What are dreams for?

Hi all.

Very recently I started thinking more and more about what dreams are for; that is, what is their function? Why should humans and mammals dream but other creatures not dream? That sort of thing.

Firstly I’ll say a few things. When I say, “What are dreams for?” I mean that in a Darwinian sense. That is, why have mammals evolved this ability? What role does it serve? Does it have some kind of important function in regards to keeping our minds running smoothly, or is dreaming just something that ‘happens’ as a consequence of the way that our brains are built? Those are the kinds of questions I have in mind now, but I realize this might preclude other kinds of discussion about what dreams can be for (for example, we can interpret dreams…is that what they’re for?).

This brings me to the second thing I want to say. I wanted to state that even though I’m curious what everyone thinks about the reasons why we dream, I don’t want to rule out all the other things we can do with dreams in this kind of discussion. Biologically, dreams might have a function; they also might fulfill functions on a deeply personal level too and I’m curious to know what everything thinks about that as well.

Thirdly, if anyone wants to do a little background reading, a good place to start (if you have a copy) is chapter 5 of Stephen LaBerge’s Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming. Wikipedia’s article concerning dreams also gives a nice overview of lots of different views about dreaming, from the ancient past right up to the findings of modern sleep researchers. Since I’m no expert myself, I’m off to go re-read these things before I say anything too ambitious :tongue:

Thoughts, anyone?

On the first paragraph of the Wikipedia page, it says that some birds dream as well. Just a little fact nitpick.

Anyways, it’s a very interesting topic which I’m sure has been on everyone’s mind at some point or another.

My opinion on the matter is that dreams developed as a way to develop crisis management for the first species to have the ability. Since there are many dreams in which negative things happen, (whether it ranges from the end of the world to losing your car keys) perhaps it acted as preparation for possible events.

Of course, many dreams could not possibly happen, so perhaps it branched out from fact to fantasy after dreams became a less important factor in survival. Or maybe dreams are often impossible so that members of the species wouldn’t go insane from believing that the dreams were real.

Either way, this species probably recalled dreams a lot better than the average person does today, which contributes that much more to crisis management. Of course, I also believe that people who lived before modern technology (computers, phones, TVs, etc.) remembered dreams better as well.

On interpreting dreams, I presume that the dreams of the first dreaming species were somewhat simpler and did not require extensive interpretation. Since the human brain is almost certainly more developed than that species’s brain, a byproduct was more complicated dreams.

Also, our SC wants to help us, so I believe that it solved very many problems humans had in the stone age. The invention of hunting mechanisms and of the wheel were likely from the dreams of people who encountered problems and worked to solve them. This theory assumes that our SC develops our dreams with purpose.

As for LDs, I’m not sure. However, I did hear a very interesting idea from someone on this website, specifically from this thread.

Basically, it suggests that LDs are unnatural not to have. I think this is an intriguing concept which deserves at least some thought.

Well, that concludes my mega-reply. If you actually read the whole thing, thanks for taking the time! :happy:

I must have missed that! :ack: That’s very interesting indeed.

I think this is an interesting idea, and it really highlights the two different approaches you can take toward understanding dreaming. Dreams might have a very specific purpose such as the one you’ve given here. Of course this contrasts with the idea that dreams are epiphenomenal: in this context, that means they just happen as a consequence of how our brains are built. They don’t really serve a function, but just come with having a neocortex, etc. Anyhow, I saw that you mentioned that you are interested in the philosophy of mind in the other thread that you directed me to. Epiphenomenalism might be something you’d like to read more about, if you haven’t already :smile:

I must be an epiphenomenalist when it comes to interpreting dreams, even if I’m not one when it comes to what dreams are for :content:

What I mean is, I think you can interpret them if you want to, but they don’t exist to be interpreted. You might think of a dream as a super-personal Rorschach inkblot test or something on this view. There is no inherent meaning, but what you read out of what you see might tell you something about what’s on your mind. Since dreams are made up by our own minds, they’re probably way better for this kind of introspection that any Rorschach test.

Interesting! I read the thread, but I’m not sure I agree. Of course, lucid living is a great technique for having lucid dreams, that I don’t disagree with at all. But were we meant to be lucid all the time? I’m not so sure.

Setting aside the problem of who ‘meant’ for this to be (which opens a whole other philosophical can of worms), there is a fairly obvious problem to deal with. That is, our brains just weren’t built to work this way: if we had to be aware of everything we did and thought, we’d waste an enormous amount of time and energy. This isn’t just an appeal to science over spirituality either – this is just how we seem to work. Even if one takes a spiritual viewpoint that we’re meant to be more aware, or that more awareness is good, there is still no overcoming the hardware of our brains and our nervous system. Just think about all the things you can do without having to be aware of what you’re doing or how exactly you’re doing it: breathing, reading, walking, all kinds of things. Imagine if I had to be aware of how I was able to understand the writing in this topic? It would take forever to reply to you :tongue: …luckily, I can understand what you write without actually having to think about it.

I’m just glad someone replied to this! :happy: