Why Do We Dream?
The science behind dreaming, and theories behind Oneirology.
I’m often left baffled, confused, and awestruck by the things that I dream about. Like you, I wondered exactly why we dream. There’s no doubt that dreams have a solid connection with our memory.
The study of dreams is called Oneirology. Some scientists famous for their studies of dreams include Sigmund Freud, who believed that our dreams reveal insight into hidden desires and emotions. Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche claimed that when we dream we experience a consciousness similar to that of early humanity. Or Carl Jung (who studied under Freud) suggested that dreams intertwine the conscious and unconscious together.
Here we’ll look at some of the science behind dreaming and some theories that best describe dreams.
First let’s tie together Oneirology and Neurology, and get a basis of what happens to your brain as you dream. After you’ve fallen asleep and you begin to dream, your Prefrontal Cortex shuts off. Your Prefrontal Cortex (to put it simply) is you. The PFC is in charge of complex cognitive behaviour, basically all your decision making. So the part of you that makes logical decisions has no say whatsoever in your dreams. That’s why dreams can be so wild and random, your brain cannot separate from what is logical and what is not.
Along with your Prefrontal Cortex, your Conscious is also shut off. Your conscious is your “fact checker,” allowing you to separate truth and reality from lies or imagination. But the part of your brain that is intact and active when dreaming is your Amygdala. The Amygdala is the centre for fear and emotions. Now we can see why Night Terrors are so common, because the centre for your deep emotions and fears is the in charge of your dreams.
Most of our dreams are quickly forgotten only moments after we’ve had them. It’s probably best that way, as our brains are processing so much already. Remembering all of our dreams would make it even more chaotic to navigate through our brains. Most of our dreams happen when we reach the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) cycle of sleep. During REM, memories are transferred to long-term.
The average person has three to five dreams per night, with some of us having up to seven dreams per night. The majority of our dreams are short, though studies have shown that the duration of your dreams gets longer with the progression of your sleep.
Now that you have a deeper understanding of the science behind dreams, let’s dive into the big question. Why do we dream? What’s the purpose? Well unfortunately, to be quite frank, science still doesn’t quite know. We know that dreams are tied to visual processing and our memories, and that dream recollection is retrieved from our memories. We understand that dreaming (excluding lucid dreaming) is an involuntary process. As well as knowing that dreams carry deep emotions. But other than a few facts, scientists have conducted studies and tried to form well-educated, evidence-backed theories.
Some of the more popular theories include Sigmund Freuds belief that our dreams are our repressed wishes, hidden deep inside of us. According to Freud, our dreams carry our deepest desires and great meaning. You can read more about Freud’s work in his book, The Interpretation of Dreams. Originally published in 1900, the book is Freud's work studying dreams. Another theory is that dreams help us process emotions by attaching memories to them. In other words, though what we’re dreaming about may not be real, the attached emotions are. Some claim that dreaming is the process of moving memories into our long-term. As well as the theory that dreams have no meaning. Many believe that dreams are simply random brain activity. There are countless other theories backed by studies. But when it comes to our dreams, it seems we know very little. Science is still discovering things everyday.
Did you enjoy this article? You might also enjoy other articles by J.Y. L such as Six Places Where Reality Feels Altered on Horror. Thank you for reading.