Today’s episode is about a very simple question “Why do we dream?” Will answer be that simple? Let’s see. 😉
As there is no perfect theory regarding it, so first discuss them one by one and try to find a conclusion at the end.
Wait, before going to these complicated theories, first let’s see what a dream is?
What is a Dream?
Dream is basically the images, visuals or ideas (thoughts) that we experience during sleep. It may be sometimes understandable and very much realistic, but in other instances very much confusing and illogical.
- The study of dreaming is called “Oneirology”.
So, why do we Dream? What is its Purpose?
We spend one third of a day sleeping and dreaming, but still we haven’t found the right cause of dreams. But we should not forget that science is still studying the functioning of brain and not even found the right cause of sleep. So it is obvious, dream is a bit more complicated than sleep and scientists will take more time to unravel the truth.
But still many theories have been put forth and experiments are being carried out. According to some researchers, dreams serve no real purpose while others believe that dreams are important for physical, mental and emotional well-being.
Now let’s discuss some of the most prominent dream theories.
1. An Evolutionary Defense Mechanism or Threat Simulation
During a REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep when we dream our brain behaves normally but our body remains in complete immobility as chemicals like dopamine which control movement are completely shut down. Tsoukalas suggests that this is similar to what some animals do when they are confronted with a sudden danger.
When rabbits are confronted with apparent threats, they suddenly become rigid and unmoving (a temporary paralysis). In fact, they can often seem to be completely dead, which is usually their last line of defense when “fight or flight” is no longer an option.
So it is possible that our ancestors may have this “playing dead” mechanism which retained even after evolution but in a different form which we call “dream”.
There is a sister of the tonic immobility theory, i.e. “Threat Simulation Theory”. Threat simulation theory is proposed by a Finnish neuroscientist, Antti Revonusuo. According to him,
“The biological function of dreaming is to simulate threatening events, and to rehearse threat perception and threat avoidance”.
So a person having this type of dream will more likely survive if he faces similar threat in waking hours. But, unfortunately this theory does not explain my recurring dream of eating Momos!
2. Problem Solving and Idea Generating
You may or may not have experienced solving a problem in dream. But, many of our greatest scientists and mathematicians have definitely experienced it and even have made many groundbreaking discoveries in their dreams. One of the greatest mathematicians, Srinivasa Ramanujan, said that the Hindu goddess Namagiri would appear in his dreams, showing him mathematical proofs, which he would write down when he awoke.
And the charismatic professor, Dimitri Mendeleev, discovered the “Periodic Table of the Elements” in his dream. He said
“In a dream I saw a table where all the elements fell into places as required. Awakening, I immediately wrote it down on a piece of paper”.
Even other scientists like Rene Descartes, Otto Loewi, Alfred Russell Wallace etc. have made remarkable discoveries with the help of their dreams.
What will you say about these shocking facts? …now don’t say that ” Aliens” helped them through their dreams — as some TV series have suggested. 😀
There is another theory similar to this, called “Oneiric Darwinism”, according to which we generate new ideas and thoughts in dreams. According to the psychologist Mark Blechner, the reason we dream is to:
“Create new ideas, through partial random generation, which can then be retained if judged useful”
Besides ideas, emotions are also a part of this theory. Some researchers suggest that in dreams we face various situations and try to react to them through different emotions which help us to figure out the best way to react to a certain situation.
3. Psychoanalytic Theory
“disguised fulfillments of repressed wishes”.
After studying the dreams of his patients, he suggested that dreams are nothing but wish-fulfillments. Whatever may be the dream, it may be symbolically seen as a desire you want to fulfill.
Say for example, you had a bad and terrifying dream about your own death. Well, why will that be a wish-fulfillment? Maybe Freud would say, you are facing a lot of difficulties in day-to-day life or have conflicts with near and dear ones, that can easily be resolved when you will not be there.
Freud’s theory resulted in the popularity of ‘dream interpretation’. Freud helped many of his patients to deal with their hidden emotions buried in consciousness.
4. Activation-Synthesis Theory
Although the dreams are the results of these random firing in the brain, Hobson does not believe that they are meaningless. He suggests that dreaming is
“our most creative conscious state, one in which the chaotic, spontaneous recombination of cognitive elements produces novel configuration of information: new ideas”
5. Information-Processing Theory
This theory is supported by recent studies on trauma. It has been seen that people who sleep just after a traumatic experience, tend to remember and be haunted by the traumatic experience more likely. So it is suggested by the experts to keep the traumatized people awake for some hours after such experience.
Jie Zhang’s “Continual Activation Theory” suggests similar effect of dreams. According to Zhang, our brain keeps on storing various information and data that it comes across, whether we are asleep or awake. Only the difference is that, during conscious state brain stores all the information and data on a short-term temporary storage but when we sleep, it selects all the important information and transfers them to permanent (long-term) memory. So, the memories which are being stored permanently flash through our minds as dreams.
After discussing so many theories, we can confidently say that dreams are not useless. They are important for at least our mental well-being. Dreams are based on the events and data that we come across. We cannot have a dream of an alien planet with alien creatures until we have seen it in movies. It may be possible that our dreams are made out of the random electrical impulses of the brain. But, human brain is so much smart that it creates something meaningful out of that random data. Like when we see uncountable random stars in the night sky, our brain may visualize some pictures from that random placements of stars.
Well, randomness is the key of the formation of new things. Life emerged on earth due to random bonding of some elements. And we evolved as human beings. So, randomness may create something new, like what happened to many great scientists. August Kekulé discovered the structure of ‘benzene’ in his dream which was a breakthrough in the study of chemical bonding and opened up new field of Aromatic Chemistry.
So dreams can be useful if we try to find some new ideas through them. A Dream is another world of freedom and randomness, if you try then you can take control of it. Some researchers even say that our subconscious mind keeps on creating dreams day and night, but we have access to it only when we sleep.
Some Fascinating Facts About Dreaming
Image Source: Getty Images
I hope you liked the article. Stay tuned, more awesome episodes coming soon. 🙂