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Dreams

What are dreams and what are some theories as to what their psychological and worldly significance?

For thousands of years, humans have been captivated by dreams and their meanings. One early example of the human fascination with dreams can be traced back to as many as 3000 years ago, when the Egyptians were known to compile books of dreams and their interpretations. Further exemplifying the human interest in dreams is Sigmund Freud, who wrote his first non collaborative book, titled The Interpretation of Dreams, entirely on his extensive research of dreams. The book, published in 1900 introduced the world to the Freudian dream theory, a theory still widely believed in by many amateur and professional oneirologists (those who study dreams). Today, an entire organization for the study of dreams exists. According to a Psychology Today article by Patrick McNamara, the International Association for the Study of Dreams currently has around 700 members who meet annually at a yearly conference to discuss dream theory and interpretation. For reasons such as these ,it is no surprise that the long standing puzzles surrounding dreams have over the years seduced many a logical minds to dabble in what is considered by many to be a realm of illogic in hopes of unraveling the mysteries behind these night visions, producing to almost innumerable theories relating to the function of dreams in the body, such as the Freudian theory as outlined in The Interpretation of Dreams and Hobson McCarley theory, or that a number of incredibly unscientific arguments have arisen, such as those discussed in “How Sleep Works” and “How Dreams Work”.

Since the popularization of dream research in the Victorian era by scientists such as Sigmund Freud, a number of theories have arisen as to how and why humans and animals dream. One of the earlier and most influential of these theories is the Freudian dream theory, which describes dreams as being the brain's vital way to express one´s desires which would not be considered morally or socially acceptable to the waking society. Sigmund Freud himself wrote of the phenomena in the previously referenced text, stating, “The virtuous man contents himself with dreaming that which the wicked man does in actual life.” Freud also believed that dreams held a strong link to sexual desire. Following the Victorian era, dreams research didn’t really begin to rev up again until 1953 when the discovery of REM sleep and its uncanny link to dreams was discovered by two University of Chicago researchers. However, the statement that dreams occur exclusively during REM sleep would later be challenged and disproven by a number studies, such the one conducted by Tomoka Takeuchi (see article, “Abstract” in sources). Twenty-four years later, in 1977, Harvard neuroscientists Allan Hobson and Robert McCarley shook up the world of dream research when they theorized that dreams are simply a result of the forebrain (the part of the brain which generates most complex thoughts) trying to quickly make sense of excess brain waves which occur during sleep, similar to the inkblot test. This theory was initially met with much scrutiny from a society still largely consisting of believers in the Freudian dream theory. Another theory worth mentioning is the Solms theory. Daniel Williams describes Solms’s theory in the Time magazine article, “While You Were Sleeping”, as a similar concept to putting on a television show for children, as simply a diversion to distract the mind for long enough to maintain restful sleep.

Theories of the physical necessity of dreams aside, it has long been believed by both the well educated and the greater population that dreams hold deeper meaning than being simply a bodily function. For years, many have presumed that dreams represent subliminal psychological meanings. Though a bit farfetched, considering most mammals, including those as simple as rats, can dream, this claim can be supported by both Hobson McCarley and Freudian dream theory: Freudian for obvious reasons and Hobson McCarley because the forebrain’s interpretations of brain waves could themselves be interpreted as an indication of one’s deeper emotions and thoughts. For example, common nightmares, such as being naked in public, are predominantly interpreted as a representation of one’s insecurities. Recurring nightmares could represent anxieties which are either in your control or being pushed aside as opposed to confronted. Another less widely considered theory is one which puts dreams as a method of subconscious problem solving, per the Freudian dream theory.

While the concept that a dream could be representative of one’s psychology is at least conceivable from a scientific standpoint, a number of theories which are similar and widely accepted by the general public veer more toward the wild side, most notably the concept that dreams could be prophetic. Bizarre and without any rationale to back this theory up, it is not unheard of for a dream to seemingly “predict the future”. Lee Ann Obringer reports in the article “How Dreams Work”, of a member of a group of investors who all buy stocks based on their dreams: “Dr. Arthur Bernard, a psychologist who teaches dream work and a member of the group, had a very successful experience. He had a recurring dream about an obscure biotech stock called ICOS... He bought about 40,000 shares of ICOS at $4 per share. He sold his shares in 1998 at $28 each, amounting to an approximate $1.6 million profit.” Only one of many fantastical stories, instances like these have proved to be rather distracting from actually researched findings relating to dreams, compelling many to conclude that dream research belongs in the same category as UFOs and the Bermuda Triangle.

After reviewing a great number of sources, from basic popular science articles to academic studies, I can only conclude that though numerous theories of the function of dreaming exist (Freudian, Solms, Hobson McCarley to name a few), too many to fit into a single essay, and a good number of people believe that dreams are more than being just another function to keep the body performing properly, these theories are in no way concrete and require far more research before any definitive conclusion can be made. As described in the second paragraph, dream theories vary widely, and little research has been conducted to prove or disprove any single theory. Another obstacle encountered throughout my research is the problem that sleep itself is still an extensively debated topic, and little is known about even the basic topic of why it is necessary to life. Also, numerous times throughout my research, I was met with a lack of accurate and consistent information. Different sources contradicted one another on even the smallest details such as the year the Hobson McCarley study (one source I would consider credible said 1977, while another claimed 1974). For reasons such as these, I would consider it irresponsible, if even possible for me to even attempt coming to a single conclusion as to “what a dream is” and “what it means”.


Works Cited

Brain, Marshall. "How Sleep Works." HowStuffWorks. Discovery Channel, n.d. Web. 25 Feb. 2013. <http://science.howstuffworks.com/life/inside-the-mind/human-brain/sleep.htm>.

Obringer, Lee Ann. "How Dreams Work." HowStuffWorks. Discovery Channel, n.d. Web. 25 Feb. 2013. <http://science.howstuffworks.com/life/inside-the-mind/human-brain/dream.htm>.

Freud, Sigmund, and Sigmund Freud. The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud / the Interpretation of Dreams : P. 1. London: Hogarth, 1900. Print.


McNamara, Patrick. "The International Association for the Study of Dreams." PsychologyToday.com. Psychology Today, 4 Feb. 2012. Web. 25 Feb. 2013. <http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/dream-catcher/201202/the-international-association-the-study-dreams>.


Takeuchi, Tomoka, Ph.D. Miyasita, Akio. Inugami, Maki. Yamamoto, Yukari "Abstract." Journal of Sleep Research. Wiley Online Library, 7 July 2008. Web. 25 Feb. 2013. <http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1046/j.1365-2869.2001.00237.x/full>.


Williams, Daniel. "While You Were Sleeping." Time. Time, 5 Apr. 2007. Web. 25 Feb. 2013. <http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1606872,00.html>.



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