Dreams-what do they mean?
Dreams have always held a universal fascination. Some primitive societies believe that the soul leaves the body and visits the scene of the dream. Generally, however, dreams are accepted to be illusions, having much in common with day-dreams-the fantasies of our waking life. When dreaming however, one tends to believe fully in the reality of the dream world, however inconsistent, illogical and odd it may be.
Although most dreams apparently happen spontaneously, dream activity may be provoked by external influences. ‘Suffocation’ dreams are connected with the breathing difficulties of a heavy cold, for instance. Internal disorders such as indigestion can cause vivid dreams, and dreams of racing fire-engines may be caused by the ringing of an alarm bell.
Experiments have been carried out to investigate the connection between deliberately inflicted pain and dreaming. For example, a sleeper pricked with a pin perhaps dreams of fighting a battle and receiving a severe sword wound. Although the dream is stimulated by the physical discomfort, the actual events of the dream depend on the associations of the discomfort in the mind of the sleeper.
A dreamer’s eyes often move rapidly from side to side. Since people born blind do not dream visually and do not manifest this eye activity, it is thought that the dreamer may be scanning the scene depicted in his dream. A certain amount of dreaming seems to be a human requirement-if a sleeper is roused every time his eyes begin to move fast, effectively depriving him of his dreams, he will make more eye movements the following night.
People differ greatly in their claims to dreaming. Some say they dream every night, others only very occasionally. Individual differences probably exist, but some people immediately forget dreams and others have good recall.
Superstition and magical practices thrive on the supposed power of dreams to foretell the future. Instances of dreams which have later turned out to be prophetic have often been recorded, some by men of the highest intellectual integrity. Although it is better to keep an open mind on the subject, it is true that the alleged power of dreams to predict future events still remains unproved.
Everyone knows that a sleeping dog often behaves as though he were dreaming, but it is impossible to tell what his whines and twitches really mean. By analogy with human experience, however, it is reasonable to suppose that at least the higher animals are capable of dreaming.
Of the many theories of dreams, Freud’s is probably the best known. According to Freud, we revert in our dreams to the modes of thought characteristic of early childhood. Our thinking becomes concrete, pictorial and non-logical, and expresses ideas and wishes we are no longer conscious of. Dreams are absurd and unaccountable because our conscious mind, not willing to acknowledge our subconscious ideas, disguises them.
Some of Freud’s interpretations are extremely fanciful, but there is almost certainly some truth in his view that dreams express the subconscious mind.