I rarely recall my dreams except in the moments immediately on waking. They are ephemeral ghosts of memories, something I remember that I once remembered, but can only recall the barest skeleton of what I know was a detailed experience.
Take last night’s dream as a case in point. It involved as I recall something about walking outside near the coast, grey stone steps, and somewhere my mind called St Ives but which from the brief visual memory I have was nothing like the Cornish tourist town of the same name. I know there were other details such as where I walked from, the route I took, and the reason for my walk, but these escape me.
The ‘father of modern psychology’, Freud, studied dreams. In this year’s higher psychology SQA syllabus, sleep and dreams is a topic for study. Dreaming, what dreams mean or potentially could mean, the processes by which they happen, and so on, have intrigued scientists from the moment that the workings of the mind were first studied scientifically.
And yet more people are fascinated with what dreams mean, from Joseph in the early stories of the Old Testament, and Daniel later in the history of the people of Israel, to new spirituality-based concepts of dreams and dreaming on particular nights being indicators of what may happen in the future.
Dreaming is a fascinating concept whether you approach it scientifically, spiritually, or both. What are our dreams about? Where did they come from? How are they produced? Are they a good thing, or neutral, or bad? Is the source of a nightmare the same as the source of a good dream? Do animals dream? Do babies in the womb dream? If you have no recollection of dreaming, does that mean you didn’t? Why do we usually forget our dreams so quickly? Are daydreams and sleeping dreams the same or do they arise from completely different processes? And what happens when you remain asleep but become aware you are dreaming – can you control your dream?
I am both a student of psychology and a spiritual person. I have both these paths available to me when I think about dreaming. Which one I use depends on the question I ask myself about the nature of a dream. There is no harm, I don’t think, in approaching dreaming from both angles. Each approach gives different answers to similar questions. And neither approach precludes the other, not if you keep an open mind and remain true to your beliefs and your learning.
So yes, I had a dream last night. Was it a product of randomly firing neurons? Was it thoughts leaking out of my unconscious mind? Was it spiritual guidance? Was it a message from God? Why couldn’t it be all of these things? In dreaming, as in everything else in life, asking scientific questions and getting a scientific answer does not preclude having a religious or spiritual answer too. Things can be, and I think most definitely are, both.
And I have a dream, if readers will excuse the pun, of a time when good science and accurate theories and findings will no longer be ignored or shunned in the supposed name of ‘religion’. I dream of a time when simultaneously spirituality will no longer be scoffed at as being unfoundedly unscientific. Aren’t our brains, our minds, our profound experiences of what it is to be human, and our dreams, all big enough to cope with both?