Dreams are the touchstones of our character.

-Henry David Thoreau

Dreams are something that unites all of mankind. We all have dreams- sweet dreams, bad dreams, nightmares and even daydreams. How many times have we wondered about the meaning of a dream? Or why we had the dream… or why we have any dream at all. What is the reason, purpose and meaning of them? Baffled by these same questions, scientists have for long tried to find the answers, with little success- if any at all.

Wikipedia defines them simply as “successions of images, ideas, emotions and sensations that occur involuntarily in the mind during certain stages of sleep.” They occur during the stage of sleep called Rapid Eye Movement (REM) when brain activity is high and resembles that of being awake. They may be over in the matter of seconds or stretch on for 20 minutes. Frightening, exciting, magical, melancholic, adventurous- dreams are of varying natures. And with the exception of lucid dreaming, they are generally outside the control of the dreamer.

Dreams have been known to be the inspiration for many creations and discoveries. The riddle of the structure of benzene was solved when August Kekule saw a vision of a snake biting its own tail. Fortune favours the worthy though. Not many of would have bothered about what a snake in a dream was trying to tell us. The Twilight series and Frankenstein are the products of wondrous dreams as well. Movies like Stuart Little and the Terminator have the same source of inspiration. These stories make us think- perhaps we should take our dreams a little bit more seriously.

Perhaps the best creation involving dreams was Christopher Nolan’s movie “The Inception”. With concepts like dreams within dreams and the art of inception itself (which involves planting an idea into someone’s mind while they are asleep), it is one of the most complex plots ever created. Interestingly, Leonardo DiCaprio, who played the movie’s main character, Dom Cobb, also had lucid dreams before starring in the movie. Visions of future or hands of fate?

Various theories have come up about dreams. One theory suggests that dreams are the result of our brains trying to interpret external stimuli during sleep. For example, the sound of the radio (or your mother’s shouts) may be incorporated into the content of a dream . Another theory uses a computer metaphor to account for dreams. According to this theory, dreams serve to ‘clean up’ clutter from the mind, much like clean-up operations in a computer, refreshing the mind to prepare for the next day. Yet another model proposes that dreams function as a form of psychotherapy. In this theory, the dreamer is able to make connections between different thoughts and emotions in a safe environment. What, then, is the right answer? A mix of all these? Or something entirely different?

Someday we will find out. Or we may not. Dreams, however, will continue. As will the stories of inspirations we get from them. The true meaning of dreams in our lives is something that science cannot answer. How dreams affect our lives- we alone can decide. And how our lives, in turn, affect our dreams, no one can say. Perhaps we should stop grappling at an answer that’s like a wisp of smoke- beyond our grasp. Or maybe we are asking the wrong questions. What, indeed, is the stuff that dreams are made of? Dream on!

The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.

-Eleanor Roosevelt

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