Dare to Dream
What happens in your head at night, new science reveals, is more important than you think.
By Michael J. Weiss 文/ 迈·J·威斯
From Reader's Digest 原载《读者文摘》
February 2006 200六年第二期
Why Do We Dream?
Our dreams may affect our lives (and vice versa) more than we ever realized, says groundbreaking new research. For 11 years, a 58-year-old anthropologist kept a journal of nearly 5,000 dreams. By analyzing color patterns in the dreams, Arizona-based researcher Robert Hoss could accurately predict certain things about the man's emotional state. Hoss correctly identified two separate years when the man experienced crises in his life. The anthropologist confirmed that in 1997 he had clashed with a colleague over a management issue, and in 2003 he'd had a falling out with a friend that left deep emotional scars.
How was Hoss able to gauge the dreamer's turmoil? "The clues were in the colors," he says. The anthropologist's dominant dream hues were reds and blacks, which spiked during difficult times. "Even without knowing the events in his life," Hoss observes, "we accurately determined the emotional states based on those colors in his dreams."
Hoss is among a growing group of researchers who, thanks to cutting-edge medical technology and innovative psychological research, are beginning to decipher the secrets hidden in our dreams and the role dreaming plays in our lives. A look at some of their latest discoveries can give us new insights into the language of dreams and help us make the most of our time asleep.
Dreams are a way for the subconscious to communicate with the conscious mind. Dreaming of something you're worried about, researchers say, is the brain's way of helping you rehearse for a disaster in case it occurs. Dreaming of a challenge, like giving a presentation at work or playing sports, can enhance your performance. And cognitive neuroscientists have discovered that dreams and the rapid eye movement (REM) that happens while you're dreaming are linked to our ability to learn and remember.
Dreaming is a "mood regulatory system," says Rosalind Cartwright, PhD, chairman of the psychology department at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago. She's found that dreams help people work through the day's emotional quandaries. "It's like having a built-in therapist," says Cartwright. While we sleep, dreams compare new emotional experience to old memories, creating plaid-like patterns of old images laid on top of new ones. As she puts it, "You may wake up and think, What was Uncle Harry doing in my dream? I haven't seen him for 50 years. But the old and new images are emotionally related." It's the job of the conscious mind to figure out the relationship.
梦是一个“情绪调整系统”，芝加哥拉什大学（Rush University）医疗中心的心理科主任罗莎琳德·卡特赖特博士说。她已经发现，梦帮助人们处理白天的情绪困境。“它就像有了一个临床医学家在你体内一样，”卡特赖特说。当我们睡觉时，梦将新的情感体验和旧的记忆进行对比，在新的体验上创建旧图像的格子模型。就像她说的一样，“你会醒来，并想，哈里大叔在我梦里做了什么？我已经有50年没有看见他了。然而旧的图像和新的记忆在情感上是相联系的。” 意识的主要工作就是认定两者之间的关系。
In fact, dream emotions can help real therapists treat patients undergoing traumatic life events. In a new study of 30 recently divorced adults, Cartwright tracked their dreams over a five-month period, measuring their feelings toward their ex-spouses. She discovered that those who were angriest at the spouse while dreaming had the best chance of successfully coping with divorce. "If their dreams were bland," Cartwright says, "they hadn't started to work through their emotions and deal with the divorce." For therapists, this finding will help determine whether divorced men or women need counseling or have already dreamed their troubles away.
One Interpretation Doesn't Fit All
No device lets researchers probe the content of dreams while we sleep, but scientists are finding new ways to interpret dreams once we've awakened. Forget Freud's notion that dreams contain images with universal meanings (e.g., cigar=penis). A new generation of psychologists insists that dream symbols differ depending on the dreamer. In a recent study, University of Ottawa psychology professor Joseph De Koninck asked 13 volunteers to make two lists: one of details recalled from recent dreams, and another of recent events in their waking lives. When analysts were asked to match which volunteer experienced which dream, they failed. De Koninck's conclusion: Each person understands his or her dreams better than anyone else -- including traditional psychoanalysts. In a dream, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar -- or almost anything else.
"There's just no evidence of universal dream symbols," says De Koninck. "My advice is to throw away your dream dictionary if you really want to interpret your dreams."
Today, psychologists are applying modern technology to probe the content of dreams. Hoss uses a computer-based approach called content analysis to interpret the colors in dreams. More than 80 percent of people dream in color, he says, though only a quarter of them recall the shades the next morning. To collect data, he analyzed nearly 24,000 dreams, catalogued in two databases at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and Bridgewater State College in Massachusetts. His study suggested that specific colors represent particular emotions (for example, red means action, excitement and desire; blue equals calmness, tranquility and harmony; black connotes fear, anxiety and intimidation).
今天，心理学家正在运用现代科学技术来探测梦的内容。霍斯用一个基于电脑的所谓内容分析方法来解释梦境的颜色。超过80％的人的梦有颜色，他说，尽管只是让其中的四分之一在次日早晨回忆梦中图景。他搜集数据，分析了将近24，000个梦，并在加利福尼亚大学的圣塔克鲁斯(Santa Cruz)、麻省的布利基沃特学院（Bridgewater State College）建立了两个数据库目录。他的研究表明，特殊的颜色表示特殊的情感（例如，红色意味着行动、兴奋、欲求；蓝色代表着平和、宁静、和谐；黑色表示恐惧、焦虑、胁迫）。
But, as with symbols and action, one size doesn't fit all when it comes to interpretation. Every dreamer draws on a different palette to reflect personal associations. "Using color is your brain's way of painting your dreams with your emotion," says Hoss, who just published his results in Dream Language (Innersource, 2005).
Some researchers scoff at the need for computers or even therapists to interpret dreams. Psychologist Gayle Delaney, PhD, founding president of the International Association for the Study of Dreams, believes that dreamers themselves are the best interpreters of their time in dreamland. She supports a "dream interview" technique, which asks people to answer a series of straightforward questions in order to gain insights into their recollections. From her office in San Francisco, Delaney uses this process to help single people analyze and better understand their romantic relationships through their dreams.
Delaney tells of one client who dreamed of her new boyfriend swimming in the ocean. Above the water, he looked like an adorable seal, but below the water he was a vicious shark. When asked about her boyfriend's personality, the woman conceded that he had a violent streak -- a fact she consciously tried to ignore. "It was clear that this woman had misgivings about a darker side to her boyfriend," says Delaney. "The dreaming mind is more insightful about the people in your life than your waking mind." The woman broke up with her boyfriend soon afterward.
What Dreams Can Do for You
Psychologists have long known that people can solve their problems at work and home by "sleeping on it." The challenge has always been to train yourself to dream up the solutions. Deirdre Barrett, PhD, an assistant psychology professor at Harvard Medical School and editor of the journal Dreaming, advises individuals to ponder questions just before falling asleep (Should I take this job? Should I marry that guy?) and then let the subconscious provide the answers. "I've known artists looking for inspiration who simply dream up a future show of their art and wake up with plenty of new painting ideas," says Barrett. "More and more people are learning these techniques to control their dreams."
Some researchers believe that you can guide your dreams while you're sleeping. In recent years, Stephen LaBerge, PhD, has pioneered a way of directing the sleeping mind through "lucid dreaming," in which a sleeping person realizes he or she is dreaming while it is happening. Lucid dreamers can experience fantasy adventures -- like flying to the moon, traveling through time or making love on a beach -- while being fully aware that they're dreaming. "It's like a poor man's Tahiti," says LaBerge, a psychophysiologist who directs the Lucidity Institute in Palo Alto, California. "Just being in a lucid dream is a turn-on for people."
According to LaBerge, lucid dreamers can use the experience for a variety of purposes: problem solving, developing creative ideas and healing. Patricia Keelin, a 55-year-old graphic cartographer from northern California, has used lucid dreaming for everything from talking to her long-dead father to gorging on sweets. "Chocolate always tastes better in a lucid dream because you don't have to worry about the calories," she says. A weak swimmer in her waking life, she often likes to go skin diving when she realizes she's having a lucid dream, diving to the bottom of the dream ocean without worrying about breathing (or her swimming skills). "It's exhilarating," she says. "Lucid dreaming is great because it's free and available to everybody."
Well, not entirely free. Although everyone has the potential to dream lucidly, it rarely happens routinely without special training or temperament. The Lucidity Institute operates instructional workshops and retreats to spread the gospel. LaBerge has even developed a $500 device -- called the NovaDreamer (novadreamer.com) -- which helps individuals become participants in their dreams. Once the sleep-mask-like device recognizes the wearer is experiencing REM sleep characteristic of dreaming, it emits a flashing red light that is designed to seep into the person's dream. "It's like being at the opera and realizing the flashing lights at intermission mean the opera is about to start again," says LaBerge. "The cue says that you're dreaming so you can open yourself up to any kind of experience you want. After all, it's your dream."
Indeed, your dreams are like private movies where you are the star, director and writer all at once. And as the latest research indicates, you are also the most insightful movie critic -- without the need of a couch. The best interpreter of your dreams is you.
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