Dream Themes

The following are the twenty most frequent dream themes recalled by 1181 Canadian and 1186 Hong Kong college freshmen (most frequent first):

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Note that these vary greatly in realism. Some are common events, and some are rare events that were were important for our ancestors. Some are about events that never actually happen: flying, being a child again, person now dead as alive, being in a story. Many of these are tied to rare extremes, especially negative extremes. The themes of arriving too late and failing exams are strikingly modern, and suggest that we industrial folks are often quite traumatized by our era’s event timing and school exam requirements.

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  • Gunnar Zarncke

    > Some are about events that never actually happen: flying, being a child again, person now dead as alive, being in a story.

    While not literally true some of these were (kind of) true at a time.

    * You were once a kid.
    * Dead persons once were alive.
    * From the perspective of a very small child you were once able to fly (or make amazingly large jumps) – namely via your caretaker,whom at that age you may not have perceived as different persons (infants cannot distinguish between their own actions and that of their caretakers). This is an observation I have made a few times and suggest as a hypothesis for the origin of this dream motiv.

    I concede that stories as not real. But on the other hand what is superficially (for a dreaming mind) the difference between an invented story and a passed on real account?

  • dat_bro06

    My most common is being in a state of realization that I have procrastinated too long (ie months) in order to be prepared to submit a lengthy paper or take an exam — not failing the exam per se — wonder if it is a common variation among academics (of which I am not one).

    • http://juridicalcoherence.blogspot.com/ Stephen Diamond

      being in a state of realization that I have procrastinated too long (ie months) in order to be prepared to submit a lengthy paper or take an exam

      I’ve experienced this state repeatedly, both in dreams and life.

  • Faze

    Better men than we readers of Overcoming Bias have beat their heads against the problem of dreams, trying to discern some meaning, order, system, or revelation from their ingenious plots, banal repetition, and intimate surprises. But the effort itself becomes an exercise in dreamlike frustration as the nature (if not natural history) of dreams continues to elude us, and we end up right where we started. I’m coming around to the belief, recently expressed somewhere online, that dreams are the brain’s screensaver.

  • Joe

    I can attest to feeling mildly traumatised by the industrial era’s heavy use of scheduling, and by alarm clocks in particular.

  • sisterray

    Actually, I think the dreams are training us. Note that cats dream about cat stuff like catching mice and cat fights. Makes sense that we dream about … taking tests. See here for more: https://www.amazon.com/Storytelling-Animal-Stories-Make-Human/dp/0544002342