What about … #24

For centuries people have pondered the meaning of dreams. Early civilizations thought of them as a medium between our earthly world and that of the gods. In fact, the Greeks and Romans were convinced that dreams had certain prophetic powers, and some people still believe it. Some search these prophetic powers into the Bible, some on fortune tellers while others on specified magazines. While there has always been a great interest in the interpretation of human dreams, it wasn’t until the end of the nineteenth century that Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung put forth some of the most widely-known modern theories of dreaming. Freud’s theory centred around the notion of repressed longing — the idea that dreaming allows us to sort through unresolved, repressed wishes. Carl Jung (who studied under Freud) also believed that dreams had psychological importance, but proposed different theories about their meaning. Since then, technological advancements have allowed for the development of other theories. One prominent neurobiological theory of dreaming is the “activation-synthesis hypothesis,” which states that dreams don’t actually mean anything: they are merely electrical brain impulses that pull random thoughts and imagery from our memories

The proposed link between our dreams and emotions is highlighted in a recent study published by Matthew Walker and colleagues at the Sleep and Neuroimaging Lab at UC Berkeley, who found that a reduction in REM sleep (or less “dreaming”) influences our ability to understand complex emotions in daily life – an essential feature of human social functioning.

Thus, we know that dreams are generated in the right inferior lingual gyrus (located in the visual cortex), or transmitted through this particular area of the brain, which is associated with visual processing, emotion and visual memories. Taken together, these recent findings tell an important story about the underlying mechanism and possible purpose of dreaming. Dreams seem to help us process emotions by encoding and constructing memories of them. What we see and experience in our dreams might not necessarily be real, but the emotions attached to these experiences certainly are. Our dream stories essentially try to strip the emotion out of a certain experience by creating a memory of it. This way, the emotion itself is no longer active.This mechanism fulfils an important role because when we don’t process our emotions, especially negative ones, this increases personal worry and anxiety. In fact, severe REM sleep-deprivation is increasingly correlated to the development of mental disorders. In short, dreams help regulate traffic on that fragile bridge which connects our experiences with our emotions and memories.

So if science can’t interpret dreams, who can pretend to be able to do so? Dreams can make sense only to the dreamer. But as we’ve seen, dreams are what connects our experiences with our emotions