Why do we dream: just the facts

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Since ancient times, peo­ple have tried to solve the rid­dle of dreams, but still the exact answer to the ques­tion “Why do we dream?” no. There are var­i­ous the­o­ries and hypothe­ses that have both adher­ents and oppo­nents. Some researchers see the rea­son in the man­i­fes­ta­tion of hid­den emo­tions and desires, oth­ers explain dreams by an ancient defense mech­a­nism, oth­ers assign the func­tion of mem­o­ry to dreams, and oth­ers do not attach much impor­tance to dreams at all, clas­si­fy­ing them as ran­dom nerve impuls­es.

It is very dif­fi­cult to pre­dict what can be seen in the next dream, since the very phe­nom­e­non and the root cause of sleep is still a mys­tery. Mil­lions of stud­ies and exper­i­ments have not yet led sci­en­tists to an accu­rate under­stand­ing of why peo­ple dream. The ancient Egyp­tians believed that all dreams were prophet­ic and could pre­dict the future of a per­son. Sumer­ian shamans believed that dreams heal the body and soul. Mod­ern sci­en­tists are look­ing for clues to dreams in the human brain. Con­sid­er some of the author­i­ta­tive the­o­ries:

hidden desire

hidden desire

The famous psy­cho­an­a­lyst Sig­mund Freud is called the father of dream research. He explains their appear­ance by the prop­er­ties of the uncon­scious. But then Freud did not yet know about the dif­fer­ent cycles of sleep. After ana­lyz­ing the dreams of hun­dreds of his patients, the psy­cho­an­a­lyst put for­ward the the­o­ry that dreams are a visu­al­iza­tion of a person’s hid­den desires. Any dream, no mat­ter how ter­ri­ble or unpleas­ant it is, to one degree or anoth­er reflects what the sleep­er deep inside him­self wants, but can­not always admit it. For exam­ple, if there is a seri­ous con­flict with one of your rel­a­tives or acquain­tances, then it is quite pos­si­ble to see his death in a dream as the ful­fill­ment of a hid­den desire.

Freud argued that dreams pro­tect the brain from dis­turb­ing thoughts and mem­o­ries by sup­press­ing them. All dreams, accord­ing to the psy­cho­an­a­lyst, are almost entire­ly due to uncon­scious sex­u­al desire. That is, a dream is a kind of out­let for a person’s sup­pressed desires, a way to express uncon­scious emo­tions.

Human dreams are random impulses

Anoth­er well-known researcher of dreams and dreams, John Allan Hob­son, empha­sizes the active role dur­ing sleep of neu­ro­chem­i­cal and ran­dom elec­tri­cal impuls­es in the brain. This led the sci­en­tist to the idea that a person’s sleep is ran­dom impuls­es of neu­rons that the human brain is try­ing to com­pre­hend. For exam­ple, the sounds that a sleep­ing per­son hears are inter­pret­ed by the brain into var­i­ous plots and pic­tures, from which a dream is obtained. Hob­son lat­er rec­og­nized increased activ­i­ty in the lim­bic sys­tem (the pri­mor­dial part of the brain that pro­duces emo­tions) dur­ing REM sleep, which he believes proves the emo­tion­al basis of dreams.

Organization of the brain

Every day a per­son receives new infor­ma­tion — both con­scious­ly (study, work) and uncon­scious­ly (adver­tis­ing, envi­ron­ment). Some sci­en­tists believe that dur­ing sleep, our brain tries to orga­nize itself, sys­tem­atiz­ing the infor­ma­tion received and dis­card­ing every­thing super­flu­ous. So a person’s dream helps to opti­mize thoughts and com­pre­hend the events that have occurred. How­ev­er, peo­ple can dream not only of the past day, but also many oth­er things that are com­plete­ly unre­lat­ed to their present or past. Crit­ics of this mod­ern the­o­ry see its down­sides in its failed attempt to com­pare the human brain to a com­put­er.

Solving life’s problems

Solving life's problems

Har­vard spe­cial­ist Dei­dra Bar­rett not­ed that dreams are need­ed to solve men­tal and emo­tion­al prob­lems. Dur­ing her research, she gave the sub­jects var­i­ous life tasks that were bet­ter solved after sleep. In her opin­ion, a per­son­’s sleep helps to pay atten­tion to very sub­tle nuances that go unno­ticed dur­ing the day. This allows you to solve seri­ous prob­lems from real life. But what about those peo­ple who have lit­tle or no mem­o­ry of their dreams? And sta­tis­ti­cal­ly, they are the major­i­ty.

Treatment of injuries of the body and soul

Accord­ing to one the­o­ry, sleep may be a way to heal psy­cho­log­i­cal and phys­i­cal trau­ma. Based on the intense out­burst of emo­tions in a dream, a per­son will gen­er­ate dreams in order to cope with cer­tain sit­u­a­tions. For exam­ple, if a per­son sur­vived a ter­ri­ble fire, then it is quite log­i­cal that in a dream he (per­haps repeat­ed­ly) will dream of a sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tion. If a person’s legs hurt, then he may dream of a lad­der as over­com­ing his fears of pain and a men­tal sug­ges­tion to fight the dis­ease.

The more seri­ous the real emo­tions were, the more often and more col­or­ful the dreams about it will be. So the brain tries to cope with psy­cho­log­i­cal shock and phys­i­cal trau­ma, helps a per­son accept what hap­pened, and com­pre­hend the expe­ri­ence gained, pre­pare for fur­ther sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tions. But this ver­sion does not explain why a per­son sees fan­tas­tic dreams and ordi­nary life events.

Memory encoding

The Chi­nese psy­chi­a­trist Jie Zhang put for­ward the “con­tin­u­um acti­va­tion the­o­ry of dreams”. She believes that regard­less of whether a per­son is sleep­ing or awake, mem­o­ry is always active. And sleep is a kind of stor­age of short-term mem­o­ries, after which they go into long-term stor­age. Dur­ing sleep, the brain seems to show flash­es of mem­o­ries, after which they are sent to long-term mem­o­ry files.

Clearing the brain of unnecessary information

It is very dif­fi­cult for the human brain to absorb a huge infor­ma­tion flow every day. But dreams come to his aid, where, accord­ing to sci­en­tists, infor­ma­tion unnec­es­sary for a per­son and use­less thoughts are released. So the brain cleans­es itself of excess, which helps it work bet­ter, per­ceive and orga­nize new knowl­edge.

Sleep is like protection

Sleep is like protection

In an attempt to unrav­el the mys­tery of dreams, sci­en­tists have drawn par­al­lels between the process of human sleep and wild ani­mals that pre­tend to be dead, pro­tect­ing their lives. So the researchers came to the con­clu­sion that human sleep may be asso­ci­at­ed with an ancient defense mech­a­nism: a motion­less body and slow process­es in the human body are sim­i­lar to imi­ta­tion of the death of ani­mals seek­ing to pro­tect them­selves from preda­tors. Dur­ing sleep, chem­i­cals asso­ci­at­ed with the process of body move­ment are not released. It is quite pos­si­ble that sleep is a pro­tec­tive mech­a­nism that has been pre­served in the human mind since ancient times and has changed a lit­tle — the body of the sleep­ing per­son can move.

Threat Modeling

Finnish philoso­pher and neu­ro­sci­en­tist Antti Revonusuo sug­gests that “the bio­log­i­cal func­tion of dreams is to sim­u­late dan­ger­ous events, as well as to rehearse the per­cep­tion of threats and their pre­ven­tion.” Peo­ple who solved seri­ous life prob­lems in a dream, escaped from var­i­ous dan­gers, in real life will be able to cope with such prob­lems much eas­i­er. So sleep mod­els pos­si­ble sit­u­a­tions and dif­fi­cul­ties, train­ing the human brain to make the right deci­sions. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, this the­o­ry does not explain recur­ring dreams about dreams and desires.

By Yraa

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