Why Do We Dream?
Ancient Interest on Dreams
The study on dreams started in the ancient times, with the Babylonians, Egyptians and early Christians. In 5000 BC, Babylonians recorded dreams on clay tablets. Babylonian priests then analyze and formulate religious and social significance and meanings of these dreams. Ancient Egyptians worshipped and built temples for Serapis, the god of dreams. Early Egyptians slept in the temples of Serapis, believing that Serapis will come in their dreams to heal them. In the Bible, dreams serve as another venue for angels to communicate with believers. There are more than 70 biblical passages identified relating to dreams.
Cross-Cultural and Gender Differences on Dreams
In modern societies, like the United States, dreams are of little importance to waking life. However, in some traditional cultures, dreams are believed to be real, and play a big role in forecasting the future. According to legend, one African chief visited England in his dreams. Upon waking up, he described to his tribesmen the clothes English men wear, and ordered them to make some for him. After wearing the clothes, he was congratulated by his tribesmen for making the trip. Dreams, for them, are essentially real, likening dreaming to a soul that travels during sleep. When a Cherokee Indian dreams of being bitten by a snake, he/she immediately seeks real snake bite treatments upon waking. The Inuit tribe, who lives in the Arctic region of North America, believes that dreams serve as entrance to the spiritual world. In Arimatihan culture, alive in traditional Colombian villages, many types of dreams symbolize the death of relatives. Research shows high percentage of animal characters present in dreams of many traditional cultures, and that wide cultural variation is observed in terms of aggression.
There are also gender differences on dreams and dreaming. Men dream mostly about aggression, the torso anatomy, sexuality and personal success. Women, on the other hand, dream mostly of their friends and scenes themed with victimization.
Theories on Dreams and Dreaming
Theories on dreams and dreaming come from three contemporary perspectives on psychology - the psychodynamic approach, cognitive approach and behavioral neuroscience approach. The respective theories on dreaming are Sigmund Freud's Wish Fulfillment Theory, the Cognitive Theory of Dreaming, and the Activation-Synthesis Theory.
Sigmund Freud's Wish Fulfillment Theory. According to Sigmund Freud, dreams function to virtually fulfill unexpressed wishes. Dreaming is an unconscious attempt to fulfill ungratified needs, thus resembling hopes and fears. This theory states that dream contents are combinations of early and recent experiences, involving childhood memories and early parental relationships. The theory distinguishes between latent and manifest dreams. Latent dream content is the surface meaning that disguises the true meaning, or the manifest dream content, of dreams. Sudden shifting of dream scenes reflects how latent dream contents distort the manifest dream contents. Sigmund Freud's Wish Fulfillment Theory upholds that dreams signify internal conflicts, and possibly the need to receive psychological help.
Cognitive Theory of Dreaming. According to the Cognitive Theory of Dreaming, cognitive principles, such as information-processing, memory and problem-solving, are applicable both for the awake and thinking mind and the dreaming mind. The theory points evidence to concrete autobiographical accounts on dreaming. Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) reported that his famous novel, "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde", originated from a dream. Elias Howe said that his invention of the sewing machine came from a dream, where he was captured by savages who use spears with holes in their tips. Critics of the Cognitive Theory of Dreaming, however, are skeptical of the problem-solving ability of dreaming.
Activation-Synthesis Theory. The Activation-Synthesis Theory states that dreams are efforts of the brain to make sense of the neural activity that takes place during sleep. According to this theory, dreaming involves internal stimulation, while being awake involves external stimulation. Accordingly, neuroscientists attribute the sudden shifting of dream scenes to the rise and fall of levels of neurotransmitters in the brain. Neuroscientific research also shows that the cerebral cortex activates with different aspects of dreaming, and that the REM stage of sleep leads to odd physical movements, not only of the eyeballs, but also with the rest of the body. Critics of the Activation-Synthesis Theory point to the strong attention it gives on the role of the reticular formation (a part of the brain involved in stereotyped patterns of behavior) in dreaming; and the lack of credit the theory gives to the role of life events in influencing dreams.