A Few Thoughts on Dreams and Their Purpose


Dreaming permits each and every one of us to be quietly and safely insane every night of our lives. ”

~William Dement

Logan recently sent me a journal article on the ability of a slight brain stimulation to induce a certain kind of dream. Although the research was fantastic, it led me to realize how strange the idea of “dreaming” really is. Each night, we grow extremely exhausted, put on our softest and most comfortable clothing, and lay in a giant cushion. After a few minutes of trying our best to clear out our minds and get some rest, we doze off into the unconscious mind state. Our bodies in a lovely standby mode, we easily slip out of our reality and into one of a most outlandish plot, which alters scenery and evokes emotion to the corners of infinity. We fall headfirst into an uncontrolled dream.

 

Dreaming

Can we really know what dreams are for, or if they have any meaning?

Oneirology is the scientific study of dreaming. It is not popular field due to issues with gathering and interpreting data.   We simply cannot measure, taste, smell, or replay dreams. The vast majority of people will forget the content of their dreams within 10 minutes of having them. This poses many problems studying these weird events in our lives, essentially leading to us not knowing exactly why we continuously have them or if they even have a purpose.

Luckily, many intelligent minds have developed great theories for their function. I am going to fill you in on some of the most popular and accepted theories on dreaming, and maybe give you some brain food that will get you curious and really thinking about those endless movies you produce in your head while you sleep.

The Theory of Clean-up

While we dream, our brains have a very unique electrical activity that happens in the deepest phase of sleep, Rapid Eye Movement Phase (REM). This is also the phase in which our brains produce only the most vivid dreams, AKA the cool stuff happens. So what’s going on behind the scenes? Well, there are certain portions of your brain that remain active while you are awake, the conscious portions. Conversely, there are portion that activate while in deep sleep, which we will call the unconscious portions. Supposedly, the unconscious portions like to sort through and replay all of the events and memories that took place throughout the day. We can think of it like our own personal secretary. It rids the brain of useless information, and stores the important stuff in our long term memory.

How does this produce dreams?

It doesn’t. Impulses from all of the secretary-like activity confuse the cortex of our brain. It freaks out and tries to build a slightly cohesive story of all of the electrical activity. Hence, the ridiculous dream with a familiar setting that you may have seen the day before. This theory states that dreams are only a product of memory storage, and have no purpose at all. Sad day.

 

The Theory of Survival

Another common belief is that our dreams are the mind’s way of helping us survive and prepare for real world encounters. This is why most dreams are often filled with anxiety, fear, and anything to get our hearts rushing. It’s like a video game simulation. Why do we get attacked by a wolf in our dreams? Well, our brain knows we like nature and may go hiking soon. Wolves live in nature. It gives us a few scenarios to “test out the water,” so to speak. If we have already been attacked in our dreams, this will keep us from freezing up and panicking if it ever happens to us in reality. You are more prepared for surviving harmful situations than you may think. So next time you have a nightmare, think of it as training for a future encounter.

A Fancy Way of Dreaming

During REM, our brains work in a very similar way to being awake, unlike other phases. The essential difference is a blockage of a few chemicals the body needs to move and do other discreet things, namely serotonin, norepinephrine, and histamine. However, our brains still act out what they are seeing in dream land by twitching the eyes back and forth, or looking around. If you come directly out of REM, these chemicals will still be blocked, resulting in being awake and not being able to move a muscle. It is known as sleep-paralysis and is definitely as scary as it sounds. On the opposite end, we may attempt to fall into a deep sleep directly from being awake. We fight to stay awake while the dream tries to yank us in. This can result in being inside a dream, but being completely aware that it is only a dream. THIS IS WHERE THE NEAT STUFF BEGINS!

 

lucid-dreaming1

You are then free to act on and alter your dream as you wish. Want to fly? Think it, take a jump, and flap your arms. BOOM. Would you like to swim to the bottom of the ocean without taking a breath? Dive in. This is called lucid dreaming and is a much sought after phenomenon. By me, of course. It is very difficult to have a lucid dream, but well worth it if you can achieve this pinnacle of sleep-time.  It is our own virtual reality session that we can alter at any moment. FANTASTIC. Luckily, scientists have figured out a way to help us all have them.

http://www.realclearscience.com/journal_club/2014/05/11/researchers_induce_lucid_dreaming_with_electrical_current_108643.html

Get your electrical current stimulator and go exploring dreamland. Maybe you can figure out its actual purpose. If so, fill me in!

 

-Zade

 

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