Dreams had always been a part of human existence. Since time immemorial, human beings had always been mystified on the phenomenon of dreaming. As early as 5000 B. C. , early civilizations had recorded and tried to interpret their dreams on clay tablets. The Egyptians, puzzled by the existence of dreams, had even believed in a God of Dreams whom they called Serapis. Up to the present age, theorists and psychologists are still unable to arrive at a definite explanation on why humans dream. Dreams are etched in the human mind in such a way that makes it hard for researchers to objectively study them.
At present, there are three major theories that are widely accepted that explain such phenomenon: (1) Freud’s Theory (2) Cognitive Theory and the (3) Activation-Synthesis Theory. Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) believed that a dream exists as a wish fulfillment. According to him, people have unsatisfied or unexpressed desires during the times when they are awake and these desires are being fulfilled unconsciously when people dream through sleeping. For example, a person having unfulfilled sexual desires one or two days prior to sleeping may have dreams that are sexually erotic in nature (may lead to ‘wet dreaming’).
Similarly, people who had been forced to suppress their anger during waking hours may have dreams that contain violent elements/scenes (Santrock, 2005, p. 244). This theory of Freud is particularly applicable to a personal experience. Once I broke our printer by accident. I was trying to find a way to fix it but the only solution I could think of is having it repaired by a technician. The main dilemma was that I didn’t have the money to have it fixed. It was very fortunate that no one else used the printer that day. When I slept in the evening, I dreamt that a certain old man came to fix our printer free-of-charge.
The dream ended there. It can be seen from this experience that a problem during the day was given a temporary solution through dreaming. Although the printer wasn’t really fixed at all, the dream was sufficient in providing a quick way out of my anxiety caused by the broken printer. Another example was the time when I was craving for some McDonald’s Fries for no particular reason. I haven’t been able to go to the said Fast-Food Shop because my mother borrowed my car. I just slept through my craving for McFries and I ended up dreaming about it, only that in my dream, the fries are much larger than the actual size.
According to Freud, our dreams may contain scenes or events from our experiences of the past day or of the day before. One particular dream to illustrate this is my dream that I was able to fly. In the dream, I had my arms stretched over my head and I was flying over our village, very much like Superman. I could connect this dream to my behavior when I went swimming with my friends the day before. During my stay underwater, I had been imitating the flying position of Superman imagining that I was floating in mid-air instead of mid-water. An additional example for this theory of Freud is my dream on the Red Queen.
I had watched on home video the movie Alice in Wonderland by Tim Burton. I was so irritated with the Red Queen’s face while I was watching the movie that I dreamt of the character when I slept in the evening. In the dream, I was having a dispute with the Red Queen where in the end I won our fight and I was able to command certain Knights, “Off with her head! ” Perhaps connected to this principle of Freud was my experience when I had a fever. I wasn’t feeling well when I slept and I was feeling a bit scared to sleep in solitude. In the middle of my sleep, I dreamt that I was transformed into a cat and that my friends could not recognize me.
I was trying my best to scream my name to them but all that I could manage to say were small meows. The next stage of my dream was that I had a small hole in my skull. The small hole led to the deformation of my skull because it secreted foul-smelling cerebral fluid through it. I woke up in the middle of night sweating and breathing heavily. Even though events from days before may appear in a dream, it does not necessarily mean that the scenes in the dream happen in chronology. More often than not, a dream is a homogenous mixture of different time-frames where the sense of chronology is absent.
Tied with this principle is that places where dream scenes may happen need not be logical or real. I had dreams before of having to wake up in my bedroom as the sun was just rising and stepping out of my room, I find myself at the school cafeteria way past dusk. I also had a dream wherein I was standing in front of my friend’s house. That friend of mine had offended me during one of our night-out with the rest of our peers. In my dream, I was back to the scene wherein we were having an intense argument. Then, one second of whirling brought me in front of that friend’s house, waiting for him to come out and ask for forgiveness.
He didn’t come out of the house though and I was brought to a garden where I found him sitting on a bench. At the end of the dream, I was the one who asked for his forgiveness. The following morning, before I left for school, he gave me a phone call telling me that he was sorry. According to Freud, there are two components of a dream, a surface element which he called the manifest content and a hidden meaning of the surface element which he called the latent content. For example, Freud states that snakes and neckties present in the dream may mean something else.
The snake or necktie is the manifest content while its latent content is a male genitalia. This means the snake or necktie symbolizes a male genitalia. This idea of Freud made me remember a dream I had just this weekend. In the dream, I had been boating with a tour guide on the Amazon River. I was so terrified to see a giant snake swimming just under our boat. The faceless tour guide just told me that the snake couldn’t see us because we were in the snake’s blind spot. I never knew what happened with me on that river, only that in the dream I was transported somewhere else I couldn’t remember.
Could my dream mean that I am fantasizing about whatever the snake symbolizes? It’s hard to believe though! The second theory of dreaming is the Cognitive Theory. It states that dreaming involves the same cognitive steps used in the waking mind: processing, memory and problem solving (Santrock, 2005, p. 245). In this theory, hidden meanings of dreams through symbols are not regarded as possible. Dreaming is looked upon as an opportunity for the person to find a state of mind where problems can be solved through creative thinking.
Robert Louis Stevenson, for example, said that it was in a dream that he acquired the idea for Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Elias Howe claimed also that a dream provided him the idea of creating a sewing needle with the hole for the thread on the blunt tip of the needle and not on the middle. (Santrock, 2005, p. 245). Friedrich Kekule, the proponent of the structure of the benzene, said that the cyclic structure of benzene was seen in a dream wherein he saw a snake trying to bite its own tail as it moves in a circular manner. I could apply this theory in one of my experiences.
I was trying to come up with a story on how humans need to face trials as means of being emotionally stronger. The story needed to be as creative as possible because I was going to present it to a youth group in our church. Out of fatigue due to too much thinking, I decided to take a nap on my desk. I dreamt then of a young butterfly inside a cocoon. When I woke up, I was reminded of a story I heard long ago from a Franciscan nun wherein a young man tried to help the young butterfly get out of the cocoon by opening the cocoon himself with the use of a pair of scissors.
The butterfly went out of the cocoon weakly with scrawny wings and was unable to fly. The struggle of the butterfly to get out of the cocoon by itself helps it to develop stronger wings that would soon enable it to fly. If I hadn’t dreamt of the young butterfly in the cocoon, I wouldn’t have remembered this story! The third theory is the Activation-Synthesis Theory. It states that dreams are part of the brain’s internal effort to explain the neural activity that still exists even though the person is sleeping (Santrock, 2005, p. 245).
Neural networks in areas of the forebrain are involved in both the waking and dreaming behaviors. Primary motor and sensory areas of the forebrain may possibly be activated during the sensorimotor aspects of dreaming. (Santrock, 2005, p. 246). For example, if the dream asks for spatial organization, the parietal lobe would be activated. Similarly, if the dream asks for emotional requirements, the amygdala, hippocampus and frontal lobe may be activated. The movement of dreams in a ‘fantasy-whirling’ manner may be due to the sudden, uncoordinated eye movements of REM sleep.
The sudden shift or dissolvation of a particular dream scene is explained as due to the normal cycling of neural activation. During stages of sleep, levels of neurotransmitters may rise and fall wherein particular neural networks are activated and shut down. As a new cycle is activated, that is, new sets of neural networks are activated and shut down, a new dream scene comes to the focus. Dreaming, therefore, becomes a succession of fantasy-transitioned slide shows. In connection to this theory, I once had a dream that involved a real experience while I was sleeping.
I managed to open my eyes as I was disturbed in the middle of a sleep. I then saw my mother in my room, fixing the mess I left on my study desk. Subconsciously, I knew that I saw my mother inside my room, but then, as if my brain wanted to explain or make a story out of what I saw, the exact scene came to my dream. In the dream, I stood up and helped my mom fix the mess on my desk, but then my mom turned into a classmate of mine and we were back in the classroom listening intently to our teacher. I woke up in the middle of the night, convinced that I really didn’t stand up to help my mom fix my mess.
These three theories explain to us why people dream. Freud’s Theory, The Cognitive Theory and the Activation-Synthesis Theory may view the phenomenon of dreaming in three different perspectives. In the present stage of human knowledge when it comes to explaining the human psyche, it could be said that an absolute explanation for dreaming is nonexistent. However, the three theories may work hand-in-hand in explaining and interpreting human dreaming. Reference Santrock, J. W. Psychology 7. McGraw-Hill Companies Inc. , 1221 Avenue of the Americas. Mew York, NY 10020. 244-246
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