The Dream Series: Convenient Truths?

“If you are flying low to the ground it means that you have lots of strength and determination in your life and nothing will stop you.”

That’s just one of the many spins I found on my recurring dream of flying in an airplane at low altitude. I’d sure like to take it to heart, but given what you’re about to read – ummm, I don’t think I can.

Yesterday we began a series on dreams. We kicked things off by discussing what dreams are, and their purpose. Today we’ll get into the meaning of dreams. Click here to get yourself to yesterday’s piece.

Dream Trivia

Before we get down to biz, how ’bout some interesting tidbits about dreams…

  • What we’ve experienced over the past 1-7 days supplies the primary material for our dreams.
  • The most common emotion experienced in dreams is anxiety.
  • Negative emotions in dreams are much more common than positive.
  • Dreams with sexual content occur about 10% of the time, and are more prevalent in early to mid-teenagers (go figure).
  • Some 70% of females and 65% of males have recurrent dreams.
  • Very few people claim to dream in black and white.
  • 95% of dreams are not remembered.

The Meaning of Dreams

Well, grit your teeth and brace yourself. You may vehemently disagree with the following.

According to a 2009 study by psychologists Carey Morewedge of Carnegie Mellon University and Michael Norton of Harvard, the vast majority of subjects (college students from India, South Korea, and the United States) believe their dreams reveal meaningful hidden truths.

I’m thinking most reading this article believe likewise.

But given the complex anatomical and physiological goings-on inside that three-pound mass of tissue and water in our skulls, how dare we make such an assumption?

So why would we?

Morewedge and Norton (M & N) offer a few ideas. Dreams often feature familiar people and locations. And that gives them tons of validity, hence making them worthy of explanation.

But the problem is, what went on in our dreams often pops-up from within out of nowhere. And that makes it very difficult to provide rational explanations, as opposed to something that hit while we’re awake.

For example, let’s say you were at lunch on a stormy spring day, and you began thinking about a tornado striking. Oh, last night you watched a PBS special on tornadoes. “Ah,” you say to yourself. “That explains that.”

But rationalizing and explaining the wild world of dreams isn’t as easy. So, desperately wanting an explanation, we come up with some very creative interpretations. And we insert meaning into our dreams based upon those interpretations.

It’s a matter of choice based upon need. And let’s face it, our interpretations aren’t based upon the most reliable information and recall. M & N call it a motivated approach to dream interpretation. In essence, we’re finding what we’re looking for and need.


M & N used the results of an interesting experiment to bang home their point. In 1974, psychologists Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman asked subjects to estimate the percentage of African countries represented in the United Nations.

But before a subject could present a guess, one of the researchers spun a wheel in front of them that randomly stopped at a number between 0 and 100.

That’s right, the subjects tended to choose an answer that wasn’t too far off from the number on the wheel.

This is the phenomenon of anchoring – making a decision based largely upon an unrelated tidbit of information. And it has much to do with the stock we put into our dreams.

M & N ‘s Bottom-Line

Interestingly, M & N’s research also revealed that when we have dreams about good things happening to good friends, we’re more likely to say those dreams are meaningful – as opposed to having dreams of bad things happening to them.

Their work also revealed that we place more meaning in dreams in which our enemies are punished. It follows that we place less meaning in dreams in which our enemies pull off a victory.

The bottom-line? How we interpret our dreams is to a great extent based upon optimistic thinking. An open-minded quest for hidden truths? Not hardly.


I hope I didn’t burst any bubbles. But you know what? You’re going to believe what you want to believe – and that’s fine. But come on back to this piece on occasion for a reality check (ouch).

I’ll be here!

image credit kristinsfineart