Contemporary research of dreams is divided into two realms. One realm looks at the biology of what is happening in our brains and bodies while we sleep. We have gained much insight into these processes through the work of researchers such as Nathaniel Kleitman and his student Eugene Aserinsky. The 1950's saw the work of these two scientists open the door to our modern understanding of sleep. An excellent article by Chip Brown written for Smithsonian Magazine describing their work and its implications can be found here:
The other realm of dream research deals with what is happening to the mind while we sleep. Psychology, philosophy, and theology have all made attempts at explaining
this. In the early 1900's psychologists Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung authored some of the most well known theories on how we should interpret our dreams. Both expressed that dreams could be interpreted in ways that provide insight into a person's waking life. A great summary of their views can be found on a Penn State student blog here:
Psychology offers what is likely the most thorough explanation for the purpose of dreams, but it is important to also explore theological and cultural ideas as to what dreams are.Native American culture believed that dreams were of great importance and that events that occurred in dreams had direct implications in the context of waking life. Below is an article by author Tony Crisp detailing many of these beliefs.
Buddhist philosophy has a complex explanation for dreams. They see some dreams as not having a great deal of importance, but do believe that there are rare cases of
We have yet to come to a conclusion on the purpose of dreams. The thorough understanding of what exactly dreams are and why we have them is a frontier that offers an
exciting opportunity for those who enjoy studying subjects on the fringes of our current knowledge.