Throughout history, humanity has tried to understand the meaning of dreams. Philosophers, mystics and scientists all cared about the issue. Though, they came to different answers. Ancient cultures and even modern ones have interpreted dreams as inspirations, divine signs and prophetic visions. They also interpret them as sexual fantasies, alternative realities, and many other beliefs fears and conjunctures. They’re so many interpretations, due to dreams’ mysterious nature. For some it is not a case of if dreams have meaning for they are convinced they do not exist.
Through discussing dreams, including the study of dreams and the ideas of experts, dreams can be proven to exist and that they may have meaning. Dreams can be defined as a series of thoughts, images or emotions that only occur during rapid eye movement or also known as R. E. M. state of sleep. The study of dreams is called the neurobiology of dreams. An electroencephalograph or EEG is a device used in this science to register the brain cells activity through a person’s several states. They range from the awaken state to deep sleep.
An EEG observes the total sum of electrical activity of millions of neurons principally located in the cortex of the brain. There are two different basic types of sleep, which are R. E. M. sleep and N. R. E. M. sleep. R. E. M. sleep is the state of sleep in which dreaming occurs. N. R. E. M. sleep stands for non rapid eye movement and has four stages. They are beta, alpha, theta, and delta waves. Pham 2 Beta waves have a very low amplitude and a high frequency. They occur about thirteen to thirty waves per second. They are irregularly registered on the EEG.
Thus, they are unsynchronized. “They are the fastest EEG waves and signal an active cortex and an intense state of intention. “(Cotman 611). Alpha waves have a low amplitude and waves occur eight to thirteen per second. Register is regular and synchronized. And then as Cotman also points out this is a state when a person is awake and relaxed but with their eyes closed (611). This is a state where a person is in resting. Theta waves have a low to medium amplitude and waves occur every three to seven waves per second. The waves are spike like.
This state occurs when a person is sleepy, already sleeping or in sleep transition. Cotman says these waves can be observed from the hippocampus part of the brain (612). Neurons are processing information in this state and the hippocampus may be involved in memory processing. This supports one theory of why we sleep that will be discussed later. Theta waves are not just N. R. E. M. waves but are present in R. E. M. sleep also. Delta waves have a high amplitude and a low frequency. The waves occur three waves per second. Waves are large and slow. Delta waves occur when a person is in a deep sleep.
This state is the deepest sleep. Neurons in this state are no longer processing Information as opposed to the Theta state. Delta waves are firing at the same time and are synchronized. R. E. M waves occur sixty to seventy waves per second. R. E. M sleep is the most active sleep. R. E. M sleep is quite different from the four states of non R. E. M sleep. The cortex Pham 3 is active like when awake. The cortex is not necessary for R. E. M. sleep to take place but helps in dream elaboration. Brain activity in the pons, a structure in the brain stem and neighboring in midbrain regions.
It sends signals to the thalamus and cerebral cortex, two regions responsible for thought processes. Ponto genticulo-occipital waves or PGO are also observed in deep sleep. They are spontaneous, intermittent, high voltage peeks that appear simultaneously in the pontine structures. They are the lateral geniculate and occipital cortex where the pons send signals. Both electrophysiological and neurochemical studies have exploited this phenomenon in an effort to identify the pontine structures involved in this phasic response and also to map their central pathways (Hobson 63).
In other words, they are concurrent with the pontine structures on the EEG and even though can not be explained themselves, are used to help find the waves from pontine structures. A typical night consists of ninety to one hundred and ten minute cycles of the four stages of non R. E. M. sleep and R. E. M. sleep. The cycle of sleep goes; awake or beta, resting or alpha, stage one or theta, stage two or delta, stage three or R. E. M. and stage for or ponto genticulo. In each stage, brain waves become progressively larger, slower and sleep becomes deeper (Hobson 63).
After stage four of non R. E. M. sleep in the delta stage patterns reverse and sleep becomes lighter until R. E. M. sleep. The first R. E. M periods is usually short, ranging from five to ten minutes, but lengthens with successive cycles. A person becomes progressively less reactive to sensorial stimuli. Hobson reminds readers ” in a total night of sleep seventy five percent is spent in non R. E. M. Pham 4 sleep and twenty five percent in R. E. M. sleep” (Crick 2). A good night of sleep is a proper balance of these percentages of R. E. M and non R. E. M. sleep.
Dreams are part of a biologically determined sleep cycle. What technically goes on while humans sleep and dreams have been discussed, but why we sleep has not. There are several theories on why humans dream. Since dreams are so bizarre and confusing, some researchers believe that dreaming is a means by which the brain gets rid of unnecessary and wrong information obtained while awake (Asserinsky361). In other words this theory is a process of unlearning or reverse learning. “Children, whose learning rhythm is intense, present more R. E. M. an adults” (Burgess 9).
In this theory it explains why children have more R. E. M. sleep since they have more to unlearn. Burgess states that these researchers believe that during the day the neocortex is overloaded with wrong information, which is processed and eliminated during dreaming (14). Theta waves support this theory since they process information. This would explain why they do this: to process wrong information to be eliminated. Other researchers believe that dreams consist of associations and memories drawn from the cortex by signals (Asserinsky 372).
This is supported by the fact that pons do send signals to the cortex. A further explanation of pons was described earlier with the four kinds of the N. R. E. M. state of sleep. Signals irregularly bombarded the cortex sometimes that at times the cortex will not have the time to process the signals correctly and instead will send memories and ideas that do not make sense (Internet). Thus, Pham 5 dreams in this theory will sometimes have no meaning. This explains why bizarre dreams make no sense.
In 1900, Sigmund Freud in his book The Interpretation of Dreams defended the dea that dreams reflect an unconscious experience. He theorized that during sleep thought tends to be primitive or regressive and that the effects of regression are reduced. repressed desires, especially those associated with sex and hostility were freed in dreams when consciousness is diminished. At the time of Freud he was left only with his interpretation since the physiology of sleep was unknown” (Internet). The fact that Freud was alone in his interpretation, implying he was the only one, is false.
Philosophers as far back as Plato have known that our irrational side could appear to us in dreams. Freud was different because he was the first to convince people that dreams had meaning and seemed crazy to humans because they were hidden messages about sex (Burgress 18). If all dreams are about sex why have studies lead to different conclusions. One good expert is the chief rival, Carl Jung. Jung was of Freud’s time so Freud was not alone, but since they were rivals may have felt so. Jung did not agree with Freud’s theories of self-censorship that had hidden meaning of sex in dreams.
Jung in Burgess’ book said”there is no reason under the sun we should assume that dreams is a crafty device to lead us astray to believe that dreams are only about sex (19). He believed dreaming was a natural event. Jung saw the confusion of our dreams and interpreted them as the natural language of our unconscious mind that did not use words, but relied on symbols rather than words. Pham 6 We have discussed aspects of dream study, theories on it’s purpose and two well known dream researchers. It is clear that dreams do occur by the fact that so much factual information has been researched in the neurobiology of dreams.
The question of why we dream is unsure, although there are theories. Humans can further dream study by recording their own dreams. The best time is in the morning when you first wake up for about ten minutes jot down everything you remember, large and petty. You can use a dream dictionary to find the meaning of certain ideas and thing in your dream. They can be bought at a local bookstore. Burgess said, “Dreams can be fun, heartbreaking, silly. You can fly out of a window and up into the sky, talk languages you do not even know visit places and people long forgotten in your waking life.
Some dreams even provide a glimpse of the future. “(29). Freud confined dreams meaning to sex. It is such confined thinking like this that started confined thinking that cad persons think dreams do not exist period. Dreams studies have shown dreams are not always remembered and in one theory they do not always have meaning. This may lead some to believe confined ideas. This analysis here may have lead you to believe in dreams or it may have not, but this is due to main ideas since there is too much evidence to support it. Time and study of dreams will determine if they have meaning.