--Original published at Jill Distler's Psychology Blog
“Every great dream begins with a dreamer,” Harriet Tubman.
But where do our dreams really come from? There is actually a real science behind what goes on behind the scenes of the dreams that we create subconsciously while we are resting, and the physiological answer to this science is found within the Hippocampus of the brain.
The hippocampus is a neural center in the limbic system (neural center (including the amygdala, hypothalamus and hippocampus) located below the central hemisphere; associated with emotions and drives (Page 52 Myers & DeWall).) that helps to process explicit memories for storage.
According to a group of scientists from Germany and Rhode Island, the process of moving memories to different storage centers during sleep, causes dreams to be produced from the experiences from the day that are being transferred to different storage locations. The hippocampus is essentially emptied every night while we sleep, to make room for more information coming the next day. It is believed that while the brain sorts through a day’s worth of experiences, that the brain is able to “steal” parts of these memories and fabricate them into some of our wildest/craziest dreams.
Dreaming is also thought to be used as a purging method, since we can’t recall 90% of the dreams that our brains create overnight. This thought was also summarized by the famous Francis Crick, who in 1984 said, “We dream to forget,” in his development of his “garbage disposal theory”.
Many people wonder what the crazy dreams they are having may mean, but there is no exact answer for why our minds create such specific and elusive visions to entertain us while we are in our most vulnerable state: sleep. Since we really don’t know how these images are created, we at least tried to understand how the brain is able to transfer memories to different areas of the brain. That ended up coming down to studying the electrical signals during sleep cycles, especially those signals being passed around in the structures within the limbic system, but mainly, the hippocampus and the neocortex. The neocortex being a section of the cerebral cortex (The most highly developed part of the brain that is associated with thinking, perceiving, producing, and understanding language.) that usually is known to be focused on sight and hearing, but while sleeping, helps to send memories to long-term storage.
While dreaming can be a confusing concept, they actually help the brain problem solve through endless possible experiences, both good and bad. The brain, while asleep, actually continues to work on its problems that it faced while awake. Creating dreams to allow us to “physically” work through the problems, but we only remember a few each night when we wake up the next day. The remembered dreams being the most extreme and bazaar solutions to these issues.
Although there is not a possible way to fully understand the complexity of the human mind, we can certainly try to find answers, and if we can’t, there is still many other things for scientists to discover along the way.