Sleep is perhaps one of the least studied human activities. Even though many books and studies have been written about it, scientists still disagree on why we need dreams. Let’s try to figure out what dreams consist of and what meaning they can carry for knowing ourselves.
Basic Theories of Dreams
What is the meaning of dreams? Modern science has at least a dozen theories regarding their meaning and origin. They are pretty different from each other in terms of interpretation, but everyone agrees that dreams are based on real events that we experience during the waking period. Here are just a few of those theories:
- Sigmund Freud considered dreams in a rather narrow aspect. He believed they were the expression of our hidden (repressed) desires. This theory was refuted precisely because of its narrowness. However, it does not negate the fact that it is partially true.
- William Domhoff (neurocognitive theory) believed that dreams are less experiential and more emotional. That is, in dreams, in his opinion, our reaction and emotions regarding some events prevail.
- Zhang Jie considered dreams as a transitional stage between working and long-term memory. Per her idea, data is processed, and the brain memorizes the acquired experience and skills during sleep.
- Antti Revonsuo believes that in dreams, our brain models dangerous and risky situations and thus works out various patterns of behavior that you (potentially) can apply in the future.
- Allan Hobson didn’t see any point in dreams. He believed they were a side effect of the brain’s electrical activity.
The majority of theories nevertheless confirm the idea that dreams, in one way or another, reflect our interaction with the outside world.
Dreams are not just a set of abstract images but a collection of everything you have already encountered. It is believed that you will not be able to see in a dream what you have not seen in real life. But why do we remember only selected dreams or even specific images and not the entire plot? On these questions, the analysis and interpretation of dreams are based. What ideas come to you in a dream, what details you focus on, and what emotions you experience can tell a lot about your inner world.
Psychologists and psychoanalysts are not as concerned with the technical side of the issue as other researchers. They consider dreams a window into humans’ inner world and a tool for analyzing their mental state. The purpose of interpretation is to endow incomprehensible, symbolic images with a more understandable meaning, to transfer them from the unconscious field to the conscious one. Psychoanalysts assess how patients tell their dreams, what words and metaphors they use, and how they place semantic and emotional accents. It makes them active participants in the process and encourages free associations caused by the dream.
You can practice this approach on your own without going to a therapist. Develop awareness and be ready to look at the familiar things that appear in your dreams from a new angle. Then dreams can become your helpers in the process of knowing yourself.