What are Dreams?


What are Dreams?

Have you ever wondered what are dreams?

Everybody, with the exception of those with specific sleep disorders, dreams. In fact, it is postulated by some experts that the very reason we sleep is so we can dream. The majority of our dreaming is undertaken during Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep. If for some reason we are deprived of REM sleep, we make up for it at a later date.

It is said that the actual state of dreaming is physiological (physical) but the content of the dream is psychological and is a product of the dreamer’s unconscious mind in collaboration with conscious experience.

The images we see in our dream are actually symbols. These are personal to the individual in that their uniqueness typically is only relevant to the dreamer in question. However, whilst some symbols are representations of matters from one’s waking life, there are others that are not the “result” of the individual’s personal knowledge base. These are termed archetypal images (see Carl Jung).

In explaining what are dreams, Jung said that archetypal images are from the collective knowledge of all mankind. In other words, a sort of timeless database of symbols recognisable to all mankind through all time periods. An archetype is not a specific image or motif but variations of the images and motifs that are found in mythology. Archetypal images, in Jung’s theory, are associated with very deep emotional issues including earlier life experiences whereas the typical dream images (i.e. symbols pertinent to the respective dreamer only) address current waking emotions.

What are Dream Symbols?

Dream symbols are the images that are featured in a dream such as a building, a relative, an animal, etc. Although dreams can be interpreted in a literal sense, in other words the symbol represents exactly itself, most are metaphorical. For example, a person may dream of their office building on fire and being put out. Metaphorically, the office could represent the dreamer specific to their career. The fire being put out may represent a dousing of their passion. Thus, in this example, the dreamer is subconsciously coming to the realisation that they are dissatisfied at work. Symbols point to the emotions and instincts of reality. They do not lie. They do not attempt to deceive. They may be coded in metaphor but they rarely are the reverse of what they attempt to make the dreamer aware. The reason they are given in symbolism is because this is the subconscious means of communication. Just as the conscious communicative method is spoken language.

Symbolism in dreams, as stated many times on this website, has no fixed meaning; it is unique to the dreamer.

What is a Metaphor?

The word metaphor comes from a Greek word meaning to "transfer" or "carry across." Metaphors "carry" meaning from one word, image, or idea to another. A metaphor is a figure of speech in which an implied comparison is made between two unlike things that actually have something important in common. In other words, if one dreams of fire this may be a metaphor for passion; fire and passion are the implied comparison that are not alike but have an importance in common. People incorrectly believe they can interpret dreams via use of a dictionary to look up a symbolic meaning. Their error is in assuming, a) the symbol has a literal meaning, and b) that the symbol has cross-meaning between many people. To fully understand a dream, it must be interpreted as a metaphor.

How are Dreams Structured?

Theories differ on the structure of dreams but it is general consensus that they are comprised of four phases rather like the structure of a play. In the first phase, “the exposition”, the initial situation/circumstance/setting is represented – already alluding to a conflict expressed in the dream. The second phase is the plot and contains a storyline comprising of essential change. This then paves the way for the third phase: the culmination. In this phase the important things take place that weave the dream toward closure (the fourth phase).

Carl Jung considered the 4th phase of the dream to be crucial because the dreamer cannot alter the end. In other words, because the subconscious needs to express the truth to the dreamer, the dreamer cannot influence the subconscious’ motive or purpose. The dreamer is in an unconscious state and therefore is unable to use conscious awareness to alter the dream to fit their purpose, water its meaning down, or sugar coat the truth.

For a deeper analysis of the structure and point of dreams, see the sections on Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud.

Related Pages

If you enjoyed our page on What are Dreams, make sure to browse the following articles too:

* What are Recurring Dreams?

* Why do People Dream?

* History of Dream Interpretation

* Dream Facts

* Famous Dreams


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