How much do our dreams influence the way we think?

by Suw on May 28, 2005

I woke up with a jolt this morning. I was having a dream involving a person I actually know talking to me about a situation that actually exists, except that this person was telling me something that could not possibly be true in the waking world. It woke me, because as revelations go, it was pretty damn big and would have had huge implications.
It also left me wondering how much that dream might colour my perceptions of the situation in real life. This is not to say that I am delusional and about to start thinking that dreams are real, or harbingers, or predictive, just that much of the way we react to things is subconscious, and this just seemed to be to me another way in which my subconscious can successfully fuck me about.
I'm not really talking here about what dreams are, why we have them, or what they mean – symbolically or otherwise – but do they have a knock on effect on the way we behave and think once we have awoken? Is the dream simply a manifestation of existing wishful thinking and therefore powerless to affect us in any new way, or can a dream implant such notions? Even if such notions already exist, does bringing them to the fore by playing them out in our dreams make them more entrenched, give them more influence?
Certainly dreams can fuck with my mood.
Years back Sam, my old school friend with whom I am staying right now, and I shared a series of houses and flats in Hounslow. I had a dream once that we had gone out on a speedboat on the sea and she had fallen overboard and drowned. This tragedy was particularly harsh because (in real life) her younger brother Peter had died in a car accident only a few months before. I woke sobbing and stayed tearful and upset the whole day.
Obviously the dream didn't leave me thinking that Sam actually had drowned, or that she was about to drown, or that drowning was even a remote possibility, but it did change my mood quite dramatically, sinking me into a miasma I couldn't shake off.
However, I've also had some fantastic dreams that have woken from feeling all happy and energised. So it cuts both ways.
Then there is the issue of what insights dreams may provide into cognitive problems. This morning I also dreamt of a wonderful model for explaining the cultural change lifecycle in business – complete with a diagram with four quadrants, (for some reason there were pictures of humans, monkeys, chimps and apes in the background of each quadrant), and four conditions that had to be satisfied to progress to the next quadrant. I wish I could remember what those conditions were, because in the dream it all made perfect sense. Unfortunately, I have a very visual memory, but am crap at remembering facts, words, numbers or names.
(Which probably explains why I spent much of yesterday morning staring at Jamie Cowling trying to figure out where the hell I'd met him before, because I swear I have. My visual brain was screaming that we've met before, but my memory refused to tell me where or, indeed, if.)
So anyway, yes. I suppose in one way this is all a rather stupid post. Of course our subconscious affects conscious behaviour. It's just that usually, it doesn't rub our noses in it quite so much.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Anonymous May 28, 2005 at 8:13 pm

I've had some spooky dreams in the past. Some years ago, a very close friend died from Hodgkinson's disease. It was a very painful and protracted death, complicated by doses of chemotherapy which withered him into a little wizened old man. It was horrible, unjust, unfair, cruel and I became very angry and bitter about it, until, one night, I dreamt that I met him.
“I thought you were dead”, I said.
“Naahh.” he said.
That was it. I awoke with all the anger and bitterness gone.
Of course, it came back a few years later, but that's a different story.

Anonymous May 29, 2005 at 7:17 am

I woke myself up once having a conversation in my sleep with my partner at the time, also a network engineer about Cisco's and TCP/IP. He was also asleep. Not sure how coherent it was, but when things get too stuck in your brain, I find that it reflects over into sleep…sometimes finding a resolution your concious mind can't find.

Anonymous June 3, 2005 at 5:39 am

Dreams can be strange.
As a kid I had a dream of a space shuttle exploding on take off a week or so before the Challenger disaster.
But I had just read Arthur C. Clarkes 2010 which describes just such an incident.
But I found it spooky at the time.
And a few years ago I was completely stumped on a bug at work.
I had spent about a week or so on it and was getting nowhere fast.
I had a dream about a solution. It was so obvious in the dream that this MUST be the solution that I woke early and went to work early to test it out.
Of course it wasn't the actual solution.
But the line of reasoning did at least open up new avenues that lead to the correct solution.

Anonymous June 3, 2005 at 8:47 pm

Dreams can be strange.
As a kid I had a dream of a space shuttle exploding on take off a week or so before the Challenger disaster.
But I had just read Arthur C. Clarkes 2010 which describes just such an incident.
But I found it spooky at the time.
And a few years ago I was completely stumped on a bug at work.
I had spent about a week or so on it and was getting nowhere fast.
I had a dream about a solution. It was so obvious in the dream that this MUST be the solution that I woke early and went to work early to test it out.
Of course it wasn't the actual solution.
But the line of reasoning did at least open up new avenues that lead to the correct solution.

patientzero February 6, 2008 at 3:17 am

Interesting question! Just last night I had a dream about coming to fisticuffs with a coworker. It began to dawn on me today how she has been trying to sabotage me. (My boss, whom I am becoming close with, is her best friend). Never noticed before! So – I’m guessing even (or especially?) if I hadn’t remembered the dream, I’d still be afflicted by the attitude.

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