If you don’t want to think about it too much, you can jump to the end of this text and read the section on Is the Dream a Message?
Let’s try another question first. Is life itself meaningful? People debate this issue endlessly without full agreement. Some are quite sure the answer will always be an opinion rather than a fact. Others feel it is self-apparent that for those who continue to choose living, that life is, for a fact, meaningful. Others don’t find the game of fact-finding the most useful way to answer the question. In other words, everyone has his or her own way of addressing questions about the meaning of life, and of course, the many aspects and parts of life as well, including dreams and dreaming.
Now we could do this democratically and vote :
Are dreams meaningful?
…and tally all the results.
But this democratic consensus isn’t what people are interested in when they ask if dreams are meaningful. So what do we mean when we ask if something has meaning or not? Generally the answer depends on the context of the situation.
In the context of science when we ask if dreams are meaningful, it often means whether or not they function to help us thrive and survive in some way. Different sciences will approach meaning differently as each operates under a different story/context. A psychologist may want to know how the dream works to show a person a better way to live and experience life, while an anthropologist may be more interested in how the dream impacts the way people in a tribe alter or confirm the way they live and interact with one another. A brain scientist may be more interested in how dreaming and sleeping contribute to the restoration of our health or consolidation of our memories and experience.
Artists and writers are more interested in the inspirational aspects of dreaming and how they can carry the images, novelties and creative dreaming process over into their own waking processes and creations.
Spiritual and tribal people are often aware of a different meaning of dreams, the dream as a message. The message may be from an ancestor, a spirit or god, or even from one’s own soul or unconscious.
The same dream may have different meanings to all of these people. Which one is correct, or are they all incorrect in looking for meaning in a dream that has no meaning?
Many people in the Dream Movement, a loose coalition of individuals and groups that study and work with dreams, formed the Association for the Study of Dreams (ASD) in 1984 as a “non-profit, international, multidisciplinary organization dedicated to the pure and applied investigation of dreams and dreaming.”
1. The purpose of the organization was many-fold, “to promote an awareness and appreciation of dreams in both professional and public arenas; to encourage research into the nature, function, and significance of dreaming; to advance the application of the study of dreams; and to provide a forum for the eclectic and interdisciplinary exchange of ideas and information.” 1 The overall consensus was that dreams have many levels and layers of meaning, but that the final decision about just what these meanings would be had to be left up to the individual. That is, the individual was to be the final authority on the meaning and value of his or her own life, and this included one’s dreams.
2. However, just because a bunch of people get together and decide whether or not something is true, doesn’t necessarily make it so on all levels and for those outside of the group. If you doubt this, look at the disagreements between what things mean to different religions and the millions of people who die fighting over these meanings.