New and Unanswered Questions??
For many people dreams have different meanings. And for many researchers dreams mean different things. Over decades, interest into the world of dreaming, by scientist as well as everyday people, has allowed for numerous studies and theories on dreams to increase. Within our class lectures we discussed the process of dreaming and the different states of the mind at parts of the sleep cycle. Taking a closer look at the state of our brains during the part of sleep where dreams are said to occur has yielded new research that suggests dreams may not serve a purpose. Purpose is defined as, an adaptive role in the maintenance of our psychological health. (1) This is appealing because Freud, known for his work in dream analysis was often concerned with defining the content of a dream, which may actually have no importance.
If dreams do not serve a purpose does this suggest dreams have no meaning? Do they even occur at all? How do dreams affect the outcomes in one's life? Another interesting question that has been unresolved is, whether those who do recall their dreams are better at handling life problems than those who do not recall their dreams? These questions have been researched and studied but no cohesive understanding seems to have been settled upon.
Firstly, what does it mean "to dream"? Dreams can be defined in many ways. According to our class discussion when dreaming the "I-function" is turned off. This definition explains dreaming as a form of thinking that occurs when there is a minimal level of brain activity, outside stimuli are blocked from entering one's thoughts and the "I-function" or system referred to as the self is shut down. (2) This becomes interesting because often times we have been told that dreams occur when asleep or in the REM (rapid eye movement) part of the sleep cycle but we do not just dream during sleep we also dream in waking states when we are really relaxed. This is often termed "daydreaming."
When REM sleep was first researched it was thought that dreams only occurred within this stage. Theories have since developed that support dreams occurring in similar waking states. NREM (non rapid eye movement) sleep is an example where researchers have detected presence of dreaming, especially later in the sleep cycle when one is almost awake. Dream theorists claim that dreams have a problem solving function. (2) Contrary to this belief some scientists state that dreams do not have a function and that they happen with no reason. Others suggest that dreams are our brains "twitching." Because they store "databases" of information, all types of information that we have seen, heard, or may have been on our minds get thrown into dreams. What does this mean for reoccurring dreams? Why have dreams more than once if they mean nothing? If dreams are random collections of memories and prior visuals how can one explain the story line that occurs in certain dreams?
The continuity hypothesis explains the influences of our outside world and everyday life and how dreams are a reflection of those. This pattern of "stories" within dreams seems to be unique to humans. (3) This gives the impression that dreams can in fact be a way to help solve problems in one's life. Imagine stressing over an exam or a fear that you may have. Often, dreams take that stress or whatever it is that may have been on one's mind that day and turns it into stories that play through one's dream. Unfortunately, this seems to only be a human attribute. It is has been reported that mammals experience REM sleep but since this does not automatically equate to dreaming it is very unlikely that mammals experience dreams. Since this is the case can this not suggest that dreams do have a purpose? Researchers say that dreams correlate with gender, culture, age and personal occupation. Thus, everyone's dream is unique to their own life and personality. This makes me think they do.
Whether dreams have a biological purpose that serve as an adaptive role for our psychological well being or not society has definitely found a way to give dreams a purpose. This is more of a cultural purpose though. Different uses for dreams in other societies are by shamans to diagnose illness, for some to find game, predict the weather, or prophesy about the future and within our own as an excuse to sometimes share intimate thoughts or preoccupations. (1) Dreams play a role in our lives and do have an effect on one's psychological state. When one has dreams out of the ordinary it effects that person's interpretation of similar situations. Dreams also reflect thoughts that have been on one's mind. I often find myself daydreaming about things I have been stressed out about or desiring. My dreams also do seem to provide some type of advice or solution on how a situation could be handled.
2. Domhoff, William. The Purpose of Dreams. 5 May 2009. www.dreamresearch.net/Library/purpose.html