It is a universal truth that every human laughs, cries, and dream. Sometimes the action has a different response and sometimes you may forget that it even happened, but all the three are an intrinsic part of who we are and how we function. And yet, all three are miraculously difficult to understand and clarify. Over the years, dreaming, in particular, has had many explanations and even today we don’t fully know what purpose our dreams serve. Are they significant insights into our anxieties or problems? Are they prophetic? Or are they simply the jumbled leftovers of thought that we cobble together into a narrative?
In short, why do we dream?
Although everyone dreams, we forget 90% of what we experienced within 10 minutes of sitting up from our pillows. We dream 4-6 times a night, so even if you recall one vivid detail of your dream there is a lot more which you have forgotten. Even though we don’t remember most of our experiences, dreams are essential to cognitive functioning. In several experiments, subjects who were prevented from entering the dreaming stage of sleep, but who still had 8 hours of sleep a night, showed detrimental changes in concentration, irritability and even showed signs of psychosis. Clearly, dreaming has an essential biological purpose, but does the content matter?
Some experts suggest that we only dream about what we know. For example, every strange face you see in a dream is not an invention of your mind; you can only dream about people you have seen before in real life. However, the human mind can continue to surprise us. 12% of fully sighted people dream exclusively in black and white, a phenomenon that no one can explain. Moreover, people that lose their sight can still dream in images, whilst people who are born blind cannot. There are theories that dreams help us to make sense of the world around us, by mimicking and rearranging things in a safe, controlled environment.
Then there are nightmares
However, many of us can experience dreams that are beyond our control. 80% of people will experience nightmares during their lives, with 5% experiencing them on a regular basis. Nightmares are characterized by content that is frightening to us with a complete lack of control. They can disrupt sleep and cause us continuing problems even in waking life. Some people choose to interpret nightmares as symbolic; they believe that the details of a nightmare are supposed to indicate a problem in our mental state. Common features of nightmares, such as being naked in a public place or being chased, have been interpreted for thousands of years.
Are dreams divine?
Some people believe that dreams are divine or even prophetic. Though it cannot be proven, either way, 18-38% of people claim to have had at least one prophetic dream. Some authors, such as Mary Shelley and Robert Louis Stevenson, wrote famous books after dreams. Vivid dreams, in particular, can be incredibly creative and easy to make connections with real-life events that have or will happen.
Like crying and laughing, dreaming has a biological purpose but that does not stop us from wondering whether they really mean something. It may be that they are an opportunity to take a chance on something you want. If you are unsure of whether to go for the girl who’s out of your league or maybe even whether to buy one of the newly released console games.
Interested in psychological stuff? here’s an interesting article.