Tuesday, October 25, 2011


There's no regular essay for American Foundations, so instead I shall post this reflective essay about my psychotic dreams I wrote for my Psychology class.

Why We Dream

Dreams have always intrigued me, in part because my dreams are so blatantly strange I cannot help but wonder why I dream the things I do. I have always been driven to ask why people dream, and what those dreams mean, if anything. From my observations, I have come to the conclusion that activation synthesis is the most logical reason for why we dream.

To this purpose, I will explain one of my recent dreams. I was in my old bedroom and tiny cane toads – these creatures from Australia, poisonous and nigh impossible to kill – were coming up the stairs and I was trying to keep them from coming in. Then I was in the bathroom and my mom and I were trying to kill these tiny multi-headed blue dinosaurs with dish soap. It wasn’t working, since they just got in the bath and washed it all off, so I tried to escape but I was falling into the midst of the dinosaurs and unable to get out when I woke up. This is very typical of my ordinary dreams. Immediately, Freud’s wish-fulfillment theory doesn’t seem to fit. I know I don’t want tiny blue dinosaurs ganging up with the cane toads to infest my home, and that sentiment isn’t particularly strange or unacceptable. Most people, I have found, don’t want that to happen. Therefore, even if the wish-fulfillment idea works for some people, it clearly does not apply to me.

Information processing makes slightly more sense in my case. The image of blue dinosaurs was taken from an online game I play, and the cane toads from a video, but they’re not events that happened that day, and dreaming of that certainly didn’t make the day any clearer in my mind. It’s clearer, but still not convincing. In much the same way, the idea that dreams reflect our intellectual development doesn’t really seem to apply. I know I learn things throughout the day, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t learn anything about how to stuff towels underneath the door so the cane toads don’t get in, or what the best method for killing sparkly dinosaurs is.

The most comforting explanation is of the physiological function of dreams, that our neurons and synapses are randomly firing, improving neural pathways and enhancing our brain’s development. As a result, my dreams would have no deeper meaning, merely the result of random pathways being established in my mind. That does not explain, however, why I can trance influences from my dreams back to things I have seen and heard in real life, and is therefore still an unsatisfactory explanation. 

This leaves us with the only explanation that satisfies me, that during REM sleep our sleeping brain weaves random visual memories into stories. With my vivid imagination and love of fantasy, my brain has plenty of visual imagery to feed off of, even if it does combine these images in very peculiar arrangements. It cannot be directly attributed to the secret will of my mind, thus ruling out the disturbing implication that my dreams mean I’m slowly losing my sanity, and settles my dreams into the comfortable niche between reality and conscious fantasies that they were meant to inhabit. Perhaps this solution is only a comfort to me, perhaps I am the anomaly that throws the case study way off-base, but it is the conclusion I have come to that satisfies me and helps to abate the heavy taste of dread I wake with, knowing that something has happened that I don’t want to remember.