We all spend a significant part of our lives asleep. This multi-hour experience can have unique characteristics for each of us; We may remember some of it or even feel in control of our sleep. We may even realize that we are asleep.
There are many people who like to go on an adventure in the land of dreams, like Leonardo DiCaprio in “Indoctrination”. But do our dreams have a special meaning or are they just open-ended movies that we use to entertain ourselves while the body is at rest? In recent years, significant research has been done to provide a new definition of “dream” and the attempt to enter the dream world, which we will discuss in this article.
Throughout history, dreams have always had a transcendental meaning, and man has always sought to extract signs and discover the meaning hidden in this mysterious mine so that he can benefit from their guidance in life; The Babylonians and Vikings prophesied with the help of dreams, and the ancient Egyptians considered them to be messages from the gods.
With the onset of psychoanalysis, the search for the meaning of symptoms in the dream world became more serious. In the 1890s, Sigmund Freud (the father of psychoanalysis) was able to give symbolic meanings to the characters, objects, and stories in our dreams, a significant portion of which focused on sexuality and aggression. Today, with the advancement of science and technology, it is the cognitive psychologists and neuroscientists who play the role of dream detectives for us. Luca Maria Ailo, a computational social science researcher at Nokia Bell Labs, is one of them.
Numerous studies show that dreams often reflect our daily problems that help us process experiences and prepare for the problems of the next day. In fact, most psychologists use the “continuity hypothesis” to explain the problem of dreams. This hypothesis means that our dreams are the continuation of the events of the awakening world.
The main problem with dream analysis is that it is time consuming; Because psychologists have to break down the descriptions of the dreams that are described to them into their components in order to be able to search for the patterns hidden in the dream. Fortunately, Aylo and his colleagues have solved this problem. They have developed an algorithm that automatically analyzes more than 24,000 dream reports in various studies. These reports are all available on the Roya Bank website.
This algorithm first breaks down dream reports into language components (sentence, phrase, and word, respectively). It then creates a tree-like network between these components so that we can understand the relationships between the components: If the words are the leaves of this tree, they are connected to each other through grammar, which plays the role of branches. It then categorizes the words and labels each one (for example, animals) and links them to positive and negative emotions.
It also uses the terms “friendly”, “violent” and “sexual” to indicate the relationship between words, as is evident in Freud’s work. Finally, using a coding system, it scores the dream; For example, the average violence of the characters or the ratio of negative emotions to positive emotions. When we compare the results obtained by this algorithm with the calculations of psychologists, we are surprised to find that 76% of the time they are the same. Report of this research in Royal Society Open Science It has been published.
But the capabilities of this algorithm do not end here. Psychologists can use this algorithm to find sources of stress or potential mental illness in you; In this way, the algorithm can detect the normal or abnormal nature of your dream by comparing your dream with the average number of dreams of people who have not reported any physical or mental problems.
The algorithm also allows researchers to analyze differences between dreams based on age, gender or mental state. For example, the dreams of a war veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are above average violence; While high sexual issues or social anxiety can be detected in a teenager’s dream.
Today, we can find out about each person’s personality and daily life by reporting their dream. But these reports are not without their problems: Imagine a traveler returning recently from an unknown land and describing to you his experiences in that land. Is it possible to fully rely on the explanations and the ability to remind this traveler?
The dream report is always in danger of being distorted; For example, women use more emotional words to describe their dream, but they have not necessarily had a more emotional experience than men. So what can be done to get more accurate information? Maybe it’s time to explore the land of dreams ourselves, like in the movie “Indoctrination”.
In order to be able to identify with DiCaprio, we must first solve a fundamental problem for ourselves: the definition of a dream. The story of “Indoctrination” is based on the fact that we can be aware that we are asleep and be able to somehow connect with or be influenced by the waking world.
Researchers call this state of lucid dreaming; That is, the state in which we are aware that we are dreaming. But how conceivable is this in the world outside of cinema? New findings were obtained by four laboratories with the help of 36 participants, bringing us one step closer to Christopher Nolan’s imagination.
The first person to mention a clear dream was Aristotle. This issue was hidden in the world of philosophy for a long time, until in the 1970s, researchers conducted experiments on the REM phase (rapid eye movements) in sleep, and succeeded in observing lucid dreaming. Half of all people have experienced lucid dreaming at least once, and about 10% of people experience it at least once a month.
Although the announced statistics are not high; But with practice, we can increase the number of clear dreams and even control some aspects of our dreams. Researchers in this field have tried to communicate with lucid dreamers through stimuli such as light, sound or shock and enter their sleep. But the problem is that their research was only able to receive and record minimal responses and did not involve more complex information transfer.
Recently, four independent research groups from France, Germany, the Netherlands, and the United States have sought to go one step further and achieve two-way communication with people who are asleep. They used 36 participants to do this; Some of these participants were professional lucid dreamers, and some of them had no experience of lucid dreaming until then, but recalled at least one dream a week.
The researchers first trained participants to find out if they were asleep. To do this, they explained to the participants how lucid dreaming works and explained the symptoms that are given to them during sleep. These signs, such as light, sound, or finger tapping, made participants aware that they were asleep.
Sleep sessions were conducted at different times of the day, and each of the four research groups used a different method to ask simple math problems or questions with a “yes” or “no” answer that was not asked of the participants in the exercise. Participants were asked to use eye or face movements to answer the questions: for example, moving the eyes three times to the left. Some were even asked to use their eye movements as Morse code. They then monitored brain activity, eyes, and face with electroencephalograms as transparent dreamers answered questions.
Out of a total of 158 questions asked from clear dreamers, 18.6% of the questions were answered correctly and 3.2% were answered incorrectly; 17.7% of the answers were not clear and 60.8% of the questions were not answered. When participants were asked to describe their dream, they described the questions asked as part of their dream; For example, one person heard the question on the car radio or another person saw his dream as a movie that the narrator asks him.
Given that the results of this study are somewhat satisfactory, Karen Connolly, a researcher in neuroscience and a member of this study, hopes that this new method can be used in the future to treat mental trauma, anxiety and depression. Report of this research in Current Biology It has been published.
The dreams we dream of today have gone from an unknown world to which we have no access, to the beginning of exploration, learning and creativity in another world. Like Yuri Gagarin, the first cosmic traveler to Earth, we must wait for the day when we will be navigating this world alongside astronauts: the world within our minds.