Do Dreams Mean Anything?
For as long as humankind has been able to think and reason, they’ve been captivated by the process that we call ‘dreaming’.
Surprisingly, there is really no standard definition for what ‘dreaming’ really means. Some say that a dream is the work of the subconscious mind. Others describe dreams as fantasies, pictures, or situations that formulate themselves in your mind and play themselves out while you’re asleep.
But these definitions don’t really do the term justice. In fact, our inability to develop a conclusive definition for the term that suits every situation is, in itself, an example of how strange and mysterious dreams and the act of ‘dreaming’ really are to us as humans.
One of my favorite descriptions for the term comes from an article posted on scientificamerican.com, titled ‘What is Dreaming and What Does it Tell Us about Memory?’
“Almost by definition, a dream is something you are aware of at some level. It may be fragmentary, disconnected, and illogical, but if you aren’t aware of it during sleep then it isn’t a dream.”
But what do dreams actually mean? Are they premonitions of the future? Are they the re-imagined past returning to us in a different form? Are they the workings of our subconscious as we sort through data and information after we’ve gone to sleep? Or are they simply part of the brains rest and rebooting process?
We’re going to attempt to explore some basic facts that might provide some of the answers.
Dreaming: The Basics
There are many groups of people who believe that dreams are absolutely significant. Some groups and individuals believe that dreams can serve as messages from their god, deity, or passed loved ones, while other spiritually-minded people believe that dreams may hold messages, or even premonitions of the future. Some believe that dreams deliver small glimpses of past lives, or that they contain vital information that we will need to make choices or decisions in the days to come.
But science might actually tell us something different about dreams. Of course, they are not completely understood, and still remain a bit of a mystery – but many scientists seem to agree that dreams aren’t quite as mysterious as some of these theories make them out to be.
What is really happening when we dream?
You could literally fill an entire library with information about dreaming and what the brain is actually doing when it takes place – so we could never do this question complete justice in just one article. But one of my favorite summarizations that I’ve seen lately comes from an article that was published on Psychologytoday.com, titled ‘What do dreams mean?’
Here’s what the author says in that article, and I think this quote does a very good job of summarizing what’s really going on when we dream.
“Their [dreams] function is a biological application to clean out the residues of yesterday’s play of consciousness in order to prepare and be at its best for the upcoming new day.”
The article goes on to say this, which adds to this definition and helps to explain why dreams are often so personalized and seemingly relevant to our lives and day-to-day thought processes…
“The reason why dreams have meaning to us is because they are written from our plays of consciousness.”
One could actually describe dreaming as a sort of image-focused detoxification process for the brain. All of our vital organs do their metabolic work while we are asleep – which is one reason for why sleep is so important to our overall health and well-being. The brain is no different – and dreams likely play a very important role in this function.
The article from Psychologytoday.com goes on to say this about the brain and this ‘detox’ process that the brain needs to go through.
“It is through the enactments of the dream story that consciousness does its sleep work. Consciousness, in dreams, is not just a reductive brain rehash. Dreams are an alive, creative production of consciousness.”
With all of this being said, dreams certainly are thought to have meanings – but it would seem to be most accurate to describe these meanings as ‘symbolic’ of our innermost thoughts, feelings, anxieties, and other emotions that are affecting us, either consciously or subconsciously.
In other words, dreams may sometimes serve as a sort of theatrical reenactment of our literal conscious or subconscious thoughts, feelings, and emotions – though the meanings behind the actual imagery and sequences of events might not always make complete sense to us, despite our attempts to analyze them.
It could also be said that dreams may present a fascinating front-row seat to the inner workings of our emotional and psychological selves, as they can offer a unique perspective into how we view the world and situations around us. But they can also be deceptively cryptic – and many people fail to accurately decipher their true meanings, which can lead to confusion or answers that may lead us down stranger, less-scientific avenues.
But regardless of exactly what they do or why we have them, dreams are very, very real. Learning more about the process can help us to understand it better – but it can also help us to understand ourselves a bit more as well, because our dreams are literal creations of our mind during a certain phase of consciousness – offering a ‘window to the soul’ (in a manner of speaking) that isn’t afforded us in many other types of situations.