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Time to Wake Up–You’re Dreaming? November 12, 2009

Posted by Nina Rosenstand in Nina Rosenstand's Posts, Philosophy of Human Nature, Science.
Tags: , , , , , ,

Why do we dream? And why on earth do 3rd trimester fetuses dream when they have nothing to dream about? New research gives an answer that goes in a new direction. Instead of focusing on the dream itself, what Freud called the “manifest dream content” and trying to figure out what it may symbolize of hidden wishes and memories, sleep researcher Dr. J. Allan Hobson suggests to look to a physiological explanation rather than a psychological one. We dream to prepare our brain for waking up.

“It helps explain a lot of things, like why people forget so many dreams,” Dr. Hobson said in an interview. “It’s like jogging; the body doesn’t remember every step, but it knows it has exercised. It has been tuned up. It’s the same idea here: dreams are tuning the mind for conscious awareness.”

Drawing on work of his own and others, Dr. Hobson argues that dreaming is a parallel state of consciousness that is continually running but normally suppressed during waking. The idea is a prominent example of how neuroscience is altering assumptions about everyday (or every-night) brain functions.

This theory isn’t the only one to focus on the brain function of dreams rather than the dream content. Theories have been floated for a while, suggesting that the purpose of dreams is to get rid of superfluous mind activity from during the day, like “clearing” your computer’s “cache.” Hobson’s theory seems to hold some additional promise, though; for one thing, it explains the “fetal dreaming” phenomenon. For another, it also may explain that intriguing phenomenon of lucid dreaming, but it still doesn’t address why some dreams seem so meaningful to us. The dismissal of the meaning of dreams is going to run into another feature of human nature that is not hypothetical: Our pervasive, universal, fantastic capacity for storytelling as a way of making sense out of chaotic life. And dreams are certainly a form of narration. Still, I have been wondering about dream and their supposed meaning for a while, and this theory may give at least partial answers: if dreams are somehow unconscious messages to our conscious self (according to traditional Freudian theory, as well as a multitude of other dream theories), then why do we forget most of them before they even reach our conscious mind? Messages without a listener? Stories without an audience? Seems like a wasted effort…Or perhaps the intended audience is not our conscious self at all? Hobson’s theory may provide the answer: No audience is needed other than the brain itself that needs to gear up and be ready for when we do wake up. And why do some of us lapse into daydreams—especially teens? Well, maybe it is the brain reverting to a dream state as a form of growth process for the young brain? The brain taking a break and absorbing new impressions? (That may actually have been sufficiently explained by neuroscience, and I’m just not hip to it. In that case I apologize for my ignorance!) Philosophers can only hope that dream researchers may actually come up with some useful answers (because we don’t have the credentials to do it ourselves!), but once the research is out there, we can make it work for us in our continued search for the nature of Human Nature. But with our narrative capacity being so deep-seated, a dream theory will have to address the narrative function of dreams, if only as the brain function best suited to get the brain up and running. That in itself would be interesting.



1. Marcia Dream - November 13, 2009

We don’t have to choose between a physiological and a pyschological interpretation of dreams. The physiological interpretation explains why we dream at all. The psychological explanation (what we traditionally think of as “dream interpretation”) explains why different people dream different things in response to the same physiological stimuli (the ultimate reason for their dream).

Just as in waking life, while we have some understanding of the neurochemical bases for various psychological disorders, we haven’t discounted the need for therapists and counselors.

Various physiological and psychological theories provide explanations for why we tend to forget our dreams.

2. C. Silva T/R 102B - December 8, 2009

I believe that dreaming and day dreaming is not only due to a psychological or physiological stimuli, but also a physical indication of our body’s need for rest and recovery, as well as our where our subconscious state of mind might be from time to time. For example, I have found that the more delusional my dreams the more tired I was before going to bed. As a teenager I daydreamed when I was tired, and today as a working mother and student, long hours and limited sleep is a normal but occasional occurrence and the longer I go with out sleep the more delirious I get and the dreams that follow seem of absolute non-sense.

As for my subconscious emotions, I often dream about yelling at my step-dad and reading him off like no one’s business. These are deep rooted feelings from being treated very poorly by my step-dad. In my dreams, I finally have the freedom to say how I feel.

I don’t believe dreams have a significant meaning other than an indication of our physical, mental, and emotional state of being.

3. Paulina Fraser - December 9, 2009

I love dreaming, but I hate nightmares. Sometimes I can remember my dreams so clearly the morning I wake up that I can illustrate a scene of it or even write it all out. Other times, I know I was dreaming but I forget what it was about. Sometimes I don’t even dream at all. Other times, I know in my dream that I am dreaming and therefore can do anything. I’ve had times when I knew I was dreaming so I leaped off a building and flew. Or one time I was dreaming a vampire was trying to bite my neck but I knew it was a dream and it wouldn’t hurt so I let the vampire bite me. But other times, I’ll be in my dream and think I am awake. Sometimes I even dream about the last person I see or the last place I went. So what can explain this phenomenon? Our wonderful brains. Dreams reveal just how complex our brains really are, sending us into a dream-like state of reality when we are unconscious. However, it makes me wonder and question the sense of reality. It goes into the deeper question of what is real and what isn’t. Dreams make us feel connected to something deeper and can reveal our inner hopes, desires, fears, etc. For those who don’t dream, I feel that they do dream but just don’t have any memory of it when they wake up. We dream not only for emotional/mental reasons, but for physical ones as well. Our brain sends our bodies into a state of being tired and needing to shut down, then as we recharge our brains get us prepared to wake up. I think that it’s interesting that 3rd trimester fetuses dream because one, I wonder how a test on that could be conducted, and two, I wonder what they would dream about. They have yet to see anything besides the inside of a stomach and the inside of their eye lids which really results into just seeing colors. Again, this reveals just how deep and complex our brains are and how far they can send us into a state of fantasy and reality all in a day’s work.

4. Hayley Rafner - Philosophy 102B T/TH 12:45 - December 9, 2009

I have always been fascinated with dreams. Whenever I wake up from a weird dream, whether it be because its scary or just plan strange, I always wonder if maybe its my subconscious trying to tell me something.

While reading this post, one part specifically resonated with me the most: “…Dr. Hobson argues that dreaming is a parallel state of consciousness that is continually running but normally suppressed during waking.” A concept I have never really considered, to me, it sounds pretty viable. Think about it: when we’re awake we’re faced with all challenges of our day, from the second we wake up in the morning to the second we fall asleep. We wake up thinking about what lies ahead of us for the day, what we’re going to wear, what (or if) we’re going to eat breakfast, and so on; even something as simple as thinking about turning the alarm off. As the day progresses new challenges are presented and they sit up there in your brain along with the pre-existing ones so our brains are going non-stop. Its completely preoccupied.

Enter daydreaming: For me, usually during a class thats particularly boring me that day (Never yours Prof. R… don’t worry =D ) and my brain is still and the continuous dream flow is recognized from my brain. Then, eventually, I snap out of it and my challenges are at the forefront.

While we’re sleeping, these challenges aren’t being thought of, therefore, the dream flow is playing at the forefront of our minds.

Its an interesting theory… one I’ll have to definitely keep in mind!

5. Michael Breault - December 10, 2009

This theory that states, we dream because it prepares the body to wake up, does make some sense. However, it is just a thought. I did not see any biological evidence that has completely won me over. Many Psychologists spend a large amount of time learning the science behind dreaming and they have many theories floating around. To use Freud as an example probably isnt helping out the “psychology side,” considering Freud had absolutley no evidence or research for that matter to bac up his theories. Freud’s theroies were simply just thoughts, which is the same as Dr. Hobson in this passage. This isnt to say that Freud or Hobson is wrong, I would just like to see atleast some evidence before I pick a side.

6. Heather Blake - December 10, 2009

Ever since I was old enough to formulate these kinds of thoughts, I have firmly believed that dreams are how our subconscious mind send messages to our conscious selves. Personally, I have experienced the opposite of C. Silva (above post), the more exhausted I am before I go to sleep, the less I dream…or at least the less I remember dreaming. I tend to have the most vivid, odd dreams when I am under a lot of stress or worried about matters in my waking life. I may not always understand what my subconscious mind is trying to tell me, but it always seems to be some grand metaphor for a situation (or situations) I am experiencing in waking life.

And perhaps there-in lies the answer…

Perhaps each individual dreams for their own unique purposes. Some dream as a result of being over-tired and to obtain more rest, some dream to escape reality and go on adventures that would never occur in everyday life, some believe they are in contact with other “realms” or alternate realities, others (like myself) dream to discern solutions to problems that they are seemingly incapable of manifesting while awake. So, couldn’t we all be right? Perhaps our subconscious minds merely give each of us what our waking selves are lacking, and there is no single collective reason that we dream. I believe it to be entirely subjective.

And as far as the 3rd trimester fetuses and dreaming goes, my theory would also support the theory that our subconscious minds are preparing our conscious selves for waking life, as those dreams would help prepare the fetus for what it lacked: experience in life outside the womb.

7. steven hawk - June 7, 2010

wow… its great … but according to me ….. every living person has a dream and he has to make a begining to make the dream come true then surely the dream will be achieved

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