We all dream. In fact, over a lifetime, we spend about six years dreaming. Six years! Imagine what you could do over six years of your life.
So my question is, should dreams be treated solely as the product of neurotransmitters and REM during sleep? Or should they be interpreted as something deeper, steeped with meaning? For someone like me, who is both an aspiring doctor with a fondness for neuroscience and a deeply spiritual person who deals in the abstract, it’s a bit of a debate.
Neuroscience hasn’t gotten around to providing a concrete biological definition of dreaming, but there are theories being thrown around. This is the best summary I can come up with:
During sleep, your brain goes through periods called rapid eye movement (REM), where (if one were to do an EEG) the resulting brain waves during those periods look remarkably similar to those from wakefulness. Scientists have postulated that several neurotransmitters are involved in creating the dream state, while a host of others are suppressed. The result is a situation similar to wakefulness, but also a state of virtual paralysis so as to prevent the sleeper from acting out the motions in his or her dreams. Curiously enough, a chemical called dimethyltryptamine (DMT) is suspected to have a large role in creating the dream state. Among other things, it is a psychedelic agent. Need I say more?
Yet of course, there are others who treat dreams differently. Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung published numerous case studies where they analyzed patients’ dreams. They, as well as several psychologists downstream, held that dreams reflected the interplay between the conscious and the unconscious. The unconscious allowed thoughts inaccessible to the conscious to bubble to the surface during dreams. Dreams, therefore, could be interpreted to get at the underlying emotions.
So who’s right? The neuroscientists or the psychologists? I’d like to think both are right.
Yet interpreting dreams is an inexact science that is open to many, often wrong, interpretations. Is it really worth it? Sometimes it helps to give some degree of closure or clarity, since dreams have a tendency to just be downright strange, if not emotionally charged. That’s of course, if you can get at an interpretation that achieves that end.
Then there are the prophetic dreams. Some say they’re religious experiences, some say they’re random events. Others argue it’s the brain putting 2 and 2 together into some logical conclusion that turns out to be right in real life. I, however, am not sure. I’ve had a few of these, and I can’t describe them any other way other than inexplicable.
Why do some people experience dreams differently from others? I have talked to my friends about my dreams, and find that among many of my friends, I tend to have very vivid dreams replete with the whole range of sensory experiences: color, touch, smell, sound…heck sometimes music. Others I know tend to have consistently bizarre, and often humorous dreams. Others still have violent dreams. Perhaps it’s a function of our individuality, including how we deal with experiences that we may have had in our day to day activities that have since sunk into our subconscious.
So will we ever solve why we have dreams, and how to deal with them? Probably not, but what say you, the reader? How do you deal with dreams? Any interesting ones?