Q: What is your opinion of the scientific explanation that dreams are merely a by-product of the consciousness; the mind is just processing what’s happened or what’s been perceived during the day? If this is true, then there is nothing mystical about them, right?
A: Dear Scientific,
Tuesday is trash pickup day in my neighborhood. You can tell because the street is lined with blue recycling bins and those big brown plastic trash containers on wheels.
As I walk down the block on my morning constitutional I notice, for instance, that the house where sweet floppy-pawed dog I love to stop and pet lives, always has a recycling bin overflowing with empty cans of organic beans and soy milk cartons, and of course some empty dog food cans. The house next door to that has a recycling bin filled with discarded Amstel Light bottles. Another house has old New Yorker magazines in theirs, and the next is all filled with old issues of Time Magazine. I make up little stories about what the people are like inside each house based on what they throw away. “These guys were probably watching the Patriots game this past weekend,” I muse, and “These folks were probably at the literary reading at the bookstore downtown.” And then there’s the bachelor who’s throwing away a perfectly nice charcoal-gray sweater just because of one tiny moth hole in the elbow! I can just imagine his pristine closets and I don’t even know his first name!
Know what I mean? There are the folks who have three Hefty bags stuffed with non-recyclables, and then there are those who have just one small grocery sack of garbage beside their overflowing recycling bins. Plus they have a compost bin in the back yard that the bears are always getting into.
Yeah, we’re talking trash here, and we can tell a lot about the people on our streets based on what they throw away.
So, even if it’s true, my Scientifically-Minded friend, and dreams are just our mind’s equivalent of the contents of the blue plastic bins and 30-gallon trash barrels that line the curb on Tuesdays, couldn’t we learn a lot about ourselves by sorting through our brain’s castoffs?
But here’s the deal. I don’t think that dreams are just the mind’s dust bin. That doesn’t explain the dream, for example, that predicted the exact apartment I would end up renting months before I even knew I’d be giving up my plans to buy a condo across the state and settle down in the next town over instead. Nor does this scientific theory explain how I was able to use dreams to heal from deep emotional scars when I was in college. Nor what to make of the dreams that have helped to predict a friend’s health conditions before she or her doctors knew she was sick.
Scientists have meaningful dreams, too. Get one alone and ask her about it and she will reluctantly admit that yes, there are dreams that have offered her new and helpful perspectives, or even inspired some of her best theories. (Go ahead and Google Kekule’s ouroborus dream for just one example of how dreams have led to scientific breakthroughs.)
But scientists can only definitively state what they can prove using scientific methods. And there is no microscope strong enough to see the psychologically meaningful or the mystically mind-blowing properties of dreams. But just because science has yet to prove something does not mean it doesn’t exist. So, my friend, I encourage you to read up to your curiosity’s content on the neuroscience of dreaming. But don’t expect to find all the answers there. Dreams are very difficult things to study using Newtonian science.
Bottom line? Be your own sleep and dream scientist, my dear. Keep a dream journal, and record your dreams. See what meaning they do or don’t hold for you. Track any traces of precognition or clairvoyance. And please report back.
Want to learn more about your dreams? Contact me to find out about upcoming dream groups in western Massachusetts, or individual dream sessions by phone, Skype, or in person.
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