This paper will be summarizing two theories that explain the meaning of dreams, it will also discuss the problems surrounding these theories. I will then choose the one that best explains why we dream, and to the best of my knowledge I will try to explain why I think that this theory best describes the dream state. The two theories that I will be exploring are Freud’s Theory of Dreams and activation-synthesis theory. The theory that I believe to be the best explanation behind dreams is Freudian theory.
The two theories that explain dreaming that I am going to discuss are Freud’s Theory of Dreams, and activation-synthesis theory. First, we must discuss sleep to understand what goes on in the mind while we sleep. Sleep is an altered realm of consciousness; while scientists argue what function sleep has for the body, they can agree that sleep is a sort of restorative factor, it lets the mind and body relax and reenergize. Sleep is a natural biological cycle and we will be taking a more in-depth look at what occurs within this natural biological cycle. Whatever theory proves correct in explain the meaning of dreams, and why we dream, the fact remains that dreams serve as an important part of inspiration or making sense of what we subconsciously already know.
The first theory we will be discussing is Freud’s Theory of Dreams. The basic explanation of this is that there are two main functions of dreaming, (guarding and wish fulfillment) and that there is a distinction between manifest content and latent content. Sleep guarding is simply protecting oneself from the tension that has built up throughout the day, acting as a sort of reprieve. Wish fulfillment is even simpler, it is the minds way of extracting joy from unconscious desires. Manifest content is the story line of a dream, the dream taken at face value, simply accepting the dream as it was without probing for a deeper meaning. Latent content is the symbolic reasoning of objects and events within the dream; an interpretation of the deeper meaning of the dream, why things happened the way they did or why certain people were there. The interpreters for Freud’s theory are psychoanalysts, they scrutinize the content of the dreams searching for clues as to what the underlying cause of the dream is. You don’t always have to be a psychoanalyst to understand the meaning of your own dreams though, for example if your dream involves a romantic date between you and your current crush then it is simply your mind fulfilling the most basic desire you have. The problem with Freud’s Theory of Dreams is that there is very little scientific support behind Freudian theory, only the interpretations that we and psychoanalysts have. There are no scientific tests to be run, no MRIs or EEGs can tell us what a certain event means.
Activation-synthesis theory is the theory that dreams begin with random electrical activation coming the brain stem. The storyline of dreams are the brain’s attempt to make sense of this random activity (Leonard, 1998; Squier & Domhoff, 1998). The theory is that as this energy moves throughout the brain, as it sweeps over the part of the brain such as sensation, memory, motivation, emotion, and movement, the dreamer will experience these. The original theory that was developed by J. Allan Hobson and Robert McCarley (1977), states that the brain needs constant stimulation to develop and grow, in simple terms, dreaming is as essential as oxygen in the brain’s development. However, the only support behind this theory would be the rapid eye movement that occurs during REM sleep. This proves that the brain activity is occurring but again there is just no way to establish this as fact.
While neither of these theories can be proven to be the reason why we dream, I have to believe in Freudian theory because of my own personal experience. Freudian theory is the belief that dreams stem from desires or past events while activation-synthesis theory is simply the belief that dreams occur from electrical impulses. I want to believe that dreams occur to bring us joy, that even while the mind and body are at rest we can still experience adventure and happiness from the creativity within our own minds. If dreams were simply caused by electrical impulses running across that particular sensory of the brain, I don’t think they would be able to create the whole stories that dreams are made of. I know from my own dreams that entire days can occur within dreams, and that most closely relates to Freudian theory.