Dreams are the little movies that play in your head while you sleep. In your dream world you can fly around like a bird, rule the world or even face your inner most terrifying fears.
The content of your dreams can depend on the dynamic state of your subconscious mental activity and your past experiences, however the mystery of the dreamworld is infinitely vast
Since the dawn of humanity people have struggled to interpret the meaning of dreams and the purpose they serve our lives. Ancient Greek and Roman philosophers believed that dreams were prophetic messages and served as a link between the worlds of humans and the gods.
Modern theories based on the groundbreaking work of psychologists Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung unveil the world of dreams as a gateway into the inner workings of the subconscious and the raw personality of the individual mind and soul.
The Science and Psychology of Dreams
When you sleep, your brain functions a lot differently than when you are awake. This is where we can begin to understand the science and psychology of dreams.
One neurobiological concept referred to as "activation-synthesis hypothesis" claims that dreams don't mean anything significant and are just the result of random electrical impulses in your brain that stimulate certain memories, thoughts and emotions. This theory indicates that the stories people tell about their dreams are merely attempts at rationalizing those stimulations.
Another theory referred to as the “threat simulation theory” suggests that dreaming should be considered an ancient biological defence mechanism with the evolutionary advantage of being able to simulate potential threats, therefore enhancing the neurocognitive mechanisms required for efficient threat perception and avoidance.
Other studies suggest that dreams help people in dealing with unresolved emotional issues. The scenery and images that you see while dreaming are not real, however the emotional response certainly are which is why a person can wake up happy after a good dream, or sweating through their sheets after a bad one.
What Happens In Your Brain While You Dream?
Your brain is able to accomplish quite a bit while you sleep, such as consolidating old memories, eliminating toxins, and dreaming.
Brain scans have shown that dreams happen primarily when your brain is going through the sleep cycle known as REM (rapid eye movement).
The entire brain is activated at a high frequency and various regions of your brain are recruited simultaneously while you dream, however the visual cortex seems to be the most active. This is the part of your brain that is responsible for generating the visual content of your dreams
The limbic system is responsible for how you feel about your dreams and the frontal lobes are largely inactive when you dream, except for when you are lucid dreaming.
- Scientists identify parts of brain involved in dreaming – The Guardian
When most people dream they are unaware that they are dreaming. They believe that what they are experiencing is real until they wake up. Lucid dreaming is when a person realizes that what they are experiencing is in fact a dream.
The implications of lucid dreams can be very interesting, and the subject of speculation and popular fascination. For example, a lucid dreamer realizes that they have full control over the world around them and can do impossible things like fly or creatively manipulating the world around them.
It sounds like fun, however most people wake up almost immediately after realizing that they are dreaming. Some people have managed to master lucid dreaming and can intentionally enter a lucid dream state, maintaining control over their dream worlds and waking up when they choose.
According to Dr. Matthew Walker, lucid dreaming happens when a part of the brain 'wakes up' while the rest of the brain is still asleep. This part of the brain is known as the lateral prefrontal cortex and it deals with logic.
- Learn More About How to Induce Lucid Dreaming
- The Mystery of Astral Projection Experiences
- Soothe Your Soul with Delta Sleep Waves
The analysis of dreams can be used by psychologists to understand the nature of their patients' mental facilities, however dream analysis is not considered an exact science.
Near the end of the nineteenth century, Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung put forth some of the most widely-known modern theories of dreaming. Jung, the pupil of Freud, elaborated on the initial theories laid out by Freud and interpreted things a little differently than his mentor.
Freud believed the unconscious mind to be the warehouse of our repressed thoughts, traumatic memories, and fundamental drives of sex and aggression. He saw it as a storage facility for which these suppressed impressions had the potential to develop into neurosis, referred to today as mental illness.
Freud believed that dreams could be interpreted in two major ways: symbolic interpretation and the cipher method.
According to symbolic interpretation, the interpretation of a dream depends on the seemingly unimportant things that happen in the background and are easy to miss.
The cipher method states that dreams should be interpreted by analyzing what the dreamer considers to be the most important parts of the dream and then using a 'dream dictionary', developed by Freud as a way to decode the underlying meaning. This method also considers that dreams could be a way of identifying deeply rooted desires that we want to experience in real life.
Like Freud, Jung believed that dream analysis was a very effective way to access the unconscious mind. But unlike Freud, Jung did not believe that the content of all dreams were necessarily sexual, aggressive, or traumatic in nature or that they disguised their true meaning. Instead Jung’s depiction of dreams concentrated more on the purity of his patients' experience and symbolic imagery.
He believed dreams could have many different meanings according to the contents of the dreamer’s associations, but were to be left pure and taken more literally. Jung was against the idea of a ‘dream dictionary’ where dreams are interpreted by fixed meanings.
He claimed dreams speak in a distinctive language of symbols, images, and metaphors and that they portray both the external world (i.e. individuals and places in a person’s day to day life), as well as the person's internal world (feelings, thoughts and emotions).
Despite the numerous theories about what dreams mean, both Jung and Freud believe in using psychoanalysis to understand them. They both agree that the unconscious mind has a strong effect on how we interact with the world around us and have a direct correlation with the science and psychology of dreams.
- Learn More About the Psychodynamic Theories of Sigmund Freud
- Learn More About Carl Jung Dream Interpretation
- All About Dreaming – Psychology Today
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