The brain is able to “predict” the future during sleep

It has long been known that during sleep the brain processes information received during the day, that is, experienced events, new knowledge, experience gained, etc. However, according to a recent study by researchers at the University of Michigan, brain neurons work not only with memory, but also “look into the future,” or rather, rehearse actions during events that have not happened, but are most likely to happen. At least this feature was found in rats.

The brain is able to “predict” the future during sleep. Perhaps the brain predicts future events during sleep. Photo.

Perhaps the brain predicts future events during sleep

How scientists “read minds” using AI

Until recently, “reading the minds” of a person or, for example, an animal was something out of science fiction. However, nowadays this is not such a difficult task – some technologies even allow you to translate thoughts into text. It is only important to know what information is reproduced by certain areas, or even neurons of the brain. In this case, by tracking brain activity, you can understand what a person is thinking about or even what he is dreaming at one time or another. For example, back in 2021, scientists thus figured out why bad memories are forgotten, and good ones — remain in memory.

Exactly the same principle was used by researchers at the University of Michigan in a recent study, but among other things, they used artificial intelligence in their work. They focused their attention on the hippocampus, that is, the part of the brain that is responsible for memory, experience and skills accumulated throughout life.

As mentioned above, the study was conducted on rats. First, the authors of the work recorded readings of the rodents' brain waves before the experiment began, and then observed the brain waves while performing various tasks in the maze, during which spatial thinking was actively working in the rats.

How scientists “read minds” using AI. Scientists scanned the brains of rats to determine what they dream. Photo.

Scientists scanned the brains of rats to determine what they dream

The artificial intelligence then compared the activity of each individual neuron with the activity of other neurons. That is, the activity of neurons was considered not in isolation from each other, but in conjunction with other neurons. This allowed scientists to determine as accurately as possible at which points of the maze, which neurons in the rats were active. Moreover, based on the activity of individual neurons, scientists were able to determine which points of the maze the rat was thinking about.

The brain predicts the future in a dream

In the second part of the experiment, the scientists were able to determine what the rats were dreaming about. As expected, they were dreaming about a maze in which they continued to perform tasks. But by looking at how the neurons were activated, the scientists found that the rodents were not only remembering the events they had experienced, but were also working out potential new routes. They would later use these routes in real life when they found themselves in the maze again.

The brain predicts the future in a dream. In reality, the rats performed the same actions as previously in their sleep. Photo.

In reality, the rats performed the same actions as previously in their sleep

That is, the neural activity of rats during sleep partially predicted their behavior in reality. True, the matches were not perfectly accurate. However, there were enough of them to allow us to talk about a connection between sleep and the future intentions of animals. However, this relationship was not observed at later stages of sleep. Researchers report this in the journal Nature.

Unfortunately, it is unknown whether the rats remembered what they dreamed and acted consciously, or whether the experience gained in the dream somehow influenced their behavior at the subconscious level. It can be assumed that the actions of the rats in their sleep did not affect their behavior in the real maze at all. It’s just that the brains of rodents made almost the same decisions in identical situations.

The brain predicts the future in a dream. Perhaps in a dream, the brain «rehearses» our actions in future events. Photo.

Perhaps during sleep the brain «rehearses» our actions in future events

In addition, it is not yet possible to say for sure whether the human brain works in the same way as the brain of rats. However, according to researchers, most likely we also sometimes “rehearse” future events in our dreams. To obtain more accurate information, scientists will have to conduct a number of additional studies. If it turns out that the conclusions were made correctly, then previous ideas about the function of neurons during sleep were erroneous, that is, they not only stabilize information about the experience we have experienced, but also prepare us for the future.

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In general, the processes in the sleeping brain remain a mystery and continue to fascinate. Scientists have only recently come closer to finding out. For example, researchers recently discovered that during sleep, the brain remains receptive to certain words that it not only hears, but also understands. Perhaps this means that the human brain can sleep “in parts.” Read more about this study at the link.