What have you been dreaming about lately?
Possibly, have you had some other nightmare. And it is likely that insects, masks or natural disasters appear in it.
They are the deductions of the Harvard psychologist Deirdre Barrett, who collected more than 6,000 dreams during the coronavirus pandemic and concluded that those items have starred in the dreams of many people during this strange time.
Like her, other scientists are dedicated to studying dreams, an abstract and still developing science that can help us interpret not only our most hidden traumas, but also the things that define us as societies.
In fact, there are several databases that compile dreams for that purpose and various specialists, dream scientists (yes, they are called), who analyze them.
The Doctor of Psychology and Dream Investigator Kelly Bulkeley, director of Sleep and Dream Database and author of several books on the subject, he is one of them. On its website it has a specific section for “pandemic dreams” and a “collection” of more than 30,000 dreams.
“Dreams are a language that can be analyzed and there is technology (still limited) to help us understand what they say about us. The challenge of our work is to collect high-quality information about dreams, ”he tells BBC Mundo.
The largest public database developed so far is DreamBank, which has about 40,000 dreams of people between 7 and 74 years of age from different parts of the world (mostly from the United States).
Those dreams were compiled by the dream scientists Adam Schneider and G. William Domhoff over the course of several decades.
It should be borne in mind that they themselves consider that their database is “only a small part of their work” and that it has been “enormously overrated” by certain disseminators for their own interests.
However, that did not prevent the work of computer scientist Luca Aiello, who has created an algorithm to analyze those tens of thousands of dreams, from having an impact.
Aiello led a project for Nokia Bell Labs, a scientific research and development company of Finnish tech Nokia, which created different patterns and sets of dreams from DreamBank data.
After several years of study, he and his team recently published their results in the scientific journal Royal Society Open Science.
What conclusions did they reach?
The computer scientists developed 10 specific categories to analyze dreams, of which Aiello highlights three elements: characters, interactions and emotions.
They also made divisions according to the type of dreamer: “For example, we put in a special group the dreams of a war veteran with post-traumatic stress syndrome,” he explains to BBC Mundo.
The man served as a medic in the US Army in Vietnam and Cambodia from November 1969 to November 1970. His dreams (and nightmares) reflect the psychological problems and trauma that accompanied him over the years.
“My first nightmares of war They arrived in the last days of the Cambodian invasion. For the next 25 years after I returned home, I had frequent war or war-related dreams. And I couldn’t sleep without a loaded automatic pistol or a meat cleaver under my pillow, ”said the military man.
This is the chart that shows your dreams. In red, the nightmares:
“We also made a category for blind people and another for children, and we analyzed the differences between men’s and women’s dreams“Says Aiello.
“In general, men have more dreams related to conflicts and aggressions than women, who instead tend to have more friendly and sentimental dreams.”
Aiello assumes that these results might seem stereotypedBut he claims that several scholars came up with similar findings.
The science of dreams
Aiello’s work is based on a theory called “Principle of continuity of dreams”. The hypothesis is that the content of our dreams is related to our emotions and thoughts, and to the perceptions we have during wakefulness.
“Our mind, in a way, continues those experiences through dreams,” Aiello explains.
He ensures that his system takes into account “some minimal metadata of the ‘dreamers'”, such as a “brief description of their personal history” and “sociodemographic information, such as their gender, age and some background of their experiences.”
However, some dream scientists believe more information is required.
For example, Kelly Bulkeley believes that more “transparency” about the source of each dream in the database and that not having it limits the results.
The psychologist says that it is essential to do a prior interview with each person and learn more about their life experiences, in addition to assessing cultural differences.
“It is true. Cultural differences are relevant and, unfortunately, DreamBank data is limited, ”admits Aiello.
“Most of the dreamers in the study are from the United States – although there are some from Peru and Europe – but more studies will be needed to present generalized data by country or by culture.”
What does a country dream of?
Bulkeley’s dream is to create more specific databases that allow us to know, for example, what a country dreams of.
When he talks about it he gets emotional: “This is a wonderful time to be a dream researcher because these tools can be very interesting for therapists and also for sociologists.”
“The potential of this technology is enormous and it can be useful to explain what differentiates us as societies, but also what unites us because dreaming is something universal ”, the psychologist concludes.
Aiello highlights its use in mental health.
“Analyze dreams it is important for our well-being because we can use dream bases to better understand mental health problems in real life, but also to apply interventions, which some psychologists already do (through lucid dreams) ”, says the specialist.
“Dreams are a valve of our life experiences. Sharing something as private as dreams can be very useful to understand the things that concern us as individuals and as societies“.
“If we could effectively collect the dreams of a country we would have a useful and inexpensive tool to monitor mental health of its population at any given time – during pandemics, economic crises and climate crises, for example – and understand the causes of our suffering and stress ”.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.