You want to run, but it suddenly seems like your legs are too heavy to move. The next scene places you in some old scary house where you’re trying to escape, but can’t find the way out. Or maybe you’re flying, talking to your family, or watching your friends die.
Dreams can be unpredictable and sometimes even disturbing. They have always been that mystical and intriguing area we all want to know more about.
What are dreams? Can a dream be a warning? How did ancient people see dreams, and how does science interpret them?
Today could be a good chance to talk more about that, so let’s delve deeper!
Dreams are scenarios our brain tends to play out in our heads while we’re sleeping. They can happen in a linear, storytelling narrative or be completely abstract.
We dream during the REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep cycle. This phase happens around 90 minutes after we fall asleep.
When we’re in the REM phase, our eyes move in different directions. Also, our brain is more active, which is why it creates intense dreams.
There’s a wide variety of theories on dream interpretations and meanings.
One of them, called the Activation-Synthesis Hypothesis, came from Harvard University. It states that dreams are just electrical brain impulses. It says our brain pulls thoughts and images from our memories without any specific order.
According to this theory, humans are the ones who create all those dream stories after waking up. This theory suggests we do it because we feel a natural urge to make sense of all those random scenes we remember.
According to Sigmund Freud, dreams really do mean something. The famous psychologist thought dreams could tell us a lot about ourselves and reveal wishes or conflicts we have unconsciously repressed deep below the surface.
People have always wondered about the true meaning of dreams. Ancient civilizations thought dreams were a way of communication between the gods and humans.
In fact, some thought they were a message from the gods, while the others saw them as a connection of an individual to his own spirit.
There were also civilizations, like ancient India, that believed dreaming was a period of time when a soul leaves the body.
Artmeidorus, the diviner from Ancient Greece, thought there were two types of dreams—meaningful (Oneiroi) and meaningless (Enjypmia) dreams.
The first one was caused by stressful mental and physical conditions like fear, desires, anger, etc. The second one was thought to predict one’s future.
Aristotle was another famous Greek philosopher, and he, on the other hand, saw dreams as a figment of our imagination.
In Mesopotamia, the cradle of civilization, people believed dreams were messages sent directly by God. Similarly, they believed nightmares were caused by demons.
The Romans and Greeks were convinced that dreams could give them information about the past and present. They even believed dreams could predict some future events.
Lee Irwin wrote a book in 1994, called “Walking the Sky: Visionary Traditions of the Great Plains”. There he focused on exploring the significance of visions and dreams among the Native American nations from the Midwest.
Like the majority of ancient peoples, Native American cultures viewed dreams as something special. For them, the place where you dream was a sacred place.
They believed an individual could step outside the physical world and connect with a higher consciousness. Each culture and tribe had its unique way of entering these dimensions.
Of course, there was knowledge they needed to learn first. They got it from animals and the ancestral spirits they believed inhabited those animals.
Australian aboriginal mythology says the ancestral spirits dreamed this world, which brought it to existence. Their culture believed the Dreaming has always been there as a continuing reality.
They see it as a specific plane of existence certain people could visit while dreaming. In some special dreams, they could meet and communicate with their ancestors. That way, dreams were a way of connection between their spirits and the living world.
If you dream you lost your wallet, it certainly doesn’t mean that it will truly happen to you. On the other hand, interpreting your dreams can help you understand certain things about yourself.
For example, you may feel there’s something important in your life you’re missing or you’re afraid you’ll forget to finish tasks that are important to you.
Also, you may have a dream of someone dying—which can be a consequence of your fear and inner state rather than a true prediction.
Dreams are a specific area that hasn’t been explored enough. That means no one can tell for sure if your dream was a true warning for something that could happen to you in real life.
On the other hand, dreams can be a warning there are certain things inside that are bothering you.
A nightmare is a type of bad dream that makes you feel scared, anxious, or terrified. In many cases, people will wake up during the bad dream or right after it.
Many times it can happen that you remember your worst nightmares even years after you had them.
Around 50 percent of adults claim to experience bad dreams from time to time. However, men have nightmares less often than women.
Nightmares are more common in kids. Usually, they start having nightmares at a very young age—before they turn 10, with some even as young as 3 or 4 years old.
Is a Nightmare a Warning?
As we’ve already mentioned, scientists don’t know very much about nightmares or dreams in general. Still, they developed different theories about what causes dreams bad enough that they can keep us disturbed even after we wake up.
One theory focuses on the physiology and anatomy of the brain. When we’re in the REM phase, the areas in our brain that are in charge of learning are stimulated.
During that stage, our brain sends various signals at random. The cortex is the area that organizes information and gives it meaning. It ends up giving meaning to all those terrifying scenes that were rolling in our heads while we were sleeping.
As mentioned before, Freud thought that both good or bad dreams come from our unconscious mind. That way, nightmares represent our hidden desires and secret fears.
That means nightmares can be a warning of something deep inside bothering us. If we learn how to interpret our nightmares, we can help ourselves with understanding things we’re struggling with.
Can Dreams Predict The Future?
Plenty of people have reported dreaming about certain events that later happened. In fact, there are even some well-known examples you might have heard of.
U.S. President Abraham Lincoln described one significant dream to his wife and a couple of his friends. He had a dream where he was walking through the White House.
Suddenly, he came upon his own corpse, which was guarded in the East Room. He described the exact place where his body rested after he died.
Carl Jung was a famous psychologist and one of the vital founders of modern psychotherapy. He reported some prophetic dreams as well.
One of them was there as a warning of his mother’s death. Jung also mentioned and vividly described a series of three dreams he had in early 1914.
He was talking about upcoming catastrophes and “darkened” Europe—which many later related to the start of World War I.
Science offered a couple of explanations for prophetic dreams. For instance, some say selective recall could be one of the potential causes.
85 people participated in one study. The test subjects were shown a true event diary and fictional dream diary and were told that a student had written both as part of separate research.
Scientists asked the participants to read both diaries and later write down the relevant things they could remember. Just as they thought would happen, the participants had a better memory if their dreams confirmed things that were written in the diary.
Can dreams predict the future? No one actually knows. Science offers theories and potential explanations, but it’s still an area no one fully understands.
Dreams are one of those areas no one fully understands.
Ancient people interpreted them in different ways, but most of them believed dreams are connected with something bigger and above our physical world. They thought dreams had mystical meaning and brought messages from other dimensions or a higher consciousness.
Science tried to explain dreams with multiple theories. One was related to the anatomy and physiology of the brain, saying dreams were simply a set of random images our brain pulls out. Later on, we feel the urge to make sense out of those flashes, so we tend to connect them and create a storytelling line.
Freud, on the other hand, believes dreams have a deeper meaning because they are a representation of our suppressed fears and desires. He believed dreams can be a warning for things that are bothering us.
Sometimes people have dreams about certain things that later happen in reality. Science tried to find an explanation for prophetic dreams, but all they have are theories and presumptions.
A dream may or may not be a warning— no one can precisely tell you in which way.