This paper reflects the research and thoughts of a student at the time the paper was written for a course at Bryn Mawr College. Like other materials on Serendip, it is not intended to be "authoritative" but rather to help others further develop their own explorations. Web links were active as of the time the paper was posted but are not updated.

Contribute Thoughts | Search Serendip for Other Papers | Serendip Home Page

Biology 202
2004 First Web Paper
On Serendip

Dreaming Through the i-box and the id-box

Amar Patel

Dreaming has always been an enigma plaguing the studies of psychology and biology. Through each of these fields we get a different interpretation of the reason for dreams and their effects on our own consciousness. From the start, one needs to define consciousness in terms that can be identified through both of the fields in which we will analyze dreams. When one looks at the nervous system, and its general function as an input/output mechanism one can interpret it as a "box" theory, which was developed by Paul Grobstein Ph.D.(1) The theory explicates the nervous system and its relation to consciousness. In this theory, the entire nervous system is a box in which a stimulus (input) will travel through a complex pathway and appear as some output. There are many other intricacies, such as inputs which produce no output, or outputs which produce no inputs, that are explained through self initiating boxes within the nervous box. Additionally, there is an I-box which functions as the section of the nervous system that correlates to consciousness. This consciousness is where an individual holds his/her sense of "self."(1) Beginning with the psychological (Freudian) viewpoint and then continuing into the biological (physiological / developmental) interpretations of the dream state we will come to understand their individual effects on the I-box theory.

When examining the thoughts about dreaming from a psychological standpoint, one must look at the works of Sigmund Freud, a pioneer in the interpretation of dreams. During his time, little was known about the science behind the study of dreaming. This meant that there was more clinical speculation and less proven lab work behind the theories developed by him. Freud was only able to examine dreaming through patients who tried to recollect dreams after waking up, which proved to be very inconsistent, and a rare occurrence. When he did get summations of dreams, Freud was able to develop the notion that dreaming was the "royal road" to the unconscious. (2) Freud saw the rare occurrence of dreams as forms of recalling the earliest events in one's life, with the undertone of one's desire and passions being fulfilled. This theory was called his "wish fulfillment theory". (3)

When this theory is applied to the notion of the I-box we see some complications. Where is the unconscious in relation to the conscious box? One may say that the unconscious exists as a separate entity, another box which has its own inputs and outputs. Although this may be a temporary solution to Freud's interpretations, one understands that in dreams all the inputs (senses) and emotions are in tact. Additionally, in the case of lucid dreams, the conscious extends far enough to gain control of the unconscious and fulfill its desire or will. These notions force a strong link between an I-box and another "unconscious" box. The most sufficient way to explain this theory, through the psychological standpoint of the ego (consciousness) versus the id (unconsciousness), would be to place the I-box inside this "Id" box. Since the psychological beliefs of conscious state that the Id is the predecessor to the ego, the ego being merely an evolution of control imposed by society on the id, the I-box can be seen as this ego. Since the Id is the precursor to the ego, one must also note that it holds greater importance in the sense of "self". This hierarchy places the Id in a more prominent space, around the evolved ego or I-box. Although this is quite a controversial step, it accounts for any of the psychotic-like episodes people experience in their dreams. Phenomena such as out-of-body experiences mean that people are thinking within the Id-box, but not the within the context of the I-box. The idea of the Id-box containing the I-box supports Freud's and other psychologists' claim of the Id being present from birth, and the ego being a product of the environment, meant to tame the Id.

Looking at the I-box function and its relation to dreams in the scope of physiology will better explicate the notion of an I-box within the Id-box. First of all, one must examine the recent scientific knowledge of dreaming. The state of sleeping that is most associated with dreaming is REM (rapid eye movement). Scientists discovered that this state of sleeping can be measured through the use of an EEG which measures the theta waves that the neocortex produces. In the REM stage of sleeping, the theta waves are comparable to those of a waking person.(2). Research has been conducted to help differentiate the states of consciousness in REM versus that of a person in the waking state. The results show that "brain activation during waking is associated with noradrenalin, 5-hydroxytrptamine (5-HT) and acetylcholine-mediated neuromodulation, brain activation during REM is exclusively cholinergic..." (4) Essentially, the types of chemicals that are active during the dreaming state are distinguishable from those present in the waking state. Another important result from the same study shows that the role of the prefrontal cortex in dreaming and waking can explain some distinctions between the states of consciousness. The reduction of activity within the components of the frontal lobe is what contributes to a change from waking to dreaming state. Additionally, when an individual encounters the REM stage of dreaming, select portions of the posterior and medial prefrontal cortex are activated. (4) Aside from the prefrontal cortex, the brainstem and occipital lobe (vision center) have increased activity which also leads to the REM stage of dreaming. (5) What these studies outline is the notion that there are, in fact, different areas of the brain that correspond to dreaming. Additionally, there have been findings that show that the prefrontal cortex does in fact have different activity dependent on the amplitude and frequency of the theta wave, showing different stages of dreaming. These intricacies to the dream state maintain the notion that dreams must encompass some specialized functions in our brain, such as an I-box.

Many scientists have provided proof that dreaming states are nothing more than the brain attempting to unlearn any useless memories it had acquired during the day. (2) Although these studies are very well documented, one notion that has not been addressed how, in fact, this would correspond to the dream states in which there was little difference between the dream and reality. Jonathon Winson Ph.D. therefore looked back at the evolutionary biology behind the anatomical components of REM and learned that as evolution progressed for mammals, so did the process of REM. Dr. Winson established the theory that REM sleep was, in effect, a useful tool in animals because it was a process of relearning the traits that were not coded in genes, but which were still important to functioning in its own environment. (2) These ideas help to establish the notion that perhaps the unconscious is something that incorporates the I-box, something essential to the behavioral patterns of all animals.

After examining the notion of dreaming through the Freudian definitions of the conscious and unconscious states, one can make the clear argument that the I-box is indeed supported within this state of unconsciousness, or "id-box". The idea that dreams are always relative to the sense of an individual self contribute to the notion of an enveloped I-box. When taking this idea further through the biological aspects and noting the differences between the Id and I-boxes, one can see how dependent the Id becomes on the I-box. This leads to a fundamental conclusion that the Id-box does envelope the I-box, but only because the Id-box is the entirety of the nervous system. In stepping back from the struggle of the conscious versus unconscious, one must note that there cannot be any action or input/output that does not lie within these two states. Dreaming is therefore the act of experiencing the Id box with little to no support from the I-box.


1) "Getting It less wrong, the Brain's Way: Science, Pragmatism, and Multiplism." Paul Grobstein Ph.D.

2) The Meaning of Dreams Winson, Jonathon. Scientific American Online. 2002.

3) Interpretation of Freud's work Domhoff, G. W. (2000). Moving Dream Theory Beyond Freud and Jung. Paper presented to the symposium "Beyond Freud and Jung?", Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, CA, 9/23/2000.

4) The prefrontal cortex in sleep. Hobson, J.Allan, Muzur, Amir, etc. TRENDS in Cognitive Sciences Vol.6 No.11 pp.475-481

5) General physiological interpretation of dreaming R. Joseph, Ph.D

| Course Home Page | Course Forum | Brain and Behavior | Serendip Home |

Send us your comments at Serendip

© by Serendip 1994- - Last Modified: Wednesday, 02-May-2018 10:53:06 CDT