Dream is a story that a person "watches" or appears to take part in during sleep. Dream events are imaginary, but they are related to real experiences in the dreamer's life. They seem real to the dreamer while they are taking place. Some dreams are pleasant, others are annoying, and still others are frightening
Everyone dreams, but some people never recall dreaming. Others remember only a little about a dream they had just before awakening and nothing about earlier dreams. No one recalls every dream.
What dreams consist of.
The events of a dream usually form a story. In some dreams, the dreamer takes part in the story. In others, the dreamer merely "watches" the tale unfold. In most dreams, the dreamer cannot control what is happening, there is little logical thought, and events occur that could not happen in real life. Occasionally, the dreamer will realize that he or she is dreaming and may be able to alter what happens in the dream. This is known as a lucid dream.
People see in most dreams, and they may also hear, smell, touch, and taste in them. Most dreams occur in colour, though the colour is often recalled only vaguely. Dreaming thought seems to put things together in new and unexpected ways. In some cases, this has led to important scientific discoveries or highly creative works.
The biology of dreams.
Dreaming, like all mental processes, is a product of the brain and its activity. Whether a person is awake or asleep, the brain continuously gives off electrical waves. Scientists measure these waves with an instrument called an electroencephalograph. At most times during sleep, the brain waves are large and slow. But at certain times, they become smaller and faster.
During periods of fast brain waves, the eyes move rapidly as though the sleeper were watching a series of events. This stage of sleep, called
REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, is when most dreams occur. If awakened during REM sleep, the person is likely to recall details of the dream. Most adults have three to five REM periods each night. They occur every 90 to 100 minutes and last from 5 to 30 minutes each. But some people report dreams from non-REM periods.
During REM sleep, the pathways that carry nerve impulses from the brain to the muscles are blocked. Therefore, the body cannot move during dreams. Also, the cerebral cortex--the part of the brain involved in higher mental functions--is much more active during REM sleep than during nondreaming sleep. The cortex is stimulated by neurons (nerve cells) that carry impulses from the part of the brain called the brain stem.
The meanings of dreams.
Many experts who study dreams also feel that they are related to deep wishes and fears of the dreamer, and several theories explaining the meaning of dreams have been developed. During the 1890's,
Sigmund Freud, an Austrian doctor who originated psychoanalysis, developed one of the best-known theories of dream interpretation. Freud suggested that dreams are fulfilments of wishes, usually in disguised form. The disguise--or "dream language"--involves condensation (combining several ideas into one image), displacement (shifting a feeling from one idea or person to another), and symbolism (the use of symbols to represent what cannot be pictured directly).
Some scientists have suggested that biological discoveries about dreaming have made psychological theories of dreaming, such as Freud's, unnecessary or false. These scientists argue that a dream is a meaningless response of the cerebral cortex to random stimulation from the brain stem. However, waking thought is also a response of the cerebral cortex to stimulation, often random, from the brain stem.
Functions of dreams.
The function of dreaming is not completely understood. Dreaming sleep may play a role in restoring the brain's ability to handle such tasks as focused attention, memory, and learning. In addition, most psychiatrists and psychologists still believe that a person's hidden feelings often surface in dreams. Psychotherapists therefore analyse patients' dreams in an effort to help the patients understand themselves better.
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Freud, Sigmund. Interpretation of Dreams. Penguin Books, London, 1996.
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