The Doctors Next Door

What Do Your Dreams Mean?

There are numerous theories on the meaning and purpose of dreams.  In a brief perusal of the literature on the topic Sigmund Freud bubbles up to the top. Yet there are pseudo-psychological, mystical and even some scientific ideas about the meaning of our dreams.  I'll show you a snapshot of each so you can decide for yourself what that dream you had last night really meant.  You know the one in which you were engrossed in a discussion of Immanuel Kant's Critique of Pure Reason with your new friend Flipper?  What is the purpose of such absurdity?  Do you have just a little too much Sponge Bob in your life? Did this recent news story follow you into your dreams? Does your dream reveal a subcounscious desire to be the head dolphin trainer at Brookfield Zoo? To consider these possibilities, let's see what a few of the different theories have to say.

 

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Freud: Die Traumdeutung (Interpretation of Dreams) first published in November of 1899 

 

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Siggy felt that dreams were "disguised fulfillments of repressed wishes".  While I admit to dreaming about the occasional bathtub-sized hot fudge caramel sundae with toffee sprinkles, I'm not so sure that my recurring dream about being blindfolded while driving my car on a roller-coaster collision course in the dark is a repressed wish.  I'm a generally pretty happy person, no death wish, not a thrill-seeker but I'm sure Sig would have a hayday with that one. And who doesn't have that recurrent dream where you have a final exam for that fractal trigonometric geometry class you never attended all semester. While it's obvious that I'd be laying on his couch for quite some time, years perhaps, Freud would have four simple words for you: go buy a wetsuit.

I'm sure we can credit our friend, Sigmund, with inspiring the plethora of dream analysis books out there that claim to be able to tell you the symbolic or better yet, clairvoyant, meaning of your dreams.  (I admit to keeping one such book on my nightstand in the gullible days of my youth.)  In mystical terms, you might expect to soon experience an existential awakening while on a snorkeling expedition. What?  No snorkeling trips in your forseeable future?  Well maybe your profound spiritual awakening will occur tomorrow evening, just as you slide your tired tush into a nice hot bubble bath only to land firmly on your 3 year old son's plastic dolphin bath toy. 

 

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Mr. &#*! Sharpy-Fins

Just to prove to you that this could happen, you could really have your own spiritual epiphany, I share with you a couple of notable examples in which dreams were the cause of important events. For example, Stephanie Meyer, the author of the famed "Twilight" series has been reported to state that she first met her characters in a dream. 

Similarly, that rock-star geneticist, James Watson, is said to have first concieved of the DNA double helix after a dream that included gazing at a spiral staircase. So dreams seem to have real value at times but it's theorized that this value goes beyond our conscious use of the content of dreams. So maybe it won't be a spiritual awaking.  There are couple other actions you might take after nodding with your nocturnal dolphin. You might change your cable plan in order to avoid the Sponge Bob channel or you might join the Flipper trainer reported in the news in his crusade to save the lives of Japanese dolphins. 

Despite the fact that James Watson seemed to benefit greatly from actions he took as a result of his dream, it is reported that he believes that dreams serve only one purpose.  He theorized that dreams perform a "housekeeping" function for our brains. Hmmm... maybe I need more sleep.

If you recall in my last post, I spoke about how he was one of the genious scientists (with his buddy, Francis Crick) that discovered the structure of DNA, the very basis of our genetic architecture. BTW--did I tell you that my geneticist college mentor, Dr. Sidney Mittler, named the creek near the NIU science building "Watson Crick". What a kook! Yet more evidence for the fact that researchers have a sense of humor, weak as it may be.

So James Watson ascribes to a model of understanding dreams in which in the course of our busy days as our brains experience infinite volumes of input and output, erroneous connections are bound to be made.  The dreaming process, according to this theory, serves to delete some of those erroneous connections. So Dr. Watson feels that dreams have no meaning, that they're merely a tool for taking out the trash that accumulates in the brain's electrical circuitry. To be fair, I'm not sure he's actually published on this theory.  I did hear him speak of it when he came to NIU in the 1980s and I've seen it referenced elsewhere.  To give credit where credit seems to be clearly due, this theory has been published by Dr. C. Evans and Dr. E. Newman and others.

Therefore, according to Dr. Watson, et al, your dolphin delerium is just that--a series of mistaken electrical connections.  Your brain doesn't want that synapse to persist--the one that might cause you to tell your neighbor that you gained a deep understanding of Kant's moral philosophy from a lengthy interaction with an aquatic mammal sometimes mistaken for a fish. 

As it turns out, the prevailing expert belief is that a combination of these theories is the true purpose of dreams. Dreams can represent subconcious thoughts and emotions, they may cause you to have an epiphany great or small and they sweep out the non-sensical synapses that get created in the course of our over-stimulated lives. Regardless, dreaming is an essential part of our sleep cycle and you DO dream--even if you don't recall any of them.   

Sweet dreams to you!

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