What Is a Dream?
There is a little disagreement on exactly what dreams are about, but most scientists agree on this basic explanation – your brain pieces together images and stories (AKA dreams) from random electrical pulses it receives from the brain stem. These pulses are sent out every hour and a half or so, while you are sleeping. They are 100 percent random, which means they come in no set order. Your forebrain (the front part of your brain) tries to make sense of the signals, like you would try to make sense of an abstract painting. The way your brain interprets these signals determines what you dream about.
The content and purpose of dreams are not definitively understood, though they have been a topic of scientific speculation, as well as a subject of philosophical and religious interest (ancient Greeks thought the dreams were messages from gods), throughout recorded history.
Some people think that dreams could predict the future. One of the most famous examples of this was Abraham Lincoln’s dream before he was assassinated. Three days prior to his assassination, Abraham Lincoln related a dream he had to his wife and a few friends. According to Ward Hill Lamon, one of the friends who was present for the conversation, the president said:
“About ten days ago, I retired very late. I had been up waiting for important dispatches from the front. I could not have been long in bed when I fell into a slumber, for I was weary. I soon began to dream. There seemed to be a death-like stillness about me. Then I heard subdued sobs, as if a number of people were weeping. I thought I left my bed and wandered downstairs. There the silence was broken by the same pitiful sobbing, but the mourners were invisible. I went from room to room; no living person was in sight, but the same mournful sounds of distress met me as I passed along. I saw light in all the rooms; every object was familiar to me; but where were all the people who were grieving as if their hearts would break? I was puzzled and alarmed. What could be the meaning of all this? Determined to find the cause of a state of things so mysterious and so shocking, I kept on until I arrived at the East Room, which I entered. There I met with a sickening surprise. Before me was a catafalque, on which rested a corpse wrapped in funeral vestments. Around it were stationed soldiers who were acting as guards; and there was a throng of people, gazing mournfully upon the corpse, whose face was covered, others weeping pitifully. ‘Who is dead in the White House?’ I demanded of one of the soldiers, ‘The President,’ was his answer; ‘he was killed by an assassin.’ Then came a loud burst of grief from the crowd, which woke me from my dream. I slept no more that night; and although it was only a dream, I have been strangely annoyed by it ever since.”
(SOURCE: p. 116-117 of Recollections of Abraham Lincoln 1847-1865 by Ward Hill Lamon (Lincoln, University of Nebraska Press, 1994))
The scientific study of dreams is called oneirology. Scientists believe that, in addition to humans, certain birds and the majority of mammals also dream.
Human beings need at least eight hours of sleep a night. During that time most people dream at least two hours. Dreams mainly occur in the rapid-eye movement (REM) stage of sleep—when brain activity is high and resembles that of being awake.
What Do Dreams Mean?
It’s hard to know exactly what dreams mean – or if they mean anything at all. Some sleep experts think the way your brain interprets the electrical pulses may tell you about yourself – in the same way an ink blot test can. One of the most famous modern psychiatrists, Carl Jung, thought that images in dreams (monsters, masks, parents, whatever), represent the same things to all people. He called it our “collective unconscious.” This kind of thinking has inspired dream dictionaries, which attach specific meanings to major symbols that may show up in your dreams. Others believe that the meanings behind your dreams are more personal than that and may be shaped by past experiences. For example, to one person, dreaming about a clown is a positive experience that represents happiness. To another person who is afraid of clowns, the dream may symbolize fear and anxiety.
Deciphering Your Dreams
Although every dream has a specific meaning to a person who is dreaming it, there are some common “dream images”. Here are some possible meanings behind major symbols that might pop up in your dreams. An alternate way of analyzing your dreams would be to write down all the major symbols from your dreams and brainstorm what those symbols mean to you.
House – Image of yourself.
Road – Journey.
Flying – Freedom.
Falling – Losing confidence, feeling out od control.
Water – Dreamer’s emotions.
Being Chased – Chase dreams usually reflect how you are dealing with anxiety in your waking life.
Cartoons – Cartoons can symbolize disguised identity. Dreams with cartoons in them often represent unknown or deceptive people or situations.
A Crush – Usually dreaming about your crush has to do with the feelings of warmth and affection you have towards the person. If you’re crushing on someone whose face you can’t see, it may mean that you feel ready for a BF/GF, but don’t have anyone in particular in mind.
Dad – Depending on the situation, dreaming of your father can represent authority or protection.
Dinosaur – Dreaming of a dinosaur probably represents something that you feel is too big to handle or scary because it is unknown.
Falling – Falling dreams are not considered to be very meaningful psychologically. Scientist believes that when we are falling asleep, our sense of balance changes, which leads us to feel like we’re falling. This phenomenon even has a fancy name – it’s called a myoclonic jerk.
Mom – Usually dreaming of your mother represents nurturing, protection and comfort.
Monster – Monsters can represent parts of yourself that you find uncivilized or ugly. They can also represent fear of the unknown.
Pet – Dreaming of a pet is a lot like dreaming of a baby. These dreams often symbolize fragility and dependence.
School – School is a natural setting in kids’ dreams, so it usually doesn’t have any symbolic significance.
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