Why do we dream?

JJLopez's picture

What are dreams, and why do we dream?  My research led me to conclude very bluntly that no one really knows why we dream nor why we need sleep either.  However, what can be very intriguing to think about is that everyone dreams and our bodies naturally bring the mind to dream whether or not we remember the dreams at all afterwards.  One can only wish to investigate more and even just possibly look at the different theories other people have about the question of dreams.

First I would like to define what a dream is.  Very basically we can say that dreams are vivid episodes that occur in your mind while you are in a deep sleep or scientifically known as the REM stage of sleep.  In these episodes an individual will experience many different thoughts, feelings, emotions.  They will see people they know, people they don’t know, they will simulate actions or things they do on a daily basis, things they never do, things they wish they did, they will revisit past events, or have wild and crazy adventures that they have never experienced before.  Dream episodes can induce happiness, sadness, fear, and surprise all at once or gradually as the dream goes by.  Many times dreams can leave a person confused because some dreams appear to make no sense at all.  Some dreams are vague and some are vivid.  Some dreams you remember for long periods of time and some you don’t even remember right after you've dreamt them.  We can all contribute to the long going list of events that occur in one’s dreams because they are all unique to each one of us. 

Henry David Thoreau says, "dreams are the touchstones of our characters” (Psychology. about).  Perhaps I can agree with Thoreau in saying that dreams are a necessary part of our lives.  I think that many of us have even benefit from having dreams that present themselves to be special or significant to us.  For example, my mother once had a dream with her father months after he had passed away.  In her dream, he told her that she was going to be all right because he was doing all right.  Perhaps this might be a type of spiritual dream where her religious values and ideas about death play a big part as to why she dreamt what she dreamt.  Perhaps dreams can be an unconscious way for our bodies to help us deal with all the information that our brains and bodies experience and help deal with them on a day-to-day basis.  Some famous people have claimed to have things appear in their dreams that later on help them become rich and famous.  For example, the author of the Harry Potter books has been rumored to claim that she saw all those things in her dreams.  Regardless of what really occurs in dreams, we all experience them, and the question I pose is why?

According to Psychology Today online, there are five possible theories as to why we dream (psychologytoday.com).  All of the following information is gathered from the list of theories found on Psychology Today.  Theory one: “the evolutionary theory: we dream to practice responses to threatening situations”.   This theory plays on the fact that many common dreams involve people running away from danger such as running from chasing animals or cops.  Theory one would say that these dreams are a result of the brain part that helps run and punch firing up while we sleep in order to practice self-defense for the real waking life events.   Theory two: “dreams create wisdom”.  Theory two says that dreams are a filter-like form of our brains sorting out the necessary information we need to remember from the ones that we do not need to remember.  The information that is stored in the mind are the ones that make us “wise” because they will help us somehow in the future.   Theory three: “dreaming is like defragmenting your hard drive”.  Theory three is similar to theory two however taking a more technical spin.  Theory three claims that the mind is like the hard drive of a computer and dreams are a way for the mind to erase information and connections it no longer needs and creates space for new connections to be formed and for new information to be stored.  Theory four: “dreams are like psychotherapy”.   Theory four says that dreams are a way for the mind to process the emotions that occur in a person’s life and provide a safe place for the mind to put “difficult emotions into picture”.   Theory five: “the absence of theory”.   Lastly, theory five concludes that perhaps there is no meaning or reason at all for why we dream and that dreams are just random pictures in the brain. 

Another website I found gave two additional theories that Psychology Today did not provide.   The website titled World of Lucid Dreaming, includes one theory that states that dreams occur because of random impulses and another theory that claims that dreams help us solve problems.  “The first theory states that dreaming is due to random impulses coming from the brain stem” (world-of-lucid-dreaming.com).  This theory states that dreams have no meaning at all because they are “simply a brain’s way of understanding noisy electrical signals” and concludes: “dreaming is a freaky physiological occurrence-rather than a psychological function”(world-of-lucid-dreaming.com).   The second theory claims that dreams are meant to help us figure things out thoroughly in our brains when we can’t during the day.  “Our dreams help us to register very subtle hints that go unnoticed during the day” (world-of-lucid-dreaming.com).  Perhaps this theory can be tied to the earlier theory mentioned where the brain tries to sort things out in our mind in order to clear things up when we don’t understand consciously. 

I would argue that perhaps every single theory is right in its own ways.  The mind is so complex and it will be very difficult to try to figure out why the brain does certain things that it does.  We can just try to understand things with an open mind.  Sigmund Freud theorized, “dreams are the royal road to unconsciousness” (world-of-lucid-dreaming.com).   As we can see from the many different theories that I have presented, no scientist has been able to truly define the reason or significance dreaming has on the human body.  However, with personal experience, I can say that dreams have affected me both positively and negatively and therefore, also impacting my behavior consciously and subconsciously.  It is hard to say whether a single reason for dreaming will be concluded, but because this topic is so mysterious to the human mind, we will still continue to explore this topic and possibly continue to come up with new theories.


References

Cherry, Kendra.  “Why do we dream?-Top Dream Theories”.  About.com.http://psychology.about.com/od/statesofconsciousness/p/dream- theories.htm.

16 February 2010. 

Simons, Llana.  “Why do we dream?” . Psychology Today. 

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-literary-mind/200911/why-do-we-dream. 16 February 2010.

“Why do we dream? Modern Theories of Dreaming”.  World of Lucid Dreaming.  http://www.world-of-lucid-dreaming.com/why-do-we-dream.html. 20 February 2010.

 

 

Comments

Paul Grobstein's picture

why dream?

Interesting list of theories.  Can you come up with observations-yet-to-be-made that might distinguish among them?

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