Why dream?


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For this blog post, I wanted to explore the different reasons our mind dreams when we sleep. Most people have accepted the theory that dreams are a projection of our subconscious thoughts. But what has the research found? I thought there must be a few different reasons for dreaming, so I did some research.

An article by Ilana Simons, Ph.D, from Psychology Today, lists 5 theories for why we dream in our sleep. The first that I never considered was that we dream to practice responses to threatening situations. She points out that dreams usually have a sense of urgency -- which I never realized -- but I think it's true. Most dreams involve something going wrong, right? The article states that "Antti Revonsuo, a Finnish cognitive scientist, has shown that our amygdala (the fight-or-flight piece of the brain) fires more than normal when we're in REM sleep (the time in sleep when we dream). In REM sleep, the brain fires in similar ways as it does when it's specifically threatened for survival." So these scientists are arguing that in dreams where we are threatened, our body is practicing our fight or flight survival methods. 

Another theory for why we dream is that our dreams sort through our memories so that we can decide which ones we want to keep and which ones we want to get rid of. According to the same article,

"Matt Wilson, at MIT's Center for Learning and Memory, largely defends this view. He put rats in mazes during the day, and recorded what neurons fired in what patterns as the rats negotiated the maze. When he watched the rats enter REM sleep, he saw that the same neuron patterns fired that had fired at choice turning points in the maze. In other words, he saw that the rats were dreaming of important junctures in their day."

I thought this theory was very accurate for my dreams. Sometimes I've found myself having dreams about people I didn't realize that I missed or events that I didn't realize were so important to me. It makes sense that our minds would dream about memories we want to keep because our subconscious doesn't come through so easily in the real world.

The only theory in this article which I disagreed with was the "absence of theory": meaning that there is no reason for us to dream. This viewpoint argues that it is our consciousness itself which wants us to find some deeper meaning in our dreams. While I suppose this is possible, I don't think it's likely. I think it's much more possible that there are multiple causes to humans dreaming in our sleep.

An article from National Geographic argues only one theory: that we dream to ease painful memories. The article discusses a study in which subjects were shown emotionally provocative images before they went to sleep - and when they woke up, the images were shown to cause less brain activity than they did before the subjects went to sleep. Therefore, the article argues, dreams "take the edge off" experiences which are highly emotionally charged. I tried to think of a time when I had had a dream like this and I thought of a few, but in general, most of my dreams aren't like this. But it makes sense that we would have dreams so that our highly emotionally charged experiences would be less traumatizing to our minds in real life. If we dream about them, then only our unconscious mind has to suffer.

What does everyone think about why we dream? Is there a reason, or do our minds just want to satisfy curiosity with reasons?

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-literary-mind/200911/why-do-we-dream

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2011/11/111129-sleep-dreaming-rem-brain-emotions-science-health/

2 Comments

I found online that most dreams contain messages that serve to teach you something about yourself. However, soon after you wake up to go about your daily routine, you tend to quickly forget what you dream about. But I also think that recurring dreams are interesting because they may also contain a message. The message in recurring dreams may be so important and/or powerful that it refuses to go away. Recurring dreams are quite common and are often triggered by a certain life situation, transitional phase in life or a problem that keeps coming back again and again. These dreams may recur daily, once a week, or once a month. Whatever the frequency, there is little variation in the dream content itself. I think this article is cool in a sense that it gives examples of top 10 recurring dreams and what they mean.

Personally I disagree with the belief that dreams are for us to gather insight for future or possible fight or flee situations. I believe that the dreaming process is just the brain working overtime throwing together random thoughts sometimes the thoughts are a hit and sometimes they are a miss. It is actually stated that the brain is in a very high mode of activity during the sleep cycle http://www.livestrong.com/article/77949-brain-functions-dreams/. When we go to sleep our body goes to sleep as well but the brain never sleeps. From what I gather is that as we are up we constantly visualize things and think about things which is why we dream constantly regardless of whether or not we can remember those dreams. I am no dream expert but I can conclude that it is highly possible that all your dreams haven't been fight or flee or something important that happened in your day. If so what would you then refer to as lucid dreaming? They seem so real as if we are going through our regular days yet, no significance is held within those dreams (not to my knowledge at least). Nor do I agree with the belief that dreams all have meanings behind them which some of them could but not all.I myself will just have a random dream about walking down a street and seeing something odds but that doesn't coincide with anything that I've read. I believe dreams are unidentifiable. And one thing that bothers me about the fight or flee situation during dreaming is... we have no actual movement during dreaming, with the exception to sleep walkers, so how would these thought benefit us if we do unrealistic things in dreams at bizarre time?

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