Dreaming is one of the wonderful phenomenon that we experience in our sleep. Dreams have fascinated many artists, philosophers, scientists and even kings. We experience world around us through our sensory organs and the experiencing faculty is our mind. Our mind experiences emotions while we are in wake up state and construct dreams while we are sleeping. In olden days, dreams are often considered as prophesy, divine call, interaction of evil spirits etc. and it is no surprise that even great kings believed that there is a message hidden in their dreams to interpret and act accordingly. A dream is a complex cognitive phenomenon and how humans adopted this interesting feature in the course of evolution is still remained as a mystery.
The Characteristics of Dreams
In very sleep we dream, but soon after waking up from sleep, we do not care or think about what we dreamt. We routinely go into daily life and intuitively we are under impression that dreams are irrelevant and silly. For most of the people, it is hard to recollect what they have dreamt last night. Many dreams are not registered in our memory deeply unless the dream is accompanied by intense emotions. The places, persons and materials that we encounter in our dreams are generally adopted from our life experiences, even still, the whole sequence of dream will be irrational and absurd. After waking up, many times we surprise about the absurdity of our dream and we wonder why some persons suddenly appeared in the dream, why we are in such a situation and how we could experience intense emotions in our dream. Human memory recollection depends mainly on logic, sequence of the data that is memorised. Logical sequence of numbers, phrases and sentences with definite meaning, data organised in small groups etc. are easily remembered and can be recollected by applying the logic and meaning hidden in them. The randomness, absurdity and illogical sequences in our dream naturally makes it hard to remember and to recollect.
Apart from these features, dreams are often accompanied by intense emotions like anger, fear, pain, surprise etc. We see people often reporting bad dreams with unbearable emotions. Sometimes, our dream is so much emotional and powerful that even our sleep is disturbed and makes us to wake up suddenly in the middle of dream. Further, unlike in our daily life, our mind accepts the content of the dream very liberally without questioning how it can be. While dreaming, our mind loses reasoning but accepts all the emotions and makes us as to involve in the dream as a person with entirely different behaviour.
The Purpose of Dreams
Dreaming is a common experience, but is there any purpose of dreaming? The purpose of dreaming is debated from long time and many theories surfaced to explain the purpose of dreams. But there is no consensus among these theories and no firm conclusion is reached. However, Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalysis of dreams is widely popular and many are psychologists also influenced later by his interpretation of dreams. According to Freud, the purpose of a dream is wish fulfilment. Our long desires from childhood, unsatisfied emotions are supressed and hidden in our unconscious realm. These trapped emotions are generally not liberated when we are awake due to the domination of super-ego (comprising of social stigma, morals, hard customs, mass behaviour etc.) over our thoughts and emotions. While sleeping, we are temporarily detached from the influence of outside world and the domination of super-ego cuts down. This makes our unconscious thoughts to rush into conscious realm and with these emotions and material gathered from our life experience, our mind constructs dream with a wish fulfilment to satisfy our ego. Thus dreams considered to be a conscious experience of fulfilment of particular wish or impulse rooted from early childhood which has been repressed in our unconscious realm.
We observe students many times reporting that they had dreamt about passing their exams and getting good appreciation from friends and parents. Men and women often experience their successes in business and career in their dreams and in all these contents wish fulfilment is the central concept around which dream is constructed to satisfy the ego of the dreamer. On the contrary, many dreams are also accompanied by pain, anxiety and even sometimes experiencing the death of close relatives etc. which is obviously not our wish to be fulfilled. In these dreams, the factor of wish fulfilment is in disguised form and can be identified only by analysing the dream content critically. Dream is often constructed in a very rude manner to bluntly satisfy our ego, disguising our wish fulfilment in a silly way, and we often miss that portion while recollecting the details of the dream for interpretation. This makes us to jump into conclusion many times that our dream has no special purpose or wish fulfilment and all together appears as absurd.
At this point, I want to narrate my own recent dream experience and analyse to show you how the wish fulfilment is disguised in the content of the dream.
Dream: I was riding my bike along a nice road that has hills on one side and massive river flow on the other side. Suddenly, I saw huge number of dead bodies floating and moving along with stream faster than me. I was terrified and before coming out of that shock, those dead bodies vanished. I want to report the same and picked up my mobile but signals are not reaching. So, I thought to intimate the same personally and hence I was travelling in the train happily.
This is small portion, I could recover immediately after I woke up in the morning. At first, I was confused riding, dead bodies, travelling in train etc. But, my dream is constructed this way to satisfy my series of wishes taking material for construction of my dream from my mind, even though, I never wished floating of huge number of dead bodies in my life.
I was riding my bike along a nice road that has hills on one side and massive river flow on the other side.
Analysis: One of my wish is to visit a calm, cool and Nature place for a while and be free from office in hot summer. So my dream is constructed as though I am enjoying a joyful ride in a holiday to fulfil my wish. The water and cool air, I felt in the dream represents my wish to avoid hot summer.
Suddenly, I saw huge number of dead bodies floating and moving along with stream faster than me. I was terrified and before coming out of that shock, those dead bodies vanished. I want to report the same and picked up my mobile but signals are not reaching.
Analysis: The floating of many dead bodies in my dream is analogous to recent ghastly accident happened to Hyderabad students in Bees river on their picnic. The dream has taken that material and used the spot for vacation trip. The disappearing of dead bodies indicates what happened in the actual tragic accident. The dead bodies are not recovered for many days, my anxiety I felt on hearing that news was released in my dream by converting it as a picnic spot.
I want to report the same and picked up my mobile but signals are not reaching.
Analysis: The signals are not reached in the dream, which is again to fulfil my wish to be far away from my regular office and phone calls.
Huge number of dead bodies, I was travelling in the train happily!
Analysis: The huge number of dead bodies is very interesting in my dream. I never wished in my life to see huge number of dead bodies floating and further in my dream, I experienced the number is large than in the real mishap of students picnic. The huge number of dead bodies and later going happily over train indicates that all the unknown people who are dead actually waiting list people before me for confirm of my reservation seat in train! The simple wish, I could not accomplish while booking railway ticket on the previous day because of huge waiting list was fulfilled by constructing the dream in such a rude manner.
Just like my dream, which appeared absurd but with a factor of wish fulfilment, every dream is constructed with the material imprinted in our mind to fulfil our wishes which are not accomplished in our daily life. Not only recent incidents, but also long back cherished moments and childhood tragedies that are buried in unconsciousness are all become material for construction of dreams to relieve certain amount of anxiety.
Carl Jung, a student of Sigmund Freud and a famous psychologist stated that: “The dream is often occupied with apparently very silly details, thus producing an impression of absurdity, or else it is on the surface so unintelligible as to leave us thoroughly bewildered. Hence we always have to overcome a certain resistance before we can seriously set about disentangling the intricate web through patient work. But when at last we penetrate to its real meaning, we find ourselves deep in the dreamer’s secrets and discover with astonishment that an apparently quite senseless dream is in the highest degree significant, and that in reality it speaks only of important and serious matters. This discovery compels rather more respect for the so-called superstition that dreams have a meaning, to which the rationalistic temper of our age has hitherto given short shrift”.
The Material Content in Dreams
As we have seen from the analysis of the above dream content, the materials appeared in the dream like places, structures, things etc. are taken from recent memory system and the dream is constructed. This is generally happens in every dream but the material related to childhood days repression is also sometimes used while construction of dream. The dream material is often related to wake up life, but sometimes, it may be distorted in size and shape to facilitate the accomplishment of wish fulfilment goal in the dream. Further, one of the striking feature in the material content of the dream is sexuality. The sexual content in the dream includes sexual organs or materials representing the shapes and sizes of sexual organs, intense sexual desire, embarrassing nude content etc. are all common in the dreams of both men and women. Sigmund Freud argued that, sexual content is most common in dreams because everyone is a victim of repressed sexual desires in the existing society that strongly demands morality. Although Freud’s view of sexual content in the dream is widely criticised, it is still alive and many psychologists accepts the central idea around it. Apart from this, children usually dream with material content that are acquainted in their waken life like delicious foods, toys, gaming and even certain live animals including pets etc. Certain people reported that their dreams contain certain colours that are repeated and dominating in the entire dream. Some psychologists argue that each colour is symbolism of certain emotion in the dream and thus identified some correspondence between the colour and emotion in the dreams through their dream analysis studies. Although I don’t want to mention those details here, I believe that such theories are yet to be established beyond doubt, because, many dreamers felt difficulty to recollect the actual colour he saw in the dream after waking up.
The Construction of Dreams
The actual process of construction of dream when we are in sleep is not known yet. Around 100 years ago, when the psychoanalysis of dreams was developed by Freud and Jung, the neurological science was not developed and the complex functioning of brain was beyond understanding. Now a days, neurological science has been progressing fast and several techniques like brain mapping and MRI scans have identified the relation between our emotions, change neurotransmitters dosages in brain and parts of brain that are activated. According to modern studies, dream constructed by impulse signals caused due to secretion of neurotransmitters. These nerve signals trigger hypothalamus and limbic systems in brain, thus creating and making us to experience dreams. Lot of study and advancements are needed in neuroscience and cognitive science to clearly understand the complex process of construction of dream while we are sleeping.
We all know that dream and sleep goes together. There is a stage in sleep called REM, rapid eye movement, characterised by rapid and random movement of eyes. REM sleep typically occurs 20 – 25 % of total sleep in random intervals among adults and about 80 % in new born babies. There many connected theories with REM, and dreaming is one of them. It is proposed that dream is constructed during REM phase of sleep. As REM phase occurs several times in a night sleep, so also we dream several times in the sleep. The variation of neuro signals in REM phase are identified to some extent and many believe that REM phase is associated not only with dreaming but also with learning and memory etc. REM phase of sleep is observed in animals also and this raised several possibilities regarding the occurrence of dreams in animals. However, the dream construction is like a condensed process of thoughts. It is a common experience that our dream ran for several hours in sleep but immediately after waking up, what we collect is very less.
Further, if we write on paper what we dreamed, we hardly get one page but if we write analysis and thoughts hidden on the dream we get 4 to 5 pages for the same dream. It gives us a feeling that our dream is in a condensed form of our many thoughts and emotions. One symbol represents many thoughts and emotions, this is called dream condensation. Besides this, while analysing dream we often observe that the dream is attached to an entirely different emotion which is separated from its real object or content which is called dream displacement. The dream condensation, dream displacement, dream distortion etc. are all peculiar manifestations of the content of the dream. Finally, it appears for us that the construction of a dream is like inefficient and incomplete process associated with emotions like anxiety, fear, gratification and experiences of nightmares.
It is hard to conclude while writing about dreams. Dreams are fascinating, vast, rich in variety, complex in construction and closely attached to the unconscious realm of the dreamer. Dreams are very much personal and truly we cannot reveal the content of our dream even to our close persons. Many psychologists revealed the secrets behind dreams, proposed many theories but Sigmund Freud’s contribution in this area of study is unmatched. Although there are many contradictions to Freud’s theory in his lifetime, many eminent psychologists later like Carl Jung, a student of Freud and did extensive work on dreams, are influenced by his work on the interpretation of dreams.
In words of Sigmund Freud, “The interpretation of dreams is the royal road to a knowledge of the unconscious activities of the mind.”