In my attempt to understand my brain and the games it can play, I have started reading the book titled ‘The Interpretation of Dreams’ written by Sigmund Freud in 1900. This article is the first set of collections which I find very interesting while still in the midst of my reading.
1) Causes of dreams: Freud starts with the initial belief of the ancient men that the content and timing of our dreams is in control of gods and demons which use dreams to signal, caution or merry us. Foretelling is, thus, an integrating part of the dream process.
2) Content of dreams:
Quite often people report of having dreams where the dream-content was observed by them in their waking-lives a few days, weeks, months afterwards. How do we explain this? Well, first, it is good to give an example of what we mean in this case. For example, in a dream a person saw an old diary with a dried leaf in it and could accurately identify the botanical name of the leaf, while in his real-life he is not a botanist and claims to have never seen that leaf in his waking life. So how can do it in his dream? The cause is explained by the fact that our dream-brain (subconscious mind) does not differentiate between the important and the unimportant stuff as delineated by our waking-brain (conscious mind). So what really happened in this case was that one time the man was at his relative’s house and was casually browsing through a herbarium and there he got the subconscious memory of the name of the leaf. He did not pay much heed to this information at that time, but his subconscious brain registered the information very accurately.
It has been observed that the content of dreams may be anything we have consciously or subconsciously observed in our waking lives, and thus, to believe that a certain item / person / place which our conscious mind cannot recall can only come in our dream through some supernatural agency, is absolutely childish. No, it is the magic of our subconscious mind which is constantly picking stimuli and information both when we are awake and when we are asleep. And because our subconscious mind is not burdened in the way we toil our conscious brain, it has all the time and resources to pick and store all the information around us.
Research suggests that our subconscious mind can pick signals which are present right in front of us but which our senses and brain (conscious mind) fail to register at all. And then when we have misgivings about a certain person / place / project etc. we call it our doubts but usually it is the subconscious mind working its job of analyzing all the data it has registered in the meantime about that subject. So yes it is often good to trust our gut feelings.
3) Dream Stimuli and Sources: Freud has identified four categories of stimuli / sources of our dreams: external (objective) sensory stimuli, internal (subjective) sensory stimuli, internal (organic) physical stimuli and purely psychical sources of excitation. These categories can also be used to classify the dreams.
The external sources of dream stimulation are affecting our dreams from outside our body. For example, when a hot iron was brought near the cheek of a dreamer he reported to have dreamed of being at Mt. Etna and experiencing severe heat and exhaustion.
Experiments have also been conducted to understand if the same stimuli will produce the same dreams in the same subject. The answer is a mix of yes and no. For instance, when the only stimuli was an alarm clock set at a precise time in the morning, the subconscious mind is able to produce three different dreams to the dreamer all ending with a ringing of bells sound in the end at about the same time when the alarm clock started in the morning. So this proves that our subconscious mind can even register and recall the exact time an alarm clock will ring in the morning. And for further indulgence I will provide the details of two of the dreams the subject reported in this experiment:
Once it was spring and i was waking around the village when I saw people wearing their colorful dresses and walking to the church for prayer. I started to follow them and reached the church where I waited outside for a while as I was hot and wanted to cool down before I enter. And then when I entered the church bells started ringing. And then I woke up to the alarm ringing.
In another dream, it is a cold snowy winter and I have promised a friend to go on a sledge-ride. I am all dressed up in fur and boots but the ride is late. I wait and wait and wait. Then finally, we set-off and start ringing the bells of our sledge … and then i woke up to the sound of the alarm ringing.
These experiments also prove that the dream-brain (subconscious mind) is smart enough to incorporate external stimuli into different stories based on the other experiences, preferences, etc. of the dreamer and present a coherent dream where the quality of the story is so good that the dreamer feels that the dream is actually the reality.
Finally, it makes me think about our waking-state, more specifically our conscious mind. If my waking-mind is so feeble and tied-up that it cannot register the many stimuli present right before us then how can trust my judgements that I make everyday about the many small and big things that come up? If I cannot trust my own mind, then what can I trust in my body? What can I trust about myself? Who am I? And, how can I tap into the vast capabilities of my subconscious mind which can do a thousand things with such ease…for instance making me type this article at more than 20 words a minute, while making sure my blood pressure, body heat and eye movements are all normal?
At this moment I plan to write more articles on the subject of dreams and our mind, but considering the many limitations I discuss about my conscious brain in this article, I doubt if only my self-claimed will is enough to ensure this will happen. I think, just as with many other endeavors, what I need here is also a subconscious belief that this act of writing all this in a blog is worthwhile. Till then 🙂