I generally tend to write about whatever has crossed my mind that day; unfortunately for most of today/yesterday I have been asleep as I was up all night Thursday and then was out on Friday night. Looking back I have already written a little on sleep so I thought I may write on dreams. I write this knowing I may face the wrath of a disgruntled neurologist but oh well.
Dreams have been discussed in philosophical writings for centuries with Descartes’ theory that dreams were not conclusively distinguishable from reality being especially prominent in my mind as it is highly contentious. It seems then that dreams are something we consider deeply and with that I will move onto the main topic of this post: Dream theory.
The first great mind to begin to formulate a cohesive theory on dreams was Sigmund Freud. He developed a theory based on dreams working as a wish fulfilment. He stated that dreams were created from wishes in a process he named “dream-work”. When researching I found that that concept is probably why DreamWorks is called DreamWorks as the Freudian term means to turn a wish into content. To go back to dream theory the process of “dream-work” consists of three areas: condensation, displacement, and secondary elaboration.
Condensation is where a dream’s content is made up of 2 or more ideas or emotions that create the underlying tone of the dream.
Displacement is placing the thoughts and emotions towards someone or something upon something else. Freud speaks about a patient who had a hatred for his sister in law and had a dream about killing a white dog. He was unknowingly projecting his feelings upon the dog so as to not feel guilt.
Secondary elaboration occurs when the unconscious mind strings together wish-fulfilling images in a logical order of events. Freud, rightly said there was not categorical symbols in dreams; dreams are specific to people. For example you often see on Facebook posts that certain dreams always mean certain things; one being teeth falling out. This dream is meant to be about self-consciousness amongst other underlying emotions; however, someone I know had them after getting braces and although this could make you self-conscious I feel it is more likely, knowing her well, that it was her fear that her teeth would be damaged or fall out that actually provoked the dream.
Freud is highly contentious and modern neuroscience frequently challenges the validity of his work. A key psychiatrist leading this scientific revolution in dream theory is J. Allan Hobson, Professor of Psychiatry who has developed the activation-synthesis hypothesis of dream formation.
His theory in short has been presented as such “dreams are clumsy narratives stitched together by the forebrain to make sense of the activation of biochemical changes and erratic electric pulses originating in the brainstem.”
Much of his work is around REM dreaming. REM dreaming is characterized by low serotonin levels and high acetylcholine levels. This could be used to explain why dreams are so hard to remember as reduced serotonin can reduce the ability for things to be placed in the short term memory. When we awaken serotonin floods the brain and our dreams from what seemed like immediately before disappear from our thoughts. This lack of serotonin can also be used to explain the oddness of dreams.
Hobson’s formation is challenged by scientists James Foulkes and John Antrobus who have independently show that dreams happen out with the REM state as well. Mark Solms suggests that the REM state works as an “Alarm clock” for dreams. It has then been stated by these and other scientists that biochemical activation is not the sole genesis of a dream’s structure. Hobson has continued to develop his formation; however, I feel if I go much more into this I will in danger of having written a scientific paper.
There are a few other interesting dream theory theories that I will briefly outline.
Jie Zhang proposed the continual-activation theory which states that dreams a created as a stage in the transition of thoughts and memories from short term to long term storage.
Oneiric Darwinism suggests dreaming is a form of natural selection for ideas and emotions by putting them through situations and retaining the ideas and emotions that create useful outcomes.
Psychiatrist and sleep disorder expert Ernest Hartmann states dreams can operate to process traumatic or painful emotional experience. He describes it in a similar way to Freud’s displacement by having a prominent emotion that is represented by application to a different situation. An example perhaps being an attack on you may be viewed in a dream as a dog attack or another example, if you were assaulted or physically restrained the image drowning could be presented in a dream as you feel overwhelmed.
There are many more theories on dreams but this has been a selection of the most prominent and I think interesting ones.