Dreams play a large role in many people’s lives. They can reflect and pertain to all aspects of life, and can have a deeper meaning than might immediately be realized. The following paper contains an in depth look at and the meaning that dreams have for many individuals and how they have affected people both in the past and present. Many dreams have are really symbols representing significant influences and events in the lives of those who have them. The following paragraph is an example of a dream that a young boy or girl, or anyone for that matter, might experience.
A cool breeze flows gently through the trees while the hot summer sun shines down on a gathering of family members. A young boy happy with excitement finds himself surrounded by the people he loves at a family reunion. While the adults reminisce on past times, the children are found enjoying a game of kickball in the field. As the little boy becomes a spectator absorbing all of the joy and warmth from his family’s party, he awakes from his night’s sleep to find out that he has been dreaming.
This pleasant dream is just one example of the many different types of night visions people encounter. Was this boy imagining a life with his family that might not really exist? Is this child abused or neglected and using dreams as an escape, or
is this reality and the child is simply reliving pleasant experiences? The metamorphic process of paralleling the symbolism of our dreams to our everyday lives has contributed to learning more about our individualistic personalities.
Over the years, the mysteries of why and how we dream have captured the imagination of everyone from playwrights and poets to psychologists and scientists. However, the main objective of this paper is to illustrate that there are significant purposes to dreams. From laboratory experiments to primitive cultures, the interpretation of dreams is a powerful tool used to help understand ourselves. Rosalind Cartwright, a dream expert, separates the significance of dreams into four categories. According to Cartwright, dreams serve to review, revise, rehearse, and repair ourselves. To fully grasp the importance of these four R’s and the understanding of dreams, researchers must first study sleep patterns.
In order to study the stages of sleep, patients are tested with a device called an electroencephalograph (Myers 210). This machine measures brain wave activity, eye movements, and muscle tension through electrodes. Other similar devices are used to record heart rates, respiration
rates, and the degree of genital arousal during sleep. After collecting all of this data, researchers are able to analyze patients’ dreams.
According to David G. Myers, a professor of psychology at Michigan’s Hope College, there are four stages associated with sleep prior to Rapid Eye Movement, REM sleep. In Stage 1, breathing rate slows and brain waves slow down even further. During this light sleep, fantastic images similar to hallucinations are experienced. Sensations such as falling or floating are usually felt during this two- minute stage.
Soon after Stage 1, a greater sense of relaxation settles in. This is the beginning of Stage 2. This stage, lasting about twenty minutes, is characterized by bursts of rapid brain-wave activity. Because of this sudden surge of brain waves, sleep talking becomes prevalent.
Stage 3 and 4 are often linked together because of their similarities. They last for about thirty minutes and are called slow-wave sleep because of the slow delta waves the brain emits during these stages. Delta waves have a frequency of 3.5 cycles per second, which makes them much slower than the beta wave of fifteen cycles per second. Because of these slow delta waves, it is especially
difficult to wake the sleeping person from the third and fourth stages of sleep. Children may also wet the bed or begin sleepwalking at these stages. “About twenty percent of 3 to 12-year-olds have at least one episode of sleepwalking, usually lasting two to ten minutes; some 5 percent have repeated episodes” (Myers 212).
As Stage 4 comes to a close, the patient begins the important rapid eye movement (REM) sleep. During REM sleep, genitals become aroused even when the dream’s content is not sexual (212). Myers states that a typical 25-year-old man will have an erection lasting 30 to 45 minutes on an average throughout this particular time of sleep. As the night continues, this sleep cycle repeats itself about every 90 minutes; and the REM period progressively gets longer. REM sleep may even grow to an hour in length at the end of the night. By the morning, 20 to 25 percent (100 minutes) of an average night’s sleep have been REM sleep (212). In fact, if we sleep between six to nine hours a night, we can expect to have anywhere from four to six REM periods. This translates to mean that we may be dreaming anywhere from one hour and a half to two hours a night (Koulack 40).
One might ask, what causes us to dream the way we do during the night? First of all, there are many influential factors that combine to make up our dreams. From Dr. David Koulack’s pre-sleep experiments, one can see how activities taken place right before sleep can have a direct affect on a patient’s dream. In Koulack’s experiment, a film depicting the birth of a baby with the aid of a Malmstrom Vacuum Extractor was shown to his male patient just before sleep (65). First, the film introduced the machine about to be used on the pregnant woman. Then the scene switched and the subject witnessed the painful birth of the baby by the foreign instrument (66). After the bloody infant was placed on the mother’s stomach, the video ended, and Dr. Koulack’s patient began his sleep.
The buzzer rang for the awakening of the subject and Dr. Koulack began directing questions about the man’s night sleep. The patient dreamt about young college girls wearing white gloves and carrying flowers. A group of signing boys was also present in his dream. These boys were off in the distance catching bees and carrying the insects over to the girls’ flowers. The doctor analyzed the dream very carefully and came to the conclusion that the boys were having the bees pollinate the girls’ flowers. The pollination of the flowers is a symbol of birth, much like the birth of the baby in the film shown to the patient prior to his sleep (65-67).
As one can see, pre-sleep exercises can affect the content of an individual’s dream. The film, demonstrating the unusual birth of a baby, was a direct link to the patient’s dream later on that night. However, all dreams are not initiated by pre-sleep experiments. Most dreams occur because of frustrations and problems in one’s life. People go to bed with their problems hoping to resolve them through their dreams. The conscious mind runs into the unconscious looking for guidance to everyday problems. A majority of dreams are based on the reviewing and repairing processes mentioned earlier by Rosalind Cartwright.
Today, millions of individuals are seeking to know more about themselves. “Through initial discoveries, dreams reveal a profound relationship between our inner and outer states of being and give insights into the depths of the human mind” (Boa 26). In other words, dreams provide a better understanding of ourselves. Dreams can be used to review the problems in one’s life and in the end help repair them. By taking a closer look into the interpretation of our dreams, doctors can determine things such as the source of stress in one’s life. By uncovering the origin of our problems, we can take a step towards the process of healing.
Dreams do not protect us from illnesses accompanied by stress, but they do provide us with a guiding line on how to cope with them.
Dreams serve an important psychobiological function. They help to formulate and dramatize intrapsychic conflicts. When we wish to stop being tormented by frustrations and troubles, we look for the causes. The unconscious helps us in the search through dreams. (Piotrowski 5)
For example, a man named John was seeing a psychiatrist for several years to help him improve his ability to concentrate and focus better on current tasks at hand because he was having difficulty holding a job. His symptoms had not improved, so he decided to try hypnosis. After several meetings with Dr. Isa Gucciardi, a hypnosis specialist, John began to discover layers of parental abuse, which he blocked out as a child. With this new information, Dr. Gucciardi urged John to try to remember his dreams. She believed that by recalling the unconscious, more information about the state of his
internal conflicts would be revealed. Then, one day after several sessions of desperately trying to remember his dreams, John reported a significant dream that marked the shift in his journey back to wholeness. The dream is as follows:
Mario Andretti sees John driving and declares that John is Benito Andretti. John knows without a doubt that this is true.
The following list of questions given by Dr. Gucciardi will show how recalling John’s dream is used as a form of therapy to help him uncover his frustrations and problems concerning the lack of concentration and difficult focusing on tasks.
A- He is the greatest racing car driver in the world.
A- He was Mario’s little brother who disappeared under mysterious circumstances at the age of 2 or maybe even younger.
Q- What would it mean if you were Benito, Mario’s little brother?
A- It would mean that I would be part of a big, loving Italian family. The family I have always wanted. A
family which is really alive and where people interact with each other in a real way; a family, which sits down to dinner together.
Since John realizes he was abused as a child, Dr. Gucciardi concludes that his desire to be part of a loving family is directly related to his neglected past.
A- It would mean that I would have someone to learn from, someone who knows more than I do and who could give me that information I need.
John would have Mario to learn racing from. The symbolic meaning would be that John should go forward with his journey to himself because he would get the help he needed through Mario.
Q- What was it like to know that, without a doubt, Mario’s assessment of you was true: that you were Benito Andretti?
A- I just knew it was true. I knew that if I was a great race car driver, that I could drive any kind of car in any kind of race. I knew that I was related to Mario. It was undeniably true, unshakably true. There was no doubt in my mind that Mario was right.
John’s dream is a very significant step towards his recovery of his sense of self. The racing family symbolizes him belonging to a greater, beneficial whole. Having Mario to teach him about racing meant John would get the help he needed when continuing on with his journey towards himself.
The context of the dream is symbolically eerie in that Benito, the role John was playing, mysteriously disappeared at a young age. John then concluded that his own abuse might have also started at a young age. By uncovering his abuse, John was able to gain a sense of utter certainty. The vision was an important remedy to John’s success and recovery. Without the insight his dream provided, John’s recovery process would have been much more difficult and taken longer. Through Dr. Gucciardi’s case study, one can see how a single dream can help an individual become in touch with himself a lot easier. Dreams show us what causes us to be the way we are. “With this knowledge, we can address the cause rather that the symptoms of an illness” (“What We Learn from Dreams” Aisling).
In our own culture, the interpretation of dream is, in one way, beneficial to the understanding of our health; but
in other primitive cultures, dreams are linked with every part of life.
The function of dreams in primitive life varies with different cultures, but the true intuitions realized by occasional groups and now corroborated by modern psychology are that the dream represents a wish, and is a phenomenon whose importance is recognized for guidance in daily life and for the diagnosis of illness. (Lincoln 36)
Throughout many primitive cultures, drams were associated with religion. According to Steward Lincoln, a dream expert, certain cultures believed that gods would intervene in dreams to give spontaneous warnings, demand piety, or give an answer to a question stated. Early Egypt is an example of a culture where dreams were said to be valid and significant to everyday life. When the kings of Egypt were in a difficult situation, they would ask the gods for guidance. After praying and sleeping in a temple, the king believed their dream would answer their concerns (Lincoln 45). Lincoln explains, “The night vision was said to have been delivered by a God”(46). In early Egypt and other cultures, such as the Greeks, dreams were said to be gifts from the gods.
Other African groups are some more cultures that place high importance on the unconscious mind. Just like the Egyptians, the Basutos relate religion to their dreams. For example, individuals would only convert to Christianity if their dream dictated the conversion. Most of the time people wanted to be converted, but they ended up dying unbaptized because they were dreamless. Dreams that led to conversion were usually of the individual coming in contact with a sacred article such as a cross. One dream recorded earlier by a missionary was about a woman dressed in all white holding a child. A glowing cross was also seen penetrating through the dark background. This religious based dream is an example of the type that influences conversion and baptisms throughout the Basuto culture. (Lincoln 87-89)
Among cultures throughout the world, dreams carry a strong reality to them. The influence of dreams can become extremely powerful in some social groups. The following passages are some examples of cultures relying and believing highly in dreams.
– Among the Mantia of the Malay peninsular, a man would not choose a locality for a plantation unless
he had a favorable dream about it thus giving supernatural sanction to the decision.
– A Cherokee dreamed of being bitten by a snake and was treated exactly as if he had, in reality, been bitten.
– A whole Australian tribe decamped because one man dreamt of a certain owl, which the wise man interpreted as foreboding an attack from a certain, other tribes.
– The Macusi and Gran Chaco Indians of South America act in accord with their dreams, which they are often incapable of distinguishing from reality (Lincoln 50-51).
After reading these passages, one can see how much emphasis certain tribes place on the interpretations of their dreams. Because of an owl in one man’s dream, the whole tribe departs from their camping ground in fear of an attack by their enemy. Dreams are so powerful in two tribes of South America that they cannot even differentiate between the unconscious and reality. These three passages are just examples of how dreams really influence the lives of many people.
Rosalind Cartwright, a dream researcher, sums up the role of dreams very accurately. She says, “the brain doesn’t turn off when we go to sleep; it just switches channels.” She believes that the dream channel is educational television at its best. “Dreams offer the three R’s, and times of stress, a fourth R.” She says, “They allow us to review, revise, and rehearse the program of ourselves. And when life is tough, as in depression, they also provide a mechanism for repair” (Cartwright 39). Cartwright’s theory is directly related to the argument of this paper. Dreams do allow us to review ourselves, revise ourselves, rehearse a new program for ourselves, and sometimes, most importantly repair ourselves. While the primitive culture religious conversion is an example in which dreams help revise ourselves, the case study involving John’s child abuse is an example of the repairing process. We are all dreamers. Many of us, at one time or another, have fantasized about our own dreams and wondered about their meaning. Some have gained insight from our own dreams, while others may well have found them as an aid in solving problems, and still others may have found them to initiate creativity. Their reality and their compelling
quality have certainly struck all of us who remember our dreams now and then on one occasion or another.
As the reader can see, dreams influence the lives of all different types of people in many different manors. Whether a dream symbolizes an extremely influential event in the life of a child or a haunting image in the mind of an adult, dreams affect everyone. Understanding and being able to interpret a dream and discovering exactly what it means can give insight into the life a person leads and even uncover questions a person might have about his/her past and/or future.
Lincoln, Jackson Steward. The Dreams in Primitive Cultures.
New York: Johnson Reprint Corporation, 1970.
Piotrowski, Zygmunt A. and Biele, Albert M. Dreams: A Key
to Self-knowledge. London: Lawrence Erlbaum
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(Aisling http://www.avcweb.com/dreams/index.html). “What
we can Learn from Dreams.”
(Gucciardi, Isa http://www.e-media.com/depth/dream.htpl).
“Case Study: One Dream Which Made All the Difference.”
Koulack, David. To Catch a Dream. New York: State
University of New York Press, 1991.
Papanek, John L. Secrets of the Inner Mind, Journey
Through the Mind and Body. Virginia: Time-Life Books,
Boa, Fraser. The Way of the Dream. Boston: Shambhala,
Cite this Metamorphic Insight into Dreams
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