Wednesday, February 22, 2012


A terrifying dream of Mr. M.
One night Mr. M., 43 year old man working as clerk in the postal department under the government of India, had a terrifying dream of being chased by a mad elephant. He woke up in panic. When he realized it was a dream, he became calm and slipped into placid sleep. In the morning he memorized the dream and pondered on it. He tried to rationalize that the dream was a memory in sleep of the TV footages he had seen recently in which a mad elephant rampaged a village and killed a man. But when he saw the same dream for a second time after about one week, he became anxious and nervous. He thought of some bad omen. So he approached the astrologer-priest of the nearby Hindu temple. The priest “interpreted” the dreaming of mad elephant as an ominous sign of a calamity awaiting him in the near future and suggested some remedial ritual which was very expensive one. Mr. M. became more anxious and couldn’t sleep peacefully at night. One of his friends in the office advised him to go for a psychiatric consultation to alleviate the anxiety and tension instead of spending money on the remedial ritual. Mr. M. came to me for consultation and I gave cognitive psychotherapy which mainly consisted of psycho-education on dreams.
What Cognitive psychology says on dreams?
In cognitive psychology dreams are successions of images, ideas, emotions, and sensations that occur involuntarily in the mind during certain stages of sleep. In mammals and birds, sleep is divided into two broad types: rapid eye movement (REM) and non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep. Each type has a distinct set of associated physiological, neurological, and psychological features. Dreams mainly occur in the REM stage of sleep—when brain-activity is high and resembles that of being awake. REM sleep is revealed by continuous movements of the eyes during sleep. At times, dreams may occur during other stages of sleep. However, these dreams tend to be much less vivid or memorable. Dreams can have varying natures, such as frightening, exciting, magical, melancholic, adventurous, or sexual.
The events in dreams are generally outside the control of the dreamer, with the exception of lucid dreaming, where the dreamer is self-aware. At times dreams can make creative thought to occur to the person or give a sense of inspiration. In such dreams there may be enlightenment on the solution for the problem on which the individual has been pondering for some time.
‘Meaning’ of dreams
Opinions about the symbolic meaning of the contents of dreams have varied and shifted through time and culture. Dream interpretations date back to year 3000 Before Common Era. The earliest recorded dreams were acquired from materials dating back approximately 5000 years, in Mesopotamia, where they were documented on clay tablets. In the Greek and Roman periods, the people believed that dreams were direct messages from the gods, or from the dead and that they predicted the future.
Cover of First German Edition of Freud's Book
Sigmund Freud, who developed the discipline of psychoanalysis, wrote extensively about dream theories and interpretations. He explained dreams as manifestations of our deepest desires and anxieties, often relating to repressed childhood memories or obsessions. In The Interpretation of Dreams, published in 1900, Freud presented a psychological technique to interpret dreams and devised a series of guidelines to understand the symbols and motifs that appear in our dreams. He said that knives and pencils always represented penis, while bowels and caves stood for vagina.
Sigmund Freud
C G Jung
Carl Gustav Jung was a student of Freud who later rejected many of Freud's theories. Jung expanded on Freud's idea that dream content relates to the dreamer's unconscious desires. He described dreams as messages to the dreamer and argued that dreamers should pay attention for their own good. He came to believe that dreams present the dreamer with revelations that can uncover and help to resolve emotional or religious problems and fears. Jung wrote that recurring dreams show up repeatedly to demand attention, suggesting that the dreamer is neglecting an issue related to the dream. Jung believed that memories formed throughout the day also play a role in dreaming. These memories leave impressions for the unconscious to deal with when the ego is at rest. The unconscious mind re-enacts these glimpses of the past in the form of a dream. Jung called this a day residue.
The dream dictionaries created in line with Freudian and Jungian dream interpretations say fantastic things as: “To see an abbot in your dream suggests that someone has power over you and is making you do things that you do not necessarily want to do. You are feeling confined or restricted. The dream indicates that you will experience many obstacles and setback before achieving success and prestige.”
History of dream interpretation
Jacob's Dream: Ladder of Angels
Christians mostly shared their beliefs with the Hebrews and thought that dreams were of the supernatural element because the Old Testament had frequent stories of dreams with divine inspiration. The most famous of these dream stories was Jacob's dream that stretched from Earth to Heaven. Many Christian men preached that God talked to his people through their dreams.
The Greeks shared their beliefs with the Egyptians on how to interpret good and bad dreams, and the idea of incubating dreams. Greek legend states that the god Hypnos made the people sleep by touching them with his magic wand or by fanning them with his wings. Morpheus also sent warnings and prophecies to those who slept at shrines and temples. The earliest Greek beliefs of dreams were that their gods physically visited the dreamers, where they entered through a keyhole, and exiting the same way after the divine message was given.
Dreams also helped their practice of medicine, sending sick people to particular temples. Sick Greeks visited these temples to perform various religious rites, sleep, and hope to have a dream that assured a return to good health. They slept for many days, sometimes trying for weeks or months until they had the "right" dream. The great Greek physician Hippocrates (469-399 BCE) had a simple dream theory: during the day, the soul receives images; during the night, it produces images. 
Dreams and brain activity
Position of Thalamus in the brain
Harvard University psychiatrists John Allan Hobson and Robert McCarley proposed a new theory of dreams based on their neurobiological studies. The new theory known as the activation-synthesis hypothesis was first published in the AmericanJournal of Psychiatry in December 1977. They observed the differences in neuronal activity of the lowest part of the brain known as brainstem during waking and REM sleep. The new hypothesis proposes that dreams result from brain activation during REM sleep. During sleep the eyes are closed, so that the brain to some degree becomes isolated from the outside world.
All signals from the outside world coming through senses must pass through the thalamus before they reach the brain cortex. Thalamus is a relay station for all sensations coming through sensory organs. During sleep thalamic activity is suppressed. This means that the brain mainly works with signals from itself. A well-known phenomenon in dynamical physical systems where the level of input and output from the system is low is that oscillation makes spontaneous resonance patterns to occur. Hence, dreams may be the simple consequence of neural oscillations occurring in the brain during sleep.
Three explanations for prophetic dreams
Dr. Robert Stickgold
Pamela, Houston, Texas asked Dr Stickgold, Director, Center for Sleep and Cognition, Harvard Medical School:  How would you explain that what I dream comes to pass either that day when I get up or the next day?
The answer in full text: “I have three possible explanations for this. The first is that humans are very poor at statistics, and that random coincidences are almost always taken as being meaningful. (In fact, this is a great advantage, because it is the basic mechanism by which we discover causal relationships. We just seem to overdo it.) For example, if the average person has three or four dreams a year about something bad happening to one of their parents, then about one person out of 25 will have such a dream within a couple of days before the death of one of their parents. Even when there seem to be details that match, the odds of such matches occurring by chance are much, much higher than most people expect. (Probably the best example is the fact that if you have 23 people in a room, there's a 50:50 chance that two of them will have the same birthday.) Another part of this explanation is that we will often call two things a match when, in reality, most everything about them is different, but a few most important features match. Again, this leads to a misestimate of the likelihood of this occurring by coincidence.
“The second explanation is that it's not a coincidence, but reflects a nonconscious calculation by your dreaming brain. It's a variant of the question, how come when I think my wife's going to be angry at me for forgetting to do something, she often is? Thus, you might unconsciously have picked up indications about someone's health or feeling on a topic, and then dreamed about it. When it turns out to be right, we're always struck by this predictive power of dreams.
“The third explanation is what I call the "woo-woo" explanation, which is that the universe doesn't work the way mainstream science (myself included) thinks it does, and that dreams have a magical access to the future. For this to be true, many of the most fundamental laws of nature that scientists have discovered would have to be wrong. But this has happened at least twice in the last hundred years (relativity and quantum mechanics), so there's a reasonable likelihood that it's going to happen again. Having said that, I don't personally take this possibility seriously, because there haven't been any well-documented cases of someone, like you, being able to do this in a way that can't be explained by one of my first two explanations.”

No comments:

Post a Comment