Studs discusses dreams and computers with Dr. Christopher Evans
BROADCAST: 1969 | DURATION: 00:31:54
Studs discusses dreams, consciousness and computers with psychologist, computer scientist, and author Dr. Christopher Evans. Topics of conversation include the need for humans to dream, contemporary research on sleep and rest, and computer technology. Dr. Evans draws analogies between the behavior of the sleeping and dreaming human brain and the functions of modern computers.
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Studs Terkel Results have made front pages of "The New York Times" and various journals. They seem quite exciting and quite strange. The two words, the two concepts that come to mind are dreams and computers.
Dr. Christopher Evans Yeah.
Dr. Christopher Evans Yes, my experiments really haven't made front page, but I suppose my theory did. I I've really theorized on on other people's experimental work. I think the the probably the interesting thing is, that in the - that within the last five years there's been a very substantial advance in our understanding of the dreaming mechanisms. We find out a lot more about dreams than we ever knew before. How can I put it? Perhaps most people don't know that it's now possible to tell when people are having dreams because of the fact that they make a certain number of eye movements. Even though the person is asleep you get a special type of eye movement going which, in fact, when you wake people up you find that they're dreaming.
Dr. Christopher Evans That probably means there's a dreamlessness because if you wake people up when the eye movements are on, you'll get dreaming. If you wake them up when the eye movements are not going, you don't get dreaming.
Dr. Christopher Evans Yes. This discovery was, in fact, made in America by a psychiatrist named Dement. Now, he also found that if you interrupted one group of people who've been dreaming for several nights and another group who in periods when they weren't dreaming, that the group who had been deprived of their dreams, so to speak, would experience psychological and behavioral disorders.
Dr. Christopher Evans So it seems. It seems as if we need to dream. And it's my own personal opinion that the real function of sleep is to allow us to dream. Bodily rest, you know, is is muscular rest is achieved quite easily by lying down on the couch or sitting down in the chair, and it's never been really clear for, I suppose, thousands of years exactly why we do go to sleep. Now this, all this latest evidence seems to suggest that it's in fact because we have to dream.
Dr. Christopher Evans Now, in a sense where I come into this is is really through thinking about how a particular process that we find going on in computers at the moment. Now, you know, computers are relatively uncomplicated in terms of the brain. The brain is a very, very complicated computer, in fact. A very complicated an- analyzing engine. Now, with computers today we find that we have to do, have regular periods - probably they might be once a week or once a fortnight - when the programs, that is to say the instructions which the computer has, have to be revised and modified and sort of brought up-to-date to allow the computer to tackle the problems that it's got to tackle. For instance if it was preparing wage packets, pay packets.
Dr. Christopher Evans Exactly. And if it was doing that and there had been a pay rise or there had been an income tax increase or something like that, you'd have to revise the programs in order to to make them appropriate, otherwise the computer would go on producing the old pay packets. Now what one does, in fact, in these circumstances is one unplugs the computer, so to speak. What we call "takes it offline", and then runs the programs through and modify them to to meet the new requirement. Now if it's not offline, that's to say if it's not cut off from it's environment, then, of course, it'll it'll go on producing pay packets while you're changing the program. Now computers aren't as complicated as brains by any means. They're nowhere near as complicated, but they will become as complicated someday, no doubt. And then, of course, I think they'll have to do a lot more of this, what we call program clearance. Now I think it's very probable that what happens when we go to sleep is that we then run into an automatic revision and reclassification of programs, and this is really what dreaming is.
Dr. Christopher Evans In a sense, yes. He - it's rather like if you had a very large library. I mean, you would need to continually bring it up to date. You'd have to file things and arrange for reclassification and so on and so forth.
Dr. Christopher Evans In my case I'm not actually working with people. I've merely been thinking about it. Other people are actually doing the experiments. What you just said makes me makes me want to say this: what we normally understand by dreaming is in fact the interrupted dream. Most of the night, probably, we're actually going through this process, and it's only when we're disturbed for some reason or other, either because of some bodily state or because we're woken up for one reason or another that, we - the consciousness interacts, as it were, with this program clearance operation and we become aware of the dream. So the dream is simply the remembered or the interrupted dream.
Dr. Christopher Evans Well, no, that's the basic thing which goes on. And, of course, it wouldn't do for us to be aware of this because it would be very confusing and probably rather an unpleasant process.
Studs Terkel Cry.
Studs Terkel So coming back to the computer that needs reprogramming continuously as our way of life, commercially or educationally, sometimes both connected, change. How do you re-program? You're not talking about - dreams can't be re-programmed.
Dr. Christopher Evans Well, now look. The dream is itself, is the reprogramming, you see. It's it's the process of bringing the thing into line with what's been going on before. Now it might be at the the the moment the computer, with a computer, one gets a man to come in and he runs the programs through and this takes five minutes or something. But as they get very much more complicated it might be very useful to have the computer to have some automatic process built into the computer, which would bring its programs up to date automatically. In fact something of this sort does exist already. Now this, of course, would be very akin indeed to a dream probably because the computer would have to be cut off from the environment. All this work would then go on and then it could come back on. And the more complicated it becomes the more of this is going to have to go on, and the more time off you're going to require to dream. If you think about it it's very curious, isn't it? That we spend a third of our lives more or less "out". You know, people take it for granted. They don't think about it but--
Dr. Christopher Evans A third of our lives, just about. I mean, we're a third of lives we're unconscious. And this is, really, an extraordinary thing which people in a sense haven't really faced up to.
Dr. Christopher Evans Yes. Well it's been known, you see, for a long time that it's not - that can't be all there is to it. Because you can get physical rest and muscular rest and so on simply by lying down. You don't have to go unconscious for it.
Dr. Christopher Evans Oh not enti- no, not not totally. I think it it suggests that the majority of dreams instead - the sort of Freudian view, I think is that all dreams are fraught with very great significance and those which don't appear to be significant are significant, but they're disguised. Now I think that this is probably no longer necessary. I think, indeed, many dreams are significant and many dreams have these sort of Freudian implications and overtones, but I would say that the majority of dreams are probably quite trivial. And and the other thing is we don't remember them, you see, because they're not the ones that wake us up.
Studs Terkel What can you - Have you discovered the nature of some - is it too difficult for some of your subjects whose eyelids were, whose eyes were active? They can't remember, it's rather difficult, isn't it, to know what it was they'd dreamed?
Dr. Christopher Evans Well, the people if the people are woken up when they when they have their - again I must say this isn't work that I've done myself. This is somebody else's work, but if you wake people up when these eye movements are taking place then they report a dream at that time. And if you wake them up when the when the eyeli- when the eyes aren't moving then they don't report a dream.
Dr. Christopher Evans It's a kind, type of extension and in a way it gets the Freudian, well, the psychoanalyst off the hook to a certain extent, because they've always had to interpret dreams, all dreams, as being of great significance. And that means that when people report a perfectly innocuous dream like, you know, meeting somebody or walking across a road or something there's had to be this terrific search for hidden depth and meaning in it. And I don't think this is necessary anymore because inevitably we will have to do a lot of dreaming about walking across roads and meeting people and all these sort of things.
Studs Terkel What will be the, what - as you're working on these experiments, you and your colleagues, what will be the - outcome isn't the word I'm looking for - resolution to be drawn? In what way will this make us discover more?
Dr. Christopher Evans Well, let's see. Well, fine. Well, all right. There are one or two things. Let's - one thing I think is very likely. Again, I'm just hazarding a guess now, and this isn't backed by any experimental evidence. It seems to me very likely that the level for which the dreaming process might most effectively take place would be quite critical. It will be quite difficult to get this level. Now I can imagine that one might, by the use of drugs, push the individual down too far to do any effective dreaming. I think it could be for instance that barbiturates in certain doses might do this. The person might be out like a log, so to speak, and yet he might get up in the morning and say, you know, I don't feel as though I had a good night's sleep. In fact, of course, he was sleeping very well but he probably wasn't dreaming very well. Now, on the other end of the scale, of course, there might be a special use for drugs which promote dreaming. I'm thinking of the so-called hallucinogens, for instance, which in fact give people hallucinations and so on in the waking state.
Dr. Christopher Evans LSD, for instance. Now I think that might be something which, in fact, triggers off the dreaming process. But at the same time, of course, it means that it's something that might be a tremendously dangerous drug. I mean much more dangerous than anybody has really thought it might be dangerous at the moment.
Studs Terkel [unintelligible]
Dr. Christopher Evans Yes.
Dr. Christopher Evans Yes. If it was, [unintelligible] if if they were interrupted enough. You know, the interruption of one dream wouldn't matter very much because the same dream might be gone over again when the person went back to sleep. But if you don't allow the person a chance to dream then, of course, I think they'd get into a very complicated state altogether.
Studs Terkel Well, as more and more cluttering up - you know, you use the word programs, perhaps you could dwell on this for a moment. Old programs, because it makes one think of the computer again, doesn't it?
Dr. Christopher Evans Indeed. Yes. Well, a pro- you know, the brain is has - a program is only a set of instructions to the computer, really, which tells it how to how to, what use to make of its parts, if you like.
Dr. Christopher Evans Mmm.
Studs Terkel In America we don't engage in this, you know. An hour or so nap after lunch they'll sleep. Or in Latin America, in Latin countries, particularly. Has this been ever, has this come into the the effect this has on a people?
Dr. Christopher Evans I don't think, no, I don't think anybody's really thought of that. But I think, probably, one couldn't make too much of that. People will or should get as much sleep as they as they need. This is quite interesting, by the way, you see with babies and very young children they really will need - because most of the material that they meet in the course of the day is new - they're going to need a lot more dreaming. In other words, they've got to keep re-modifying the programs, reclassifying and so on. And as people get older and older and they do less and less new things they're going to require less and less sleep. So, in fact, I think that one thing is that as people people tend to get worried as they get older because they can't get enough sleep, I don't think this really matters. They really probably don't need it.
Studs Terkel Well, this is going to be a question. As you say, with more and more technology, you know, the world we can more and more, we're more and more automation. There'll be less and less, assuming that some nut does not press a button, that there will be less and less physical labor by sweat of one's brow, right? There will be more time for other activities.
Dr. Christopher Evans Sure.
Dr. Christopher Evans I don't think so. I think it's quite possible that we won't find enough new things to do. I mean, the evidence at the moment is that people can't really fill their leisure time. I mean, when they have a few hours on their hand they don't seem to know what to do with it.
Studs Terkel I'm thinking, since you mentioned this, since there may come the time if we, the world remains sane and we survive the swamp land of the present, that man will find more creative things to do. That is, he need not wield a sledgehammer 12 hours a day or need not be the bookkeeper. He'll be free from this because of the computers and other machines, that if he could do more creative stuff.
Dr. Christopher Evans Yes.
Dr. Christopher Evans Certainly. Indeed. He'll need to, of course, digressing from the point a bit. But I mean, he'll, people will need to find more creative things to do, and they'll have to be trained somehow to do this.
Studs Terkel Well, since you talk about babies and and the new experiences and more and more sleep. As people grow older, you know, this matter of inability to sleep, is both what? It's physical for one thing, but it's also the fact that they're less and less new experiences?
Dr. Christopher Evans Quite.
Dr. Christopher Evans Certainly. But I think in the last five years there's been a completely radical new look at at sleep and dreaming. And it some - it's been overdue, in a way, because people have been aware there have been great problems, but they've never been able to do anything about them.
Dr. Christopher Evans Well, as I - again, I keep wanting to say this, it isn't really my experiment. People have been experimenting in America, notably, on this eye movement business. I've been thinking with a colleague about the dreaming theory for about two years.
Studs Terkel Yeah, dream- we come back to the computer. This may seem like a peripheral point and yet - we say we'll have less and less, as man grows older, less and less new experiences though he may be having with the - There's a crazy paradox at work with the computer, is it not, and with automation? Since man may be finding a new redefinition of work, in contrast to the old, he will be having new experiences, won't he?
Dr. Christopher Evans Yes. I think that a lot of routine stuff at the moment, which probably calls for a lot of dreaming - I mean people working with figures and accounts and trivial things like that. I mean all this has got to - will have to be dreamt about, so to speak.
Studs Terkel I know what, that comes to my mind as you say this, dreaming. People doing routine work often daydream, don't they? Or if a work is uninteresting, a kid finds school uninteresting; a dull teacher, he daydreams. Or a man who is doing very routine, cut-and-dried work, he daydreams. Is this kind of a psychical?
Dr. Christopher Evans Well, I I should think in in a way, yes. It's not - this is really not so much daydreaming as fantasy. A daydream, really, is a hallucination. That's to say when you when you mix up the the internal world with the external world. That's a rare thing, of course, and it shouldn't happen. I mean, it's a bad mistake, if it does occur.
Dr. Christopher Evans The day- the the daydream is a fantasy. That's just the mind imagining things. And, I mean, the person isn't really cut off to do that. But a hallucination, that's to say if somebody sees something or thinks they see something and it imposes on the real world, then--
Studs Terkel Well, assume things go well and with less and less of the routine work done, there'll probably be less and less of what we call daydreaming, won't there? Because that new work, assuming it allows for creativity then [unintelligible]--
Dr. Christopher Evans I think that they - there have been two types of reaction. To the first work, that's the work by Dement and his colleagues, the reaction was very favorable because it looked as though they were showing experimentally what analysts, psychoanalysts, had been showing for a long time and that was that the dream is very important. I mean, after all, Freudian theory and all the other analytical theories draw attention to the terrific importance of dreaming. But I think that, perhaps, the finding that not all dreams are necessarily of great emotional significance and terrific psychic significance may not please the analysts too much. I was thinking of it the other day in these terms: I I - Freud said, in a way, that the purpose of the dream was to preserve sleep. That's to say that the dream, that the sort of hidden thoughts and repressed thoughts and so on were disguised in such a way that they - in a special way so that they wouldn't wake the person up. That's to say the purpose of the dream is to preserve sleep. Now in a sense my colleague and I have really inverted this. We say, if you like, that the purpose of sleep is to preserve the dream, which is an exact inversion of the Freudian position.
Studs Terkel Where do we go from here? Dr. Christopher Evans is our guest, talking about these very fascinating experiments and discoveries involving dream and the computer and the twentieth century. What what would this, again asking for a conclusion is ridiculous, but what would this, what conclusion would you come to that man can use, you know? It's difficult.
Dr. Christopher Evans It's difficult. I think the real development - well, of course, there will be a general, more of a greater understanding of of of the human brain. And, of course, taking account of facts like drugs, perhaps a more careful use of drugs, both the barbiturates and the hallucinogenics, and others. And one might, perhaps, find a drug which promoted dreaming in some way, and if schizophrenic conditions were in part a function of, a malfunction of dreaming, then one might find a drug which would tackle the problem in this way. That would be a special use of this type of theory for the benefit of man in one sense. I think the other way of looking at it would be in a design of very, very advanced computers. I mean we're coming to the time - my own work, really, is concerned with the design of computers rather than with anything to do with dreaming. And we're thinking about computers which will read and computers which will speak and computers which will understand the spoken word and computers which will do this and that. And these parallels that can be drawn between the brain and the computer might in fact give tremendous fallout to our understanding of the brain and computer.
Dr. Christopher Evans Yes.
Studs Terkel The purpose, the obvious one, of making the work, you know, diminishing the need for tremendous multiplication on the part of a man on paper and ledger or actual physical work. And it also can give us a better idea about our own, the functioning of our own brain.
Dr. Christopher Evans This is this is machines which, we're trying to develop machines which will read, say handwriting and so on. This is something that we're doing at the National Physical Laboratory. This type of, in this type of work I'm trying to find out how the brain recognizes patterns so that we can perhaps build these processes into machines.
Dr. Christopher Evans Well, it does in a way, but I don't think his control is really diminishing. It's merely that there are more computers. People often say, you know, is it a frightening thing that the computers can be so much better than the brain? In a sense, I I think, it's only a question of getting used to the idea of computers being around. After all we don't feel jealous because motor cars can travel at 10 times the speed a man can run or that a typewriter can make correspondence much more legible than handwriting. So I don't really see why anybody should be very concerned about the fact that computers can solve problems more rapidly than the brain can. Provided that we build the computers.
Dr. Christopher Evans Oh, certainly. There are computers controlling computers already in a way. But I don't think this is any worse. I mean, a motor car is full of of parts which control other parts and automatic parking lots rather a nice analogy. I mean, you drive the car, it goes in, and the thing parks it for you. This is no real problem.
Studs Terkel There's one question that comes up every once in awhile about man, you know. There are more, fewer and fewer experts who will be in, you know, fewer and fewer people who will be more or less in charge of more and more all-encompassing machines, you know.
Dr. Christopher Evans Well, I think that that would be true, if if if human society didn't continue to expand at a great rate. But I think in the future society is going to expand intellectually at a tremendous rate. It will have to, of course. And what will happen in the end - goodness knows how long, how far ahead one will have to look, but I would say that everybody will become an expert on something.
Dr. Christopher Evans Being free from - we- we're really looking far ahead now - but I mean being free from routine, absurd jobs which can very well be done by machines. Man will be free to develop his own expertise in all sorts of different ways.
Dr. Christopher Evans Well, they're not really much to do with computers, are they? They're much more to do with men and [laughter] The other thing I always think is that, one thing I'm quite confident about is that motorcars will kill many more people than computers ever will.
Dr. Christopher Evans Yes. The experiments, in fact, are going on almost entirely in America and no experiments on dreaming, in fact, no experiments on dreaming are going on at the National Physical Laboratory. Merely thinking about it.
Dr. Christopher Evans Oh, some of the, some of this material has been published already. I think the filter down, so to speak, from scientific circles is probably rather slow, but Dement's work has been published for some years. And my own work, in fact, on this particular theory has been published for 18 months I think now.
Studs Terkel Dr. Christopher Evans visiting with the rather fascinating approach to dreams and the computer and - Any any other aspects we have, any basis related to this we haven't touched that you feel like hitting?
Dr. Christopher Evans I don't think so at the moment. I think I'd like people to to realize this, or get this idea over, that what we normally call the dream is in fact the interrupted dream. I think once one grasps that then the thing becomes rather clearer somehow or other.
Dr. Christopher Evans Well, of course, that's nonsense. Absolute nonsense. It merely means that they don't remember their dreams, which is probably the best thing in a sense. It means they get an undisturbed night's sleep.
Dr. Christopher Evans Yes. I think that - No, I think, merely, that people if they're not disturbed when, if they get a perfect night's sleep, then they don't remember any dreams. Everybody experiences this, don't they? And, of course, the the opposite of that is people will have noticed if they're feverish, if there's something and their sleep is disturbed then they become aware - I'm sure everybody's aware of this - of a lot of nonsense going on. A lot of climbing stairs or driving cars or tossing up figures or reading words or having endless conversations. Now that is the real stuff of dreams in effect. But normally we don't, thank goodness, experience it.
Dr. Christopher Evans Well, the sleep is the, merely the - well, I say merely - I mean, the sleep is the process by which the brain is cut off from the environment and to allow all this processing to go on without interference.
Studs Terkel I had asked earlier - perhaps one last question, Doctor - I asked earlier about the siestas, you know. We're told now that one hour sleep during the day sometime has the value of a couple of hours at night.
Dr. Christopher Evans Well, I should think it could could well have some value. But the thing is that people work in different ways. And I mean, if people like to take a nap in the afternoon, there's probably a good reason for it. So people should take their sleep when they can.
Studs Terkel Well, Dr. Christopher Evans, thank you very much for these insights and I hope that this is the first of a number of visits and more and more of your, of the revelations will be forthcoming. Oh, one I know. One last, last question: the subjects, people who you, who are taking part in your experiment. What has happened to them? Since, indeed, there has been interruption, hasn't there?
Dr. Christopher Evans Yes. Well as I say, again, I haven't actually performed these experiments. I don't really know the answer to that. I I think that - I don't think this was carried on too far. I'm sure it wasn't, in fact.
Studs Terkel Because, in a sense, not guinea pigs, but you have to - I guess, since you are dealing with human beings here, that they might be affected by, if the experiment were constant interruptions.
Studs Terkel So we'll - so some of these popular songs, you know: "I'm just dreaming along." [Dreaming?] has quite an effect. Dreaming means resting along [stop recording]. And, thus, the first half of this morning's program with Dr. Christopher Evans, psychologist experimenting on the matter of dreams, a new approach.