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The Mystery of Dreams


Everyone dreams. But only some people remember their dreams. Transcript of radio broadcast:

VOICE ONE:

I’m Barbara Klein.

VOICE TWO:

And I’m Steve Ember with Explorations in VOA Special English. Do you dream? Do you create pictures and stories in your mind as you sleep? Today, we are going to explore dreaming. People have had ideas about the meaning and importance of dreams for hundreds of years. Today brain researchers are learning even more about dreams.

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VOICE ONE:

Dreams are expressions of thoughts, feelings and events that pass through our mind while we are sleeping. People dream about one to two hours each night. We may have four to seven dreams in one night. Everybody dreams. But only some people remember their dreams.

The word “dream” comes from an old word in English that means “joy” and “music.” We dream in color. Our dreams often include all the senses – smells, sounds, sights, tastes and things we touch. Sometimes we dream the same dream over and over again. These repeated dreams are often unpleasant and may even be nightmares, or bad dreams that sometimes frighten us.

VOICE TWO:

Artists, writers and scientists sometimes say they get ideas from dreams. For example, the singer Paul McCartney of the Beatles said he awakened one day with the music for the song “Yesterday” in his head. The writer Mary Shelley said she had a very strong dream about a scientist using a machine to make a creature come alive. When she awakened, she began to write her book about a scientist named Frankenstein who creates a frightening monster.

VOICE ONE:

People have been trying to decide what dreams mean for thousands of years. Ancient Greeks and Romans believed dreams provided messages from the gods. Sometimes people who could understand dreams would help military leaders in battle.

In ancient Egypt, people who could explain dreams were believed to be special. In the Christian Bible, there are more than seven hundred comments or stories about dreams. Stories about the birth of the Muslim leader Mohammed include important events that were first learned in dreams – including the birth of Mohammed and his name.

In China, people believed that dreams were a way to visit with family members who had died. Some Native American tribes and Mexican civilizations believe dreams are a different world we visit when we sleep.

VOICE TWO:

In Europe, people believed that dreams were evil and could lead people to do bad things. Two hundred years ago, people awakened after four or five hours of sleep to think about their dreams or talk about them with other people. Then they returned to sleep for another four to five hours.

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VOICE ONE:

Early in the twentieth century, two famous scientists developed different ideas about dreams. Austrian psychiatrist Sigmund Freud published a book called “The Interpretation of Dreams” in nineteen hundred. Freud believed people often dream about things they want but cannot have, especially connected to sex and aggression.

For Freud, dreams were full of hidden meaning. He tried to understand dreams as a way to understand people and why they acted or thought in certain ways. Freud believed that every thought and every action started deep in our brains. He thought dreams could be an important road to understanding what is happening in our brains.

Freud told people what their dreams meant as a way of helping them solve problems or understand their worries. For example, Freud said when people dream of flying or swinging, they want to be free of their childhood. When a person dreams that a brother or sister or parent has died, the dreamer is really hiding feelings of hatred for that person. Or a desire to have what the other person has.

VOICE TWO:

Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung worked closely with Freud for several years. But he developed very different ideas about dreams. Jung believed dreams could help people grow and understand themselves. He believed dreams provide solutions to problems we face when we are awake. He also believed dreams tell us something about ourselves and our relations with other people. He did not believe dreams hide our feelings about sex or aggression.

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VOICE ONE:

Today we know more about the science of dreaming because researchers can take pictures of people’s brains while they are sleeping.

In nineteen fifty-three, scientists discovered a special kind of sleep called REM, or rapid eye movement. Our eyes move back and forth very quickly while they are closed. Our bodies go through several periods of sleep each night. REM sleep is the fourth period. We enter REM sleep four to seven times each night. During REM sleep, our bodies do not move at all. This is the time when we dream. If people are awakened during their REM sleep, they will remember their dreams almost ninety percent of the time. This is true even for people who say they do not dream.

VOICE TWO:

One kind of dreaming is called lucid dreaming. People know during a dream that they are dreaming. An organization in Canada called the Dreams Foundation believes you can train yourself to have lucid dreams by paying very close attention to your dreams and writing them down. The Dreams Foundation believes this is one way to become more imaginative and creative. The foundation organizes groups of people who travel to wild, natural areas around the world. Here they can be quiet, ride small boats on a calm river or lake and learn how to have lucid dreams. These people believe their dreams can help them understand or even find solutions to personal or community problems.

VOICE ONE:

Scientists have done much serious research into dreams and how to use them in treating mental or emotional problems. The Association for the Study of Dreams holds an international meeting every year. Scientists at one meeting talked about ways to help victims of crime who have very bad dreams called nightmares. Scientists have also studied dreams and creativity, dreams of people who are sick and dreams of children.

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VOICE TWO:

Scientists who study dreaming often attach wires to the head of a person who is sleeping. The wires record electrical activity in the brain. These studies show that the part of the brain in which we feel emotion is very active when we dream.

The front part of the brain is much less active; this is the center of our higher level thinking processes like organization and memory. Some scientists believe this is why our dreams often seem strange and out of order.

Researcher Rosalind Cartwright says dreams are like memories all placed on top of each other. They are connected by feelings rather than orderly thinking. Miz Cartwright works at the Sleep Disorder Service and Research Center at Rush Presbyterian Saint Luke’s Medical Center in Chicago, Illinois. She is studying the different ways people dream if they are feeling very sad or worried, especially if their marriage is ending. She and many other researchers have found that dreams have more anger, fear and worry than joy or happiness.

VOICE ONE:

Other researchers are studying how dreaming helps our bodies work with problems and very sad emotions. Robert Stickgold is a professor of psychiatry at Harvard University in Massachusetts. Doctor Stickgold says that when we dream, the brain is trying to make sense of the world. It does so by putting our memories together in different ways to make new connections and relationships. Doctor Stickgold believes that dreaming is a biological process. He does not agree with Sigmund Freud that dreaming is the way we express our hidden feelings and desires.

In Finland, Antti Revonsuo is another scientist who studies the brain. He believes people dream about threatening events or situations so they can practice how they might deal with such events or avoid them. Doctor Revonsuo says threatening events appear often in dreams of adults and children all around the world.

VOICE TWO:

All of these scientists believe it is important to keep researching dreams. Doctor Stickgold says it has been more than one hundred years since Sigmund Freud published his important book about dreaming. Yet scientists still do not agree on exactly how the brain works when we are dreaming or why we dream.

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VOICE ONE:

This program was written by Karen Leggett and produced by Mario Ritter. I’m Barbara Klein.

VOICE TWO:

And I’m Steve Ember. You can read and listen to this program on our Web site, voaspecialenglish.com. Join us again next week for Explorations in VOA Special English.

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