Dreams are a series of imaginary experiences based on images, ideas, emotions and sensations that we are subject to throughout certain points during our sleep cycles. There are many theories as to why we dream, and for centuries many people have tried to attach meaning and interpretations to their experiences. Here a few theories as to why we dream:
- Bad dreams allow us to control emotions in the 'real' world
- Dreams regulate moods
- Dreams help us to 'make connections in a safe place'
"A dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight, and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world."
Famous psychologist Sigmund Freud hypothesised that bad dreams might help us to control emotions in the 'real' world. That is to say our brains in the real world can better compute the emotions we experience in our dreams, perhaps an experience of fear whilst being chased by a monster in a nightmare. In theory, this could help us when we come up against a threat in the real world, as we have already experienced a similar situation, albeit in an imaginary scenario.
This links in to the point about how 'a dream allows us to make connections in a safe place'. In the same way that dreams can help us to learn about emotions in order to deal with them better in real life, so the same can be said for other physical tasks - from out of the ordinary actions we may need to perform in order to achieve something, or the most everyday of mundane tasks. Think of it as a form of mental practice which makes us better prepared to meet similar challenges in real life.
Keeping your thoughts balanced
Dreams are also thought to have the effect of regulating mood. For example, if you were to fall asleep whilst in a negative mindset, you would be more likely to have dreams about something positive, and to therefore wake up feeling better, as your dream would have helped to rebalance your emotions. Perhaps this is why so many people 'sleep on it' before dealing with emotional stress or great changes in their life, and the process can be seen to be similar to the way we sometimes try to cheer ourselves up when we are awake, by thinking positive thoughts. Our dreams can help to achieve the same result, albeit subconsciously.
Background to dream interpretation
Historically, dreams were used for guidance, divine inspiration or healing in cultures such as those of Ancient Greece. A few native American tribes used dreaming as part of their 'vision quests', whereby they would pray and fast for large periods of time until a 'guiding dream' occurred to them, which they would report back to the tribe on their return.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, psychologists Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung indentified dreams as an interaction between the conscious and the unconscious, asserting that the unconscious was the dominant force behind dreaming. Jung argued that the bizarre nature of dreams was actually an efficient language, comparable to poetry and communicating thoughts, feelings and experiences that the dreamer's conscious mind had ignored, rejected or suppressed.
"And When I woke, I cried to Dream again" Caliban - The Tempest by William Shakespeare.
Jung hypothesized that every person present in a dream could be seen to represent an aspect of the dreamer, representative of the subjective approach to dreams. For example, if you see a child in your dream, Jung's theory would hold that this child is the innocent part of you, or your 'inner child'. Fritz Perls took things a step further by arguing that even inanimate objects could be looked at in this way. This has led to increased interest in finding out what these particular things may mean in a dream world, or dream interpretation.
There are so many possibilities as to what people may dream about, and potential interpretations, that attempting a short and definitive answer would be impossible. A dream in which you're in a dance recital could be interpreted as meaning that you're moving into a new phase in your life, whereas a quail appearing to you while you're asleep can be said to indicate lust or eroticism. What is certain is that dream theories are wide and as far-ranging as the subjects we can dream about, and interpretations can very from the humorous to the outright strange.