The Cause of Dreams

There are times throughout the day where you fail to acknowledge something because you were too preoccupied with something else. Most of the time you unknowingly let this happen but sometimes you make a conscious effort. Information enters the brain but does not get processed nor registered. I believe this information lies dormant in hippocampus of the brain as an “unacknowledged thought.” I hypothesize that a dream is caused by failing to acknowledge something (due to preoccupation with another matter). For example, if you have the TV playing some Spanish soap opera in the background while you are attentively reading this article, it’s likely you’ll have a dream involving Spanish. How exactly would the dream go? I hypothesize that a dream is playing out the consequence for failing to acknowledging these thoughts. In other words, a dream is what your mind thinks will happen to you in the future if you continue ignoring this thing. So in your dream you may be a tourist in Spain struggling to communicate with the locals. The purpose of a dream is to make you aware of these unacknowledged thoughts. It’s preparing you for the next waking day—the purpose of sleep.

Most dreams are quickly forgotten. Nightmares, on the other hand, can be traumatizing and leave a lasting impression. Like a dream, a nightmare is induced from failing to acknowledge something. Unlike a dream, though, I hypothesize that a nightmare is caused by failing to acknowledge something that the mind considers important for survival. From your mind’s perspective, you committed a grave mistake and you shall pay. A nightmare is your brain saying, “If you continue to screw up by ignoring [unacknowledged thought] then this extraordinary event is going to happen to you.” I’ve found no truth to nightmare interpretation websites that suggest that nightmares are complicated metaphors for loved ones or colleagues. I believe the meaning of a nightmare is always simple and literal.

The stage needs to be set for the initiation of dreams and nightmares. Two things. One, the chances of failing to acknowledge info are greatly increased under the influence of drugs that aid in focus. In my personal experience, daily high dosages of caffeine and 1,3-dimethylamylamine triggered a spate of nightmares. What happens is that these “concentration drugs” make you intensely fixated on one thing, such as typing an essay, while your senses get bombarded by another stimulus, such as a TV playing in the background. Secondly, I believe that sleeping in a very hot environment greatly increases the odds of inducing a dream or nightmare. Without further ado, here are my explanations for most common nightmares, sorted by most confident to least confident:

The Meanings behind Common Nightmares

1.            The nightmare of teeth becoming loose (and slipping out) is induced by drinking ice cold water, or any very cold drink, and failing to acknowledge the chilly sensation that comes from the nerves of the teeth. Biting on ice cream would also work so long as you disregard the chilly sensation. What could cause you to not acknowledge this feeling? Perhaps you’re preoccupied with a dinner conversation.

2.            The nightmare of teeth crumbling into pieces (and falling out) is induced by eating food that is very hard and crunchy while not acknowledging how hard it is due to preoccupation to another matter.  Based on personal experience, Wheat Chex (by itself, without milk) or a raw carrot can induce this nightmare.

3.            The nightmare of being chased by a monster, beast, supernatural being, paranormal creature, boogeyman, etc. is induced when you suspect that something is lurking from behind, or hiding in the dark corner, yet you suppress the urge to quicken your pace, check over your shoulder, or turn your head. You don’t take action because you have reassured yourself with logic—paranormal beings don’t even exist. By not addressing the possibility of a lurker, you will induce this nightmare.

4.            The nightmare of free-falling is induced when, during your wake, you lean against a railing and fail to acknowledge the possibility of it breaking and you falling off the cliff. This must take place somewhere high up, like the second story of a mall or a hotel balcony. People overlook the rail breaking because they have faith in the structure holding up. This nightmare can also be induced if you fall asleep with your limbs, or almost the majority of your body, hanging over the edge of the bed. You were likely “half-awake” or too tired to acknowledge the imminent danger.

5.            The nightmare of being unable to move or speak as a scary figure approaches (a.k.a. sleep paralysis) is induced by wrapping yourself tightly in blankets and falling asleep. You’ve swaddled yourself, leaving you defenseless and vulnerable to attack, which is the possibility you failed to acknowledge.

6.            The nightmare of running and then slowing down, as if in thick syrup, is induced by jogging/running while wearing very tight, movement-restricting pants without acknowledging that it is restricting your gait.

7.            The nightmare of having your punches or kicks slowed down is induced by doing a karate or kickboxing session in a tight, movement-restricting shirt or pants without acknowledging its restrictiveness.

8.            The nightmare of going into a major exam completely unprepared occurs when you don’t commit an exam date and time to memory. Memorizing this info is unnecessary because you already have a class syllabus or calendar with all the major exam dates. You recognize that the exam is important but fail to acknowledge its date.

9.            The nightmare of forgetting a locker combination occurs when you put your belongings in a locker and fail to acknowledge that you don’t have your combination memorized. Instead, you rely on a written or printed note of your combo.

10.         The nightmare of running late and missing a bus, train, flight, or ship occurs when you greatly prepare for an upcoming morning event yet fail to acknowledge how you will wake up on time to catch the transport. You really don’t have to because you rely on an alarm clock.

Common nightmares that I’m not sure about:

11.         The nightmare of being naked in public and embarrassed occurs when you wear loose-fitting clothes and do not acknowledge that slip-ups are likely to occur. Or, you were busy moving/dancing around in loose clothes and failed to acknowledge that you had a wardrobe malfunction and people saw.

12.         The nightmare of your loved one cheating on you occurs when you spend time with him or her and fail to acknowledge that he or she may not be so attracted to you.

13.         The nightmare of a natural disaster racing towards you, such as a nuclear blast or volcanic eruption, and about to end your life is induced by failing to acknowledge that life is short and can end at any moment beyond your will. During your wake, you were doing something (mundane) and not realizing there’s something else you’d rather be doing. You did not seize the day. If someone you know died in the natural disaster, you probably failed to acknowledge that you want to spend time with them.

14.         The nightmare of finding out you’ve been enrolled in a class for many months but never went to class is induced when you have a schedule/calendar of all your classes and refer to it instead of committing your schedule to memory.

Closing Thoughts

I came up with this hypothesis during a slow, uneventful period of my life many years ago. The uneventfulness helped in the same way that having many control variables contribute to a robust experiment. After every nightmare I woke up from, I would meticulously backtrack the previous day and note anything I did that was out of the ordinary. After a few different nightmares had occurred, I was able to connect the dots and develop a hypothesis (i.e. inductive reasoning). I then applied this hypothesis to any subsequent nightmares to verify its validity (i.e. deductive reasoning).

The commonality among all my interpretations of nightmares is that the subject matter is always simple and primitive. E.g. problems with your teeth, problems with how you fight, being chased—they’re all basic human functions. Perhaps nightmares are “unacknowledged thoughts” that need to be transferred from the hippocampus to the basal ganglia (striatum) and brainstem—the parts of the brain responsible for primitive thoughts. This is as opposed to regular dreams, which may be the process of unacknowledged info going to the cerebrum. My interpretations of nightmares are very literal, whereas the interpretations of most self-proclaimed dream experts are metaphorical. For example, I hypothesize that you dream about your teeth falling out if the actual cold sensation from the nerves of your teeth was neglected (from an ice cold drink). A dream expert may say it’s because you have a fear of public speaking, or some other vague, catch-all, horoscope reading.

Sigmund Freud’s theory on dreams is shockingly similar to mine. The central point of his theory is that we repress certain thoughts during wake, and these thoughts come out in our dreams. In my hypothesis, active repression is one manner of failing to acknowledge something—the other being passive failure to acknowledge.

Dreams and nightmares would be easy to interpret if they made sense. They would make sense if they were a complete, chronological story. For example, if you had a dream where you drank cold water and then had loose teeth, you would wake up with an understanding to avoid ice-cold drinks. In the actual nightmare, however, your teeth spontaneously slip out, because dreams merely show the consequence of not acknowledging something. The unacknowledged thought was never fully processed so it remains in the hippocampus, disconnected from the neural network (cerebrum). It’s probably just a single neuron containing the information, such as “teeth feel chilly.” It has no context. The brain doesn’t know how this information is related to everything else.

Why do we continue to have dreams about school, or in a school setting, long after we’ve graduated? I believe it’s a combination of two reasons. One, there is an overwhelming amount of information going around at school—too much to take in. Classrooms, hallways, cafeterias—one has to be selective about what to acknowledge. Lots of information must be going in as unacknowledged thoughts. Two, our brains probably have a big backlog of unacknowledged thoughts due to having to wake up from alarm clocks every day. Thus disrupting how long our body actually wanted to be asleep. If people in their late 20’s are still having dreams about high school then it seems that thoughts can lie dormant in the hippocampus for over 10 years.

The validity of my hypothesis cannot be verified by testing it out on yourself because my hypothesis is based on not acknowledging something. That is, you cannot put ice in your mouth to chill your teeth and expect the nightmare to occur because you will be aware that you are chilling your teeth with ice. It must be a blind experiment. A proper experiment would be leaving a cup of ice water on the table for a subjects to sip on while directing them to complete activities that require their full attention. Nonetheless, if you do have a nightmare sometime in the future, you should carefully backtrack the day before to see if you neglected some primal instinct, even if for just one second. In my experience, that is a sufficient amount of time to induce a nightmare.

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