Dreams never come true, do they

What our dreams really reveal

In this gallery: 3 pictures

Vienna - Can you remember the dreams of tonight? If you have dreamed in colors, then most likely you are under 55 years old. As the US researcher Eric Schwitzgebel found out around ten years ago, this does not automatically come about with old age: Only people of the post-war generation who grew up with black and white films in the cinema and on television are much more likely to enjoy their nocturnal cerebral cinema true in shades of gray.

Thanks to more recent dream research, we also know more about the topics that dominate our dream events: 80 percent of all adults worldwide can remember dreamed chases, free fall, sex or a futile effort (such as the unsuccessful Matura preparation) - all subjects, that are associated with strong feelings such as fear, lust, shame and anger. Particularly frequent dream motifs in our part of the world are missed meetings or missed means of transport.

These are just two of the countless findings that Stefan Klein has compiled for his latest book, in which he takes the reader on "a journey into our inner reality", so the subtitle. However, 50-year-old Klein would not be the most successful German science writer in recent years if he did not have even more spectacular research to offer when it comes to dream subjects. For example, Japanese researchers working with Yukiyasu Kamitani recently succeeded in telling with a fair degree of certainty which topics appeared in their dreams based on the brain activity patterns of their sleeping test subjects alone.

Such nocturnal spying is still quite time-consuming: the researchers first had to "practice" with the study participants by laying them down in an MRI scanner, sleeping there and then sharing their dreams. The researchers then compared the dream memory with the brain scans. After a few rounds, however, the researchers were able to read astonishing details from the scans alone.

A new era in dream research

For Klein, who holds a doctorate in biophysicism, it is obvious that, thanks to advances in neuroscience, a new era of dream research has dawned, and Sigmund Freud would also have liked its experiments, as Klein suspects in an interview with Standard: "Freud was a brilliant neurobiologist. Unfortunately he gave up this research in favor of his practice and the interpretation of dreams. "

Klein considers Freud's first major work from 1899 to be "mercilessly premature": Many of the theories set out in it are not tenable from today's point of view, although the creator of psychoanalysis was a brilliant observer: "Freud correctly recognized that dreams are primarily visual The phenomena are that emotions play a crucial role and that they have to do with the processing of memories. "

Freud could not really understand what the unconscious was really doing. "He compensated for this with a few theories that are rather untenable," claims Klein and cites Freud's core thesis as an example that dreams always have to do with wish fulfillment: "That is a very naive idea." For little ones, dreams are much more like "games with possibilities. And in some of these possible worlds wishes are fulfilled. But that doesn't mean that every dream is a wish-fulfillment."

Freud had as the only access to the unconscious only the memory of the dreaming, which is naturally unreliable. That only changed a little when the REM phases were discovered in 1953 - those parts of sleep in which there is rapid eye movements and in which, it was initially assumed, dreams occur with intricate scenes and strong emotions. In phases of so-called spindle sleep, on the other hand, dreams would only be made in fragments of thoughts and in phases of deep sleep hardly at all.

The latest experiments by the Italian-American neurobiologist Giulio Tononi, which Klein considers "absolutely fascinating", point in a different direction: why dreams turn out so differently depends primarily on how long one has been asleep. In the morning the dreams become particularly intense because the brain is already regenerated and consciousness is already dawning. Klein concludes from this that dreams are not only a "royal road to the unconscious", but also indirectly help to understand how consciousness arises - namely as a spontaneous self-performance of our brain.

It can become dangerous if the conscious and the unconscious mix in an unusual way at night, as Klein clearly demonstrates. One such case was Kenneth Parks, who drove a few kilometers in a car in Toronto one night in May 1987, killed his mother-in-law and then went to a police station, completely confused and seriously injured. Psychiatrists examined the man, carried out tests on him in the sleep laboratory and discovered that Parks' minds split in extreme form during the night and that he actually spent the night of the murder in deep sleep. Parks was acquitted.

In his comprehensively researched and entertainingly told but never trivial book, Klein devotes himself not only to abstract questions about consciousness and nightmares that have come true. As in his earlier bestsellers about happiness, time or giving, which have been translated into more than 20 languages, Klein has some advice ready on how the new findings of dream research can also be put to practical use.

One possible area of ​​hope are the so-called lucid dreams, as Klein describes, that is, dreams in which we consciously control dream events. Up until now, this was only possible for a relatively small number of people. But as the German researcher Ursula Voss reported in "Nature Neuroscience" in May of this year, lucid dreams can be triggered by an electrical stimulation of the brain at a frequency of 40 Hertz. Such lucid dreams can be used by athletes, for example, to train certain movement sequences, explains Klein, who believes it is absolutely conceivable that in the future, downhill skiers will be able to perfectly train mastering the Streif in this way, as it were in dreams.

The creative potential of dreams

Klein himself has sharpened his own dream memory by working on his book, as he explains in an interview: "A year and a half ago I would have said that it is impossible to hear a whole piece of music in a dream or to feel pain I had this experience. " Certain recurring motifs would have taught him a lot about his own quirks and vulnerabilities.

The intensive preoccupation with dreams also sharpens the sensitivity for how creative processes actually work. One can also learn from writers like Franz Kafka, who has exhausted the creative potential of dreams to the full and also geared his day and sleep division entirely to the creation of "half-sleep fantasies", as Klein describes. Another prime example was the French poet Saint-Pol-Roux. When he lay down to sleep in the afternoon, he hung a sign on the door with the note: "Le poète travaille" - "The poet is working". (Klaus Taschwer, DER STANDARD, September 27, 2014)