Why Do People Dream?

M1. There are two simple answers to the question, “Why do people dream?”. But first let’s just be clear on why I am even asking this question.

Well, almost everybody dreams. And during these dreams, which are involuntary, people see vivid images that are often sequenced into stories, while at the same time their bodies are paralyzed, but yet they are often sexually aroused too.

This is a strange situation indeed and nobody seems to know for sure why it happens. But it does happen and it may even be essential to our well-being that it does. So let’s see two very differing hypotheses on why people dream as follows:

The first answer

is that it is a by-product of electrical activity in the brain and is therefore nothing more than a misinterpretation of that activity. For instance, many people observe that foods such as cheese, coffee, chili peppers, and even sugar have an effect on their dreams.

Robert Hooke, the English natural philosopher, wrote a diary entry way back in 1674 that reads:

“Slept ill after cheese; dreamt of viragoes and other strange phenomena” 

So perhaps all of the content of dreams is simply created by changes in the body chemistry. I think this is the mainstream view of neuroscience, but this would make dreams seem rather arbitrary, and that simply doesn’t resonate with most people. I think there is more to dreaming than that.

The second answer

is that dreams carry meaningful information, and it is this that fits with my own experience. Then we can also ask questions about where that information is being carried from and to, and what purpose does it serve?

Since we don’t have any knowledge of where dreams come from, this itself provides us with a good basis for the concept of the subconscious mind (that is unknown to us) passing information to our conscious mind (that is all we know).

Now, experimental researchers have determined that sleep is important to our well being, but they have yet to explain the purpose of dreams.

In the wider scheme of things, I have found that almost everything has a purpose of sorts in life and likewise, since dreaming is a biologically expensive pastime, it would have been dropped by evolutionary pressures long ago unless it was beneficial in some way.

Our Goals

From my experience, this idea of a dream state passing beneficial information to our awakened state, immediately gives rise to the idea of purpose and personal goals.

Society tells us that everyone has a purpose in life, and our quest is to find it and fulfill it in order to be a successful human being.

So what is your gift to the world that will fulfill your individual potentiality?

Let’s take a look at the English nursery rhyme that follows:

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again.

Jung the analytical psychologist suggested that one of our goals might be to re-integrate our divided selves over the course of our lives. It’s as if our minds were fractured during our earliest moments of life.

This is like Humpty Dumpty, who is usually pictured as a man in the shape of a large egg.  And he has a great fall and breaks as eggs do when you drop them. So we, like Humpty Dumpty have the task to put ourselves back together again because, like Humpty Dumpty, nobody else can do it for us, not even all the king’s horses and all the king’s men.

It’s a personal quest.

Dreams too, as you know, have a nursery rhyme quality about them. They are often bizarre and beyond all reasoning, so maybe Humpty Dumpty is indeed a good example to follow.

So the answer to the riddle of “why do people dream”, and how then you can fulfill your individual potentiality is to bring your gift to the world by becoming your (integrated) self, ie that person who is the embodiment of all your potential.

I think this is what Jung meant when he said,

“…it struck me what it means to live with the myth, and what it means to live without one. So in the most natural way, I took it upon myself to get to know my myth, and this I regarded as my task of tasks.”

How Do Dreams Help?

Individual dreams are difficult to interpret, but dreams can often have patterns over time. The subconscious self can then be seen to reveal important things through dreams.

Symbols are the medium of communication for dreams. They can be generalized but they are also often very personal.  Like candy flavors, we all have our own likes and dislikes.

The symbols put into you during your childhood are those that you want to recover and you want to ask yourself which ones speak to you. If you use your imagination you can let these symbols work on you. And, in meditation, you can go to work on them.

These symbols then reflect aspects of our subconscious minds and we would do well to pay attention to them.

The Sacred Center Revealed in Your Dreams

I have already referred to that space has been called the sacred center, the other world and the golden world by the philosopher Mircea Eliade. It is a meaningful and magical experience that many of us aspire to repeat. It is an ecstatic moment that might be called “being in touch with our spiritual nature.”

In the Greek mythologies, Dionysus was not so much the god of drunkenness and debauchery, but of ecstatic vision. Wine is the symbol of the spirit, and we all have a need for ecstatic visions. But, when we dismantled the myths of Olympus we turned gods into mere symptoms for psychotherapists to play with.

As even the down-to-earth atheist and materialist Christopher Hitchens said,

“We have a need for what I would call ‘the transcendent’ or ‘the numinous’ or even ‘the ecstatic,’ which comes out in love and music, poetry, and landscape. I wouldn’t trust anyone who didn’t respond to things of that sort. But I think the cultural task is to separate those impulses and those needs and desires from the supernatural and, above all, from the superstitious.”

So find the thing that stops you in your tracks at whatever stage of life you are at. Find it through your dreams or through meditations on the symbols revealed in your dreams. Whatever moves you is where the answer lies.  That is where you will find your zest for life and where you will find your practical supports.

This then is my answer to “Why do people dream?”

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