People have always attempted to grasp the deep meaning of dreams. The ancients would take them for gods’ messages. Nowadays the scientific researches renew the comprehension attempt of the dream world, stating that dreams can provide interesting information about our personality.
“This morning I woke up and I saw a beautiful sky. I jumped out of the bed and after a copious breakfast I headed school. At the bus stop, as talking to some mates I hear a ring… I wake up. I wash up, I put clothes on and have breakfast. I run out to catch the bus to school. Uhh, I reach school… During the roll call, some classmate hit a book against my head and… I get up. I get up a little dizzy and tired, I wash up, have breakfast and hurry to catch the bus to school. No special incidents during this morning. But doubts start pushing me, so I ask for a mate to pinch me to see if I’m awake for real…
Then mother shakes me and says it’s time to go to school. It seems like this will never stop! I’m late, hurry to get to school. Later on I tell to my mates my reiterative nightmare. Suddenly the alarm sets off. Everybody bursts out of the school and there I fall down and strain my knee! I wake up all of a sudden and look at the watch. It’s 2 am and dark outside. Is it still a dream? I’m falling to wake up again and again, I feel as if I were trapped in an endless stream of dreams. Who is going to set me free out of this terrible spiral?”
Are you really reading this or you just dream about doing it? The question may raise strange or absurd. Still who can say where reality starts and dreams ends up?
The paradox of dreams
This nightmare story is an item –quite seldom by chance – of false arousal in series. The clearness of details and the images accuracy almost convince us that we got up for real. This perfect illusion is one of the countless amazing details of the dream experience. But what is a dream, in fact? And particularly what is that makes it different from reality?
Dreams specially issue during a particular stage of sleep, named “the paradoxical sleep”. This stage recurs at every 90 minutes (almost) since falling asleep. This paradoxical sleep is not specific to the human beings only, but it occurs even at animals. As for the humans, dreams display huge semantic potential. There may occur messages from our ego underground, named “unconscious” in psychologists’ terms.
Talking to the gods
People in ancient times would assess magical and divinatory features to dreams or lucid dreaming and they even knew some methods of dream “incubation”. After some ablution rites, the “dreamer” was supposed to fall asleep in a temple, in a place prone to secure the communion to gods. His dreams were later on construed by experts. The Greeks and the Romans did exactly apprehend the semantic dimension of dreams. They knew how to reveal their meaning, including the sexual symbolism.
In the Middle Age, the mentality changed, meaning the dream interpretation was labelled as enchantment. In the XXth century many writers started to take interest in dreams and set new interpretative theories. Among them Sigmund Freud may be considered the pioneer in psychology. He explained the strangeness of the dreams’ world by means of the “unconscious” concept. Therefore the impression comes from the fact that the dream is the point where the unconscious unfolds, under the guise of the uneven signs, and unuttered phantasms. This is the function of the dreams, a basic one for the psychic balance of the individual. Each of us balances his or her suppressed wishes to make life convenient.
The controlled dreams
In order to better appraise this phenomenon, there have been proper laboratory methods. These days it is possible to scientifically observe the different stages of the sleep.
The subject is connected to some electrodes stick on the skin area covered with hair, on the face and on the rest of the body. The measurements consider the brain waves, the oculus movements and the muscles. The heart beat and the breathing are also recorded. The results are simultaneously described on a graphic or on a screen. Each page of recording is copied in a graphic that shows the sequence and duration of each stage of sleep.
These experiences enabled the removal of some preconceived ideas about the sleep. The paradoxical sleep was considered as vital for the psychic health so far. The subjects deprived of the paradoxical sleep actually complained mental disorder. Some medicines, particularly the sedatives, completely remove the paradoxical sleep, and do not trigger any long-term nefarious effects. Besides since the computers age, some researchers tried to stress some analogy between dreams and the way that brain processes the information. In their opinion the dreams were supposed to select data. But since the paradoxical sleep is not absolutely necessary, this fact stands against the “utilitarian” theories, which were bound to assign a utilitarian function to dreams.
The telepathic dreams
Ever since the ancient times, they say there were some dreams providing telepathic and foreseeing information. Although psychology wouldn’t agree such ideas, the scientists currently seem more open to it. Some bold scientists had some laboratory experiences about the telepathic dream and precognition. The experiments made by the American Montague Ullman in the 60s secured elements to support the idea that dreams can bring information about pat and the future that cannot be covered by any sensorial known way.
These days most of the researches are based on the study of the lucid dreams. It’s about the quite seldom cases when the dreamer is aware about the fact he is dreaming. The question is whether the subject can literally interfere in his dream to change the track of events he experiences.
The dreams measurer
By the end of the 70s the British psychologist Keith Hearne updated a method that allows the sleeping to convey some signals through some eye movements’ code. He stated: “I discovered that lucid dreams are real dreams that incur during the paradoxical. We proved that dreams unfold in real time and not in a moment”.
The lucid dreamer owns a great creative potential. It is well known that dreams have inspired lots of works of art and scientific discoveries. The greatest part of the composers has put down music they had heard in their dreams and many writers have figured out their books during their dreams as well. Some of the most famous cases in this respect:
The writer Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) had the idea of his novel Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1885) in his dream. The German chemist Friedrich Kekulé von Stradonitz (1829-1896) suddenly grasped the round structure of the benzene molecule in a dream where he saw the atoms dancing and set in the archetypal form of the Uroboros snake which bites its own tail (as a symbol of the time cycles). Another chemist, the Russian Dmitri Mendeleev (1834-1907) again in a dream he had in 1869 saw for the first time the periodical table of the elements. The German chemist Otto Loewi (1873-1961, awarded with the Noble Prize for medicine, had discovered the chemical nature of the nervous influx subsequent to an experience he underwent in his dream. And many more…..
The ancient already knew the “foreseeing” dreams – that comprised the disease omens. These dreams are probably based on the unconscious detection of some physical symptoms of the disease. In the future diseases could be cured in the state of lucid dream, if we knew how to use the unconscious interference between mind and body.
15 years now on the control of the visual content of the dream will certainly be possible in real time. The information will be put down in a virtual form so that the subject should recover as awaken the characters and situations in his own dream. There is just one more step to take to sending the dreams by Internet.
Keith Hearne’s dreams device
Psychologist Keith Hearne started to study the lucid dreams in 1978, during his doctorate studies at the Liverpool University. He was the first to set a system of communication proper to the state of dream – based on the eyes movements – and he determined the physiological and psychological features of the dreams.
Starting from the transmission of a known stimulus which is always the same, he tested several techniques, till he noticed that the electric impulses conveyed to the wrist were often comprised in the current dream.
Hearne tested different techniques to detect the paradoxical sleep. The final conclusion was that the most reliable clue is the breathing changes. This lead Hearne to invent the dreams’ device, which is bound to induce lucid dreams. Besides this helps the users accede their own dreams, and it awakens them during the paradoxical sleep. Besides, the device can break a nightmare since the first stage as it can detect the stress it goes with and therefore the anxiety during the sleep.
The sleep stages
The sleep is made up of two different states: the slow waves sleep and the paradoxical sleep that goes with the dreams. Every man dreams for about two hours per night. The two stages go in turns during a 90 minutes cycle. This alternation is due to the ebb and flow of some brain chemical substances.
The slow waves sleep was arbitrarily divided into 4 stages, each of them particular to the increasing slow waves. The snoring, the walk sleeping the talk sleeping belong to this kind of sleep. During the paradoxical sleep the breathing less deep but quicker and more varying than the slow waves sleep. This kind of sleep can be detected by the eye movements under the eyelids.
During the paradoxical sleep all muscles are actually deeply paralysed in the human body – excepting the eyes – even if the breathing properly continues. The paradoxical sleep is depicted by sleep paralysis, nightmares and false awakenings during the sleep.
During the night, the paradoxical sleep stages are increasing, whereas the duration slow waves sleep decrease in direct proportion. This points out that during the first half of the night it’s the slow waves sleep that prevails and the paradoxical sleep during the second half.