“What if nothing exists and we’re all in somebody’s dream?” asks Woody Allen when talking about the space between the realms of dreams and reality.

This week Perdeby ventured into the arena of the unconscious, to find out what dreams are, how they work and what they mean.

According to Dr Montague Ullman in his book Working with dreams, every adult dreams every night, usually more than once. Dreams occur in 90 minute cycles throughout the night and can last for anything between 10 and 40 minutes.  We just don’t always remember them. To some, this means that the dreams that spill over into our conscious mind have some kind of significance.

There are various theories about the significance of dreams and about the way dreams are meant to be interpreted. One of the first theorists to consider dreams was Sigmund Freud, who believed that we unleash in our dreams the things that our conscious mind represses. In some cases we let out our dark side that he calls the id. Freud once quoted Plato as saying, “The man who loves goodness is content to dream that which the evil man does.” And in other cases we indulge in wish fulfilment, whereby we achieve in our dreams what we wish to achieve in life.

However, in 1977 two doctors, J Allan Hobson and Robert McCarly, put forward research in which they said that dreaming is simply the result of random brain impulses. They felt that we see images and hear sounds in our dreams because of random electrical activity in our brains as it cleans itself out.

Then there are those, such as Dr Ullman, who look on dreams as a healing experience and as our way of exploring the emotional impact that recent events have had on our lives. Our unconscious is able to look at issues without all the outside stresses of life and can, therefore, offer us hints on how to improve our lives. This theory includes both of Freud’s notions, but goes on to say that there are more possible meanings.

If we accept that our dreams are meaningful, there are different ideas about how to interpret them. Some believe that symbols have universal meanings, and so the “dream dictionary” came about. An example of such a symbol would be that dreaming about flying means that you will achieve success in the near future. Others believe that each individual will project their own meaning onto symbols, therefore interpretation is a very personal thing. This means that you should interpret your dreams in relation to your situation in life at the time.

Monique Louw, a third year fine arts student, thinks that dreams can be interpreted, “but not necessarily in a spiritual way. It’s more about your unconscious feelings.” She gives the example that if for instance you dream about a friend disappointing you, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t trust that friend, but rather that the dream is pointing to an issue that you have with yourself.

Rue Hopley, who’s doing her masters in theology, says: “It’s difficult to say. Dreams can mean something, but on the other hand it could just be your mind trying to tell you about something you repressed.”

Whatever your belief about the interpretation of dreams may be, the unconscious mind remains a mystical place that might never be fully understood. Maybe that space between the unconscious and the conscious can only be seen through small remembrances of our dreams. As Douglas Adams, author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, wrote: “He felt that his whole life was some kind of dream and he sometimes wondered whose it was and whether they were enjoying it.”

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