The Stuff Dreams Are Made Of

There are some parts of the human psyche that even our smartest scientists struggle to understand. It may be the 21st century but so far no has come up with an answer as to why we dream.

To help solve this dilemma experts have been collecting 'dream' accounts since the late 19th century and storing them in a 'Dreambank' at the University of California.

After analysing around 22,000 dreams they found some surprising results. Despite what Freud might have us believe it appears that 75-80% of dreaming is concerned with mundane everyday matters and not (as previously thought) sexual or religious matters. It turns out we are a fairly conservative bunch after all.
However why we dream at all is still as much of a mystery as ever. Harvard University studied individuals playing video games before and after dreaming. Their game scores improve after waking up and has led them to believe that this sleeping process may be an effective way in which to enhance learning. At Turku University Finland they discovered that from 600 recorded dreams at least one third contained a threat, 60 per cent of which were likely to be experiences in daily life.

Psychologist Antti Revensuo suggests: 'In the ancestral environment human life was short and full of threats. A dream-production mechanism that tends to select threatening waking events and simulate them over and over again would have been valuable for the development of threat-avoiding skills.'

Yet despite all this evidence there is no one conclusive explanation as to why some people are able to predict the future. History is littered with famous examples from Napoleon’s dream of an ominous black cat on the eve of the battle of Waterloo or Abraham Lincoln’s vision of his own death just days before his assassination. Similarly there are many accounts of individuals foretelling famous disasters like the sinking of the Titanic and the collapse of the World Trade Center. So perhaps the safest option is to pay attention when you go to sleep, just in case!

September 2008
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