Comments on Dreaming



Thor May

29 June 2013



The following notes are a personal interpretation of dreaming phenomena. The notes were prepared for a Brisbane discussion group. They are not sourced in any special expertise. Their value is to give rise to questions and ideas. 




1. People tend to see what they want to see and hear what they want to hear. This stabilizes their identity and self-confidence. Phenomena that are separated from direct sensory input are even more liable to this process. Hence faith based religion, and ergo, the interpretations of dreaming. Therefore we are unlikely to change anyone’s mind during this discussion about their favourite dreaming theories!


2. In every culture, there is an enormous accumulation of stories, beliefs and habits of interpretation attached to dreaming. This stuff is a rich anthropological source for understanding patterns of human behaviour. It does not necessarily give insight into a scientific understanding of dreaming.


3. Dreaming can occur during various sleep stages, but is most common and intense during REM sleep. REM sleep occupies about 25% of sleep time, and the length of dreams increases from about 10 minutes to about 20 minutes at the end of the night.


4. Many animals sleep. Apparently armadillos are amongst the biggest dreamers. The evidence for such dreaming comes from brain imaging. It would seem then that IQ is no qualification for dreaming.


5. Long term declarative (not procedural) memory storage is known to depend upon processing by the hippocampus during sleep. Sleep deprived subjects have severely impaired memory. The relationship between dreaming and this kind of mental housekeeping is unknown, except that the the neurotransmitters, norepinphrine, serotonin and histamine are blocked during REM sleep, while the stress neurochemical, cortisol often increases in late REM sleep, and interferes with the conversion of short term memory to long term memory (thus 95% of dreams are forgotten).




6. The following is my own, completely unsupported guess at what dreaming may be about:


a) Our entire reality or self-identity is a mental construct of habits + memories + incoming external sensation.


b) This mental construct is not a solid thing. It is a finely balanced, self-correcting web of organized relationships. That organization is both chemical and electrical. The organization, I think, probably has a lot to do with the mathematical behaviour of complexity itself, which tends to generate order from disorder.


c) My guess is that the self-correcting nature of self-identity depends upon the constant input of external sensation. During sleep the input of external sensation, especially visual and balance signals, is dramatically reduced. In a way this “frees the mind” to wander and to play with unusual combinations.


d) The amount of mental wandering in dreams varies a great deal, both between people (if we are to believe reports) and within individual experience.


e) My hypothesis (again unsupported) is that the mental wandering within dream periods assists the maintenance of the “reality illusion” in a waking state by exploring alternative possible realities, minus the discipline of direct sensation. Awareness and rejection of these alternatives by our daytime “reality illusion” (our identity) may be compared to setting navigation beacons for safe channels in a tidal river. If this is so, then dreaming would have clear evolutionary value for survival.


7. Allowing our minds to wander is not restricted to dreaming. Absent-minded behaviour, day dreaming, drug induced deviations are further examples. It is a matter of degree. The “half-sleep” state prior to full sleep or full waking seems to be another example of identity which is partly without the discipline of external sensation or conscious purpose. For example, my 90 year old mother tells me that she regularly wakes now with the feeling that one of her sisters is in the bed and mustn’t be disturbed. Eighty years ago her five sisters regularly had to share beds.








Wikipedia (2013)  Summary of Dream Theories:




Professional bio: Thor May's PhD dissertation, Language Tangle, dealt with language teaching productivity. Thor has been teaching English to non-native speakers, training teachers and lecturing linguistics, since 1976. This work has taken him to seven countries in Oceania and East Asia, mostly with tertiary students, but with a couple of detours to teach secondary students and young children. He has trained teachers in Australia, Fiji and South Korea. In an earlier life, prior to becoming a teacher, he had a decade of drifting through unskilled jobs in Australia, New Zealand and finally England (after backpacking across Asia in 1972).  


academic repository: at

discussion topics index:
discussion: Thor's Unwise Ideas at




All opinions expressed in this paper are entirely those of the author, who has no aim to influence, proselytize or persuade others to a point of view. He is pleased if his writing generates reflection in readers, either for or against the sentiment of the argument.



"Comments on Dreaming " © copyrighted to Thor May; all rights reserved 2013