chapter Three: The Remembering Brain – looks at the process of memory storage, neural network models and how they help understand memory processes and the rather contentious subject of "spurious memory".
Chapter Four: The Creative Brain –investigates the relationship of "spurious memory" in human creativity, the need for sleep and such phenomena as "déjà vu".
Chapter Five: The Dreaming Brain – looks at various theories of why we have REM sleep, the subject of "lucid dreaming" and the purpose of dreaming.
Chapter Six: Unravelling the Mystery of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome – tackles the SIDS phenomena, outlines Chistos’ theory and discusses some recommendations for its prevention.

The key to Chistos’ theory is memory. The developing foetus obtains oxygen from its mother’s blood and as such does not breathe in the womb. At parturition the infant’s breathing mechanism is activated and then breathing occurs automatically, as it were. However, if the infant is in a certain physical situation (face down, very close to a parent for example) intra-uterine memory may be activated and the post-partum memory of the need to breathe is bypassed and the child dies.

The concept of foetal or intra-uterine memory is highly problematic. Partly because of the difficulty in research methodology and partly because the brain is at various developmental stages in the womb. At what stage does the developing brain have the capacity to remember? Developmental psychologists, such as Thelan and Smith, have shown that the brain’s capability for long term memory encoding is not complete until three to four years of age!

I am not suggesting that Christos’ theory is incorrect by any means, simply that the book (and theory) would have benefited from more extensive inclusion of research findings and some philosophical discussion regarding the extent and nature of intra-uterine memory.

Some people claim to be able to remember life in the womb. Salvador Dali, the surrealist artist, is perhaps the best known champion of such a phenomenon, describing in detail all sorts of visual and emotional memories he had in the womb. I personally doubt the validity of such anecdotes and there appears a dearth of any rigorous, empirical research regarding similar claims. Christos’ theory makes no such claims to these types of extravagant complex memories, maybe there is enough development in the brain prior to parturition to store the memory which activates or deactivates the breathing reflex.

This book is a good introduction for students and professionals involved in the investigative, practical side of memory and dream function and essential reading for anyone involved at any level with SIDS.


Updated 1st October 2003

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