Why Do People DREAM?

Ain C. ('23)

Why do people dream? That is the million-dollar question that psychologists and neuroscientists have been trying to figure out over decades. There have been numerous theories that have been made, including that of Sigmund Freud and Ernest Harmann.

Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis and an Austrian neurologist, believed that dreams are the royal roads to the unconscious. He proposed that dreams could possibly reveal one’s hidden desires and repressed wishes, and described that there were two different components of dreams. The first being the ‘manifest content’ which is made up of the actual images, emotions, and thoughts that are in the dream. While the second component represents the hidden meanings behind the dream, the latent content. According to study.com, the repressed wishes could be a person’s wants that have been neglected and have become a part of the person’s unconscious mind. Therefore, when people dream and their ego’s defenses are down, the repressed wishes come through the conscious mind.

On the other hand, Ernest Hartmann, a professor of psychiatry at Tufts University School of Medicine and the director of the Sleep Disorders Center at Newton Wellesley Hospital in Boston, believed that dreams were more than what people think they are. He believed that dreams were so much more than just an epiphenomenon and the type of mental function that happens in an awake state of the brain. His theory of Contemporary Theory of Dreaming suggests that dreaming is, in general, a large development of emotional connections. The function is something that is always difficult to prove, but contemporary theory suggests that there is a function based on studies of people who have suffered from traumatic events or stressful events. For example, someone who suffered from a traumatic incident involving fire will dream about fire for the first few times, then dream of a tidal wave being swept away. Then over the next few weeks, the dreams slowly associate the dream of the fire and the tidal wave with other painful or challenging experiences that the person may have had before. Then the dreams gradually return to the more original state. Somehow the dream seems to be "connecting" or "weaving in" the new material in the mind, indicating a possible purpose. The traumatic experience is connected to other areas of the memory networks, such that it is no longer something that is new and special or extreme. The assumption is that the next time anything similar or slightly identical happens, the incident will not be so painful because the connections will be there. Therefore, the purpose of a dream is to be weaving new information into the memory network in a manner that both decreases emotional stimulation and is resilient to help people cope with more pain or traumatic events.

However, to answer the questions “Why do people dream?” or “What are the functions of dreaming?” is something that is easy to ask but harder to answer, because there is no definite answer that people know as of this moment on the function(s) of dreams. However, the lack of knowledge on this topic is not surprising since people do not don’t fully understand the purpose of sleep or the functions of REM sleep, a phase of sleep where the dreams that a person remembers the most when they wake up usually occurs.

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