Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Where do Nightmares Come From and Why?

I had a pretty disturbing dream last night that sparked the following rant:

Nightmares - Why?

Almost everyone has experienced a dream that provoked anxiety or fear in them. Some people even have the same nightmare repeatedly. Others have nightmares in which the content changes but have the same underlying message. Its common for people to have dreams in which they fall, are being chased, attacked, late to an exam, unable to move or scream, are naked in public...How and Why do these happen? Is there a specific purpose to them?

There are many who think these kinds of dreams reflect on the dreamer's inability to recognize and solve conflicts in real life, and others who believe that dreams are just our brains interpretation of random neural activity during REM sleep, with little relevance.

While there are many theories about the purpose of dreams, one of the most scientifically fascinating is the Activation Synthesis Theory. This theory basically states that our dreams are products of random neural activity during REM sleep that is converted into plausible stories usually based on the day's events. Throughout our existence, our brains are constantly reconstructing and interpreting external stimuli to create the "complete" effect we are familiar with and this function can clearly be seen in dreams. Dreams could be seen as the epitome of our brain's "creative license" while trying to interpret external stimuli during our sleep. Remember, our brain works around the clock, even when we are sleeping.

What is interesting about the Activation Synthesis Theory is that entire situations are created by the brain with very little preliminary data. Other forms of reconstruction rely heavily on simultaneously-perceived stimuli to "fill in the gaps," whereas dreams would be only loosely based on recent events with the remainder of the in-dream "plot" being "made up" by the brain on the spot. It would seem like our creative, imaginative inner writer comes out to visit during REM sleep! Mary Shelley did write Frankenstein after a vivid nightmare!

Though this theory is fascinating as to HOW dreams happen, it is hard to believe that dreams are nothing more than random physiological happenings with little relevance to our psyche, our brain's "relaxing down time." I am of course, a hard-core Jungian! I'd argue that dreams are the expression of the unconscious mind. It isn't a mystery that throughout the history of man, there have been many who have benefited greatly from the interpretation of their dreams on a deeply personal level.

It is important to note that almost all recurrent dreams, as analyzed philosophically, seemingly try to give the dreamer an important message. In this sense, nightmares can be seen as ways to identify and treat personal problems. Sometimes they point out patters in our current behavior or psychological imbalances that we need to resolve. According to some experts, if we are successful in acknowledging their message and solve our issues in real life, we will cease to have that particular dream, or we will have the same dream with a different ending - the ideal conclusion - that represents the ultimate proof that we have solved the problem.

Dreams are about the most fascinating, controversial subjects out there. The mind, and all of its complex functions, still has us banging our heads against the wall (so to speak) in confusion! The prospect that complex and "realistic" sensations (such as in lucid dreams), could be fabrications of our brains, is both amazing and alarming. If our dreams can be completely artificial, what else in our daily existence is simply our brain's interpretation of random activity?

let me know what your thoughts are on this matter.

-Lilia Villa

1 comment:

Elliot said...

this is interesting stuff buddy. Maybe everything is just in our heads...and reality is just ...well...nahhh!