Memory and Dreams: The Creative Human
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
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 mothers blood and as such does not breathe in
the womb. At parturition the infants 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 brains 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