Dreams across Cultures and Ages

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Tanya Gupta English 121 Initial Draft 29 March 2012

Dream Interpretation A dream is an answer to a question we haven’t yet learned how to ask. -Fox Mulder

Across cultures and over the ages, since the beginning of civilisation dreams and their interpretation have both intrigued and bewildered mankind. From the ancient Greeks and Romans in 3000 BC (and the peoples before them), to the Sigmund Freud’s and Carl Jung's of this world and beyond. That mysterious world we drift into and through, when we sleep, is bound by neither time nor space. It is a land where the impossible becomes possible, and the nonsensical appears completely plausible and practical. It is the land of DREAMS that has neither boundaries nor limitations: a land where you can, and do, achieve whatever you aim for. However, as with any other land you need to be able to understand, to be able to speak the language of that place and that is why these dreams are always followed by interpretations. Delving deep into the thoughts and brains of a variety of dreamers, scientists are asking important questions about the purpose of this mysterious realm we escape to at night. Do dreams allow us to get a good night's sleep? Can they solve our problems or even help us survive the hazards of everyday life? Each night, as we close our eyes and slip away from the waking world, we may enter an even richer one, the elusive realm of dreams. I don't know anybody who isn't fascinated by dreams. They can be bewildering, terrifying, inspiring, but do they mean anything? Are dreams the nonsensical byproduct of a sleeping brain or a window into our unconscious mind, rich with revelations?

After more than a century of searching, scientists may finally be nearing an answer, by literally watching dreams unfold and testing their impact on both our sleeping and waking lives. Matthew Wilson(Professor MIT) said Dreaming is a process, and not only is it useful, it might be essential for making sense of the world. He believes

dreams have been responsible for two Nobel prizes, the invention of a couple of major drugs, and innumerable novels, films and works of visual art. Usually they fly through the mind unremembered. Yet they may be key to understanding the mind itself. If you want to understand human nature, the human mind, what makes us tick, you need to look at dreams.

The scientist most associated with dreams is still Sigmund Freud, who saw them as brimming with symbols, mostly sexual. Such symbols took form as the sleeping brain tried to disguise forbidden urges welling up from its unconscious, though even Freud cautioned that this kind of thinking could be taken too far. At some point, he said you can be too literal. You can say every single thing is standing for something sexual. And you know, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. Today, advances in brain science have inspired new theories about dreams, building on a discovery made years after Freud's death, when science finally got a look at the sleeping brain. The breakthrough came in 1953, when Nathaniel Kleitman and Eugene Aserinsky began recording people's brain waves as they slept through the night. They put electrodes onto the head that could pick up the electrical activity of the brain underneath. And they had known when people are awake, that signal looks very fast and not too interesting—it looks almost like noise—but that when people fall asleep, that you would sometimes have the brain activity start to go up and down in a slow pattern, and you could then tell whether someone was awake or asleep; or so they thought. The researchers had assumed sleeping brains were resting brains. But every 90 minutes or so, as their subjects slumbered, something odd happened. Their eyes were closed, their head had drooped; they didn't answer when you called them by name. They were clearly asleep but the electrical activity of the brain said they were awake. And it wasn't just their brain waves that seemed strange. They were...
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