I dream a lot. Not a night goes by when I do not have quite vivid and complicated dreams so I am naturally interested in the phenomenon. Many of the details in my dreams can be clearly related to events that occurred within the previous day or two but some dreams are recurring. One is a dream in which I want to go to the bathroom and find it extraordinarily hard to find one or the ones that I find are so disgusting that I don’t want to use them. The other is where I have driven somewhere, parked the car and gone inside, and when I return the car is gone and I spend some time trying to search for it, without success. These two recurring dreams are apparently quite common for a lot of people.
There are various theories of dreams. Some people think that they can be portents of the future or telepathic communication, something that I feel can be dismissed out of hand since it implies supernatural forces. All those times when we dream of someone and that person contacts us a few days later or we dream of someone whose death is then reported, can be dismissed as the product of coincidences that occur all the time. The more plausible options are the Freudian idea that dreams are the way that our deep and unconscious desires make themselves known (or that they are fulfillments of our fantasies) or that they are merely stories strung together from the random events of our lives that the brain is always producing and sorting through.
I tend to favor the last explanation. This kind of storytelling apparently goes on even when we are awake but does not reach our consciousness because the sensory inputs that are activated when we are awake (especially sight and sound) and the working of our conscious brain overwhelm them. (This article discusses some recent dream research.)
Another interesting question is why we don’t know we are dreaming in our dreams. Apparently some people do realize this (this is called ‘lucid dreaming’). I don’t think I have ever experienced such dreams. Or maybe I did and have forgotten
That raises another issue and that is why it is that the dreams seem to slip away so easily and quickly once we wake and are hard to recall later. As I said, I have vivid dreams that I recall quite clearly as soon as I wake up, but within minutes I have forgotten most or all of the details. Perhaps it is because unlike ‘real’ memories from our lives which involve sensory inputs, dreams are purely creations of our brain and thus leave a weaker mental footprint, so to speak, that can get easily covered over by new experiences.
Nonetheless dreams are interesting and fun. Unless they are nightmares, of course, which fortunately I never have.