Mind & Body

While You Were Sleeping

What do your dreams tell you? Here’s how to delve into your night visions and figure out what they really mean.

While You Were Sleeping
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What is a Dream?
Is it a message of wisdom from the inner self or the unconscious mind? Is it a whole world, as real and valid as the waking world, as some cultures in India and australia believe? Or is a dream simply the result of random brain neurons firing during sleep?

In ancient and aboriginal cultures, dreams were too important to be entrusted to mere dreamers. a shaman or medicine man interpreted dreams, mostly with an eye toward the future, as dreams were often thought to be predictive. Later, the modern Western version of the shaman, the psychoanalyst, stepped into the role of interpreter, looking mostly into the dreamer’s past for clues.

Today, neuroscientists are using advanced brain-imaging technologies as well as first-person reports to explore the science behind dreams. What they are finding is that the dreaming brain is quite different from the awake brain both in its chemistry and functioning.

Harvard researchers have confirmed the obvious: People we know in real life often appear in our dreams behaving like they never would in real life. yet it’s not usually until we wake up that we realize they’re acting out of character. there’s a reason for such implausibilities and our lack of resistance to them while dreaming, according to a report in the Journal of Consciousness Studies. Imaging studies show that the brain’s centers for episodic memory, self- reflection and directed thought close down during dreaming.

In Dreaming: An Introduction to the Science of Sleep (Oxford University Press, 2004), J. Allan Hobson, M.D., professor emeritus of psychiatry at Harvard Medical school in Boston, describes how many of the features of dreams (implausible plots, bizarre distortions, powerful emotions) can now be traced to specific biochemical processes of the brain during sleep. these correlations, he believes, “can be used to help individual dream interpretation by relieving it of an impossibly difficult task [determining meaning] and helping us to discover the usually clear emotional salience of our dreams.” In other words, it isn’t possible to say with any scientific exactitude what a dream means, but we can describe how it makes us feel. In most dream groups the interpretation that feels right to the dreamer may be helpful even if it cannot be verified.