Why do we have dreams?

Marketa Juristova

The questions around the meaning of dreams and where dreams actually come from have been around for a very long time. In ancient Egypt and Greece, for example, dreams were thought to be sent by the gods to express their will. Even though we feel much more advanced, smarter and more educated than people who lived a few thousand years ago, we don't know much more about dreams.

Matthew Walker, a professor of neuroscience at UC Berkeley, believes that dreams have an important mission - they have a healing effect on emotions, sort of like sleep therapy. In sleep, the brain tries to remember details of significant experiences and fit them into an overall schema, but it also needs to rid those memories of painful or unpleasant feelings. This means that dreaming, whether we remember dreams or not, is actually a healing re-evaluation of our own lives. M. Walker thinks that if sleep did not perform this function, we would be filled with chronic anxiety about past events. I agree with this view and add that the unconscious has the main say in the field of dreams, which is actually our personal genius therapist. While you may sometimes think your dreams are nonsensical, silly, sometimes annoying, or painful, I believe that ALWAYS dreams are just as they are meant to be. Why do I think that? Because the unconscious directs them, and the unconscious is nature. Do you know a better director? Dreams are in a sense like mother's milk, its composition always adapts to the needs of the baby, just as dreams adapt to our current physiological and psychological needs.

In the last century, the subject of dreams was dealt with by the very famous Austrian psychiatrist Sigmund Freud, who located the source of dreams in the human brain. But his theory that a dream is actually the censored content of an unconscious, repressed wish never appealed to me.

Much closer to me is the approach of his disciple Carl Gustav Jung (pictured, this is how I met him in a dream). According to him, the language of dreams is full of symbols and analogies. Jung also believed that a dream hides nothing and that one can learn from it by taking into account what one is thinking about during the day or what is troubling one at the moment, one just has to accept the language of symbols and analogies, but these have nothing to do with the commonly known dreamers. The unconscious presents us with situations and images for a reason and with a purpose, it is up to us to see if we can make use of it. C.G. Jung's dream analysis seems to me to be the most authentic-true and therefore I use it as the main strategy for analytical texts and analyses.

"Dreams are a reaction to our conscious attitude, just as the body reacts when we overeat or mistreat it. Dreams are the natural reaction of a self-reactive psychic system." Carl Gustav Jung


Carl Gustav JUNG, Analytical Psychology: its Theory and Practice (The Tavistock Lectures), 1968

Matthew WALKER, Why We Sleep: Unlocking the Power of Sleep and Dreams, 2017