Sunday, January 25, 2009

Sigmund Freud Dream Hypothesis: (Part 2)

In the video, “Dream Debate” the main topic in the debate was if Freud’s theories about dream interoperation can still hold up to modern science today. Both Allen Hobson and Mark Solms showed supporting evidence in the debate that ended with no conclusion, however they gave me a better understanding of how little is known into the realm of dreaming and the human brain. As stated in an earlier post, I wanted to show a few different types of dream theories as well as a conclusion of my own possible theory.

As it is well know that Freud supports the understanding that the subconscious as a key player into the realms of our mind, he also suggests that dreams are a great way of exploring the subconscious. Though much is unknown about the subconscious there has been substantial evidence showing that such a separation of our consciousness does exist, however the question of how does our dreams play out in the role of our subconscious is still a mystery. Some of the answers to those questions are provided in the theories of Freud and his supporters.

Freud suggested that during our REM phase of sleep the subconscious plays out its needs as past infantile wants. In more philological terms, the ego is weakened during sleep as the id becomes dominate and is able to express itself freely (Hameroff, 2006). As importance it is for our infantile needs to be expressed during our REM phase of sleep, equally important is concealing those needs and experiences from our waking mind. Because of this, our body experiences sleep paralysis while in REM sleep along with memory loss of the events our dreams when we awake. The reason for this is unknown, but suggested that if our conscious mind knew about these needs it would be greatly affected and unable to process them correctly. To have us forget our dreams, our subconscious represses what happened to us at night. These subconscious infantile fantasy dreams are considered the story like dreams we experience.

In order to explain the more erratic and irrational dreams, Freud explains them as outside events that are interpreted by our subconscious to produce reasonable explanations in our dreams. This explanation seems to go hand in hand with the concept of attractors. Attractors are based on a theory of how our brain comes up with conclusions of information. It uses the information that we know about our surroundings, experiences, feelings, ect. to conclude what an object or event taking place is. In short, the attractor theory is an explanation of what is happening though our senses or past knowledge (Barrett & McNamara, 2007). Since during sleep, our senses of the waking world sometimes become oversensitive (due to activation or deactivation of specific areas of our brain); attractors are concluded by our brain and a mistaken response and represented in our dreams inaccurately.

Though Freud does seem to point out some interesting information and conclusions of why we dream, his theory does contain many flaws. Interesting enough is massive amount of information provided by individuals that act out or have memorable accounts of REM dreams that contradict the theory of infantile need being the bases of our reason for dreaming. Patients that experience REM behavior disorder (RBD), act out their dreams in waking life while in REM. These dreams are often violent and sometimes end in patients hurting themselves or trying to hurt others (Barrett & McNamara, 2007). RBD is suggested to be caused because of the failure in the sleep paralysis activator in the brainstem.

Another flaw in Freud’s theories of dreams has been pointed out by Dr. Hobson is the evidence of non-REM dreaming. Not all dreams are experienced in the REM stage of sleep. In fact 25% of our dreams occur outside of REM sleep (Hameroff, 2006). Many of these dreams are remembered due to the fact that sleep paralysis is activated in REM sleep along with the deactivation of the forebrain. Remembering these non-REM dreams could be concluded as a failure of the subconscious repressing the infantile needs from the conscious mind; however, much evidence shows lucid type dreams are experienced during this time frame as well as night terrors (NT).

In just these two examples it’s easy to see some of the flaws in the dream model supported by Freud. The fact that many of our dreams are experienced during non-REM counteracts the theory that dreams are only because of the subconscious, since our subconscious is thought to be activated in the REM phase of sleep. Also the fact that many of our REM and non-REM dreams express violent tendencies and fearful elements as well as conscious control (such as in Lucid dreaming) shows that dreams are not only limited to the subconscious infantile expressions of wants and needs. We can also throw out the requirement for dreams to be forgotten because many of our REM dreams are remembered as modulation of the forebrain is reactivated as we awaken (allowing long term memory of our dreams) as is our non-REM dreams being remembered due to the absence of forebrain demodulation. I would suggest that not all of Freud’s theory of dreaming is flawed and that his understanding of the subconscious actions during REM is warranted and should be used as one instance of dreaming.

As I talked earlier about the dream theory of Activation-synthesis, I would like to compile my own dream theory based on theories presented by Freud and Hobson.
Demodulation of the forebrain as well as the activation of different parts of the brain during non-REM dreaming is supported by recent PET scan studies. During REM sleep additional parts of the brain are demodulated as well as activated. Since the experience of dreams both exist during non-REM and REM, this would mean that REM is not a requirement for dreaming. Though REM dreams do exist and seem to show outcomes of non-lucid type dreams the majority of the time, it should be suggested that the subconscious does play out an important role during REM sleep. PET scans also show evidence of activation of subconscious related areas of the brain during REM sleep, which also supports Freud’s theory. To what degree the subconscious plays a role in our dreams is unknown, but with many of our REM dreams being unexplainable as well as violent suggests that these are not only childhood wants or needs. It has been suggested that many REM aggressive type dreams are an ancestry way of preparing us to survive in the wilderness that we used to be accustomed to. There is also evidence that supports that these violent dreams are produced by sex hormones since males with RBD experienced more violent dreams then do woman (Barrett & McNamara, 2007).

Different than the previous dream explanations are the more unexplored states of dreaming that seem to involve a type of REM lucid dreaming. Evidence shows that some patients are able to experience the transitional period of non-REM to REM sleep while being conscious. These experiences are expressed as night terrors, sleep paralysis, wake induced lucid dreaming, and out of the body experiences. These types of dreams seem to be much more vivid as well as sometimes terrifying. It has been suggested that the terrifying type of dreams are independent of sleep paralysis and the result of the conscious mind interacting with the subconscious. While both the conscious and subconscious areas of the brain are modulated, emotional complications take place such as fear and anxiety and sometimes present themselves as a feeling of a presence of a hallucinogenic representation of that fear. If the fear is overcome patients have described a sense of complete control of their dreams. If the fear is accepted as real, the patient is awoken in panic and describes a NT as have taking place.

The explanation for the reasons of dreams it is still unknown as is the purpose for them. The previous evidence and explanations do show that there are many different types of dreams and many of them are independent of demodulation as well as activation of a specific area in the brain but more a combination of those events. It also shows evidence that dreaming is independent of REM sleep as dreaming can be experienced in non-REM stages of sleep. Lastly it shows that dreams are independent of subconscious interaction or control because of the evidence of lucid dreaming during non-REM and wake induced lucid dreaming. It can be concluded that no one explanation for dreaming should be used when explaining the processes for dreams. Today little is known about dreams and until science produces a way to physically examines dreams and produces a stable accepted theory, all theories of dreams should be explored and considered as possible theories. This holds truth to no matter how bazaar those theories may seem.


Barrett, D., & McNamara, P. (2007). The New Science of Dreaming. Praeger Publishers.
Hameroff, M. B. (Director). (2006). Dream Debate [Motion Picture].



  1. Thanks R took me a few hours :)

    I found out how to add people to blog with us so if you ever find anyone that's as odd as us we can let them post their stuff too. Not sure if thats going to happen lol.


  2. Dear L&R,

    We must remember that when Freud was doing all his dreaming research nothing was known of the neurochemistry of dreaming. Most of his and Jung's research was from a purely psychological standpoint - the only tool they had. I'd like to see someone flip history around and develop a theory of dreaming that is totally devoid of psychology as if we didn't know about it. Not so easy to do because much of Freud and Jung's theories still influence dream research. I personally feel that Freud and Jung's theories had their heyday and filled a need just like the model T got the auto industry started. Today we understand the brain much better, but it still holds many mysteries. Dream research has room to grow, but it's stunted if we keep feeling a nostalgia for Freud and Jung.


    Scot Stride