Wishful Dreaming

The NYT just reported on the JPSP article on dreams I reported on in January.  I wrote:

I'll bet we process dream experiences much like we process fictional experiences.  Our tendency to treat fictional and dream experience as real evidence helps us to credibly believe things that it is in our interest for others to think we believe.  

The NYT notes dreams interpretation is self-serving:

Even the nonbelievers showed a weakness for certain heavenly dreams, like one in which God commanded them to take a year off to travel the world. Agnostics rated that dream as significantly more meaningful than the dream of God commanding them to spend a year working in a leper colony. …

Dreamers’ self-serving bias … Once you see how flexible dream interpretation can be, you can appreciate why it has always been such a popular tool for decision-making. Relying on your dreams for guidance is like the political ritual of appointing an “independent blue-ribbon panel” to resolve an issue. You can duck any personal responsibility for action while pretending to rely on an impartial process, even though you’ve stacked the panel with your own friends and will ignore any advice that conflicts with your desires. Charity work, no; margaritas, sí. …

And dreams serve many social functions:

"It may also be a good idea not to tell people about their undesirable behavior in your dreams, as they may infer that your dreams reveal your true feelings about them.”  … You should still probably pay attention when, say, your romantic partner tells you about a dream in which you were caught in bed with your partner’s friend.
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  • “You should still probably pay attention when, say, your romantic partner tells you about a dream in which you were caught in bed with your partner’s friend.”

    This could fit in a larger class of nontransparent semiotics. For example, when a romantic partner plays or sings a song with a particular set of lyrics. When they bring up a news story with a particular set of facts.

  • Caliban Darklock

    “You want me to do your friend? Oh, all right.”

    That probably won’t end well, but it will be funny for about two and a half seconds.

  • frelkins

    Wait. So let me try to formulate this: if the murky and ambiguous realm of dreams is biased, and “tells” us what we want to hear, then Jungian therapists, Freudian shrinks, shamans, and psychics are simply the social proof to validate what we already intend to do?

  • frelkins, it’s more that dreams are random blobs of mental noise, but the ones that seem to tell us what we want to hear are “obviously” more meaningful than the ones that don’t. The dreams themselves aren’t biased–they don’t typically make enough sense for that to be the case. It’s not clear that, objectively, dreams ever have any real meaning.

    Sounds mostly like confirmation bias to me, with a side order of finding meaningful patterns where none exist.

  • Dreams are sometime far beyond reality. Or it may be a twist of information stored in you brain. Dreams also comes from the past or at the future. And sometimes, what we wanted to dream is not what we dream when we close our eyes to sleep.

  • frelkins


    it’s more that dreams are random blobs of mental noise

    All 3 of my serious brain scientist friends tell me this isn’t true. The calcium ions are flipping and the hippocampus does its thing – the sound and light in your dreams aren’t random – your brain is probably encoding and re-optimizing your memory-space for long-term laydown. We just don’t know the algorithm it’s using to optimize the wet-ware while it updates.