Mystery Of Dreams

Do dreams take us to many places and many dimensions? Freud’s view of dreams saw them as primarily expressing sexual and childhood difficulties or repressions. Jung saw them as an expression of a personal potential and a means of healing and growth. Apart from their psychological indications, or their connection with our maturing process, dreams have also been shown to indicate activities in the body, and so have been used to diagnose illness. They have been used as creative agents, and lie behind a number of scientific discoveries. Writers and artists have found in them inspiration or fresh insights into creativity. For countless thousands of people, they have also been a time travel machine through which glimpses of the past and future were given – or a means of realising that consciousness can roam free of the physical body and witness events at a distance. Many people state they have had meaningful or even verifiable contact with the dead. Dreams also often have deeply spiritual themes, enabling the dreamer to feel contact with a universal existence and timeless aspect of themselves.

There are many definitions of dreams. They range from the ancient view of them being messages from the gods, through the idea of dreams as windows to our unconscious feelings and thoughts, to the modern view of them as neurological and chemical events.

However much one tries to fit the enormous range of dream phenomena into any one or several of these definitions, there is never a complete match.

Therefore dreams, like any life experience are transcendent. They transcend any attempt to give them a final definition. There is always in them an element which remains indefinable.

A cup for instance is in most cases made of a mineral. We can therefore see it as a manufactured object made of clay. But it can also be seen as a piece of art, as a mass of interacting molecules and atoms, as an outcrop of the universal substance, a religious symbol, a technological product. What one is the right description?

Dreams are even more mysterious and likewise have no single useful definition.

For about a third of our life we sleep, and most of that period is spent in one form of dreaming or another (REM or NREM dreaming (1)). This means that if you sleep for an average of seven hours a day and live 75 years, 22 YEARS OF YOUR LIFE ARE SPENT DREAMING.

Human life itself is strange and mysterious, and because dreams display the workings of our mind and imagination, they are among the most mysterious and fascinating aspects of our life. Tony Buzan, writing about the complexity and scope of the human brain, says that even comparing it with the vastness and intricacy of a galaxy is a modest analogy. This is because our three and a half pound brain mass has in it about ten billion nerve cells. Each of these cells can link with any of the others through patterned connections which outnumber in scope the atoms in the universe. As we think, as we experience and feel responses, as creativity expresses, our brain flashes through these unimaginable number of patterned connections thousands of times each second. This is beyond our normal ability to imagine, despite the fact it is happening to us personally. Buzan says, “At a mathematical level alone, the complexity is astounding. There are ten billion neurons in the brain and each one has a potential of connections of 1028 In more comprehensible terms, it means that if the theoretical number of potential connections were to be written out, we would get a figure beginning with 1 and followed by about ten million kilometres of noughts.”

The human mind has immense possibilities. We see the demonstration of this in the extraordinary things people do, either in their everyday life or in times of crisis. We know from laboratory evidence that people can consciously slow down their heartbeat, change the temperature of their body, solve mathematical problems as fast as any computer, heal their body of illness. Dreams, involving the unwilled action of the brain during sleep, express and often unveil something of the vastness of these inner resources.

The Many Facets Of Dreaming

Although there is no final agreement on what dreams are and what their value is, if we look at the various findings, dreams can be seen to hold in them something of all the many aspects of human life. Just as society overall has hospitals and churches, schools, libraries and sports facilities to cater for the physical, spiritual, mental and recreational needs of people, so dreams express these departments of ourselves.

Body Dreams – Bernard S. Seigal, M.D., assistant clinical professor of surgery, Yale University School of Medicine originated the ‘Exceptional Cancer Patient’ group therapy. Through encouraging his patients to tell their dreams and express their feelings via paintings, he found that patients often dreamt clearly about the condition of their body long before normal diagnostic methods could define the illness or healing. Other physicians, such as Kasatkin in Russia, have also drawn notice to this aspect of dreaming, and kept careful records of such dreams in patients.

Virtual Reality – Sigmund Freud recognised that dreams are different in quality to waking fantasies or daydreams. While dreaming we are usually convinced that our surroundings and what is happening, is completely real. This sense of complete immersion in the dream does not pervade our fantasies. Although during a nightmare this feeling of reality can cause us to be very frightened, the positive side to it is that dreams give us experience as full of impact, and therefore as educational as waking life.

Regulating – In experiments where volunteers were woken each time they began to dream, a breakdown in the efficiency of mind and body soon became apparent. The Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung described dreams as compensatory. He was particularly referring to the way dreams help balance our conscious personality. According to this view, any extreme is compensated for by an expression of the opposite in our dreams. In this way, lack of love or success in our life may be compensated for by a very powerful release of dream imagery and experience. One may have a vision of ones dead mother or Christ for instance. Without such compensatory experience, continuing life in the face of failure and loneliness might be extremely difficult.

Personal Growth – The growth of our personality from infancy is a very complex interplay between largely unconscious factors in our body, our experience of our environment, and the way we integrate and deal with these different influences. Dreams do appear to present clear indications of what is emerging as transforming forces in oneself. They also definitely reveal past experience that through trauma may need to be met in order to live ones life more satisfyingly or efficiently. This is why they are so often used in psychotherapy. Because our mind integrates experience, as described below under Creativity, some investigators believe that during our dreaming we ‘upgrade’ such skills as social interaction, speech, etc., which also leads to personal growth. There is neurological evidence that brain cells undergo a learning process during dreaming. Also in the area of personal growth, inquiry into dreams such as recurring nightmares, shows them to be an attempt, occasionally successful, to bring to consciousness and release past traumas such as childhood abandonment, involvement in war environments, or car accidents.

Creativity – In 1912 Gestalt psychology was launched in Germany when Max Wertheimer published a paper on a visual illusion called apparent motion. Wertheimer had noticed that when we view a sequence of still pictures, as happens watching a film, we have the illusion of seeing movement. This perception of movement was different to the perception of its components – the many static images. This led to the understanding that many of the perceptions we have of the world around us, and many of the concepts we build, are radically different to the many pieces of information or experience they arise from. The sum is therefore different or greater than the parts. Sudden inspirations and creative leaps, when seen from this point of view, are usually a new ‘whole’ formed out of many parts which previously had no connection. The symbols and drama of dreams particularly express this creative forming of new experience and new realisations, new gestalts, out of the mass of separate pieces of experience or information.

Imagination – This has been listed separately to creativity because they are not necessarily the same. Imagination has been described as the “ability of the mind to be creative or resourceful.” To be creative or resourceful is considered highly admirable, yet being imaginative is frequently put down as a time waster. Most of the greatest things in the external world arose out of imagination. Such things as vacuum cleaners and pictures that could be sent through the air – TV – seemed outlandish to logical rational people when they were first mentioned. Dreams are possibly the most powerfully imaginative experiences we can have. Through them we can break free of the restrictions and lack of perception the logical mind has.

Exercise For The Psyche – Freud believed that dreams expressed repressed sexual desires such as sex and anger. Jung said that in dreams we compensate for what is not experienced in our life. Seen in a more positive light, we can each see that our daily life only allows us to live a small range of the things we would like to do or feel. The circumstances of our life may lead us to prevent ourselves from expressing openly the intensity of the love, the pain, the anger, the creativity we have inside us. In dreams such restrictions fall away to some degree, and our mind, our emotions and sexuality can unfold and we can discover our fuller range of expression and capability. Howard Roffwarg, a psychiatrist at Columbia University in New York, suggested that nervous activity during REM sleep helps to stimulate the developing brain in very young children, thus promoting the growth of neural connections necessary for learning. In adults, according to Roffwarg, REM serves, like physical exercise, to maintain tone in the central nervous system.

The Supersenses – Even if we cannot accept there are aspects of life that our senses and sensitive instruments do not show us, most of us agree that our mind, through our senses and emotions, can extrapolate from the thousands of bits of information we take in. For instance is we look at a person for a few minutes we might have few thoughts about what type of person they are. But if questioned carefully, we will realise that we have very definite impressions about them from the way they dress, stand, talk and move. In fact we ‘know’ a great deal about them. In our dreams we not only browse through the huge amount of information we have taken in and build insight or knowledge out of it, but sometimes we leap right beyond what our senses have enables us to gather, and arrive at true intuitive perception.

(2)What a waste of a wonderful resource, what criminal negligence it is if we therefore fail to remember dreams and gain enrichment from their fresh and unique perspectives, their ability to give pungent comments on our relationships and their possible outcome, and the opportunities dreams present to explore new approaches to our everyday life. What a loss if we do not discover the many splendored facets of our own mind and consciousness. As Robert Van De Castle says – You were issued a lifetime pass to free dreams at birth. Why not take advantage of it? (3)

Travelling Your Dreams – The Wonder of Imagination

If you are among the few people who cannot ever remember their dreams, you are missing one of the great wonders of human experience. To dream is to discover a virtual reality so authentic, that the people we meet, the sensations we experience, the dramas we are involved in, strike to our heart as deeply as the events we meet while awake. In fact sometimes the memory of dreams may stay with us for years, more potently than many everyday memories. The realm of sleep and dreams offers us a world so vastly different from waking, that our life may be enriched by happenings and realisations totally impossible otherwise. It has been said that travel broadens the mind. Dreams expand it far more. Without them, and without the act of imagination and fantasy that arises from such powers of the mind as dreams emerge from, we would indeed be impoverished. Without the process of mind that lies behind the inventive fancy of dreams, art, music, drama, literature and architecture would have remained starkly utilitarian. Imagination, in dreams or otherwise, is a divine power which lifts us out of today and transports us to yesterday, or to the future. Consider what it would be like if you could never remember details of the past, or think about what you would like to do in the future. Consider also what it would be like if you could never reshape in your remind or feelings, an event or words you have heard. There would be no comedy, no stories, no art, no drive to build something that is different.

Imagination changes the shape of the world, penetrates its external solidity to transform its shape and its events into innumerable fresh experiences. Imagination sees the wonderful possibilities in a piece of rock, or some coloured earth, and with them creates art. Imagination discovered the submarine and the motor car long before scientific endeavour developed the technology to manufacture them. (4) Even people who appear to lack this divine power while awake, can in dreams spread wings of fancy and find ingenious dramatic creation while they sleep.

If you are someone who not only remembers, but soaks up the lush dimensions of dreams, then you already know that your visions of the night allow you entrance into strange worlds, new ideas, fresh and sparkling perspectives, as well as horror movies of your own creation.

Are Dreams Meaningless?

The opinion that dreams are meaningless was frequently encountered while researching this book. People with this belief usually prescribe to the theory that dreams are flotsam of the mind, random wanderings of thought and feelings while the body and personality sleep. This approach to dreams arose from the rationalist view of human life and mind, from a lack of acquaintance with dreams, or from some areas of recent scientific research.. This view is not new. Shakespeare says “True, I talk of dreams, Which are the children of an idle brain, Begot of nothing but vain fantasy.”

The old concept of our dreaming mind tumbling through random bits of memory and imagination without any function or point was more recently enhanced or qualified by the theory arising from neurological research, that the sleeping brain uses dreaming as a sort of refuse disposal function. This is of course only one of many different scientific theories about dreams. Unfortunately it is one that has been grasped by people sceptical of the range of dream phenomena. When doing a computer search in the Bodleian Library in Oxford for recent papers on dream research that appeared in scientific journals, over three thousand papers were listed. In looking through abstracts of these, the spectrum of viewpoints is enormous. Certainly they do not as a whole point to refuse/flotsam theory.

One of the most carefully researched of recent scientific statements is that of Allan Hobson in his various papers and his book The Dreaming Brain.(5) Hobson rejects the idea of dreams being flotsam of the brain, but he does say they are constructed from random bits of memory and feeling responses. Like some other investigators, Dement for instance, who examine the fact that while dreaming the brain is shut off from external sensory stimuli. During this shutdown from external stimuli, and while dreaming, the brain is said to fire randomly, producing imagery and experience. Hobson says that because of the innate tendency of the brain to interpret and give meaning to sensory input, while dreaming, which appears to be real sensory input, we create some sort of order. The order, or theme of the dream, depends upon personal fears, hopes, predispositions and preoccupations. So although dreaming is said to originate in a random way, Hobson and Dement say the outcome can be examined to give clear information about the person who dreamt it because it was shaped by the dreamer’s predispositions. Hobson goes so far as to disagree with Freud that dreams have hidden and censored meaning. He believes that dreams are in fact transparently obvious in what they show of the dreamer’s feelings and motivations.

This approach to the possible meaning of dreams is not unlike the modern way medicine deals with things like urine, blood and tissue samples. These parts of the body and its products are not in themselves meaningful, but through examining them in particular ways we can gain immense amounts of information about the person. Researchers like Hall particularly looked at dreams in this way, searching a series of dreams for insight into the dreamer. But Jung had also mentioned this approach. This dream sampling is one of the easiest ways to discover insights, and will be dealt with more fully later.

The theories underlying quantum mechanics are very similar. Some of the latest thinking in connection with physics states that a careful examination of the phenomena underlying the physical world suggests that we can never finally know what reality is. All we do is give a name or definition to an observable aspect of the phenomena, and in observing and naming it, in some way we create what we call reality. So the argument which surrounds dreams – do they have an innate meaning – may be relevant to every aspect of our daily life.

Dream Meaning and Therapy

The history of dreams being used in some sort of healing context did not start with Freud at the beginning of the 1900’s. It trails back into pre-history through all the various human cultures. From the immense literature on the therapeutic use of dreams, especially from the most recent writings, there is no doubt that dreams have immense meaning, and can reveal things to the dreamer who explores them, that they were not previously aware of. Hobson questions this and states that dreams do not reveal anything that wasn’t in some way already known. As this is a view held by many of the scientific community, it has some weight, and Hobson backs it up by saying that he has kept a dream journal for many years, and has exposed himself to therapeutic uses of dreams.

Unfortunately this is one of those arguments which is like saying ‘I visited the South Seas and I didn’t find any pearl oysters. Therefore there are no pearl oysters.’ It is not a good analogy however, as there are pearls about which can be looked at. With a personal experience of arriving at understanding, it is so easy for other people to ignore it, or tell you how you actually arrived at it. Of course, ANY explanation of how we arrived at radical new insights is still only a theory, as quantum mechanics suggests. At a practical level however, any therapist using dreams, can observe that the greatest insight held in dreams can only be arrived at by people who have the ability to allow deep emotional response or expression in their dream work. Simple intellectual analysis of the dream by the dreamer or someone else does not give access to the immensely powerful pockets of experience held in dreams. Without this depth of experience, the insights do not arise. Like the pearl, it isn’t simply lying around on the surface to be picked up or read like a book. It takes personal courage to feel the intensity that lies within us, the sort of total feeling response that babies have. Many intellectuals, scientists among them, have a purely rational approach to dreams, and therefore fail to discover this important area of experience. This will be dealt with more fully later.

Dream Deprivation

A factor that is missing in many scientific arguments and even therapeutic arguments about whether dreams are functional and meaningful rather than random pieces of flotsam, is the question of their possible self-regulatory function. After the first and second world wars, hundreds of ex-soldiers suffered recurring nightmares about battle scenes. The dreams re-presented the original experience, often accompanied by the original body movements made to escape the horror being faced. Charles Rycroft, in his book anxiety and Neurosis, describes the observed results on people of unexpected disasters such as earthquakes and train accidents. Among other things they have a tendency to ‘waking actions and dreams in which the traumatic experience is repeated.’ He goes on to say that these repetitions in dreams or actions can be ‘thought of as manifestations of the healing process. By repeating the trauma the traumatised person is, as it were, trying to get it in front of himself again so that he can anticipate it, react anxiously to it and then assimilate or ‘get over’ it in the way he would any other distressing experience.’

Working with such dreams leads to the view that there is a self-regulatory process within our psyche, which attempts to find healing through the presentation of such traumatic incidents in dreams. Jung and Hadfield in particular supported this view of dreaming.

The findings in researching dream deprivation also link with this self-regulatory theory. Dr. Dement and others experimented with dream deprivation with many subjects. The most obvious finding was that if the REM – dreaming – period of sleep is disturbed or prevented by waking the subject each time the REM activity begins, the REM periods of dreaming quickly became more and more frequent. The experiments had to be abandoned because without the use of force it became impossible to stop REM sleep, and the subjects were becoming seriously effected. (6)

When the subjects were awoken during their normal sleep for similar periods of time, these critical effects did not arise. While such findings might be explained in a purely physiological way, the mind body unity prevents us from saying, ‘Yes but that is only the result of brain chemicals’. There is obviously a great need on the part of the body/mind to dream. If for no other reason, dreams thereby have a meaningful function.

When the subjects whose REM sleep had been prevented, were allowed normal undisturbed REM dreaming, a massive increase in REM dreaming occurred. This suggested to researchers that the brain has some real need for dreaming, and when deprived will later fulfil its need by increased activity. In the 1970’s research by Ramon Greenberg and Chester Pearlman suggested that REM sleep was an important ingredient in learning from experience. They deprived rats and mice of REM sleep and observed their performance while running a variety of mazes. It was found that loss of REM sleep – no loss of sleep altogether – hardly impaired the performance of running mazes already learnt. However, there was a marked drop in performance of learning new a new maze or performing new tasks of any complexity.

Similar research was later performed with human subjects and showed similar results. These findings led psychiatrists to believe our mind is doing serious work while we dream. It is integrating what has recently been learnt into our long-term memory and possibly practising how to use this in enhancing personal skills. REM may therefore be important in stimulating the development of connective links of thought in infants and young children. The theory would explain why humans, who are constantly adapting to meet new challenges, exhibit so much REM activity.

That dreams occur more frequently after a period of deprivation certainly shows their link with a regulatory process. Learning is also a part of our survival needs, and much of it would appear to occur in a self-regulatory way.

(1) The initials REM stand for ‘rapid eye movement’. This refers to the fact detailed later in the book, that in 1953 Aserinsky and Kleitman found rapid eye movements occurred while people slept. In 1957 the REM were linked with dreaming. Therefore sleep was observed to have two different phases, REM and NREM – non rapid eye movement, or non-REM. Later it was found that even during NREM sleep, a form of dreaming took place that is different to the REM dream with its pronounced imagery and drama.

(2) Van de Castle, Robert L. Our Dreaming Mind. Aquarian. London 1994.

(3) For instance Jules Verne wrote about submarines before they became a reality. Flying machines had been drawn by Leonardo da Vinci.

(4) In the USA by Basic Books, Inc., New York 1988. Published in UK by Penguin Books 1990.

  • c(5) An expression of what is happening in the physical body. Some doctors consider dreams to show signs of illness long before they are evident in other ways. Women frequently know they are pregnant very early on through sleep awareness in a dream. See: body.
  • A link between the sleeping mind and what is occurring externally. A person may be falling out of bed and dream of flying or falling for instance.
  • A way of balancing the physiological and psychological activities in us. When a person is deprived of dreaming in experiments, a breakdown in mind and body quickly occurs. This type of dreaming can often be a safety valve releasing tension and emotion not dealt with in waking life. See: compensation theory; self-regulation dreams and fantasy; science and dreams.
  • An enormously original source of insight and information. Dreams tap our memory, our experience, and scan information held in our unconscious to form new insights from old experience. Dreams often present to us summaries or details of experience we have been unable to access consciously. Sometimes this is as early as life in the womb. See: creativity and problem solving in dreams.
  • A means of compensating for failure or deprivation in everyday life, and as a means of expressing the otherwise unacknowledged aspects of oneself. Such dreams are a move toward wholeness. See: compensation theory.
  • In dreams we may be integrating new experience with what we have already gathered and digested. In this way our abilities, such as social skills, are gradually upgraded.
  • Dreams often stand in place of actual experience. So through dreams we may experiment with new experience or practice things we have not yet done externally. For instance many young women dream in detail of giving birth. This function of what might be called ‘imagination’ is tremendously undervalued, but is a foundation upon which human survival is built.
  • An means of exercise for the psyche or soul. Just as the body will become sick if not moved and stressed, so the mind and emotions need stimulus and exercise. Dreams fulfil this need.
  • An expression of human supersenses. Humans have an unconscious ability to read body language – so they can assess other humans very quickly. Humans have an unimaginable ability to absorb information, not simply from books, but from everyday events. With it they constantly arrive at new insights and realisations. Humans frequently correctly predict the future – not out of a bizarre ability, but from the information gathered about the present. All these abilities and more show in our dreams. See: esp in dreams.
  • A means of solving problems, or formulating creative ideas, both in our personal life, and also in relationships and work. Many people have produced highly creative work directly from dreams.
  • A presentation in symbols of past traumatic experience. If met this can lead to deep psychological healing. Such dreams are therefore an attempt on the part of our spontaneous inner processes to bring about healing change. See: abreaction; compensation theory; nightmares.
  • In the widest sense nearly all dreams act as a process of growth or a move toward maturing. Some dreams are very obviously presenting internal forces or dimensions of experience that might lead the conscious personality toward a greater balance and inclusiveness. See: Individuation.
  • A way of reaching beyond the known world of experience and presenting intimations from the unknown. Many people have dreams in which ESP, out of the body experiences, and knowledge transcending time and space occur. This type of dream may indicate a link between the present person and people who had lived in the distant past; or between the dreamer and all existing life. Some of these dreams present powerful insights into how the transitory human personality may arise out of an eternal consciousness. They thus deal with the spiritual aspects of human nature.

c(6) beings. in the mid-1960s, a psychiatrist named Howard Roffwarg, at Columbia University in New York, suggested that nervous activity during REM sleep helps to stimulate the developing brain in very young children, thus promoting the growth of neural connections necessary for learning. In adults, according to Roffwarg, REM serves, like physical exercise, to maintain tone in the central nervous system.

The notion that REM could be a crucial ingredient in the learning process gained momentum during the 1970’s following the work of Boston psychiatrists Ramon Greenberg and Chester Pearlman. In the laboratory, Greenberg and Pearlman deprived rats and mice of REM sleep while training the animals to run through a variety of mazes. The researchers discovered that while REM loss caused test rodents to perform only slightly worse on simple routines that they had al-ready mastered, it had a markedly adverse impact on the animals’ ability to carry out more complex tasks or to learn new ones, of whatever degree of complexity.

Greenberg and Pearlman noted that the same pattern appeared to be true with people. Human volunteers who went without REM sleep could per-form routine activities without much trouble but had much greater difficulty tackling complicated word-memorising tasks. This finding led the psychiatrists to conclude that the mind is doing serious work when it dreams-specifically, it is incorporating newly learned information into a long-term memory bank. According to this theory, REM may thus be critical in stimulating the development of associative thought in infants and young children. The theory would also explain why humans, who must constantly adapt to meet new challenges, exhibit so much REM activity.

See: Your Guru the Dream for more Information.


-yash 2011-01-15 3:56:05

I thought that dream is what,which is in our brain,and we see many dream which is beyond our thinking,we see some dreams which has no link with our daily life and we also never see something in them..but they comes…that means our brain is beyond to us

    -Tony Crisp 2011-01-26 12:39:59

    Yash – Some people who have explored their dreams thoroughly believe that, as you have intimated, our brain is a receiver, like radio, and the real us is what sends the signal.

    When I had a stroke and I could not speak or move, I was conscious that I was fully intact in myself, but the damage to my brain had messed up the mechanism of enabling my body to make sounds we call speech. It was a wonderful feeling. See


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