Enter the Dream Labyrinth – Why do we dream?
“Ariadne: Why is it so important to dream?
Cobb: Because, in my dreams we are together.”
A prophetic message from the gods, a soul’s voyage into another realm, a sign of things to come, a complex interplay between the conscious and unconscious self or just a random by-product of sleep; for centuries humans have been fascinated with the common yet mysterious experience of dreaming. And yet numerous modern day theories and studies have only just shed a few rays of light on the complex workings of our brains and satisfactory answers are still hard to come by. These scarce rays of light have however provided us with some valuable clues which I have come to realize and truly believe can help us decipher these seemingly random, private movie screenings in our heads.
The most basic question asked is why do we dream? 19th century psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud theorized that dreams are the unconscious manifestation of our innermost desires and wishes. As I have mentioned before, this singular theory has formed the basis of my interpretations. If I were to list the various possible reasons why we dream, it would be the following:
- Fulfillment of wishes – the known and repressed ones
- Freud set out the ground-breaking idea of the three divisions of the unconscious mind: the Id, the Ego and the Super Ego; the Id being our basic animal self brimming with selfish desires which sees no reason or morality; the other extreme being the Super Ego which represents the sense of morality imbibed in us by society; the Ego struggles to mediate between the two.
- There is a striking similarity between the no holds barred emergence of the Id in a drunken state (since alcohol lowers one’s inhibitions) and in the REM dream state. If any of you have seen a shy, mild-mannered co-worker transform into a raving lunatic with a mean-streak after a few drinks, you will be able to understand the absolute chaos unleashed in our heads during dreams where the Id reigns supreme. As Freud aptly stated “The madman is a dreamer awake.”
- This however does not imply that the Super Ego, the parent, would just sit around and allow the Id to have its way. It would allow the Id to experience its pleasure but eventually would step in and infuse guilt or reason into the dream or in many cases encrypt it in layers of metaphor and symbolism. We will in a later installment look at this fascinating game in one of the actual dream case studies.
- Form of therapy
- In a similar vein, we could look at dreams as a form of comfort and therapy that our brain provides. Dreams help us deal with our day to day issues and worries, giving us a vent to the overwhelming emotions which we may not allow ourselves to feel in our conscious states, soothing us with a dose of optimism and hope. I believe that a lot of times, even our nightmares have purpose; something else which we will look into in the case studies. Remember, your brain is on your side.
- Mechanism to keep the dreamer asleep
- Have you ever had a dream of being chased? Of sheer, heart-pounding panic? An intriguing possibility is that you were physically going through something, like suffocation from a blocked nose, for example. Another common recurrence is of dreams with a fixation with urination, when in reality the dreamer actually has a full bladder. It has been noted that dreams often incorporate reality into a dream for the sole purpose of explaining the disturbance and ensuring that the dreamer remains asleep.
In future posts, I would love to share, for starters:
- How you can start the practice of remembering and recording your dreams.