I am no psychologist, psychiatrist or medical doctor of any kind, so feel free to ignore or bash what I am writing below…

The other day, after a night where I dreamt about a solution (to a coding problem, which is not the first time this has happened), I tried to understand what dreams are all about. Up to this point I’ve really not spent time researching about what dreams are or why they happen.

For the longest time I have heard theories that dreams are our brain’s trying to make sense of random stimuli, the brain firing random signals based on previous experiences. While I don’t disagree with this, it doesn’t explain why we dream. Then if you read the Wikipedia for Dream, you can see a number of hypothesis including that dreams regulate mood, or that dreams “completes patterns of emotional expectation”.

I think the reason we dream is much more basic and fundamental.

Why we dream?

I believe in evolution, and that all living species, on Earth and everywhere, from the most basic micro-organism to the most sophisticated and intelligent ones, all have one fundamental primordial driver or goal — to survive.

That is why we procreate — to survive as a specie. But species as a whole cannot survive if its individual participants don’t have the tools to survive.

Fear is about survival. Fear is the basic instinct to react and defend yourself, or run away to survive, even without giving it any thought. It is the most primordial instinct on us and all living things.

I also believe that intelligence is about survival. Intelligence is about quickly adjusting or adapting, based on previous experiences and anticipated outcomes (via memory), to potentially dangerous circumstances — again, with the whole goal of (defeating and) surviving. Thinking faster and more effectively increased the changes of survival; and intelligence overcame brute force.

And so are dreams. As fear and intelligence, so are dreams part of our survival toolkit or set of skills. Dreams are a virtual offensive-defensive mechanism. Dreams are about experimentation or the ability to practice different scenarios and different outcomes, all without the real consequences. Dreams prepare us for real (potentially dangerous) scenarios. That is why dreams are associated with recent experiences; it is your mind, even when resting, practicing and exposing you to different experiences and different and alternate scenarios and outcomes. Dreams, a result of intelligence, are nature’s simulator.

So I say that “survival” is why we fear, why we have intelligence and why we dream. And this leads to the question, is self-awareness, which is tightly coupled to intelligence, part of our “survival toolkit”?

“Cogito ergo sum” — René Descartes


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