Reflection on dreams: Sara Mills ’18

graphic by Jennifer Ren

As a middle schooler, I became infatuated with the study of dreams, scrambling to write them in my journal before they returned back to latency. For something so universal, dreams and sleep are virtually unknown, and for most, these viable clues for examining our subconscious are more-often-than-not forgotten in a matter of seconds.

Sleep, ultimately a reversible loss of consciousness, occurs in a series of stages. Stage four is the most crucial and allows for deep restorative sleep during which we enter rapid eye movement. We begin dreaming, but other body systems are active, leaving the body puzzled, as there are clear indicators that the person is awake.  

In the end, dreams are just false sensory experiences due to the variation of delta waves. But what do dreams mean? Why do we dream? Perhaps dreams are simply a result of random firing of neurons according to the Hobson-McCarley Biological Theory. It could be that our brain fabricates these scenarios to help us through our problems – the brain attending to issues from the day and lending insight, a tenant of the Cartwright Problem Solving Theory, which identifies the purpose of dreams for therapeutic reasons.

Sigmund Freud set a precedent in psychology regarding dreams. He theorized that dreams were a hidden language, the only way of communicating with and understanding our subconscious. Thus, these sequence of images, emotions, and thoughts passing through a sleeping person’s mind had subliminal messages that reflected internal conflict. In his book, The Interpretation of Dreams, he discussed the concept of wish fulfillment and discharging feelings of aggressions during dreams in a way that the superego, somewhat of a moral compass, would never allow. He broke these down into two parts: manifest and latent meaning, manifest being the plotline, which is incredibly hard to remember, and latent, or hidden meaning. These dreams serve as a moral awakening, repercussions from the defense mechanisms we use to distort, deny, or falsify reality every day.

While we dream in almost every sleep cycle, these dreams are seldom remembered. This is proven by the Hartmann Boundary Theory, which elaborates on the fact that different people have varying degrees of “boundaries.” Those with thick boundaries do not remember dreams and continue untroubled, statistically ending up in practical professions. In the converse, those with thin boundaries remember their dreams with ease, using them in their work, and working through them, statistically being drawn to creative professions. Freud believed our  remembered difficulty stems from the fact that we reject these conflicts and categorically deny them from a day to day basis, further repressing our subconscious thoughts.

While many dreams transcend limits of thought, each dream is individualized to the person and their specific problems. Those with the ability to remember their dreams aren’t only seen as statistically more personable and more creative but  are adept at problem-solving and have a better grasp of understanding themselves and how they think. And while seemingly random and otherwise obscure, dreams remain a window into the waking subconscious.

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