There have been many theories and hypotheses over the years concerning dream formation and what these colorful yet confusing mini-movies truly mean. While Freud deemed dreams the products of unconscious conflicts and the pleasure principle, modern psychotherapy has moved away from traditional dream analysis. It would seem that dreams are no longer considered roots or signs of psychopathology. If anything, they are an unexplained mystery.
Throughout my years of undergraduate and graduate psychology courses, I have always felt a strong inclination toward the study of dreams. Even in my counseling sessions, I find dream talk to be stimulating, a pathway toward empathy and alliance. More importantly, I believe that dreams do hold some kind of key to understanding; but unlike Freud, I do not believe this key rests in the unconscious. Nor do I believe dreams are a product of an overactive imagination. In the end, the appearance of vivid dreams owe their existence to an overactive life. And the secrets dreams hold are only the secrets of memory.
I don't remember when or in what class we discussed the theory that dreams are simply a byproduct of memory regulation. As the body and mind rests, the brain literally exerts energy to sort through the memories of the day, rejecting some and saving others in long-term neural storage containers. As the brain performs this routine maintenance, the memories trigger other areas of the brain; sensory areas and emotive areas, areas of sadness and happiness or even fear. As the brain decides what is important and what is not, the rest of the mind, spirit and body relives the moments, maybe even to help the brain in the process of measuring importance. What remains a mystery is how the mind is able to piece these memories together into a story. It's as if the mind knows that memory regulation would be a confusing and disorienting experience for the sleeping individual, so it fills in the gaps with added characters, images and sounds and creates a storyline out of otherwise disconnected scenes. The result is a dream.
We don't remember most of our dreams. Even those who believe they remember every dream only remember a small percentage. We dream constantly and consistently; if anything, this steady influx of images proves that dreams must fulfill some kind of role other than fantasy. But I believe those of us with the most complex dreams, the most touching dreams, are those of us who have lived the day to the fullest. If dreams are formed from memory, than without memory, not much of a dream can be formed. It's not really a question of an overactive imagination; it's a question of an overactive day. In my opinion, there is no better measure of an existentially pleasing life than vivid dreams.