‘Why do we dream?’ — six amazing theories’

Ashutosh Jain
May 4, 2018 · 8 min read

‘Trust in dreams, for in them is hidden the gate to eternity.’
— Khalil Gibran

According to experts every night billions of dreams are experienced on earth, as an average a person has three to five dream experiences per night. However, most of these dreams go unnoticed, erased from the conscious mind as we wake up in the morning as only about five percent of dreams can be recalled by human brain.
Man has long been intrigued by dreams and though opinions about the process and the meaning of dreams have varied and shifted through ancient times, even today what happens while we dream is one of the greatest mystery of our existence! Dreams may vary in themes, activity and duration and they can be entertaining, frightening, disturbing or even downright bizarre.
In fact, dreams seem have a mysterious and fascinating world of their own!

Recent developments in neuroscience have shed some light onto why we dream and where the content of dreams comes from. The latest view in neuroscience is that dreams are related to reorganizing and recoding memories as well as transferring memories between brain regions. Emotional quotient may also plays a significant role in the process.

  1. Wish fulfilment:
courtesy: seven intentions-world press

Based on the work by Sigmund Freud this theory states that any dream, no matter how terrifying, can be looked at as a way of getting something that you want, either literally or symbolically. For example, say you have a terrifying dream about your mother dying. Why would that be a wish-fulfillment? Maybe, Freud would say, you are having a conflict with your mother that would be easily resolved if she were out of the picture. So you don’t want your mother to die, but you do want to deal with that conflict. Dreams may simply be the means to unbury hidden emotions that you hadn’t dealt with. Dreams can reveal wishes or emotions you didn’t realize you had!

2. Random neural impulses:

This rather popular school of thought holds that dreams are actually just an accidental side-effect of activated circuits in the brain stem and limbic system during REM sleep that’s involved with emotions, sensations and memories. And when the brain tries to interpret these random signals, we experience dreams.

3. Encoding short-term memories into long-term storage:

Our brains are always storing memories regardless of whether we’re awake or asleep. But the ‘theory of continuous activation’ states that dreams are a kind of “temporary storage” area of consciousness, a spot where we hold memories before we move them from short-term to long-term storage. They flash through our minds as dreams before we secret them away in the files of our memory.

4. Consolidating what we’ve learned:

This theory suggests that we actually dream to remember rather than forget. May be dreams only help us retain what we’ve learned. It has been noticed that when people go to sleep right after a traumatic experience that they are more likely to remember and be haunted by the trauma. So one form of triage for traumatized people is to keep them awake and talking for several hours, even if they are exhausted, to prevent this traumatic memory consolidation from happening.

5. Threat simulation:

Some scientists have linked dreams to evolution of our mind. They suggest that “the biological function of dreaming is to simulate threatening events, and to rehearse threat perception and threat avoidance.” People who have these kinds of dreams will be better able to face threats in their waking hours, because they’ve already run through these nighttime simulations. As a result, people who dream in this way will survive more often, to pass on their genes. Unfortunately, this theory doesn’t explain random, bizarre or simplistic dreams.

6. Problem solving:

Ottawa Life Magazine

Another interesting theory suggests that dreams may be process by which our brain tries to solve problems more effectively than when we are awake. Dreams occur during REM sleep when the brain activity is measured to be as good as in the waking state and maybe the dreaming mind makes connections more quickly than the waking mind, thus helping us to solve the problem quickly and more effectively.

— Psychiatrists have also pondered over the mystery of dreams and three modern views are…

  1. Freudian view: In the late 19th century, the famous psychotherapist Sigmund Freud developed a theory that the content of dreams is driven by unconscious wish fulfillment. Freud called dreams the “royal road to the unconscious.”
courtesy: AZ Quotes

He theorized that the content of dreams reflects the dreamer’s unconscious mind and specifically wish fulfillment, often relating to early childhood memories and experiences. Freud’s theory describes dreams as having latent content that relates to deep unconscious wishes or fantasies and a manifest content that is superficial and meaningless.

2. Carl Jung’s view: Born in 1875 CE, Carl Gustav Jung founded analytical psychology. He expanded on Freud’s ideas.

courtesy: Beliefnet

He described dreams as messages to the dreamer and argued that dreams present the dreamer with revelations that can uncover and help to resolve emotional or religious problems and fears. Jung wrote that recurring dreams show up repeatedly to demand attention, suggesting that the dreamer is neglecting an issue related to the dream. Jung postulated that memories formed throughout the day also play a role in dreaming.

3. Frederick Perls and Gestalt theory: In the mid-1900s, Fritz Perls based his dream analysis on gestalt theory, a holistic approach to psychology.

courtesy: izquotes

According to Frederick Perls, dreams are often ignored aspects of our personalities or problems that we are facing, which come out in dreams because they are repressed in waking consciousness. Each dream symbol is highly personal as each dream is as unique as the dreamer and the same symbol will never have the same meaning for two dreamers.

— Dreams, visions and interpretations are a part of virtually every culture and religion on earth and have been throughout the ages.

1. Hindu religion:

According to Puranas this universe is the ‘Ishwara’ (God’s) dream creation . Each individual also projects its dream world while sleeping . And all the living beings and Universe are in God’s dream.

2. Christianity: Just like the Judaism of the Old Testament, divined dreams play a significant role in the Christian New Testament. For example, Joseph received important dreams relating to the birth and early life of Jesus. The Bible reveals that in times past the faithful were given visions and dreams for specific reasons or to convey special messages.

3. Buddhism and Jain religion:

The dream of Maya carved in grey schist, showing the white elephant entering her side: British museum

Queen Maya is asleep in her palace under a full moon. An attendant stands guard outside. In her dream, a white elephant enters her side. This is a miraculous conception that results in the birth of the future Buddha. In Buddhism, ideas about dreams are similar to the classical and folk traditions in South Asia. The most famous dreams in Buddhism are the ‘Bodhisattva dreams’ made by the future Buddha during the night preceding his Enlightenment (these dreams announced that the enlightenment was nearing).

4. Islam:
Scholars believe that dreams play an important role in the history of Islam and the lives of Muslims, since dream interpretation is the only way that Muslims can receive revelations from God since the death of the prophet. In Islam, those who have the most truthful dreams are those who are the most truthful in speech.

— Dreams have been a topic of interest for centuries and here is the proof…

1. Mesopotamia: The civilization that existed there around 5,000 BCE(Modern day Iraq) left behind a compilation of dream symbols and their meanings etched on clay tablets, providing proof that dreams have indeed been a topic of interest for ancient civilizations.

2. Ancient Egypt: The meaning of dreams as a subject fascinated the ancient Egyptians. In temples dedicated to ‘Serapis’, Egyptians celebrated rituals, gave sacrifices and recited prayers in hopes that their dreams would reveal fragments of the future. These temples even had priests who specialized in dream interpretation.

3. Ancient Vedic India: Ancient Indians knew that ‘Swapna’ (dreams)arise from the subconscious mind and not sent by Gods. The description of Swapna’ is found abundantly in the ancient Indian scriptures (3000BCE to 500BCE) of Vedas, Upanishads, Puranas and Ayurveda.

Though described in a mythological and philosophical context, these scriptures leave an impression that there could be a strong scientific explanation for Dreams. For example Upanishads speaks of four states of dreaming to emphasize that dreams help ‘Atman’ (soul) to understand its ‘Karma’ better.

4. Ancient Greece: Legend has it that ‘Oracle’ at Delphi spoke for the god Apollo and answered questions for the Greeks as she predicted the future. It was a well known fact that her prophecies were created based on her dreams. Even though Greeks had ‘Morpheus’ — the winged God of dreams, Greek philosopher Aristotle was the first western scholar to say that the dreams are not related to Gods! Another Greek philosopher Hippocrates saw dreams as important indicators of physical and mental health. The most significant book about dreams — ‘Oneirocritica’ was written in ancient Greece. Today, this book is the basis for many contemporary books about dreams.

To be continued…

Next: Different types of dreams and their Interpretation and FAQs.

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Thoughts And Ideas

An attempt to bring all heart-touching and thought provoking writings under one roof to make an impact.

Ashutosh Jain

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In quest of the Self!✍

Thoughts And Ideas

An attempt to bring all heart-touching and thought provoking writings under one roof to make an impact.