Dreams are the most readily accessible expression of our vast subconscious mind. They represent a bridge between conscious, rational, everyday thought and the mysterious ‘underworld’ of the unconscious. Dreams can restore our psychological balance and offer up exciting creative opportunities.
How much of our brain is dedicated to conscious thought?
Incredibly, only a minor proportion (between 5 and 10 percent) of our brain is actually functioning at a conscious level. Mostly, we think unconsciously. We even make decisions about aspects of our lives such as who we spend our time with, where we live, what we say and what we enjoy based on the activity of the unconscious segments of our brain. However, we are not automatons, blindly wandering around opting for food, transport, jobs and entertainment without real thought or the benefit of prior experience. We are aware. We can create mental ‘maps’ of our surroundings, sift though and select important memories and use the conscious parts of our brains, no matter how insignificant, to great effect.
Elements Of A Dream
Concepts explored in our dreamscape are often represented as symbols with emotional significance rather than rational thoughts. This pictorial language is built from these components:
- internal information we already hold including memory, feeling and knowledge;
- sensory input and motion during sleep; and
- spacial awareness and object arrangements – our awareness of space forms the basis of our dreamscape.
While we sleep, our hippocampus replays many of the day’s events and helps us to sort and catalogue new emotional memories. Some are used later to create elements of new dreams. Each event is processed selectively by special centres of the brain called the cortex and limbic system. A part of the brain called the amygdala allows us to generate a ‘plot’ for the ‘story’ that is our evolving dream. Although dreams are based loosely on reality or the reality of how we feel, they are often delivered to our conscious brain when we wake like little books of fiction blended dreamily with fact.
So, How Do Our Dreams Link To Creativity?
The imagery and messages contained in our dreams are linked to the way we feel and the emotional state we’re in at the time. Clearly, this wealth of unusual emotional activity could be a treasure trove of creative information and ideas. But, how do we go from scientific understanding of our dreams to the inspiration side of meaningful creative thought? It’s all about realising that the understanding of the process of dreaming is inspiring in itself and is a privilege; an opportunity – as if our mysterious subconscious mind is giving our rational conscience a rare gift. As neuroscientist David Eagleman once said, “Understanding the details of our own biological processes does not diminish the awe, it enhances it. Like flowers, brains are more beautiful when you can glimpse the vast, intricate, exotic mechanisms behind them.”
Many artists, musicians and writers use their dreams and dreamscapes to develop their work and explore new themes. Writer Jim Crusoe said of his dreams: “A dream, when I think about it the next day, may seem strange, but while I’m dreaming, I always believe it. I’d like my fiction to remind readers not only of their daily lives, but of the lives they could have, and maybe do have, lying in wait.”
Artist Lee Wen, whose recent exhibition at the Singapore Art Museum showcased much of his work from the past two and half decades, often explores the use of dreams, memories, metaphors and myths. The great surrealists, including Salvador Dali, were well known for creating dream interpretation imagery and works of art based on personal or invented dreamscapes and emotionally charged pictorial representations.
What is your favourite piece of dream inspired art or writing? Have you ever created a piece of work based on a dream? If you enjoyed this post, you might also want to check out some stunning surrealism dream paintings (links to a site called ‘ArtPromote’).
And do you agree that dreams can show us what we need to know about the world?