Theories on Dreams

What do you dream about? Do your dreams mean anything?

I always wondered, so I decided to dive into some research. Different sources provide unique perspectives, and upon further investigation I discovered that the authors were quite unalike. So I decided to explore each perspective further. Hence here’s my findings on dreams from five vastly different perspectives: Psychological, Philosophical, Religious, Psychic/Medium, and Scientific.

My theory is that our dreams reflect our emotional states.

Psychological

I was always interested in the psyche of humans, so since childhood I’ve been reading up on different theories. My favorite one is Sigmund Freud’s research and psychoanalysis. He published his studies in a book called The Interpretation of Dreams published in 1899, where he spoke about different levels of psyche that construct our dreams. Basically saying that we dream of things that we are trying to ignore. Whilst researching this concept, Wagner came up with an idea of how this system works. Basically there’s two psychological concepts that work simultaneously when we suppress a thought: an operating process which is actively suppressing it, and a monitoring process which keeps an eye in the suppressed thought. Wagner suggested that this can only be achieved in a deep sleep, after the REM (rapid eye movement) stage.

After an experiment he conducted, he realized that people who are prone to thought suppression experience a dream rebound, the idea that whatever you deliberately suppress will appear in your dreams. Such people tend to have more unpleasant dreams, dreaming about their emotional experiences from waking life, in particular unpleasant situations.

Freud states: “My presumption that dreams can be interpreted at once puts me in opposition to the ruling theory of dreams and in fact to every theory of dreams…”

Philosophical

Friedrich Nietzsche was a philosopher in the 19th century. He mainly concentrated on the philosophy of power. He published a study on dreams where he states:

“In the dream … we have the source of all metaphysic. Without the dream, men would never have been incited to an analysis of the world. Even the distinction between soul and body is wholly due to the primitive conception of the dream, as also the hypothesis of the embodied soul, whence the development of all superstition, and also, probably the belief in god. “The dead still live: for they appear to the living dreams.” So reasoned mankind at one time, and through many thousands of years.”

Basically he’s saying that the dream delimits our world, it presents the irrational within our lives. It is the primordial chaos wherefrom all meaning and therefore all metaphysics emerges. Whatever our cognitive minds fail to explain, label, bring forth into explicit meaningful discourse, the left-over entropy, enters the dreamworld and returns to us in our sleep.

“What we do in dreams we also do when we are awake: we invent and fabricate the person with whom we associate-and immediately forget we have done so.”

Again, this is related to our subconscious similarly to what Freud and Wagner were saying. We basically dive into our deepest desires and transform them into objects that we subconsciously relate them to.

Religious

All of the religions have different explanations for dreams, for the sake of this discussion we are going to concentrate on the Christian perspective. The Bible mainly concentrates on dreams related to God, such as prophecies. Prophetic dreams can come to anyone, they are a message from God usually standing as a warning. Usually they require interpretations since they are not apparent.

Dreams that don’t include any religious interpretations should be left alone, according to Christianity, since they are merely useless. This is a pretty expected result from a religious perspective on dreams. I did not do further research since I did not deem it interesting enough.

Psychic/Medium

Obviously this is the most commonly spread perspective on dreams. According to this perspective every dream has a deeper meaning. Mainly this is a mix of prophetic and psychological interpretation of dreams. Meaning that what we see in our dreams is the future represented through random objects. Obviously we can’t be sure which object actually means what, but there are lists providing the interpretations. My favorite one is a cow, which usually means wealth. So if you dream of a cow, it means that money will come to you in the nearest future, if you dream of a dying cow, you will lose some fortune. It’s easy to speculate where this interpretation comes from. Cows represented wealth in the olden times, since farming was the easiest way of income.

Psychic definitions also include psychological and emotional explanations, for example if you see cloud it means you are unsure about something in your life. Your dreams are telling you to make a decision, which usually would be followed by either a clear sky or a sky clearing up.

Who is to say though, that this is actually true?

Scientific

According to science dreams are a pretty simple phenomenon. It’s basically the brain impulses that pull random thoughts and imagery from our memories. Apparently, we construct dream stories after we wake up, in a natural attempt to make sense of it all. But other mammals also have dreams, thus creating an actual purpose. In particular the “threat simulation theory” which suggests that dreaming should be seen as an ancient biological defence mechanism that provided an evolutionary advantage because of  its capacity to repeatedly simulate potential threatening events – enhancing the neuro-cognitive mechanisms required for efficient threat perception and avoidance.”

Conclusion

According to Freud, our dreams are used to signal the return of a repressed feeling or thought. According to Nietzsche dreams are the chaotic realm which the circumscribe the world of meaning and rationality. According to Christianity God may communicate to us through dreams, revealing the future, the truth or a specific prophecy. According to the psychic interpretation, dreams contain hidden meanings which manifest themselves in obscure symbols. The scientific paradigm dreams do not contain any inherent meaning outside of our interpretation. They are the result of a random recombination of our past sensory data. It is a biological tool that helps us model future possible states of affairs.

In the end all of these interpretations come very close to my theory, that we dream about our emotional state. If you’re sad, you’ll either dream about it or have it show up in your dream. If you’re scared, you’ll manifest that through your dreams. Who is to say there is nothing more to our dreams though? Maybe we are seeing way beyond our understanding, creating new worlds every time we fall asleep…

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