If you ever see a dream that is impossible to dismiss, you are not alone. The tradition of interpretation of strange dreams has about 4 000 years. During this time, the humanity (in the form of religion, philosophy, psychology, neurobiology) tried many times to explain what is sleep and what our brain is actually doing at the time when we sleep.
To date, there are five leading theories about dreams and their purpose:
Dreams – pragmatic prophecy
Queen Maya, mother of Shakyamuni Buddha seen in a dream as she was approached by a white elephant, and foretold that her son would become a Buddha. It was about 500 BC.
In Genesis, Pharaoh had a dream about seven skinny cows eating seven fat cows and seven thin ears of corn swallowed the seven robust ears of corn. Joseph interprets the dream and predicts that seven fruitful years followed by seven years of famine. The purpose of this dream is clear – it allows people to prepare for hard times.
The author of the book “the Science of sleep and the origins of religion,” Kelly Bulkely writes: “We do this all the time in reality. We are all endowed with a certain gift of foresight: to predict what the winter will be cold, so better to stock up ahead of time. We depend on our own ability to foresee the future in a variety of situations. The brain seems to me to be working 24 hours a day system, which continues the work on the prediction of the future even while you sleep.”
According to Balcali, the shortest definition of sleep may sound like “imagination”, which is often focused on the future. No mystery.
Aristotle believed that during sleep, when we are separated from the hustle and bustle of the real world, the invisible to the waking person’s experience can come to the fore and give him a hint about what awaits him in the future. And since the world is full of potential threats, during sleep our brain visualizes the dangers to which we have not paid enough attention during wakefulness.
Dreams — a guide to action
The life of the great skeptic of the 17th century Rene Descartes changed after a dream he saw one November evening. In the dream was the sea, and huge waves beating on the shore. And suddenly everything froze. Waves, sea foam, clouds seemed to freeze… And it was possible to walk along this frozen wave and see where the frozen fish, the stationary algae. And all this could be examined and studied. Waking up, Descartes took the pen and drew something like the grid of lines. So a coordinate system, which later came to be called Cartesian.
Sigmund Freud wrote his “Interpretation of dreams” under the impression of his own dream which he saw on the eve of the funeral of his father in October 1896. In the dream he was in front of the shop door, over which hung a sign: “ask You to close your eyes.”
Abraham Lincoln saw the vivid dreams that helped him to make important decisions during the war. In addition, he saw in a dream the funeral in the White house a few days before his murder.
Dreams are a way of communicating with our subconscious
At the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, the father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud theorized that dreams are messages from our subconscious. “The interpretation of dreams is the easiest way to understand the subconscious activity of the brain,” he wrote.
The purpose of dreams, he believed, is to release repressed desires, and their essence is presented in the form of images-associations.
The great psychiatrist Carl Jung believed that dreams are part of ourselves which is beyond conscious understanding. They transmit information by means of the universal, and yet personally meaningful symbols. For example, if you saw in a dream receding boy or girl, it can mean that you lose any chance in life.
Dreaming is a repository of information
Particularly active in the scientific community began to study dreams in 1950-ies, starting with the opening of what we know as REM and slow wave sleep. Today with the help of brain scans, the researchers can even determine the content of the dreams, writing down and decoding algorithms of activity of our grey matter.
Explorer of dreams doctor Balcali created the “Database of dreams”, which included about 20 000 dreams volunteers from around the world. He says that people rarely stay in my dreams alone, and often they have those to whom they are most emotionally attached. “Dreams reflect emotional concerns regarding our relationship, he says. – In fact, sleep is a valuable resource for analysis of our relationships with those we care about, and what we want to fight”.
A dream is a mosaic of our memories
For more than a century scientists have studied how sleep affects memory, especially the formation of long term memory. And now neuroscientists are more and more convinced that a kaleidoscope of images in our dreams represent not that other, as a by-product of the process of creating memories. When different threads of our lives come together, the result seems familiar and alien at the same time.
“Often it’s a strange, composite image, which seems unfamiliar to us,” wrote a researcher at the University of Manchester sue Lulin in 2013. “He’s unreal, as both are composed of several completely different memories.”