Monday, November 14, 2005

Dreams Are Made of These

According to this web site, the most common dreams fall under the following headings:

Naked
Teeth
Flying
Chase
Falling
Exam

I'm quite chuffed to know that, in this respect at least, I'm in tune with the world soul. I have all six on a regular basis. "Teeth" is close to being the most common, a no-brainer since I've actually had issues with my teeth in reality. "Naked" comes along pretty infrequently these days, and "Chase" is also less common than when I was younger.

"Flying" is very occasional, and one that you have to enjoy while it lasts (you sometimes spot that it might be a dream while you're having it, which unfortunately tends to hasten the waking up process). "Falling" is probably the rarest of the top six for me.

"Exam" is the one that most seems to have taken over my unconscious. In my variation on the theme, I suddenly realise I've been enrolled all year in some university courses but haven't attended any lectures and haven't done any course work. The exam is tomorrow and I know nothing about the subject. It's also well past the date when I might have pulled out of the course without academic penalty. Another variation is that the exams have already occurred and I've missed them completely.

I've had this dream so often that every now and again I have a waking moment where it occurs to me that I actually haven't got an academic record filled up with Ds and Es from courses where I didn't do the work, and this comes as a pleasant surprise.

A lot of the "interpretation"on this web site and other dream literature just seems to be made up at random. But what is fascinating is that much of what seems to be an intensely private experience is actually shared--right down to the fine detail. It's both reassuring and puzzling, for example, to find that I'm far from the only one to have had exactly this dream.

Clearly, at some level there are such things as archetypes--unconscious symbols shared between individuals and even across cultures. I'd love to know what evolutionary psychologists make of archetypal dreams. Evolutionary psychology develops theories about the origins of behaviour or mental traits as adaptations to the selection pressures operating during our biological evolution. For example, instinctive human fear of snakes is explained by the fact that snakes were dangerous to our hominid ancestors, and it was adaptive to steer clear of them.

Archetypal dreams seem to present something of a challenge to the causative, literal-minded evolutionary psych mode of explanation. Sure, evolutionary psychology can provide theories to explain why we all share the same fears and desires. But how does it account for what appears to be a common metaphorical language which translates those fears and desires into near-identical narratives?

Maybe all the "symbolic" interpretations are guff, and dreams are all literal. Dreaming about your teeth falling out represents a fear of losing your teeth; those early humans who were subconsciously reminded to take care of their teeth lived longer and had more offspring. Perhaps, but it's starting to look a little far-fetched. It also doesn't explain how modern concepts like exams and phones get locked into *exactly* the same narratives.

In any case, I'm off to bed--and I must be about due for a "Flying" dream.

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5 comments:

Cecilia said...

Wow! I thought it was just me who frequently found themself enrolled in several university classes, right before the exam, which I've "forgotten" about all semester. To make matters worse, it's usually something like chemistry which is particularly disturbing, given that I didn't even do science for School Cert. (or whatever it is that kids do these days in "Year 10"). The strange thing is I'm usually aware in the dream that I already have a BA and I'm now in law school. This dream is often combined with the naked dream. I don't get too bothered by the nakedness usually, or by being at school in only half a bikini, it's usually just a mildy irritating factor in the face of all the courses I am about to fail. There's no sense of horror or shame; it's more like, "Damn, I forgot to get dressed this morning." Perhaps that's because I am pretty comfortable with my body and walking around sans bikini top on the beach. By the same token I wonder if people who never went to university, have the same frequency of exam dreams.
I very, very seldom have teeth dreams, but I do have dreams where my hair falls out or, inexplicably, I decide to get a buzz cut.
Dreams of being chased were definitely the most common when I was a child, but have largely abated now. Dreams of falling, however, have become more frequent as an adult. My fear of heights has also heightened (excuse the pun) in latter years, so perhaps the dreams are just a mirror of that.

One category I was surprised not to see is that of accidentally killing someone. Perhaps it's just me, but I have very frequent dreams where I kill someone. It's usually falls somewhere in the range of 1st degree manslaughter to criminally negligent homicide i.e. I usually cause the death by being somewhat negligent, but also very unlucky, like I hit someone with a telephone and they perish on the spot. Not sure what this says about me, but I'm interested if other people have this dream. Come to think of it, I also have frequent dreams where I'm either driving drunk or speeding crazily and crash my car. Thank goodness you don't have to reveal your most common dreams on your bar application...

Susan said...

I've had all the common ones, specially the teeth, very frequently over the course of my life. Naked (or in nightwear at school) used to be common when I was younger but not now. Love the flying dreams but they happen so rarely. Chase and falling and exam all happened but not so much these days either. I think they belong to a younger era. Definitely have the dream of crashing the car or it going out of control very often, and the accidentally killing someone (sometimes combined with the crashing the car dream, and it's often not a stranger but someone I love. But my commonest one of all is the telephone dream - I'm trying to phone someone and the numbers on the phone have gone or are all rearranged, or the phone book is out of alphabetical order, or the buttons on the phone don't work. I've asked other people about this and they look at me blankly so perhaps this is not so common. I tend to agree that the "explanations" can be a lot of rubbish. The dream about needing to find a toilet usually has a really obvious connection with physiology, the teeth one seems to happen when I have blocked sinuses which sometimes give you an ache in your teeth, and the crashing car one reflects my lack of driving confidence.

Simon Bidwell said...

Ha ha Cecilia. I also tend to be enrolled in courses like "Biology" which I've never actually taken. Although I'm usually at university, the courses have high school type names. I've failed "English", "Biology" and
"Geography" so many times it's a wonder they keep letting me enrol.

Occasionally I'm back at high school in my school uniform--I feel it's not really fair that I have to wear the bnlazer and attend assembly, considering I've got a university degree and have travelled overseas for several years.

Yes, I also crash cars, though usually while reversing out of a parking space; the brakes don't work or have mysteriously disappeared or my leg has gone numb and can't reach them.

I looked for the "killing accidentally" one, but didn't see it. This is also pretty common for me, but there is an individual variation. I've either killed someone or been negligent in an accident where someone died, years ago, and have forgotten about it. Now, *someone is finding out*. The police are re-investigating, and they're beginning to suspect me. I'm not only trying to avoid suspicion, but trying hard to believe that it *never really happened*. I wasnt there, right? It was all just a dream? But as time goes on, there's more and more evidence, and I can't avoid the truth...

There's a creepy, "I know what you did last summer" mood to this one, and is another that burrows so deep into my unconscious that I'm pleasantly surprised to occasionally remind myself that I didn't actually kill anyone sometime in the past. As far as I remember....

Sophia said...

Yes, I've had most of these but I can't ever remember being chased in a dream. Teeth, naked and exam are quite frequent for me, but I am always back at school trying to explain to my teachers that I have a degree now and dont need to sit School Cert music.
Telephone dreams also a big one for me - the numbers are backwards/illegible/dont work/telephone book not in alphabetical order.
All the new mothers I have talked to have also shared the same dream, even though I was sure it was just me, which is that the baby has been lost under the blankets somehow (even those of us who never had the baby in our beds had this one), closely folowed by dreaming during pregnancy that they had given birth to a (pick one) monkey/fish/kitten etc.
weird

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