I’m talking to an acquaintance I haven’t seen or even thought of in ages about a skateboard sailboat that I’m designing. I’m going into great detail as to how I’m planning to power it with -besides the wind – cauliflower and chicken parts. My mother – who’s actually been gone for a while – is in a treehouse above us calling for some sheet music for piano. All of this seems to be taking place in the yard of the house I lived in for just a few months in 1985, but it doesn’t look anything like it; I just know it’s the place. The next thing I know there’s my first grade teacher explaining to me that she is now involved in copper mining.
Such is a typical dream of mine. I’m sure you can relate, since it seems that everyone has dreams that can most accurately be described first and foremost as bizarre.
I’ve been nuts with curiosity over dreams and dreaming for as long as I can remember. The complex, seemingly absurd, and yes bizarre nature of my nightly forays into the dreamworld has been fodder for not only amusement but deep speculation. It has led me to follow results of dream and sleep research over the years, to find out what experts are learning about the subject.
There are lots of theories as to why we dream. Researchers universally believe that dreaming does indeed serve a function; it is not just the result of the brain playing around at night. Dreaming may be important to cognitive function in that it may help consolidate memories; help solidify the learning that took place the previous day. Dreaming may also have importance in stress control and it may revitalize or “reboot” thought processes.
Perhaps dreaming helps renew neural pathways. Maybe it functions in virtually preparing the organisms -that would be us – for various experience scenarios yet to be encountered. Many of the physicians and other experts I talk to about dreaming will typically go into detail about how we dream during REM sleep and so forth and so on and then finish up with, “We still don’t really know!” followed by a laugh.
So, we don’t know for sure why we dream. How about the subject matter of our dreams? Why do we dream what we dream? Again, there is much debate, but in general… we don’t know. There have been efforts at interpretation of dreams for centuries; Sigmund Freud made a big deal of it. From my own experience I’m not convinced that the weird stuff I dream has any particular, deep meaning, most of it being just so hilariously absurd.
Isn’t it funny that while one is experiencing a dream it all seems so logical, reasonable, and normal? It’s only after waking that you realize how ridiculous it all was.
Even though most of our dreams seem to consist of exceedingly random subject matter, most of us have recurrent dream themes too. Personally, I dream fairly often about school related things, like I’m sitting at my desk and the teacher hands out a test that I am completely unprepared for; I didn’t know anything about it. Or I realize that I have missed the last several classes and don’t know what’s going on. Or the semester is well underway and I still haven’t made it to the first class. Or I am trying to navigate the school grounds trying to find the classroom and it all looks totally foreign and I’m very late. These dreams are obviously not so fun.
Another recurrent dream theme for me goes something like this: I break down in the car I’m driving and I have to walk across town for help and I’m totally naked. Sound familiar?
Lots of people have related to me similarly-themed dreams; perhaps such common dream topics are related to our culture. Besides the recurrent themes of “school” and “naked” and “sex” – I had to throw that one in – there are a few other subjects that I revisit quite often in my dreams. And I haven’t the faintest idea why.
But I do know that it intrigues me to no end.
Isn’t it funny how sometimes you actually know it’s a dream that you’re in, and sometimes if you’re dreaming a good dream and you wake up a little bit it’s possible to kind of get back into it? Something delightful that’s happened to me only in recent years is waking up from a dream laughing my head off. That’s right, laughing out loud at something I was just then experiencing in the dreamworld.
It’s fairly obvious that dreams are not created to be remembered; most people find their dreams fading away to nothing in short order. Indeed, the only way I can well remember a dream is if I review it in my mind very intentionally, or write it down as quickly as I can. Yes, the details fade quickly, but I’ve noticed that the emotions felt during a dream can linger.
Contemplating the subject deeper, it occurs to me that during dreaming, – a so-called sub conscious process – deeply complex stories are developed and enacted. This requires executive decision making, right? Put another way, dreams are not just snapshots or reruns of previous experiences. They are complexly crafted, completely new vignettes which, one might reasonably deduce, require conscious thought to create. It makes one wonder just how much of human existence is really at what we traditionally refer to as the “conscious” level.
Dreaming can certainly be entertaining. Isn’t it crazy that we humans have what at first glance is a built-in, self-generating system of virtual fantasy streaming? And no additional headset is required. The only catch is you can’t pick your dream program; you get what you get.
(Or, perhaps, what you are given . . .)
We are lucky that, other than the occasional unpleasant one – the nightmare that prompts deep sighs of relief upon waking- most dreams are not only mysterious but interesting and amusing. Like the greater cosmos beyond earth’s orbit, our inner dreamworld universe will no doubt continue to amaze and mystify us.
Dream on, and hang on for the ride.
– Johnny Robinson