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    Thread: The Function of dreams

    1. #1
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      The Function of dreams

      I recently read an article on the function of dreams which mentioned a few well known theories as to why dreams may occur. It got me thinking about it and I’m curious to know what others think. I have listed the theories mentioned below. I would be interested to know which (if any) people agree with and why. Also if there are any other theories or ideas not mentioned then I’d love to hear them too. Thanks in advance for any contribution.

      Freudian theory:

      Sigmund Freud believed that dreams represent “disguised fulfilments of repressed wishes”, and are composed of manifest and latent content. Manifest content refers to the sights, sounds and storyline of the dream, while latent content is the symbolic meaning behind the dream, representing the unconscious wishes of the dreamer.

      Memory consolidation theory:

      Perhaps dreams are just replays of past events. We consolidate our memories during sleep, and according to this theory, dreams are the reflection of that. Certainly, there is some evidence that specific sequences of neural firing observed while we are awake are sometimes “replayed” during sleep.

      Threat simulation theory:

      This posits that dreams are an ancient biological defence mechanism, which enable us to practice overcoming threats. Essentially, they provide the dreamer with a virtual reality environment in which to practice important survival skills.

      Activation synthesis theory:

      Maybe dreams are just a random string of memories thrown together. If so, they may provoke us to make new connections, or trigger creative epiphanies while we sleep.

      Empathy theory:

      Dreams may not have evolved with a function, but gain one when we share them with other people. Similar to sharing of stories, dreams may serve to build empathy between people.

      Emotion regulation theory:

      This proposes that dreams are constructed from our emotional history, and may serve to help us process and regulate our emotions.

    2. #2
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      The Freudian theory is the one that least describes my dream experience.

      I'd say my dreams are memory-threat-activation-emotion structured. But I'd say it's really the emotion regulation theory that better describe the function of my dreams. For example, I don't find my dreams useful for threat simulation but at least these dreams give me emotional information (about what I am sensitive about).

      And finally, the Empathy theory brings us all here on Dreamviews. Well, I don't think dreams are what make me have empathy for others but all the benefits of sharing and story telling are here.
      '
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      I’m not sure about the threat simulation theory either. Dreams about fear and anxiety are by far the most common for me and there must be a significant reason why they occur every night but I don’t feel like I really work anything out in these dreams and they just feel like a continuation of negative thoughts and emotions I carry in my daily life. Maybe then these dreams are more inline with the emotion regulation theory as you suggest?

      Personally I am leaning towards Activation synthesis theory if I had to pick one. After observing my dreams over the past year I can see often they are an amalgamation of recent memories and older memories woven together by the connections made between certain subjects and themes. For example I often have dreams about my current job but they may involve people and issues from my time at high school. These associations and connections woven together seem to create the strange reality of dreams and in this abstract reality as the theory suggests is where we can make new and interesting connections.

      I sometimes think disappointingly that maybe dreams have no real function and they are just our thoughts and memories swirling around in our head as we sleep, connecting random pieces together into a surreal narrative. I do believe dreams have value and meaning though. Seeing and reflecting on dreams can bring to light many things we maybe didn’t see in waking life. All thoughts are worth paying attention to if we wish to better understand our selves and dreams are no exception. They’re a fascinating projection of our thoughts and feelings laid out in a bizarre and wonderful way that gives us a fresh, new perspective on the things we’re going through internally. I’ve seen many recurring themes in my dreams and It’s made me look at each one individually and really think about it and consider why I feel that way about a certain subject, person or situation.
      Last edited by Tiktaalik; 05-26-2021 at 06:25 PM.

    4. #4
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      Although not as much for the Freudian one (it's slightly flawed in my view) I think I see some truth in all of these theories, especially since it is known that sleep is connected to learning in general in some way. Funnily enough the threat simulation theory makes enough sense to me. And more often than not if I am doing new activities I'm more likely to see them repeated in an internal visualisation as I'm falling asleep and while this isn't technically dreaming, it makes sense to me from the memory consolidation point of view and is connected enough to the process of dreaming for me because it is largely involuntary and visual, usually. I've actually read about this somewhere before but I don't recall where, sadly.

      So, to me the ones that make most sense are threat simulation and memory consolidation but if I had to pick a single one, probably memory consolidation when considered under the lens of learning in general. A very quick and dirty example is how I've often dreamed of killing other players in player-vs-player games, situations that to me can feel very real in terms of perceived threat even in waking life.

      I think for me the ones that make less sense on a personal level are definitely the Freudian one and also the emotion regulation theory, adding only that earlier in life my dreams have been far more emotional than they usually are now. In dreams I am very emotionally neutral these days, although that may be a reflection of how my worldview affects all my thinking and doing to a point.

      Activation synthesis makes sense to me from a sort of evolutionary perspective, as randomly iterating through experiences and creating novel situations means that we can internally prepare for the unexpected to a degree, more so than simple repetition of past events reoccurring exactly as in waking life.

      Empathy theory seems like an icing on the cake here to me. Makes enough sense on its own, self-explanatory, not to mention behaviourally explanatory. Though as based on my comments above, I don't personally believe dreams are a functionless happenstance anyway.
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    5. #5
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      What if there is no (direct) function? What if dreams are just a byproduct of REM sleep?
      We know REM sleep is vital for our brains. Some important processes happen during REM - probably memory consolidation and maybe more, whatever the brain needs to function properly long-term. And what if these processes require a more active brain or some parts of the brain activated (resulting in us being conscious), and without it, they can't be done. Then without dreams, we would just be conscious in a black void, which could be scary. So dreams maybe exist just to keep our consciousness occupied by some stimulus and staying asleep, allowing the vital processes in the background to happen.
      The content of the dreams is just an overspill from wake-life - memories, anxieties, wishes, thoughts, all mixed together through associations.
      I would consider any other function secondary, although possible. Maybe emotion regulation or general learning.
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      I don't think any of the above options are the main function of dreams, although they may still be true. I'm going to go with a more spiritual view here. Dreams are a path to increased self-realization - a path to wholeness. However, without deliberate intent of dream study, their usefulness is not obvious. Still, I think that dreams have an effect on us on the subconscious level. Like nudges in the right direction. We may not be aware of the reasons why we make decisions sometimes, we just do. Or why we feel one way or another, we just do. Dreams may be influencing us beyond our own understanding, and certainly beyond our scientific knowledge at this time.

      Edit: Re-reading.. I think the emotional regulation theory is pretty good, too.
      Last edited by MoonageDaydream; 05-29-2021 at 03:28 AM.
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    7. #7
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      Quote Originally Posted by IndigoRose View Post
      What if there is no (direct) function? What if dreams are just a byproduct of REM sleep?

      The content of the dreams is just an overspill from wake-life - memories, anxieties, wishes, thoughts, all mixed together through associations.
      I would consider any other function secondary, although possible. Maybe emotion regulation or general learning.
      Yes, I feel this way at this point in time as well. Some dreams feel like they fit into one or more of the listed theories but I haven’t yet seen consistency in my dreams to hint any of the theories are truly on the money. They do just feel like a jumble of emotions, thoughts and anxieties strung together into an abstract narrative. It’s probably why there hasn’t been a scientific consensus yet. That said, no function doesn’t mean no meaning and I still think they provide valuable insight into the inner workings of the mind.
      ------------------
      Quote Originally Posted by MoonageDaydream View Post
      Still, I think that dreams have an effect on us on the subconscious level. Like nudges in the right direction. We may not be aware of the reasons why we make decisions sometimes, we just do. Or why we feel one way or another, we just do. Dreams may be influencing us beyond our own understanding, and certainly beyond our scientific knowledge at this time.
      Yes, interesting point. I once met up with my friend many years ago and remembered having an oddly powerful admiration and respect for him and I wasn’t sure why? I then recalled I had had a dream in which he saved my life. If I hadn’t recalled that dream I wouldn’t have known why I was feeling this way. Maybe many of us have this experience on a day to day basis and our days mood towards people, situations and ourselves is somewhat influenced each night by our dreams? If that was the case could dreams be viewed as both a positive and negative occurrence? Unbiased and neutral but also providing false memories that influence and manipulate our waking lives in a critical way. I woke from an unpleasant dream this morning which made me feel down and miserable for a while but was it recalling the dream and dwelling on it what made me feel this way or would I have felt this way even without recalling it but remained unaware as to why? If anyone knows of any studies into this I’d be interested to hear.
      Last edited by HumbleDreamer; 06-16-2021 at 02:55 PM. Reason: Merge post~ Please use the edit button if you need to add something to your posts.

    8. #8
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      Quote Originally Posted by Tiktaalik View Post
      Yes, interesting point. I once met up with my friend many years ago and remembered having an oddly powerful admiration and respect for him and I wasn’t sure why? I then recalled I had had a dream in which he saved my life. If I hadn’t recalled that dream I wouldn’t have known why I was feeling this way. Maybe many of us have this experience on a day to day basis and our days mood towards people, situations and ourselves is somewhat influenced each night by our dreams? If that was the case could dreams be viewed as both a positive and negative occurrence? Unbiased and neutral but also providing false memories that influence and manipulate our waking lives in a critical way. I woke from an unpleasant dream this morning which made me feel down and miserable for a while but was it recalling the dream and dwelling on it what made me feel this way or would I have felt this way even without recalling it but remained unaware as to why? If anyone knows of any studies into this I’d be interested to hear.
      Personally I think that dreams always show us something about our ourselves that we don't yet understand consciously. So it's not so much that dreams are causing us to feel a certain way about people or things, but, they bring to our consciousness the feelings we already have, buried in our unconscious mind.
      Last edited by MoonageDaydream; 05-31-2021 at 12:55 AM.
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      Quote Originally Posted by MoonageDaydream View Post
      Personally I think that dreams always show us something about our ourselves that we don't yet understand consciously. So it's not so much that dreams are causing us to feel a certain way about people or things, but, they bring to our consciousness the feelings we already have, buried in our unconscious mind.
      Yes, you may be right. I do like the sound of this. 🙂
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      I was pondering my dreams the other night and began to wonder whether the dream world is naturally quite hostile? Quite often dreams throw at you dramatic or perilous situations and being attacked, chased or in grave danger are very common dream themes. Even when we’re lucid and able to have more control over what happens you see the dream world fighting back against this. When lucid the greatest threat becomes something stopping us from achieving our goal and quite often the dream or dream characters will try to stop me or hinder me from my goals in some way. I think we’ve all experienced this. It could be the dream police or a vanishing door. It made me think again about threat simulation theory and is this a dreams way of adapting and throwing obstacles at us whilst we’re in a lucid state?
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    11. #11
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      Quote Originally Posted by Tiktaalik View Post
      I was pondering my dreams the other night and began to wonder whether the dream world is naturally quite hostile? Quite often dreams throw at you dramatic or perilous situations and being attacked, chased or in grave danger are very common dream themes. Even when we’re lucid and able to have more control over what happens you see the dream world fighting back against this. When lucid the greatest threat becomes something stopping us from achieving our goal and quite often the dream or dream characters will try to stop me or hinder me from my goals in some way. I think we’ve all experienced this. It could be the dream police or a vanishing door. It made me think again about threat simulation theory and is this a dreams way of adapting and throwing obstacles at us whilst we’re in a lucid state?
      Perhaps internally, all of me is too authoritarian for "dream police" to come after "me". It's not something I particularly believe in though, so on an expectation level, it's just non-existent. Thinking more in terms of storytelling, my childhood lucids often had a theme of "empire" with me at the top of said empire and as a child I often did fancy myself emperor of this or that quite often... On the other hand, with my inner self I tend to prefer approaches that can involve the other parts of "me" that are fragmented as characters, be that through dialogue, trade or whatever; though I would argue that I do the same as much as possible in waking life with other people, try to involve others in an equitable way if at all possible, because that's how I like to be treated myself, at the very least.

      Personally, I don't believe that hostility is necessarily a default dreaming context, though I see people talk about it a fair bit, even with regards to lucids. A quick thought on this is that some level of antagonism is probably good because it also keeps you engaged, as antagonism and violence may be simple things but the characters/people provoking them may be unpredictable and so it's required that you are alert on some level to deal with them. Thinking about the main points of discussion here, that makes sense to me on the level of threat simulation theory too, as violence and antagonism are probably a common part of life for mostly everyone, so it would make more sense there for it to relate to it.

      I think it also relates to the memory consolidation theory in a sort of roundabout way... I'm putting forward a wild conjecture here but I would entertain the idea that hostility in a dream and therefore this implied level of alertness could relate to learning, because if dreaming were to be a partly physiological condition, then maybe some contexts in a dream that involve more consciousness are somehow part of the physiological response to the rest of the things that are happening that we are not necessarily aware of, even if we were to be dreaming lucidly. I don't know if this idea would even make sense to anyone else, but it has a certain "logic" in my mind.

      Anyway, I don't know, yours is an interesting point to think about. Thinking about my last few lucids, since that's all there is (a few), there was a certain level of antagonism at some points but it was partly incited from me as far as I recall off the top of my head. As I said in my previous post I have had a lot of non-lucids about player-vs-player situations from games, partly because they were very common gaming situations for me many years ago. And a lot of the art and general media that surrounds us often includes violence or hostility as a theme too.

      Oops, this got long fast...
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      I would say dreams are often based on anxieties but I don't see it as a hostility of the dreamworld towards the dreamer. I think it comes naturally from how dreams are put together - through associations and our schemata.

      So let's say you dream about being on a beach, it's peaceful and it's a glorious day, but nothing's happening (and that can't last for a long time in dreams). You are watching waves, and one of them seems to be... you don't know... maybe triangular? What could it be? A shark!!! But you are on the beach and the shark is in the water, you are safe, aren't you? What could go wrong? Oh, you remember, your sister is in the water, swimming. You have to save her.

      Processing anxieties and looking around for threats sounds natural.

      And when we go lucid and know nothing can harm us, there are still our insecurities, our lack of confidence, our lack of healthy self-love, bringing on the dream police or the hostility of the dreamworld.

      Another thought:
      When I talked about dreams with my husband, he said that all of his dreams feature "friction". Not hostility or something obviously negative, but an invisible force working against him, preventing him from doing whatever he wants to do. Like he wants to catch a train and there is suddenly a fence between him and the platform. Or similar things.
      And I would agree that most dream stories are built like that - you are trying to do something but there are some obstacles. You work around them but something else happens, preventing you or distracting you from doing what you want.
      Maybe this is how we see action stories in general? There's a hero and there are obstacles to overcome or enemies to beat. And our brain uses this general template to make dreams engaging.


      It would be interesting to know how people dreamt in the past when the world was a much more dangerous place with more imminent threats.

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      What if the dreamworld is an actual place, in the spiritual realms. We leave our physical body and enter another world in our dream body. In this realm whatever you think will become reality. What if our dreams are a way to practice how to live in a world where thoughts become reality? It's all about learning to control our selves. If we can't control our thoughts we end up accidentally killing each other. The violence we see is a direct consequence of you or another person not being in control of themselves. Life on earth is temporary but after our body dies, we go to another world in which our thoughts become reality, thus creating our own hell or heaven.

      I see many people here talk about what they do in dreams, the events that happened. But have you ever taken a good look at the world in which your dreams take place, and think about why you end up there every night?

      With a materialistic world view I guess it's impossible to look at dreams this way. When you think materialistic you assume this waking life is all there is and dreams must be a process generated by the brain to deal with stuff in the waking world.
      Last edited by kneejo; 07-04-2021 at 10:40 AM.

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      Quote Originally Posted by IndigoRose View Post
      Processing anxieties and looking around for threats sounds natural.

      And when we go lucid and know nothing can harm us, there are still our insecurities, our lack of confidence, our lack of healthy self-love, bringing on the dream police or the hostility of the dreamworld.

      Another thought:
      When I talked about dreams with my husband, he said that all of his dreams feature "friction". Not hostility or something obviously negative, but an invisible force working against him, preventing him from doing whatever he wants to do. Like he wants to catch a train and there is suddenly a fence between him and the platform. Or similar things.
      And I would agree that most dream stories are built like that - you are trying to do something but there are some obstacles. You work around them but something else happens, preventing you or distracting you from doing what you want.
      Maybe this is how we see action stories in general? There's a hero and there are obstacles to overcome or enemies to beat. And our brain uses this general template to make dreams engaging.
      Nicely put.

      When I suggested the dreamworld was somewhat hostile I didn’t mean in a sinister way toward the dreamer. I meant it more how your husband described, an invisible force working against us. That’s exactly what it feels like sometimes. I remember in one lucid I was trying to get out of a building only every door I went through lead to a dead end. Then I’ve had dreams where DC’s have tried to actively stop me from doing reality checks. One even grabbed my hand and wouldn’t let go when I tried! Dreams are always throwing these obstacles at us, lucid or not so I wondered if that’s down to the ‘Threat simulation’ process at work whilst we dream.

      What creates this process though? Maybe we create it ourselves as you suggested. In waking life we’re constantly scanning for threats. It’s in our nature. But just because we think a threat might occur in waking life it doesn’t mean it actually will. However in a dream if we think it then it will likely manifest as it’s entirely possible within the world of our own heads for what we believe to come true.

      So the “Threat simulation” instead of being a biological defence mechanism could be more of an accidental threat simulator triggered by our anxieties and constant expectation of threats/ obstacles to occur. I think that makes a lot of sense.
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