Dream Interpretations

I had a dream I’m sure many readers have also had: my teeth crumbled and fell out of my head. In my dream, I was chewing gum and it led to two of my teeth falling out. I googled it in the morning for several reasons. Firstly, my girlfriend told me to; she thought it was interesting. Secondly, I don’t tend to remember my dreams, so having a vivid memory of this one is interesting. Thirdly, I’ve had dreams of my teeth falling out before. Fourthly, I’ve heard other people say they’ve had dreams with the same theme. Lastly, I wanted to come across a site which said ‘dream analysis is bunk’.

Interpreting the dream seemed asinine. It is about a fear of rejection, ageing or not being attractive. But I am not consciously aware of any of those fears (or even concerns). However, with medical and psychiatric expertise on her side, my girlfriend said I don’t have to be consciously aware of a fear for my dream to accurately represent said fear. This lead to a much deeper question: how do you collect this data?

The hypothesis is that certain dreams represent certain fears, thoughts or anxieties. But you don’t have to have any conscious awareness of these fears. How can a dream analyser accurately collect this data? (Dream: teeth fell out. Fears: height.) Given that the subject has to confess both their dream and the fear, the idea of being able to study the fears the subject isn’t aware of seems interesting.

The art of what they don’t say

People with personality disorders will often attempt to explain their psychology. They will often cite abuse in their childhood. Their stories are histrionic (i.e. attention seeking). They may talk about ill-treatment from their brother, sister, mother, uncle… However, there will be a clear void. In this example, they’re not talking about their father. When directly questioned (“How did your father treat you?”) they will dodge the question (“That’s got nothing to do with it”).

This void is important. They either consciously acknowledge this as one of their real weaknesses and consciously refuse to speak of it or, when carefully questioned, it emerges they have repressed memories.

A case study of this is of a woman who found her daughter chopped up and put into bin liners. The murderer was caught and sentenced and many years later the murderer was released. At around the same time, the mother had a type of nervous breakdown and found it physically hard to breath. After a lot of medical intervention, and therapist offer their input and encouraged the mother to talk about the released murderer. For a long time she refused to accept he had anything to do with it, but when carefully questioned the mother vented her anger and fear. The medical symptoms soon alleviated.

Careful questioning

Careful questioning is the method by which one can study dreams. When someone has a dream, a psychologist or therapist or psychiatrist (I’m not sure which profession is best suited to this) can carefully (and without leading the subject) question them about their concerns. As the above (and short) examples of the traumatised mother and people with histrionic personality disorder suggest, careful questioning can get to the bottom of concerns people have without being aware of it.

The most efficient way I can think to do this study is to study a group of people over a long period. Each subject must keep a dream diary. They must be people who frequently remember their dreams (I would be an awful subject). The psychologist can have weekly interviews with each subject, carefully questioning each subject to highlight any fears or anxieties. This data can then be correlated against the dream diary. If many subjects with similar dream themes also note similar fears, that is evidence for the dream meaning something. The reason for weekly interviews is that fears are very ephemeral, and may not exist in a month. It is impossible to retrieve fears the subject no longer has, so anything their dream diary may relate to would otherwise be lost.

The bad news is dream analysis may be a legitimate discipline. I, aged 24 and being as wonderfully handsome as I am, fear ageing and rejection.


Qualitative data

Technically unrelated, but it did comes out of the same discussion, is the nature of people with mania. Mania is often defined by delusions of grandeur. In the UK, it is frequently the case that people with mania have a delusion that they are ancient Egyptian. There is good reason to believe that is culturally specific; there is something about the way that ancient Egypt is presented in British culture which means it often forms a part of delusions of grandeur. Similarly, some people with mania claim to be experts in hieroglyphics. There is nothing about scanning their brain that should reveal this truth, and there is nothing inherent about the disease of the brain that should so specifically related mania with Egypt. But interviewing enough people with mania reveals that is what they believe. Qualitative data is very useful in psychology.

Even more unrelated, but something I found very interesting, is the secondary delusion associated with delusions of grandeur: persecutory delusions. This delusion is almost rational. A person with delusions of grandeur has to account for why they are in hospital being interviewed by a psychiatrist and not King of the World. So they believe people are out to get them. Imagine if everyone told you you only have one leg, and that everyone else does as well. You would be (should be) convinced that all people have two legs, the only reasonable justification is that everyone is lying to you; you are being persecuted.

9 thoughts on “Dream Interpretations”

  1. I suspect that our brains take the time when we sleep to review what to keep, what to discard, where to store stuff, assign ranking importance, and then apply worked out feelings about important stuff back into certain – and now strengthened – neural pathways, which is then applied in our waking life to try to adapt to changing environments. Interactions with the environment, after all, always evoke emotive responses first, don’t forget. There’s a good reason for this.

    Because so much of our cognitive functioning is blended with (what we call) our feelings (and often predicated on them), it is much more efficient for our brains to undergo these review processes in symbolic form within a self-created narrative. The ones that evoke a much higher arousal state temporarily carry over into our waking state (which we discover by our altered physical state), and these are what we call ‘dreams’. But we aren’t aware of how our brains encode information or even the symbols it selects (being used for emotive rather than rational reasons); all we remember are the symbols that seem inordinately important for some unknown reason within a story that makes little sense. We then try to attribute reasons to these symbols stories, and try to work with them in a conscious way that may have absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with why they were encoded this way to begin with.

    I might be full of hot air, but why wouldn’t our brains recycle symbols – again, for efficiency. A particular childhood friend, for example, might symbolically represent a feeling of adventure, of interest, of pursuing something, and so on… making reappearances in our dreams whenever our brains are reviewing anything to do with environmental interactions that have evoked any of these associated feelings. Teeth falling out may symbolically represent change of some kind, of losing something familiar, of development, of function, and so on. Who knows? The symbol means something within the context of the specific dream sequence (and it is the symbol that is then manipulated in this nonsensical story form (not that the story makes any rational sense… that’s not its function) to allow the brain to do its necessary review work) but that doesn’t mean the dreams themselves – or the symbols within them – are meaningful beyond this function.

    The sooner we begin to understand what brain processes physiologically do, only then will we begin to figure our causal efficacy of specific functions. Only then will we be able to begin the transcription process of what means what and for what effect. Until then, we are left guessing as best we can… and reassuringly remind ourselves that, hey, it was only a dream….

  2. the Dreamer’s Dictionary by Barbara Condron ISBN 0-944386-16-4

    If you can see the dreams as symbolic language of your mind processing short term storage to long term memory, or something like that, dreams would necessarily be about the last 24-48 hours of your life and specifically about your conscious mind and how it interprets experience in that time frame so it include internal thoughts as well as reactive thoughts for sensory data.

    So, how to interpret the symbols of the data stream? This book and the classes taught by her school I find useful. The rest might be a bit of woo, but take the good with the bad. I took classes on dream interpretation and meditation techniques for the average Joe. I enjoyed them and use them to this day.

    Anyway, Teeth:

    – are a means of assimilating knowledge so it can be used
    – death and damange often mean change in a dream. Losing teeth is to see a change in how you are assimilating knowledge for it to be used.
    – the gum changed how you are assimilating knowledge for use. What kind of gum? flavor? source? size and so on might give clues to what is changing how you assimilate knowledge

    Your dream does not seem to be about fear. Was this dream accompanied by any other visuals? Finding full meaning might be easier if more of the dream(s) are remembered which came with this one or surrounded it.

    by using only one scene/image/feeling you are seeing only a small part of the data stream as the memories are encoded and stored.

    Dreams: I find this book and dictionary the most helpful and the most accurate method for anyone I’ve used it with, not just my own dreams. I wonder if this was interesting or acccurate for your own understanding of your dream?

    1. Gah, missed this. Gum requires that you chew on the food, it is food that requires a lot of chewing to assimilate it, and that chewing (thinking about the new food) chanes how you acquire knowledge… it’s not straight forward intuitive, but you can see how gum is the kind of knowledge that requires thinking, and can change the way you assimilate further knowledge.

    2. The question I find most interesting is how we confirm the translation of these symbols. Otherwise, it is just speculative woo.

      That is why I talk about interviewing people to bring their subconscious forward. Any correlations found there could help to confirm translations from symbols into actual meaning.

      I don’t recall the flavour of the gum, or if there even was one. I am not a vivid dream.

  3. I have teeth dreams only when I’m stressed. Usually a tooth is loose or comes out and no one will help me fix it. I’m convinced it can be fixed. I feel like a vital part of me has been lost or damaged. I worry that other teeth will follow. The interpretation is quite evident, in my case, just from how I feel in the dream.

  4. There is the implication that, since it’s my own tooth that is damaged, that I didn’t take care of it, so it’s my fault. A loose tooth implies that something bad is about to happen, if I don’t do what I need to. Another impication is that I can’t fix this problem myself – I need other people.

    1. I like interpreting dreams as if they were literary works, where the symbolism is conscious and intentional. But, without studies like the one I describe in this post (or something more inventive) then we have no reason to assume we can interpret dreams like we would literary work.

      That said, I think, for a literary view, your interpretation is very insightful.

  5. I did not know that people in the UK have culture-specific delusions associated with bipolar mania related to ancient Egypt. I’ve never seen that in any patients here in the US. More frequently what we see here in the US is the “I’m Jesus” or “I’ve invented a device that’s going to save the world and make me a billion dollars” kind of grandiose delusion. I’ll have to do some homework on the Egyptian delusion phenomenon in England. Thanks.

    By the way, dream interpretation is something that no psychiatrist I know or work with does anymore. We’ve relegated such matters to the days of Freud and his contemporaries.

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