Dreams - Meaning of dreams
In this article, we first try to give a definition of the dream. Then, we draw up a list of the different types of dreams and their meaning, before asking ourselves the question of the reality of the meaning of dreams, from a secular, religious and scientific point of view.
What is a dream?
The dream is a production of the mind which, although it does not systematically require being asleep, carries with it both physiological and psychic characteristics. Before being able to unravel the secret of dreams and to be able to interpret the dreams that have marked us most, it seems useful to us in the first place to try to find a definition of the meaning of a dream by taking into consideration the multiplicity of the types of dreams possible in the human being. The meaning and interpretation of dreams will indeed depend in part on the state in which the dreamer was at the time of becoming aware that he has just lived a dream which perhaps carries in itself a hidden meaning that deserves to be investigated. The degree of precision, of complexity, of strangeness of a dream, as well as the capacity which one can have to remember it, are extremely variable according to the individual and the conditions of the dream.
The different types of dreams
Among the different categories or forms of possible dreams, we can distinguish waking dream, hypnagogic dream (at the time of falling asleep), dream in its different variants, including the nightmare (during REM sleep), vision (premonitory or prophetic) and hallucination. Now let's see the non-exhaustive list of different types of dreams among those we have just mentioned:
Meaning of the waking dreamThe waking dream is a state of relaxation during which the individual, lying down and eyes closed, lets himself be drawn into a conscious reverie, alone or guided by a psychotherapist. The images and symbols that appear can serve as creative material for artists or writers who lend themselves to it, but also as a therapeutic support for psychologists and psychoanalysts who use it as a care technique.
Meaning of the hypnagogic dreamThe hypnagogic dream is an intermediate state of consciousness (or semi-consciousness) which takes place during the transitional phase between waking and the first phase of sleep. The hypnagogic dream can induce the sensation of sinking into bed or falling as you no longer feel your own body. It is necessary to distinguish the hypnagogic dream from the hypnagogic hallucination, which consists, always in the phase which precedes falling asleep, to hear a voice or to perceive a presence, often in parallel with a sensation of transient paralysis. Although not strictly speaking a pathology, hypnagogic hallucinations are a sleep disorder that may require, especially if they are recurrent, to consult a psychologist and sometimes even a neurologist.
Meaning of the lucid dreamThe lucid dream corresponds to a state during which the dreamer is aware that he is dreaming. Usually occurring at the time of falling asleep or during REM sleep, lucid dreaming allows the sleeper to have his free will and therefore to be able, if he wishes, to influence the course of his dream. The lucid dream is sometimes similar to the experiences outside the body which have been reported in the real world and which come under parapsychology. The dreamer feels like floating above himself and takes on the role of spectator aware of his own dream.
Meaning of the manifest dreamThe manifest (or precise) dream corresponds to the dream that one is able to note upon awakening. The sleeper is in between, he can pass to the stage of lucid dreaming, being aware that his awakening is approaching but still wanting to prolong his dream in progress. It is often a pleasant dream rather than a nightmare. The nightmare can also be precise, but for a very different reason. Frightening and unpleasant, the situation of endangerment or even imminent death leads to the sudden awakening of the sleeper. The precision of the memory linked to the nightmare then relates more to the dangerousness and the type of fear experienced than to a precise and detailed sequence of each dreamed scene. According to Freud, the manifest dream should not be taken into consideration, because its precision makes it misleading and less apt for a process of psychoanalytic interpretation which rather requires the exploitation of scattered fragments to be assembled like pieces of a puzzle.
Meaning of the recurring dreamRecurring dreams are of particular interest to psychologists since they would be for them a tangible indicator of a psychic imbalance (PTSD, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder). There are many theories that try to explain the meaning of recurring dreams. Freud sees this as a sign of obsessive-compulsive neurosis where others interpret it as a biological exercise in simulating threats. In fact, recurring dreams often have as their theme the endangerment of the sleeper (dreaming of falling teeth, losing control of a vehicle, being naked in public or being tied up). These theories which would like to gather all the recurring dreams under a common diagnosis resulting from a trauma or a psychosis remain interesting but imperfect, because certain recurring dreams are pleasant (dream of having the capacity to fly or to be with one's partner).
Meaning of the premonitory dreamThe premonitory dream is the source of the passion that all civilizations have always had for the interpretation of dreams. Each king or emperor had to have at his court an astrologer capable of interpreting cosmic omens as much as royal dreams. If many think that premonitory dreams are above all exercises of posteriori self-justification, they were nevertheless taken very seriously for millennia, from China to Japan via the Greco-Roman world, Persia and Ancient Egypt, the Mayans and the Incas.
Meaning of the prophetic dreamThe prophetic dream is a premonitory dream whose scope is religious before being political. The most famous prophetic dream is the interpretation that Joseph gave to Pharaoh of his allegorical dream in the Old Testament (Genesis 41: 1-36). Religions also have an ambivalent approach to the domain of dreams, which is particularly the case in Christianity. Dreams have a prophetic significance when they are related in the holy books and when they concern the saints and the prophets, who become the recipients of the divine messages, often delivered by the archangel Saint Michael. Any other dream that is the subject of a profane interpretation or an apocryphal tale, on the other hand, is considered a vanity, just like the predictions and omens of astrologers. Let us nevertheless remember the episode of the birth of Jesus Christ, predicted and celebrated in the first place by magi after reading the starry sky. Thereafter become "wise men" (from the period of the Church Fathers and in certain translations of the Gospels which have followed since), probably to attenuate their first quality of astrologers, the gospel according to Saint Matthew describes them simply as "Magi from the East": "Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, at the time of King Herod the Great. Now behold, Magi from the East came to Jerusalem and asked, Where is the king of the Jews who has just been born? We saw his star in the east and came to bow down to him." (Matthew 2: 1-2)
Meaning of the nightmareThe nightmare is a particularly oppressive dream. During a nightmare, the dreamer has the sensation of living in a disturbing, painful or even frightening and panicky situation, while being deprived of the tools which would allow him or her to escape from this unpleasant situation. If the nightmare sometimes has physiological origins resulting from poor digestion during sleep, it is often the expression of a worrying period experienced in the real world. The nightmare often makes it possible to find the keys to the interpretation of a stressful and endured situation (threat of being dismissed from work, change of place of life, emotional or sentimental issue).
Meaning of a hallucinationHallucinations are the temporary or lasting expression of a profound disturbance of the psyche, during which the mind no longer manages to distinguish between events in the real world and the constructions of its mind. Hallucinations can be caused artificially by taking psychotropic drugs (including alcohol), just as they can be one of the side effects of a high fever (malaria), a psychotic illness or malnutrition. Hallucinations are therefore not necessarily associated with a period of sleep, just as they are not limited to one sense. In fact, the most common hallucinations are visual, auditory but also olfactory. Where religions see in the mystical visions of their saints miracles and proof of direct contact with the divine, psychiatrists will tend to diagnose phases of decompression accompanied by hallucinations.
Do dreams have a meaning?
Do dreams really mean anything? The meaning of dreams and the determination of their interpretation keys have preoccupied man since the dawn of time. If the meaning of a dream can vary according to the time, the culture and the religion of the one who seeks to interpret it and to draw its hidden lessons, the importance given to dreams in the awakening and the development of civilizations is far from negligible. Often associated and amplified by the use of psychotropic drugs exclusively reserved for priests, priestesses and shamans (which was one of the primary functions as binders between the physical and spiritual worlds), the premonitory visions and dreams had a role of omen of the future allowing anticipating disasters as well as ensuring the right time to launch military action. This is how dreams have sometimes been used to justify politico-religious actions to the detriment of a reasoning that would have been salutary. This was not always the case, however, since Joan of Arc, from the age of 13, said that she had heard the voices of the Archangel Saint Michael, Saint Catherine and Saint Marguerite asking her to take the English invader out of the kingdom of France. Despite her tragic fate, she managed, however, by the strength of her will, her courage and the charisma which she drew from her prophetic experiences, to modify the thread of French history at a time when women had little or no say. Where Catholics consider the voices of Joan of Arc to be miraculous events, in the same way as the visions of Bernadette Soubirous in Lourdes, contemporary psychiatry will prefer to envisage hallucinatory phenomena resulting from a disruption of the psyche, such as schizophrenia can generate. This is how two visions of the world are opposed, at least in appearance. For religions, harmony depends on the agreement of the divine and the human, of the invisible and the visible, of spirit and matter. In the eyes of science, the universe is governed by physical forces which act at the level of the infinitely large as well as the infinitely small, according to mathematically transcribable forces which connect time, energy and matter.
Knowing that the geography of the brain is much better known today and that it is possible to decode a certain number of neural networks which are created at the same time as we think, speak, act and dream, the science of dreams tends to gradually replace popular methods of empirical interpretation. Similarly, while neurologists are interested in dreams as tools to better decode the brain, it is mainly psychologists, psychoanalysts and psychiatrists who have made the interpretation of dreams their domain, at the expense of astrologers, soothsayers and religious who previously held the secrets. Advances in the knowledge of brain mapping, with the ability of gray matter to print information as tangible as it is complex (images, symbols, colors, texts, numbers, words) within a network of almost 100 billion neurons, is carrying great promises to understand the mechanisms of dreams, what triggers them and maybe even the reasons why we have certain types of dreams at certain times rather than others. However, a scientific knowledge of dreams, even if it includes the interpretative dimension which had taken hold at the end of the 19th century in emerging psychoanalysis, is it enough to reveal the deep meaning of our dreams, whose clues we surreptitiously perceive? Are religions and occult sciences, with their tendency to treat the inexplicable by the expression of faith or the manifestation of a mystery, ready to share the secrets they have accumulated over the years?
Among the reference works on dreams, we can highlight "The True Key to Dreams", which is a work published in 1883 according to texts by Janus Lacinius, an Italian alchemist from the 16th century, which has the merit of bringing together in the form of a dictionary of dreams the interpretations of dreams of his time. The interpretation of dreams largely dependent on statistical data archived over the centuries and their comparative analysis according to times and countries, this type of work, despite its sometimes outdated formulations, provides useful information to all those who wish to understand the buried secrets of dreams.
This is probably the reason why the mystery persists and why the search for the meaning of dreams remains a fantastic journey to this day; it seems that certain dreams repeat themselves throughout history, at different times and in various places. Indeed, if certain dreams carry symbols which it is easy to attach to elements of everyday life, failing to be able to interpret them easily, others seem too anchored in the dreamlike imagination for them not to be some kind of an invisible and immutable binder between all men. Historians like to say that history tends to stutter rather than repeat itself. On the other hand, it seems that it is characteristic of certain dreams to repeat themselves indefinitely, as if their message went beyond the individual fate of the sleeper to touch the intangible and perhaps even, who knows, to touch the origins of our collective unconscious and thereby one of the underlying reasons for our existence?
Between the religions which embrace and reject dreams at the same time according to their origin, the pseudo-scientific approach of Freud who interprets dreams from the almost exclusive angle of sexuality and neuroses arising from a poorly channeled Oedipus complex, neurologists who have a mechanistic vision of dreams, whose role would be similar for the brain to the way in which sleep allows the body to rest and regenerate, or empirical interpretations of popular literature, a synthesis which can lead to a universal method of dream interpretation seems somewhat compromised.
In view of all these contradictory approaches, should we give up looking for the meaning of dreams? We do not think so. Because if the dream has a common meaning for all of humanity, it is that it encourages us to always remain curious, to constantly open new frontiers by strength of mind, to develop our creativity and to go beyond our limits. The dream is a door open to an infinity of possibilities and the fertile ground of the imagination. Dreams allow men and women to make their wildest dreams come true, by the sole force of their will, nourished and supported by the fleeting and feverish belief that a better world is always attainable.