Have you ever woken up from a dream and thought: what the fuck?
I often find myself spending the day wondering why I dreamt about this person, that place or that festival from three years ago. With everyone dreaming for at least 2 hours every night , I can’t be the only one. A particularly strange dream I had a few weeks ago left me pondering the question: Do dreams have meaning? Are dreams a gateway into the subconscious mind?
Scientists and psychologists alike have studied why people dream for decades and are yet to pinpoint a definitive answer. Dreams are vague, confusing and often difficult to recall. A popular theory behind why we dream is dreams are a mechanism for the brain to sort through information it collected throughout the day, including minor sensory details some may not pay attention to, like the colour of someones shirt or an online advertisement. Dreams are also thought to be a tool for the brain to process and form memories. Some studies have revealed the more we learn new things throughout the day, the more we consequently dream. So it’s safe to say university students are big dreamers (and not just when it comes to dreaming about finding graduate jobs).
Another common theory revolves around emotions, with our emotions throughout the day linking to our dream imagery at night. I am definitely one to experience emotion-driven dreams, both the good and the bad. Suzanne Bergmann, a professional dream worker for nearly 20 years, describes dreams as a universal language, commenting that people around the globe often have dreams with similar imagery stemmed from specific emotions. For example, have you found yourself in a classroom recently? You’re probably being tested for something, or maybe have learnt a lesson from your past.
However, whilst dreams are often a reflection of our emotions, they may not be a reflection of subconscious. Which brings us to the juicy stuff – whether or not dreams are connected to our subconscious mind.
The straight answer: they’re both. Dreams are a tool for your mind to manifest subconscious thoughts, but they can also have independent meaning. The subconscious mind becomes alive when you are sleeping. This is why some argue dreams do in fact have meanings underpinned by our subconscious thoughts and emotions. Sigmund Freud, a well-known psychoanalyst in the early 1900’s, pioneered modern-day research into the the link between dreams and the subconscious. He theorised that all dreams relate back to our subconscious thoughts and desires, writing “in every sense a dream has its origins in the past [and] indestructible wishes”. He also believed everything we remember from our dreams can be analysed to interpret our unconscious thoughts.
Interestingly, some researchers believe that certain dreams are visions into the future, arguing many do not realise this because up to 90% of our dreams are forgotten. As far back as 325 B.C. dreams were even thought to be a gateway to premonitions. Sigmund Freud commented on this theory, stating “the ancient belief that dreams reveal the future is not indeed entirely devoid of truth”.
Even with all this research and theories, there is still the suggestion that dreams have no function, no purpose and therefore no meaning at all. In the words of Nelly, a dream might only be just a dream.
But where’s the fun in that?