Dreams have always been real to me

Published 9:57 am Wednesday, August 16, 2023

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By Lloyd Albritton


“We’re going to start right here! We’re going to start right here!”

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That’s what I woke up shouting last night. I suppose I should say, my wife woke up; then she woke me up to find out what the dickens was going on in my crazy world of dreams.  In my dream I was trying to organize a whole bunch of unruly adolescents into some sort of foot race and they would not settle down and line up at the designated starting point. What a traumatic experience it was!  It sort of reminded me of substitute teaching at the Middle School.

Truth be told, I dream a lot.  My dreams are always very real to me and it sometimes takes a few minutes to gather my wits when I wake up from a dream and try to figure out what is real and what is fantasy.  Though sometimes my dreams are quite pleasant, other times they are filled with conflict and turmoil.  Because of my close personal relationship with dreaming I have studied and pondered this topic for many years and continue to be fascinated by it.

Renowned psychiatrist Sigmund Freud was fascinated with dreams too.  In fact, Freud wrote an extensive treatise on dreams entitled The Interpretation of Dreams.  Most of you are probably familiar with Sigmund Freud’s theory of the subconscious mind, how that the vast majority of our memory lies beneath our conscious awareness, much like an iceberg in the ocean.  Freud believed dreams are fragmented clues to our subconscious thoughts, feelings and memories.  He believed that among these subconscious thoughts and memories lie the solutions to many of our overt dysfunctional behaviors.

This line of thinking is how Freud developed his famous treatment method of mental illness called Psychoanalysis.  The psychoanalysis treatment method involved the doctor sitting unseen behind the patient as the patient lay comfortably on his or her back on the couch.  Freud would prompt the patient to start talking about himself or herself while he sat quietly and listened (or perhaps took a nap) as the patient meandered on and on about me, me, me, with the doctor responding minimally from time to time to nudge the patient along with such prompts as, “I see. Uh huh. And? What else?” etc.

Freud believed that most people, when left to dribble on and on about themselves will eventually let slip out a precious nugget of truth from their subconscious mind that will give the doctor some insight into the cause of the patient’s emotional issues.  This is commonly referred to as “The Freudian Slip,” such as when a man accidentally calls his wife by his ex-wife’s name.  Freud believed dreams are also a peek into the subconscious and are important in the treatment of mental illness and/or dysfunctional behavior.

Some people believe that dreams are communications, either from deity or from some other person in some other unseen spiritual realm.  This is certainly a plausible idea that is supported by ancient scripture, where prophets and holy men have testified of receiving visions from God in the form of dreams.  Telepathic communication is a phenomenon experienced or observed not just by mystics, but also by scientific thinkers and researchers.  For example, if I read and respond to my wife’s thoughts while lying quietly beside her in bed, what is that?  If I reach out to an old friend and make a long overdue phone call, only to discover that my friend is dialing me at the very same moment, how is that best explained?  If I experience a premonition that I must contact a distant loved one immediately and I do so (or not) and discover that my loved one is in dire circumstances that call for my unique assistance, is that just coincidence?  I believe these phenomena are far too common among men to be dismissed as chicanery or delusion and should perhaps be considered as legitimate scientific inquiry.

I have developed a hypothesis of my own concerning dreams and dreaming.  I believe the human brain is similar to a pilot light on a gas range.  Here’s how:  As long as we are living, our brain never stops working, but it does find it necessary to slow down and rest for about a third of each day.  If the brain should stop working entirely, it will flatlines on an electroencephalograph because it will be dead!  The brain does not, however, flatline when it sleeps.  It only goes into “idle” mode, like a pilot light on a gas range.  Get it?  Per my hypothesis, dreams are a biological and psychological mechanism by which the brain stays alive and functioning during sleep.

Cycles. Scientific research has shown that when we sleep through the night, we do not sleep in one long constant 8-hour cycle from evening to morning.  On the contrary, a full night’s sleep consists of a series of cycles of about 1½ hours each, with each cycle consisting of four stages.  One of these stages is a very deep, intense sleep of about 45 minutes which is absolutely necessary for the rejuvenation of the body.  Another stage in each dream cycle is called REM sleep, a period of about 15 minutes when we are asleep, but not deeply asleep.  It is during this period that our brains transfer short-term memories to long-term memory.  This is when we do most of our dreaming.  Like deep sleep, REM sleep is also crucial to a good night’s rest and good mental health.  All these subconscious sleep activities keep our human pilot light burning and ready to light up the brain to a full flame each morning when we get up and at’em.

Another type of dreaming which many people are unfamiliar with is called “lucid” dreaming.  This usually occurs during short naps when we are seemingly both asleep and awake at the same time.  For example, while taking a short nap on the couch while someone prepares dinner, we may be vaguely aware of the clanging of pans in the kitchen, the smell of the food as it is cooking, the conversation of visitors gathered around the kitchen table, and other things going on around us, but still be in a sleep state of lucid dreaming–something very similar to self-hypnotism.  In this state of lucid dreaming it is actually possible to manipulate one’s dreams, that is, to direct dream activities, to make the little man or woman in your dream do what you want him or her to do.  Lucid dreaming is quite a spectacular thing which can be used to improve one’s self esteem.  It takes some practice to master, but is well worth the effort.

And finally, have you ever noticed that your dreams quickly fade from your memory after you wake up?  Even one’s most vivid and profound dreams will vanish from memory in a flash if one does not immediately write them down.  Why is this?  Why do our dreams disappear so quickly?

Here’s why: Because dreams are not real!  Dreams are only necessary for the proper biological functioning of our brains during sleep.  If we were able to remember all our crazy and fantastical dreams we would quickly clutter our minds with myriad false memories of nonsensical things and we would not know what was real and what was not real, which is precisely what happens with schizophrenia, a serious mental disorder most commonly associated with “crazy.”.

And now, as I conclude this treatise on dreaming, I begin to feel like one of Sigmund Freud’s patients, i.e., I have talked on and on until I may have discovered within myself the very answer to why there are so many crazy people in the world these days, people who don’t know the difference between reality and fantasy.  Maybe too many people are writing down their dreams to search for meaning where there is no meaning.  It is a little bit like watching a Johnny Depp movie!

Hoorah, I am cured!

Thank you, Sigmund.

To listen to this column narrated by Albritton, click here: