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Functions of dreams

Functions of Dreams


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The research paper aims to answer the question about the actual functions of the dream for the development of the humans mind. To answer this question, four different theories of a dream in the modern psychology have been discussed, and the complex solution to the research question had been presented on their basis. The optimal solution to the question regarding the role of the dream corresponds with the theory of dream as an inspiration. According to it, the dream is the unique mental mechanism used by the human brain to present the optimal solution to the existing problems in the human life. This mechanism appeared as a result of the evolutional development of the humans brain that occurred during the thousands of years of its improvement.

Key words: brain, dream, the theory of inspiration, threat rehearsal, the human mind.


The dreams are an integral part of human life that has an impact on physical and mental health. Dreams are the images and stories that the human mind creates during the period of sleep (DerSarkissian, 2016). The phenomenon of the dream has attracted the interest of scientists and psychologists during the last two hundred years. Different points of view on the subject and the purpose of dreams exist, while none of them is even considered as the optimal for explaining this process. As the experts increased the knowledge regarding the principles of the human brains work, the understanding of the dreams process was also improving. The request question of the research paper is to define the main function of the brain. For this aim, the different point of view will be discussed, and the complex solution will be provided. In the current stage of psychological science development, three basic theories exist for the explanation of the dreams. Each of them, together with the inspirational theory in particular, requires a careful study with the use of quantitative and qualitative data to understand the role of dreams in human life.

The Phenomenon of Dreams

Though the question of dreams understanding does not seem to be as important as the clarification of processes that occur in the human psyche in its active phase, the latest researches show that the human body and psychics present the similar level of activity and response to internal and external irritants as if the human was in active phase. In this case, the body and the nervous system of a person demonstrate the high level of fitness in the conditions of a dream (Franklin & Zyphur, 2005, p.67). So, the result of frightening sleep is increased sweating of the body, as well as a temporary state of fear and anxiety in the period immediately after awakening. According to this, it is possible to say that the dream itself is connected to individuals physical condition and affects the functions of the brain during the sleep. As a result, it is necessary to study the phenomenon of sleep to estimate the harmful or useful effect that it can cause to humans body and psyche.

In the modern psychology science, there are four basic theories of dream explanation. Each of them provides a separate understanding of the causes for the occurrence of dreams, its main functions, and the consequences of dreams for a human. These are the evolutional theory of dream as a mechanism of response to threat, the idea of dream as a random reaction of the mind to the brain impulses in the phase of sleep, the concept of dream as a source of inspiration for the person, and the theory of dream as a mechanism of data collection, storage, and processing while body is in the phase of sleep and relax. The different theories also provide a unique explanation of the dreams contribution to the mental development of the person. To form the complex assessment of the dream function, it is necessary to discuss and compare these approaches to the issue.

The Threat Rehearsal Theory of Dream

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According to the threat rehearsal approach to the explanation of dream, the dream itself is the evolutional mechanism of the human mind that occurred as a response to the external threats. Mainly, all the approaches to dream question define it as an evolutional product of more primitive mental instrument, inherited from the animal ancestors of human (Hein, 2011). To survive in the difficult conditions of the wild nature, a human had to develop a mechanism of mental rehearsal to the threats that might occur in future. In this case, the dream becomes a mental model of the threatening situation supposed to take place in the future. As a result, the person may use a dream to see the different scenarios of threat occurrence, development, and ending. It allows an individual to form the behavior model that can maximize the probability of survival in extreme conditions without the risk of the actual threat facing (Hurd, 2014). From this point, the dream is one of the key survival mechanisms of the human mind.

In its modern understanding, this concept of a dream is also relevant. Even if the person has escaped from the risks of wild nature in the contemporary technosphere, he/she still faces a variety of problems and threats that cause risk for persons life and health (Newitz, 2013). The problems in the workplace, relations in the community, and the threats to physical health are the issues that usually become the basis of the dream scenario. According to the theory, the person can see the whole situation in a dream and form the response in the same way, as he used to find responses to physical threats thousands of years before.

The Dream as a Random Reaction to the Brain Activity

The skeptics from the science always present the easiest and the flattest explanation to the phenomenon. For the question of a dream, they have provided an answer that the dreams are just the presentation of the minds response to the metabolic processes in the body during the sleep phase. According to Freud, the dream is the result of the hormones effect on the human mind while he is asleep (Beres, 2015). The release of hormones causes certain reactions of the human mind, which cause different scenarios of the dream. Mainly, these are the scenarios of sexual or challenging context. In this way, the subconscious instincts of human find their expression.

The same process occur for the activity of the brain. Random activation of neurons during the sleep leads to the certain chaotic scenarios of the dream. This theory is not common nowadays due to the presence of significant limitations in the explanation of the dream process. First of all, the dream scenarios are not purely connected with sexual or challenging context, as it was stated by Freud. Also, the majority of dreams have a complex and difficult scenario, which cannot be considered as a result of the random acts of the brain neurons.

The Dream as a Data Processing Mechanism

This theory of the function of the dream stated that the dream plays an important role in the cognitive development of the human mind as an effective mechanism for data collection and processing (Popova, 2016). In this case, the dreaming process presents the mechanism of processing of data collected by the person in his life activity. In his dream, human oversees the events that happened in his/her life, the people person used to meet, and the images he/she used to see or hear any time in the past (Smith, 2017). Here, the dream is an ideal mechanism for the memory improvement. It allows the person to maintain data concerning the important lifes aspects and contributes to the overall emotional and intellectual development.

As a result, a dream is a mechanism of learning and remembering necessary data, and deleting junk data that can occupy a significant part of human memory (How Sleep Works, 2016). The dream is considered as an analog of the computer program oriented towards the maintenance of the effective performance of the software.

Nevertheless, there are serious contradictions concerning this understanding of dreams. First of all, it is stated that this theory reduces the range of possible dream scenarios only to those elements observed by a human in his/her life. So, the dream cannot show the events or objects that were not observed by a human in life (Domhoff, 2001). The supporters of this theory state that if the person faces in the dream the object that he/she did not see in life, it does not mean that the theory itself is not relevant. It can be caused by the fact that the person did not pay specific attention to the observed object, and the brain saved it to the subconscious. Anyway, the phenomenon that people usually see the unrecognizable objects in their dreams argues for the statement that dreams themselves are not based only on the humans own experience, and can have a different function from earlier stated ones.

The Dream as a Source of Inspiration

The last major theory of dream functions seems to be the most complex and attractive response to the question stated in this research. It provides the human dreams with the highest and the most useful goal among all previously considered approaches. From some point of view, it is a logical heir to the theory of threat rehearsal. This is the theory of the dream as a source of inspiration.

The modern human faces different issues in his everyday life. And these issues are not limited with the threats to the life of health, as it was with the theory of threat rehearsal. If the person does not manage to solve any domestic problem, or faces the challenge at work or in a team, he/she requires an additional tool of effective decision-making (Rettner, 2010). According to the theory of dream as an inspiration, the dream itself is a perfect tool for support in the decision-making process. In his publication, Peter Robbins presented the perfect example of the explanation of this concept. When Leonardo da Vinci faced problems with inspiration in his work, he used to abandon his work and walk through the streets watching the colors on dirty walls (Robbins, 2014, p.170). When he looked at the walls, he found new images in the stains and dirty smears. The dreams are the same dirty walls for the human mind. In the scenarios of their dreams, people are able to find the response to their questions and issues (Domhoff, 2005). This result is achieved by the accumulation of data from the everyday experience, and the processing of it by the brain to provide the optimal solution (Domhoff, 2000). Such result is possible due to the availability of the additional resource for the brain in the sleep phase that was busy in the active period (Sayed, 2011).

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The research performed by Deirdre Barrett, a psychologist of Harvard University, and his students shows that the human brain can perform the function of problems solving in the phase of sleep (Rettner, 2010). During his experiment, Barrett provided special homework for students, which was relatively easy; their task was not to concentrate on it and not to try to solve it. Even more, the dreams of Barretts students included the actual answers to the questions that he gave them. In this case, the statement regarding that the brain can affect the scenario of the dream to offer the decision of issues to the human mind is supported by the empirical research (Rettner, 2010).

Another aspect of the discussed theory is that the experience of the professional scientists has proved it. In this way, the dream mechanism allowed them to find answers to scientific problems at sleep. For example, the most famous story of scientific inspiration in the conditions of sleep is connected with the Russian chemist Mendeleev, who supposedly saw his periodic system of chemical elements in a dream. Such fact also supports the statement concerning the relevance of theory about the dream as a source of inspiration. Therefore, from the position of the inspiration theory, the dream is the perfect mechanism that can support the decision-making process of human mind. This conclusion allows giving the completely new assessment to the phenomenon of dream and its useful functions for a human. In fact, the person can consider the dreams not just as random images in the brain, but a certain scenario that can be useful for the understanding of different aspects of his/her life.


In the presented research, four different theories of dream functions were discussed. In general, it is possible to say that all of them have been integrated into the last presented theory the theory of dream as an inspiration. In this situation, it is possible to argue that the inspiration theory of dream gives the most complex and full understanding of the functions of a dream. The advantage of this theory is that it provides the solutions to the majority of contradictions that were common in the earlier approaches to the problem. The main contradiction is that the person can actually see in the dream the object that individual has not met in the real life. The inspiration theory is able to explain this phenomenon since the brain can change the images of earlier seen objects to integrate them in the dream as a solution for a humans mind. The example of this process is the earlier mentioned periodic system of chemical elements by Mendeleev. The scientist did not see a way to unite the existing elements in the single system. Nevertheless, his brain offered him a systemized table that included the elements he used to know about earlier. The result is the improvement of existing knowledge in order to obtain the new object.

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