This new theory of dreaming postulates that dreams are really a three-dimensional virtual reality game set up by the body to help surviving potential dangers we face everyday. It is presented in a paper entitled “Waking and Dreaming Consciousness: Neurobiological and Functional Considerations” by J Allan Hobson and Karl Friston, both highly respected neuroscientists. Their theory is that dreams are really reality simulation giving the dreamer the best chance of survival when awake. Their view of the brain includes the capacity to generate virtual reality simulations during sleep. This is nothing new in the cognitive neurosciences but to postulate that dreams are actually a three-dimensional attempt at resolving dangers and emotional concerns is an interesting postulation.
During the day the brain collects memories and further refines their three-dimensional quality in preparation for sleep. It automatically chooses situations real and psychological that may interfere with survival. At night these scenarios are replayed in an organic virtual-reality generator which allows that person to test out new ways to resolve the situation without actually being there. Just as pilots learn to fly in a three-dimensional flight simulator we use our dreams to gain better control over difficult psychological and physical situations that we deal with during the day. The beauty of the simulation is that you don’t die making a mistake either in the flight simulator or the virtual-reality generator in your mind.
In this theory daydreams could also serve the same purpose when needed during the day. Using a computer model as an example daydreams and dreams are basically taking our brains off-line and giving them an opportunity to work out difficulties without reality interfering. If we fail at resolving issues there is also the chance of replaying them through repeated dreams.
So if we view the brain is a virtual-reality generator does this help us understand the content of our dreams? The authors caution, “finding order in the real world may not be the same as finding order in the virtual world.” Although this theory is extremely interesting and shed some light on why we dream it does not explain the multiple meetings certain dream images can have and the stark difference between everyday reality and dream reality.
This new theory of dreams postulates that they offer an opportunity to rehearse what is already learned about the world as well as explore new possibilities. One assumption is that dreams are mostly composed of issues that we have been facing recently or what Freud would call the residue of the day before. It does not explain nightmares or dream scenarios that are totally fabricated other than saying that they are meaningful in a more abstract way to our current situation.
J. A. Hobson and K. J. Friston; waking and dreaming consciousness: neurobehavioral and functional considerations. Prog Nerobiol. 2012 July; 98 (one): 82 – 98.doi: 10. 1016/j.neurobio. 2012.05.003;PMCID:PMC 338-9346)