Dreams for testing and selecting mental schemas

Coutts hypothesizes that dreams modify and test mental schemas during sleep during a process he calls emotional selection, and that only schema modifications that appear emotionally adaptive during dream tests are selected for retention, while those that appear maladaptive are abandoned or further modified and tested. Alfred Adler suggested that dreams are often emotional preparations for solving problems, intoxicating an individual away from common sense toward private logic. The residual dream feelings may either reinforce or inhibit contemplated action.

Evolutionary psychology theories of dreams

Evolutionary psychologists believe that dreams serve some adaptive function for survival. Deirdre Barrett describes dreaming as simply “thinking in different biochemical state” and believes people continue to work on all the same problems—personal and objective—in that state.” Her research finds that anything—math, musical composition, business dilemmas—may get solved during dreaming, but the two areas especially likely to help are 1) anything where vivid visualization contributes to the solution, whether in artistic design or invention of 3-D technological devices and 2) problem where the solution lies in “thinking outside the box”—i.e. the person is stuck because conventional wisdom on how to approach the problem is wrong. In a related theory, which Mark Blechner terms “Oneiric Darwinism,” dreams are seen as creating new ideas through the generation of random thought mutations. Some of these may be rejected by the mind as useless, while others may be seen as valuable and retained. Finnish psychologist Antti Revonsuo posits that dreams have evolved for “threat simulation” exclusively.

Psychosomatic theory

Dreams are a product of “dissociated imagination”, which is dissociated from the conscious self and draws material from sensory memory for simulation, with sensory feedback resulting in hallucination. By simulating the sensory signals to drive the autonomous nerves, dreams can affect mind-body interaction. In the brain and spine, the autonomous “repair nerves”, which can expand the blood vessels, connect with compression and pain nerves. Repair nerves are grouped into many chains called meridians in Chinese medicine. When a repair nerve is prodded by compression or pain to send out its repair signal, a chain reaction spreads out to set other repair nerves in the same meridian into action. While dreaming, the body also employs the meridians to repair the body and help it grow and develop by simulating very intensive movement-compression signals to expand the blood vessels when the level of growth enzymes increase.

Other hypotheses on dreaming

There are many other hypotheses about the function of dreams, including:

  • Dreams allow the repressed parts of the mind to be satisfied through fantasy while keeping the conscious mind from thoughts that would suddenly cause one to awaken from shock.
  • Freud suggested that bad dreams let the brain learn to gain control over emotions resulting from distressing experiences.
  • Jung suggested that dreams may compensate for one-sided attitudes held in waking consciousness.
  • Ferenczi proposed that the dream, when told, may communicate something that is not being said outright.
  • Dreams regulate mood.
  • Hartmann says dreams may function like psychotherapy, by “making connections in a safe place” and allowing the dreamer to integrate thoughts that may be dissociated during waking life.
  • More recent research by psychologist Joe Griffin, following a twelve year review of data from all major sleep laboratories, led to the formulation of the expectation fulfilment theory of dreaming, which suggests that dreaming metaphorically completes patterns of emotional expectation in the autonomic nervous system and lowers stress levels in mammals.

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