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Why do we dream? 10 theories to explain this phenomenon

Why do we dream? 10 theories to explain this phenomenon

June 17, 2024

Everyone dreams. AND The human being spends the third part of his life sleeping and, of that third part, at least another third of us spend our dreams, so for a large part of our lives we live in an authentic dream world.

Both the question of why we dream like the interpretation of dreams They have been a fascinating topic for humanity since ancient times, and they have always been surrounded by an atmosphere of mystery, since a definitive theory about this creative process of our subconscious has not yet been reached.

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The first interpretations of dreams in history

In Mesopotamia, the Babylonians believed that dreams considered "good" were sent by the gods and the "bad ones" sent by the demons. They had a goddess of dreams called Mamu to which the priests prayed and tried to please to prevent bad dreams from being fulfilled.

The Assyrians also interpreted dreams as signs. They believed that bad dreams were a warning and required an action that corrected the problem that had appeared in the dream. They thought that the person who had a bad dream should follow whatever advice they interpreted from the dream.

On the other hand, the ancient Egyptians believed that the gods revealed themselves in their dreams. They thought that these visions cause the real things that can not be controlled or interpreted by the consents. They wrote down their dreams in papyrus and differentiated between three types of dream experience: those in which the gods demand an act on the part of the dreamer, those that contain warnings or revelations and dreams in which a ritual was reached. The three types of dreams served as a way to know the messages of the gods, such as oracles.

Since the best way to receive the divine revelation was through the oneiric, the Egyptians induced sleep to the people who they asked for answers from the gods . They traveled to sanctuaries or sacred places to lie down, sleep and dream in the hope of receiving advice, healing or consolation from the gods.

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Why we dream: approaches from psychology

Psychology is not alien to this interest and has approached the world of dreams from various disciplines (anthropology, neurosciences, psychology, literature ...), although the reasons why we dream are still mysterious there are a series of interesting hypotheses and theories and relevant ones that try to explain why we dream.

1. Satisfaction of wishes

One of the first and foremost scholars of dreams was Sigmund Freud , who analyzed several patients and even used his own dreams as examples to demonstrate his theory. He proposed that dreams represent the realization of a wish on the part of the dreamer either real or symbolic, even nightmares.

According to Freud, dreams are considered a collection of images of our conscious lives that have symbolic meanings related to our subconscious desires .

For Sigmund Freud all dreams are interpretable and the dream does not have to be a totally real desire, but a symbol of something we want to happen, so he proposed that all dreams are interpretable.

2. Secondary effect

J. Allan Hobson and Robert McClarley in 1977 they developed the activation-synthesis theory . According to this theory in the REM phase of sleep, the circuits of the brain are activated producing that the areas of the limbic system (including the amygdala and hippocampus) involved in emotions, sensations and memories are activated.

The brain tries to interpret these signals and the dreams are the subjective interpretation of the signal generated by the brain while we sleep. However, the theory does not imply that dreams have no meaning but suggests that it is our most creative state of consciousness.

3. Keep the brain active

The psychiatrist Jie Zhang proposed the theory of continuous activation of dreams being dreams the result of the constant need of our brain to create and consolidate long-term memories for proper functioning .

When we are asleep, our brain automatically triggers the generation of data from the memory stores and this data is not shown in the form of feelings or thoughts but we experience them in our dreams.According to this theory, our dreams would be like a kind of random "screensaver" that our brain initiates so as not to go out completely.

4. Forget: mental cleanliness

The neuroscientist Francis Crick , next to the mathematician Graeme Mitchiso in 1983 elaborated the theory of the inverse learning.

The theory indicates that we dream to get rid of the connections and associations accumulated in our brain that we do not need to store. Therefore, we dream to forget as a kind of mental escape, as if dreaming was a method of garbage collection or mental cleansing.

5. Consolidation of learning

At the end of the 19th century, the German psychologist Hermann Ebbinghaus, after various experiments and observations, indicated that dreams serve to consolidate what we have learned during the day. However, this theory was discarded by the scientific community because they considered that the brain is not active while we sleep.

In the 1950s Aserinsky and Nathaniel Klietman found in several experiments that the brain continues to work while we sleep and is dedicated to process everything you have acquired during the day . Review the recently formed memories, analyze them and discard those irrelevant, enhancing and qualifying those that may be useful. However, as the brain performs this task remains a mystery.

6. Defense mechanism

The dream could be related to a defense mechanism. When we dream the brain behaves in the same way as when we are awake though the dopamine system associated with the movement is not active . Therefore, said tonic immobility or playing dead could be considered as a defense mechanism.

7. Rehearse

Dreams commonly include threatening and dangerous situations. The Finnish philosopher and pseudo-scientist Antti Revonusuo suggested the theory of the primitive instinct of the essay by which the function of dreams would be simulate threatening events or situations and to test the perception of said threats in order to avoid them.

This theory maintains that the content of the dream has a lot of significance for its purpose. Also not all dreams are threatening or unpleasant can also serve as practice or trial of other situations.

8. Troubleshooting

Deirdre Barret, suggests that dreams are a way to solve problems. The author John Steinbeck called this the "Dream Committee". As if it were a theater, lacking the rules of conventional logic and the restrictions of reality, the mind can create all kinds of dreams of scenarios solving problems more effectively than when we are awake. Therefore we tend to think that the best solution to a problem is achieved after having slept.

9. Dreamlike Darwinism

Psychologist Mark Blechner says that dreams function as a natural selection of ideas that would serve to generate new ideas . Some research suggests that in the various situations with which we dream we try to select the most useful reaction to successfully face such situations.

Dreams introduce useful variations to the psychic life and to the internal narratives , would produce variations to generate new types of thought, imagination, self-consciousness and other psychic functions

10. Processing of painful emotions

Finally, dreams could be considered as a kind of evolutionary therapy in which in dreams we do not select the best emotion or behavior but serve as an outlet through the association of some emotions with symbols that appear in dreams.


These are just some of the most important explanations, as technology and research advance, our ability to understand the brain will increase and it is possible that some day we will discover the definitive reason why we dream. Today, despite all we know about the physiology of sleep, dream thoughts remain an enigmatic and controversial field.

The Mind Blowing Mystery of Dreams | 5 Unanswered Questions We Still Cannot Explain... (June 2024).

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