Original Link : https://medium.com/the-philosophers-stone/why-do-we-dream-27ae21d08abd

“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.” ― Carl Jung

That which the dream shows is the shadow of such wisdom as exists in man, even if during his waking state he may know nothing about it…. We do not know it because we are fooling away our time with outward and perishing things, and are asleep in regard to that which is real within ourself.

– Paracelsus

Every now and again, we tend to come upon a particularly perplexing question and, try as we might, we can’t do anything other than run circles around prospective theories that seek to provide some shred of an answer.

The funny thing is that, believe it or not, science does the same thing — with just about everything. All the concrete facts that we assume to be true are merely conjectures — albeit the best conjectures possible — but our wealth of human knowledge is no stranger to the humbling erasers of redefinition.

This post isn’t about the way in which science and humanity guesstimates its way to and through all echelons of human understanding — this is about one particular question that we aren’t fully able to answer with concrete certainty, a question that we’d think would be answerable through the realm of common knowledge or historically understood as undeniable truth. Yet, to this day, we can only guess as to why we do what we do when it comes to this fundamental human activity, one such activity that almost all people experience on a nightly basis: dreaming.

“Dreaming permits each and every one of us to be quietly and safely insane every night of our lives.”

— William Dement

It turns out that any semblance of an answer is a very malleable and will change depending on who’s asked.

If one were to ask a hard-line scientist or a staunch materialist, the answer would be of less significance as opposed to an answer from, say, a devout spiritualist. I’d like to go beyond the narrow focus of one perspective and view upon the entire landscape of ideas surrounding this seemingly anomalous practice that we undertake in-between our planes of consciousness.

I’ve previously written about the Achuar peoples of the Peruvian and Ecuadorian rainforests and their fervent ritualism surrounding dream interpretation. If I could envision their answer, I’d like to think that they’d point to the fact that dreams can be overlaid upon reality to signify guidance, to act as a gauge and a sibyl for actions that ought to be undertaken or acknowledged.

In a Scientific American article published in 2006, professor of psychiatry at Tufts University, Ernest Hartmann, conceded himself that: “The most honest answer is that we do not yet know the function or functions of dreaming” but provided his best speculation nonetheless:

“Thus we consider a possible (though certainly not proven) function of a dream to be weaving new material into the memory system in a way that both reduces emotional arousal and is adaptive in helping us cope with further trauma or stressful events.”

Hartmann’s thought can certainly ring true, but something seems to be lacking. Something that’s a bit more all-encompassing.

“Dreams are illustrations… from the book your soul is writing about you.”

— Marsha Norman

In his book, Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams, Dr. Matthew Walker sees dreams as serving a similar purpose but, again, doesn’t really expand on a more comprehensive function:

“EM-sleep dreaming appears to take the painful sting out of difficult, even traumatic, emotional episodes experienced during the day, offering emotional resolution when you awake the next morning.”

Theories presented by most other researchers and scholars fall in line with the idea that the sleeping mind allows for an important housecleaning function to be undertaken by the brain, clearing away toxic proteins from the glymphatic system and working to simultaneously resolve and organize all perceived events from the day.

This proves to be a more biological and scientific framing of the ritualistic perspective held by the Achuar people, who view dreams to be a source of resolutions in their short and long-term conquests.

Though, no discussion about the subconscious mind is complete without looking to either Carl Jung or Sigmund Freud, the latter of which I’ll simply surmise as believing that dreams fundamentally represent unconscious thoughts, desires, motivations, and sexual instincts — no surprise there.

But when it came to Carl Jung, he dove deep into the motivations that are weaved throughout all depths of the human psyche and would likely frame dreaming as being a vital window into the mind under the ever-present importance of needing to decipher our subconscious workings.

“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.” ― Carl Jung

Jung called it Individuation — the mind’s process of integrating our conscious and unconscious lives. Jung rejected Freud’s theories, suggesting rather that dreams seek to provide some measure of wholeness to our interpretations, bringing balance and attempting to link events with cohesive narratives.

To dive even further, some would go as far as to say that dreams can work wonders beyond our comprehension. 19th-century chemist August Kekulé, for instance, had been known for coming up with the ring structure of the compound benzene after dreaming of snakes swallowing their tails. Countless accounts point to the prophetic nature of dreams, divination and other workings that land outside the appreciation of scientific factions but should be considered in the debate nonetheless.

“Dreams are today’s answers to tomorrow’s questions.”

— Edgar Cayce

I myself have experienced all of the above. I’ve had dreams that contextualized stressful events; dreams that solved questions floating about my mind; dreams that somehow proved prophetic and dreams that simply entertained me or allowed me a glimpse into some unfathomable structures of my mind (or reality).

So, much like trying to interpret a seemingly meaningful dream, it seems that the answer is up to each individual one of us to figure out.

Personally, I fall into Carl Jung’s camp. I feel that our minds are so incredibly stimulated throughout the day, so distracted and engaged with external mechanisms that they need to disentangle from these innumerable events and experiences. Beyond that, dreaming can prove an invaluable asset to problem-solving and self-actualization.

As I’ve previously written, the subconscious mind is the true driver of our lives, ever-busier than the conscious mind and more influential towards our overall existence. It manages everything in the background — it determines our desires and ambitions, our sense of self-accomplishment and motivation, it fuels our self-loathing and apathy.

So, in my mind anyway, the Achuar people are right to spend so much time interpreting their dreams; maybe not because answers can be extracted from them, but because it builds upon the ever-pressing need for self-awareness, for self-actualization and self-discovery.

It’s easy to pay less and less attention to the subconscious mind and it’s easier yet to lose interest in trying to build that bridge of understanding between our two states of consciousness. The fact of the matter is that, as much as we think we know about this world, we know very little even about ourselves; with respect to our own minds, we know less yet.

“All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible.”

– T.E. Lawrence