I knew the job was dangerous when I took it ...
- Jul 19, 2004
- Out of Bounds
Something I'd been wondering about a day or two ago and which may or may not be pertinent to this thread, is at what point did we really understand what dreams are? When did we first 'get' that dreams are stories in our head while asleep and different from waking life? ...
The answer to this question depends on the answer to another open question: Starting at what age, and then to what extent, do children dream in the same manner as we remember and recognize for the rest of our lives?
Babies spend a lot of time sleeping. The point of relevance here is that not only do they sleep a lot, they spend far more time in the REM sleep phase during which we adults experience dreaming.
This might suggest infancy involves more dreaming than any other stage of life. This is not an accepted fact, because it's not clear that REM sleep in infants involves dreaming at all.
There's an increasing base of evidence and research results indicating the REM phase isn't all about dreaming. Instead, the prevailing hypothesis is that it is during this phase of hyperactive brain activity the brain is performing its housekeeping - sorting through persistent patterns of activation (the functional correlates of memories), reinforcing certain ones, disposing of others, and quite possibly fusing or consolidating multiple similar ones into more generalized forms. Metaphorically, REM sleep is the after-hours clean-up and maintenance operations within the brain itself.
To a lesser degree of demonstrable proof, it's widely accepted that dreaming as we adults know it (i.e., images, sensations, or stories perceived internally and possibly remembered after waking) doesn't seem to occur until the child develops the ability to imagine in the strict sense - i.e., generate imagery or sensations perceivable by the "mind's eye" alone.
Once this capability arises, the earliest reportable dreams tend to be very simplistic - fixed images or scenes, with little or no action, and typically sensed as being at arm's length (something seen remotely "out there" rather than part of an immediate environment within which the dreamer is personally and actively engaged).
Dreaming as we adults know it - involving dynamic actions and storylines perceived from an immersed first-person perspective - doesn't seem to occur until the child develops a stable internal awareness of his / her self as the locus of experience. You can't be the first-person actor in your dreams until you've come to understand what it means to be the first-person actor in your waking life. Phrased another way, it would seem you don't appear and act within your dreams until you've developed a sense or concept of personal identity.
Finally, to close the loop and connect it to this thread ... This attainment of identity / ego orientation and the corresponding arrival of richer dreams within which one is an active participant typically occurs by the time one reaches age 7 or 8 - the same general age at which Jacket Potato's wedding day dreams occurred.