The hippocampus has sometimes been described as the human GPS, but this metaphor is reductive compared to what this remarkable, plastic part of our minds accomplishes. While a GPS identifies fixed positions or coordinates in space that never change, neuroscientists think what the hippocampus does is unique to us as individuals — it builds representations of places based on our point of view, experiences, memories, goals, and desires. It provides the infrastructure for our selfhood.
Because a self is a pattern of experiences, memories, and impressions, constellated according to an organizing principle, and because sleep is when the hippocampus consolidates memories to draw from them those organizing patterns, sleep is essential to our sense of self.
During sleep you try to make sense of things you already learned… You go into a vast database of experience and try to figure out new connections and then build a model to explain new experiences. Wisdom is the rules, based on experience, that allows us to make good decisions in novel situations in the future.
What most people aren’t aware of is that they are navigating their life by their worldview which is a metaphorical map or GPS that helps them makes sense of their world. This worldview has evolved and expanded since they were a child. And right now, it is trying to expand as well.
Why? Because while it may have worked two to three decades ago, it’s slowly been getting more and more outdated the more our world increasingly changes around us. So what worked to 30 to 40 years ago, will probably no longer work today. The times have changed and we all need to upgrade and adapt.
This is something I’ve laughed about for the last couple of decades. We often love newer technological innovations, upgrading them every year, but how often do we upgrade and socially innovate our own beliefs, behaviours, and sense of identity? Very rarely. Often because it can be very traumatic to let go of an old sense of self and fall back into a larger one. It requires a very large sense of trust in yourself which is difficult.
Speaking from my own experiences over the past couple of decades, levelling up your sense of self can be very mentally and emotionally exhausting. It’s why I personally found sleep to be essential as well, even taking midday naps when I had the opportunity. Not just to recuperate from the “disintegration and reintegration” of one’s self but because I’ve found sleep and dreams to be a way of roleplaying through the trauma.
For example, I remember one dream where one experience after another put me within increasingly worse social situations that were impossible to resolve. The next morning I woke up and was like, “How the hell am I supposed to resolve a no win situation like that?” But then I realized that I wasn’t supposed to. The dream was effectively a Kobayashi Maru that was effectively testing how I reacted to a no win social situation.
More specifically though the dream was teaching me how to let go of the societal expectations upon me that were both crushing and impeding me from my own further growth and development. In effect, you have this internal tug of war with yourself until you realize that growing beyond your current identity and pattern of beliefs isn’t making you a heretic to society but rather a hero in the psychologically sense. Because only by growing beyond the basic need to fit in, can you truly stand out and discover your unique gifts that you can help the world with in a much larger way.