Science Solitaire

[Science Solitaire] An app for your dreams?

Maria Isabel Garcia
[Science Solitaire] An app for your dreams?
'When I was in my tweens, I read something that stuck like crazy glue in my head – that dreams are a way for us to be 'safely insane.' Science is bearing this out to be true.'

How would you feel about having someone fix your life by entering your dreams? 

We all dream, although we do not remember our dreams most of the time. Science has had a long history of trying to understand how dreams reflect our own emotional well-being. This is because it is known in studies that dreams do reflect, albeit in juxtaposed ways, our actual waking lives. 

For those of you who, like me during pandemic times, have discovered the infinite, fascinating story-telling power of Korean films and dramedies, you may have seen Mystic Pop-up Bar. It involves a woman who killed herself 500 years ago but could not permanently retire from the living realm. She could only do so after she has helped 100,000 people settle their grudges, and she did this by making them drink a potion to make them doze off, which signals her to enter their dreams and do her mending.

Why does this very strange plot appeal to us? 

Apart from the many compelling traits of Korean storytelling, there is something about dreams that is uniquely intimate. Did you know that 80% of our dreams are negative? That is apparently the norm according to scientific studies. It is when you breach that threshold – when you have constant nightmares – that may signal that there is something in your waking life that needs to be healed. The woman in Mystic Pop-Up Bar has taken that role of a “nocturnal therapist,” which is in fact the very term scientists use to describe what our dreams do – they “fix” or at the very least give clues as to what could be ailing our inner lives.

Scientists have methods to try to make use of what you dream about for you to understand your own hopes and fears, especially traumas. One of the “vaults” for dreams recorded directly from thousands of people was put up by researchers in the University of California in Sta Cruz, called Dreambank.net. A recent study published last month in Royal Society Open Science used the recorded dreams in this vault to test whether an algorithm that they developed can be useful in seeing patterns in dreams, which manual work by psychologists methodically used to do. These patterns are the ones that scientists look at, and based on the literature in their field as well as a professional dream analysis scale, they help you understand what they could mean in your waking life. 

And indeed, the study found that their algorithm could be very useful in recognizing the patterns that psychologists or psychiatrists would have to manually do. Coming from the working idea that dreams are part of the flow of our own lives, albeit in the “shadow” of sleep, the study was able to support what is known in the field, namely:

  • Women, in their dreams, tended to be friendlier and less aggressive than men; 
  • Adolescents experience negative emotions in their dreams, followed by sexual interactions in later years; 
  • War veteran dreams had uncommon levels of aggression; and 
  • Dreams of individuals in the US experienced high levels of aggression in the 1960s, in line with official crime statistics.

What the study means is that yes, you guessed it, an app can help you see patterns in your dreams, because it can code what can be an outrageous number of elements present in your dreams. What the app CANNOT do is tell you what the patterns may mean in your waking life. You need to study that field of science for that – psychology or psychiatry – or consult those who have done so. This study is promising because it means that the very tedious process of coding dreams for what dream scientists think are the most important elements of dreams – characters and their interactions – may be aided by technology. 

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Many experts worry that this pandemic will cause an entire generation to have a stream of nightmares that will haunt them. They suggest that you try to control what you are going to dream about by focusing on it before you sleep, so maybe focus on positive things. I can tell you that this works for me. I usually think or read about something I would really like to understand better right before I sleep. And more often than not, I dream about ways of looking at that “topic” in many ways, which in the morning helps me to see things a lot more clearly. 

When I was in my tweens, I read something that stuck like crazy glue in my head – that dreams are a way for us to be “safely insane.” Science is bearing this out to be true. Another free gift to be grateful to nature for, most especially in these viral times. – Rappler.com

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