April 27, 2018

Tell Him He’s Dreamin’

We spend a third of our lives unconscious and it feels like a waste of time.

Many of us would do unconscionable things if it meant getting more hours out of the day. Sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture by both political enforcers and small children and the effects can be significant, even fatal. Fun fact, 11 days is the longest any human has gone without sleep…and it seems there is no getting around the system shut down that happens when we sleep. Then, we dream.

Paul McCartney famously said that the melody of ‘Yesterday’ appeared to him in a dream. That little ditty ended up being rather lucrative, so if we can literally make money while we sleep – I want to investigate this dream stuff a little further.

The first culture to place stock in dreams and their meaning was the Mesopotamians in around 5,000 BC. According to ancient-origins.net, ‘Dream Interpreter was a profession in this early civilisation and a lot of stock was placed in the subconscious ponderings. Among other interpretations recorded in the ‘dream book’ of the Assyrian King, a dream of running away or fleeing meant that the dreamer was in danger of losing material wealth.

The ancient Egyptians too placed a lot of stock in the meaning of dreams. Many of us will be familiar with the biblical story of Joseph (of Technicolour Dreamcoat fame,) who was called upon to interpret Pharaoh’s dream. Allegedly, Joseph was able to predict a 7-year famine and diverted Egypt from the disaster – quickly becoming a favourite of the Pharoah.

Not insignificantly, Egypt’s ancient book of dreams is the first to detail naughty dreams – the kind that appears in everyone’s life around adolescence…but we will leave you to your own research on those.

The dream books of these ancient civilisations have been preserved as serious texts with scientific relevance… and it seems science is once again fascinated by dreams and their meaning. Modern science, however, has a lot more resources and a growing body of neuroscience to plug into the enquiry.

Science runs the spectrum on the matter with different theories believing that dreams serve an important purpose, to there just being a neurological by-product of brain waves…kind of like waste. Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, had much to say about the function of dreams as an outlet for our suppressed desires, but it was difficult for Freud to prove in his time.

However, in a sad but scientifically defensible study published in the Scientific American, neuroscience researchers showed that in studying dream-themes in two separate groups of children in Palestine, it was found that those who lived in close proximity to war and trauma, had a significantly higher incidence of threatening themes in their dreams.

There is a theory that dreams help our brains to digest what Freud called ‘day-residues’ and work a little bit like a computer back up – but for our memories that formed during the day. Students have been shown to have better-formed memories of content when there is sleep in between learning and recall.

But by far and away the coolest bit of science to approach the dream phenomena has surfaced this year, with scientists now progressing further towards an ability to record and replay our dreams to us. By remembering our dreams, we may gain a better understanding of their function, power and purpose.

What is the last dream you can remember?

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