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The Science Survey

We've got the news down to a science!

The Science Survey

We've got the news down to a science!

The Science Survey

The Significance of Dreaming

Waking up from an alternate reality, we begin to ask ourselves the meaning of our dreams.
This photo captures the feelings that people feel when they dream, as our minds wander. (Photo Credit: Bruce Christianson / Unsplash)
This photo captures the feelings that people feel when they dream, as our minds wander. (Photo Credit: Bruce Christianson / Unsplash)

You lay on the face of a quiet greenly packed hill. As you try to get up, you feel the violent, forceful wind as it pulls on your hair. It travels through the ends of the growing weeds in the ground. In comes a sudden dark cloud. The wind stops. 

We all know what it is to wake up from the most intriguing and enjoyable dream just when it was about to get even better. Sometimes, we attempt to continue that other reality by going back to sleep. It ends in failure, of course. Sometimes, this dream comes back to us in the real world, sometimes without us even realizing it. Therefore, we ask ourselves what these dreams mean? How do they even develop?

Oftentimes, dreams occur as a result of events within our lives. Different cultures and religions perceive dreams to foreshadow and replicate different ideas. An example of this may be Native American Dream Catchers. Dream Catchers are woven webs or nets usually made in a circular form and occasionally decorated with cultural feathers or beads. Dream catchers originate from Ojibwe people who once lived in what is now Southern Canada. The Ojibwe people originally created Dream Catchers as a form of apotropaic (magic) in order to ward off any forms of evil such as the bad dreams of babies, as dream catchers were hung over cradles. The Ojibwe people created Dream Catchers in a form that portrays dreams as a spiritual strength that can be warded off, according to the writer Nudrat Karim.

Alternatively, there are a select few who theorize dreams to be a foretelling of the future. Consider deja-vu, the act of remembering being in the same setting in the past. Occasionally, it feels as though these feelings or specks of memory come to us from previous dreams. A study on prior dream induction by L. Edwards, however, argues that the data lacks a control in order to create a correlation between previous dreams and the present life. Edwards argues that dreams may be a combination of new and old memories, along with present life. 

Dream Development

Erin J. Wamsley writes in an article ‘How the brain constructs dreams,’ that that the hippocampus, which holds responsibility for the area of the brain in which our dreams develop, replicates the reality of our lives using previous memories. All dreams consist of at least one aspect of our previous memories. These previous memories may be as small as a remembrance of an acquaintance within our dreams, for instance, when you dream of your family members or those with whom you have crossed paths.

Wamsley further explains that the hippocampus is proven to be capable of using memory and creating novel-like scenarios and stimulating or foreshadowing future events. However, this concept of foreshadowing the future is known as déjà rêvé. Déjà rêvé, as several scholars have described, is merely a feeling that parts of the brain have been stimulated. If you’ve ever had the sensation of reliving a specific moment, it might seem like you’re losing your mind, but that’s only a temporary explanation.

Aside from that, even if these dreams are just configured by our brains, they must still have meaning. Like most things, belief in different superstitions will contribute to the significance of each type of common dream. But, let us first acknowledge how our own dreams range from fearful to odd. The website Sleep Doctor notes an expected tendency of disturbing dreams for people with less healthy mindsets.

One may question how exactly what we actually experience in our life makes its way into our dreams. There are several theories as to why and how we dream. One, presented by Allan Hobson and Robert McCarley, notes the Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sector of dreaming and sleep. During such time, dreaming is considered to be simply a reaction of the brain trying to make sense of the extreme serotonin exerted during the REM sleep stage.

On the other hand, Carl Jung, the renowned Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst and founder of the field of Analytical Psychology, believed dreams to be a direct expression of what is going on in our minds. Furthermore, he believed dreams to translate this expression through a form of symbols and metaphors that also provide a perspective image of the future. This would explain the shift in dream setting, along with the presence of scenes that you eventually experience after dreaming.

Pictured is a woman struggling from distress after experiencing a disturbing dream. (Photo Credit: Yuris Alhumaydy / Unsplash)

Sleep Paralysis / Emotion Induced Dreams

Dreams often may appear so realistic that they induce tremendous fear. However, the rare occurrence of scary dreams aren’t necessarily nightmares, as the most common are sleep paralysis dreams. For example, if I am lying sprawled on the bed and breathing heavily as if my mouth were a whistle, I notice a light in my peripheral vision. The door had been open and the light of the hallway shone into the dark room, and I was still unable to move. Waking up, I came to realize the reality. I was, quite simply, in a dark room with no door opened, and yet breathing shallow with my mouth open. Later, I had begun to question whether it was in fact sleep paralysis which I had experienced.

Oftentimes, within sleep paralysis dreams, one feels as though they are unable to both speak or move. Sleep paralysis proves to be a loss of control of the muscles, however, alongside the fact that many within the dream also believe they are unable to move. 

Hallucinations delivered with sleep paralysis come as the vivid dreams usually produced during the stage of rapid eye movement. To differentiate these vivid dreams, however, they appear to us at the time when we are still awake. Furthermore, it is most common when one awakens from sleep paralysis hallucinations to experience extreme fear or shock. If you yourself have experienced such a dream before, it may feel as though you have just woken up from your own vivid and realistic horror film clip.

Similarly, during the REM (Rapid Eye Movement), dream stage, lucid dreams are usually the most commonly produced. Lucid dreams are dreams of which you are aware or conscious. Those that feel most real or vivid are considered to be lucid dreams. The writer Minesh Khatri finds that lucid dreams create hallucinations, due to confusion between what is real and what is fake within the dream.

In our sleep, we exert hormones such as serotonin which increase our awareness of our surroundings. When our awareness  increases, the hallucinations feel even more real. A hallucination will predictably activate the brain’s fear circuits. 

Similarly, when we are met with disturbing dreams, we may wake up with a peculiar feeling. Oftentimes, these disturbing dreams can consist of several symbols, such as that of a snake. Perhaps the snake is eating someone or something, or the snake is eating itself. Ironically, disturbing dreams often turn out to have less disturbing meanings than how they are originally presented. Snakes within dreams could signify fear, a sign of future danger, or even rebirth.

Religious Interpretations

What can these mysterious figures in dreams represent without someone to interpret them? Of the many meanings behind dreams, some of which correlate with specific figures (Allah, God, the Devil, for instance), it is clear that these dreams hold different values within different cultures. 

The scholar Nohad Awada writes that ancient Egyptians saw dreams as tools to tell the future, and that these dreams ranged from direct to complex. Aboriginal Australians found dreams to be a signifier of the creation of the world. On the other hand, many Christians who dream follows Biblical teachings which describe dreams as God’s form of communicating with them through vision. 

As expected, the most common of dreams are given general meanings. For instance, if one is superstitious of Christianity, when one dreams of beaches, the beach is meant to represent a place where people meet God, representing a place of religious symbolism. By contrast, those in Islamic cultures believe that dreams are forms of communication between oneself and three bodies: Allah, a person’s consciousness, or the Devil. 

Here, there is a superstitious explanation and a scientific one. It’s important to realize that what you might routinely see in your dreams can have a connection to your own past, present, future, or even your faith. 

Despite how much dreams influence our lives, there is still much to be discovered. The current understanding of dreams is that there are boosts in stimulation and serotonin during the REM stage, and a realization that dreams involve both past and present emotions. As for how exactly the brain brings each of these factors together, it is still unknown. While some scholars believe that dreams can predict the future, others believe that dreams are reflections of one’s present life. Either way, neither theory has been proven to be true. The meaning of dreams relies entirely on who interprets them and how. With the connection between dreams and our memory is ultimately subjective, we can say that our dreams reflect us and our present lives.

Despite how much dreams influence our lives, there is still much to be discovered. The current understanding of dreams is that there are boosts in stimulation and serotonin during the REM stage, and a realization that dreams involve both past and present emotions.

About the Contributor
Gabriela Tejeda, Staff Reporter
Gabriela Tejeda currently serves as an Arts & Entertainment Editor for 'The Science Survey.' She interprets journalistic writing as the art of telling a real-life story in its most fictional form. While many people may enjoy the plot and exhilaration of non-fiction stories, they may not always compare to the fictional style of journalism. In the field of photography, Gabriela sees a tone of voice, atmosphere, and even beauty in simple images. Photographing something is like capturing a beautiful moment that, when taken well enough, can convey that moment or feeling to the viewer. Outside of school, Gabriela is involved in Public Forum Speech and Debate, a Women In Business Leadership club, and the Business Society. Additionally, she enjoys reading comics or books that explore dramatic plots and/or romance. As she looks ahead to college, Gabriela is uncertain about her career path but is interested in the fields of medicine and neurology/pre-med. Alternatively, she may choose to major in English studies to further pursue a law degree.