Shivani Talati | 20 October 2017

India: A fact about any field of science is that its study either helps one to solve a mystery or to create one that never existed in the first place. One such field is the field of Oneirology. Oneirology is the study about dreams; it deals with questions such as why do we dream? Can one remember vividly what she/he dreams? Can there be a dreamless sleep? Functioning of the brain while asleep? So on and so forth. Over the years many theories have been developed to answer the above questions. This article talks about two of the most popular theories about dreams which may give you some insights behind the scientific reasoning about dreaming.


There are 5 stages of sleep out of which the 5th stage is called the REM (Rapid Eye Movement) stage. It is at this stage that a person begins to dream. At this stage the circuits in the brainstem are activated, as a result the parts of the brain responsible for managing and controlling of emotions and storage of short term memory are also activated. Together these parts send random signals to the brain. The frontal cortex which receives such signals tries to synthesize and find meaning behind these signals. Since the signals sent to the brain are random the meaning interpreted by it is also random. Thus the meaning which the frontal cortex interprets is what is called a Dream. This theory is called the ‘activation-synthesis-hypothesis’. This theory was put forth by Harvard University psychiatrists John Allan Hobson and Robert McCarley in 1977, who state that “dreams are merely a result of biological processes taking place when one is asleep and completely denies that dreams have any meaning behind them”.

In support of this theory scientists also say that while a person is asleep the subconscious mind attempts to organize memories from the previous day and form connections about the same, while doing so it sends out certain signals which again as abovementioned are received by the frontal cortex which in an attempt to interpret its meaning creates its own story resulting in the person having a dream.

The other theory is in contradiction to the aforementioned theory; it states that dreams after all do have some meaning to convey. The ‘threat-stimulation-theory’ states that most of the common emotions felt by a person asleep are negative; like anxiety, fear, anger etc. This is because the brain tries to prepare us from possible threats in the real world. This theory goes back to the ancient time when men did not know about the possible threats it will encounter and so the brain while sleeping stimulates the feelings of threat so that the person is better prepared for similar kind of feelings when faced with them in the future. At this point it is also important and interesting to note the theory put forth by Sigmund Freud. According to him dreams are a result of unresolved situations or unfulfilled desires. Thus confirming the theory that dreams do have some meaning.


All these theories cannot be falsified because of which till date the mystery as to why one dreams? What does it mean? Or rather does it mean anything? Still remains unresolved.