Many people who dream do not understand why they dream or what their dreams mean. I can still remember one particular dream I had as a young child that still puzzles me. I was in my backyard on my tire swing spinning and swinging around. As I was swinging the door on my dad's tool shed started to open up. I then saw things that could only be described as humanoid aliens. They then stepped out, captured me, and took me into the tool shed. The tool shed must have really been a space ship from what I could see inside of it. They were using a cordless telephone, but for what I do not know. Eventually I was rescued by Wonder Woman who flew in and rescued me in her invisible jet. The dream I have recounted may or may not have any significant meaning to me: however, dreams are a natural phenomenon that have fascinated human beings for centuries.
Even though dreams are not fully understood, researchers have documented a number of facts about sleep. For instance, studies have shown that sleep is classified into four stages according to depth as a sleeper goes from a light sleep to a deep sleep. As people fall asleep they first enter stage one sleep. Research has shown stage one sleep to be the lightest of the four levels of sleep. In this stage the E. E. G, a machine that measures types of brain waves, shows many alpha signals. Alpha signals really are fast low voltage brain signals. The sleeper can also be easily awakened while in this stage of sleep. The next level of sleep is stage two. In which the brain shows sporatic brain wave signals which consist of high-voltage activity known
as sleep spindles. Many people have been know to sleep walk while in this stage. The next level of sleep is stage three. In this stage the brain produces the highest voltage brain waves. This informs us of the appearance of delta waves. While in this stage the sleeper's respiratory and heart rate slows down, and the sleepers temperature drops a few degrees. While in this level of sleep it would take great effort to awaken the sleeper. The next and last level of sleep, before returning to stage one, is the fourth. This is perhaps the longest and deepest level of sleep. While in this level the E.E.G. is dominated by delta waves. After level four sleep is over the sleeper then cycles through the levels again with one difference, level one sleep will also contain raped eye movement (Parker and Parker 30, 31).
Dreams occur during REM sleep, a period characterized by rapid eye movements. This was discovered by a graduate student named Eugene Aserinsky. Aserinsky made the discovery in a project he was trying to find how peoples eyes moved during sleep. He did this by connecting the electrodes of a EEG next to the eyes of the test subject. During the night the machine would occasionally record brain activity. Thinking that the machine was broken , he decided to double check it himself. He then discovered that periods of REM would periodically occur through out the night. Since Aserinsky's discovery we have found a new source of physical data about our REM sleep. For instance, while people sleep, REM occurs about every
ninety minuets. REM sleep occurs about four or five times a night. Researchers have found that then people are deprived of REM sleep, they will experience a rebound effect in which they will try to catch up on their loss of REM sleep by staying in REM sleep longer during subsequent occasions (Dolnick 45).
Furthermore, most dreams contain common elements: settings, characters, actions, and emotions. Nearly all dreams have a setting. The setting may be realistic and familiar to the dreamer, or it can be vague and unfamiliar. The setting can also be used to help the dreamer to understand the meaning of the dream, The setting is used as much as all other aspects of the dream when it is interpreted. The characters are another dream element. The most common character in a dream is the dreamer himself. He may be the main character or just a minor character. Other characters that commonly appear in dreams are members of the dreamers family. Young dreamers will usually dream of their mother and father, while older dreamers will usually dream of their spouse and children. Friends and acquaintances also appear in their dreams. They are most likely the same age as the dreamer. Another common element of dreams are dream actions. More people dream about movement than any other dream action. This is thought to be because dreaming permits us a greater freedom of movement. Passive actions are another form of dream actions. They usually consist of activities such as sitting, talking, watching, standing, looking, and seeing. The
dreamer rarely does any strenuous activity in his dreams (Hall 21-53).
Even though dreams are not fully understood, people throughout history have sought to find meaning in their dreams. Societies of the past often attributed their dreams to spiritual sources. Dreams in these cultures have always been regarded as important. The ancient Egyptians believed that these dreams were messages from their gods and in the pursuit to understand their dreams produced one of the earliest known dream books. This book gave over two-hundred interpretations of dreams and the meanings of certain dream symbols commonly found in dreams. The Egyptian dream interpreters used the theory of opposites in their interpretations (Parker and Parker 11). For example, "to dream of death was a omen of long life" (Parker and Parker 11). The Greeks interpretations of dreams was almost opposite that the other cultures during this period, (Parker and Parker). For instance:
The Greeks thought that a dream of a snake signified
sickness and enmity, the Assyrians believed that dreaming
of seizing a snake meant that [one] would receive the
special protection of an Angel. The Jews thought that a
dream of being bitten by a snake meant that the dreamers
income would be doubled, while to an Egyptian a snake,
appearing in a dream, signified the settling of a dispute.
(Parker and Parker 13)
The Greeks also believed that their dreams were divine messages from the gods. The Greeks had many sacred places in Greece that were used for the sole purpose of having dreams by means of drugs and herbs. They would then regard the dreams that they had at these places as important prophecies, with special references to any problems that they were having at the time of the dream. Plato, a Greek philosopher of the fifth century BC, gave us the modern belief that dreams revealed a man's true nature. Another Greek philosopher, Aristotle, saw
dreams as the products of purely physical functions: when
one slept, the food in the body evaporated, and liquids
passed to the head where dreams were mirrored on the
surface of the fluids like images on water. (Parker and Parker 14)
Aristotle also believed that dreams could show diseases that could usually not be detected. Although a few of the early dream interpreters believed these dreams to be the result of physical stimuli, the majority believed the dreams to be messages from a higher source (Parker and Parker 20).
Modern beliefs about the meaning of dreams have changed little. Leaving people still seeking answers to their dreams. One of the most influential dream interpreters of this century was Sigmond Freud, whose beliefs about dreams dominated dream analyses for nearly a century. But in recent years outer theories, like that of Allen Hobson, have also been recognized. Freud believed that dreams had two parts. One part of the dream he called the manifest content. It consisted of meaningless images that often left the dreamer confused. The outer part he called the latent content which was full of clear and meaningful images which could be easily interpreted through psychoanalysis. Freud's belief about the content of dreams was similar to that of Plato (Parker and Parker). Freud believed that dreams "combined two functions: they enabled forbidden wishes to be expressed concealed form and, by concealing the true nature of these wishes, allowed the sleeper or the dreamer to continue undisturbed" (Parker and Parker). Freud's work has been a valuable source, but his interpretation of symbols are now criticized. as Parker and Parker explained, "Freud's interpretations of dreams are based on sexual repressions" (23). However, the views of Allen Hobson, a Harvard psychiatrist and neuroscientist, are completely opposite than those of Freud. Hobson believed that while sleeping the brain produces a barrage of electrochemical signals which can cause us to dream. "the brain then races madly to keep up with the flood of imagery that the signals produce. The brain then tries to do its' best to assemble the images into a coherent story" (Dolnick 42,43). Hobson believes that while the images we see in our dreams have no meaning, it is what the dreamer adds to the fumble of unrelated information. Hobson claims that this is how the dreamer reveals himself. Dolnick tells us that "on the most general level Hobson and Freud are in accord" (44).
Three types dreams are particularly fascinating. The prophetic dream is one which intrigues many. A prophetic dream is a dream in which the dreamer is made aware of a future event whether it is good or not. Most of these dreams rarely come true, and the ones that do are usually just partially true (Faraday 311).
Another interesting type of dream is the lucid dream. The lucid dream is a dream in which the dreamer knows that he is dreaming and can influence the outcome of the dream. This type of dream is perhaps one of the easiest types of dreams to recount after awakening. This type of dream could even be thought of as a way to cure reoccurring nightmares (Hoffman 141).
Most people dread the frightening dreams known as night terrors and nightmares. Hoffman defines nightmares as "anxiety-arousing dreams that never occur near the end of the sleep cycle during rem sleep, [and night terrors as] abrupt awakenings from non-rem sleep accompanied by intense physiological arousal and feeling of panic"(142). These dreams seem to trouble people more than any outer type of dream. While scientist know the difference between nightmares and night terrors they are still baffled by the cause of these bad dreams. The theories range from eating the wrong foods to the invasion of our bodies by the supernatural. Sleep disorder expert Dr. Barry Krackow says, "Night mares are one of the most vivid and dramatic experiences of the human mind. They invoke incredible images... yet no horror film, no science-fiction fantasy, not even a outer can upstage the brutal image thrust upon us in our dreams" (qtd. in Susman B1). Krakow says that these dreams, no matter how frighting, can be cured with a three step process. Krakow's method is to "write down your dream, change the nightmare in any way you wish, and rehearse the dream before you fall asleep."(Susman B1). This method has been proven to work in researched test.
Even though we have still have not found the true meaning of dreams. In our search we have found out many things about our body and how it functions while we sleep. The dream that I had did not have any significant meaning to me. It is my belief that my brain was just processing information as Hobson said. However, we all have strange and bizarre dreams that we can not explain. We may one day be able to fully understand the meaning of these dreams. But until that day We shall have to look at our dreams as a natural phenomenon.
Dolnick, Edward. "What Dreams are (Really) Made Of." The Atlantic Monthly July 1990: 41-61.
Faraday, Ann. The Dream Game. New York: Harper and Raw, 1974.
Hall, Calvan. The Meaning of Dreams. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1966.
Hoffman, Karen, et al. Psychology in Action. New York: Wiley and Sons, 1991.
Parker, Derek, and Julia Parker. Dreaming: Remembering, Interpreting, and Beneffitting. New York: Prentice-Hall, 1985.
Susman, Carolyn. "Nightmares: The Good News About Bad Dreams." Knoxville News Sentinel 21 Dec. 1992: B1.
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