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A Garden of Dead Bodies

I.W.'s picture

It all started during one of my father’s parties for the teachers at his psychiatric institute and their recently graduated students. As usual I was bored out of my mind and had fled to hide in my room listening to music in my ball gown. I had to run downstairs for a few minutes every hour or so or else my mother would realize I was gone, but before I even hit the bottom of the stairs I realized something was very very wrong. All the guests were lying on the ground of the dinning room, completely still.  My sister, Jessa, was sobbing in the corner repeating of and over again “I didn’t mean to do it”,while my mother pulled the bodies out to the lawn.  Seeing me enter, my sister ran over to my side begging my forgiveness saying how sorry she was she had poisoned them, but she hadn’t really meantto.  I told her we just needed to call the police and everything would be okay, but as soon as my mother heard me suggest this she started yelling, “Family sticks together, we will protecther.”  Despite my protestation Jessa and my mother kept loading the bodies into our tiny herb garden.  All I could think was that if they didn’t hurry all the neighbors would see, and of course they did.  Marie, who lives across the street, ran over to our house and asked us what we could possibly doing.  Very matter of factly my mother explained that my sister had accidentally killed these people so we wereburying them in the yard.  As Marie walked back to her house I knew we were through. Marie was married to a senator; of course she would call the police.  Sobbing into the ground drowning into my gown I envisions pending the rest of my life in prison. Engulfed by taffeta I did not notice Marie’s return until I heard her say, “Could you add these to the pile?” Emerging from my pink lake I looked upto see Marie standing next to the garden. She was holding two dead bodies.

            Then I woke up. Laughing.


Every human being spends an average of two hours every night dreaming.  Over the span of a life time that ends up being about six years [1].  We spend six years ofour life in bizarre worlds in which monkeys have fins and we are naked in front of the whole school.  Considering how much time we all spend in these other worlds, one would think that we would have figured out what was really going on during those six years of our lives. Really we have almost no idea, but that is not due to lack of trying.

            Aswith almost everything involved in behavior, what we do know pretty much begins with Freud. In the The Interpretation of Dreams, Freud asserts that dreams are all attempts by the unconscious to fulfill some sort of wish. He claims that by focusing on symbols and objects within a dream one can decipher its meaning.  This is of course to Freud most commonly something sexual.    For example,he says that balloons, pipes, watering-pots, hanging lights, and extensible pens are all symbols for the phallus, while typical female symbols include snails, mussels (in their shells), churches, all types of doors, boxes, ships, and fortresses [2]. While I agree with his belief that dreams are rooted in the unconscious, personally I would like to believe that there is more to our unconscious then just sex.  I would much more readily believe that a church represented ones connection with a divine being then a women.  Freud also had no scientific observations directly of the brain to base his work on.

            The next big scientific breakthrough on dreams was discovered by “the fathers ofsleep research”, Nathaniel Kleitman and Eugene Aserinsky.  While watching the eyelids of theirsleeping subjects, Aserinsky noticed that there were significant differences in the movement of the eyes at different points in the night.  Those types of movement came to be known as Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep. They then attached electrodes to the subject’s eyelids and used an electronephalograph to monitor the brain waves of the subjects.  When their sleeping patients in REM sleep began to cry out during the experiment they woke them up and confirmed that they were in fact dreaming, thus proving that dreaming occurs during REMsleep.

            Scientists have also been able to discover, through the utilization of theelectronephalograph techniques first designed by Kleitman and Aserinsky, the five different stages of sleep and their associated brain waves.  Stage one is when a person is just beginning to fall asleep but is still slightly alert and their brain begins to shift from the alpha waves (8-13 Hz) of a relaxed awake person to the thetawaves (4-7 Hz) of a lightly sleeping individual.  By stage two a person is no longer conscious or their environment, but can be easily awakened. Their brain waves are punctuated by bursts of 12-16 Hz waves known as “sleep spindles” during which the brain is suppressing neural processing so asto keep the individual asleep. Stages three they are characterized by delta brain waves, large slowwaves.  Dreaming is rare during all of these stages, which are all considered to be Non-REM.  During the fifth stage, REM sleep, the brain waves are actually much more similar to the types of brain waves presentin a fully awake individual.  The individual also undergoes REM atonia in which the release of the monoamine neurotranmitters, such as norepinephrine, serotonin, and histamine, are all completely inhibited.   Therefore, the motor neurons are unable to be stimulated preventing the body from acting out the movements that occur in dreams [3].

            REM atonia gave me and answer to one of the most confusing aspects of the stages of sleep.  It has been shown that such sleep disorders as sleepwalking, sleep-talking, and bed wetting all occur during stage 3 of the sleep cycle. This made no sense to me because since most dreaming occurs in the REM stage it would seem that an equal proportion of such sleep disorders should also occur there, but in fact this is rarely the case.  During REM sleep the body is in REM atonia, which prevents such problems as sleepwalking, but there is no such restraint during stage 3.  Another interesting aspect of REM atonia I discovered is sleep paralysis.  Sleep paralysis, when aperson finds himself or herself unable to move for a few minutes after waking up, is the result of the brain not timing the REM atonia to end properly.  Many believe that it is possible that sleep paralysis could actually account for many cases of alleged witch attack sor alien abductions [4].

            Another interesting type of dream are dreams of absent-minded transgression (DAMT).  An example of this is whena person who has recently given up cigarettes dreams about smoking and then wakes up with an overwhelming sense of guilt.  This is clearly being influenced by their recent abstinence, but what is amazing is how these dreams actually affect real life.  A 1991 study showed that people who experienced DAMT actually had a better chance of successfully quitting [5].

            More recent theories about why we dream are often related to memory.  A recent study in which a group of human test subject were prevented from entering REM sleep, by waking them up before they hit it in their sleep cycle, showed that memory was significantly impaired by the 4th day compared to the well-slept control group [6]. A 2001 study provided evidence for the theory that dreams, with their illogical events and characters, strengthen the linking and consolidation of memories due to the decreased flow of information between the hippocampus and neocortex [6].  Another theory compares the sleeping brain to a computer at rest, cleaning out all the useless information. Dreams could also be the result of random thoughts generated in an attempt to discover new ideas to answer plaguing questions.  Ultimately we have no answer.  The story is still being written and revised as we discover new ways to pry into the inner workings of our own brains.

The most commonly held belief is still that of Freud, although slightly modified to contain less sex.  That dreaming is our unconscious working through our questions, hopes, desires, and fears in a safe environment.  Personally this isthe explanation I find most enlightening. Freud once said, “Dreams are the Royal Road to the unconscious”, and that is what I truly believe [7]. Dreams allow us to rise above all our cultural restrictions and insecurities to face problems head on in a world that seems to be completely divorced from reality.  Yet what is so effective about this process that we are actually still in the same world, just a very mixed up version.  I have the tendency to let my dreams plague me. The ones that get to me stay with me forever.  I still remember dreams from when I was nine, because they remind me all at once of how I felt at that age.  All the things that worried me and all the things I wanted from the people around me.  I never come to any conclusions.  I don’t think there are any definitive conclusions to come to, because to me dreams really are about the constant mulling over our lives.  I have no idea why my mother is burying dead bodies in our herb garden or why no one seems to find it at all upsetting, but the point is that I keep trying to figure it out. Dreams can only take one so far.



Works Cited

  5. Hajek P, Belcher M (1991). "Dream of absent-minded transgression: an empirical study of a cognitive withdrawal symptom". J Abnorm Psychol 100 (4): 487–91.


Paul Grobstein's picture

dream on

Nice dream. And your intuitions are much the same as mine: "dreams really are about the constant mulling over of our lives". Now, the problem for both of us is what observations would distinguish that from other stories (eg "wish fulfillment" or "meaningless noise") and what new questions does our story motivate?