Most people dream enthusiastically at night, their dreams seemingly occupying hours, even though most last only a few minutes. Most people also read great meaning into their nocturnal visions. In fact, according to a new study, the vast majority of people in three very different countries — India, South Korea and the United States — believe that their dreams reveal meaningful hidden truths.According to the study, 74% of Indians, 65% of South Koreans and 56% of Americans hold an old-fashioned Freudian view of dreams: that they are portals into the unconscious.
But after so many years of brain research showing that most of our everyday cognitions result from a complex but observable interaction of proteins and neurons and other mostly uncontrolled cellular activity, how can so many otherwise rational people think dreams should be taken seriously? After all, brain activity isn't mystical but dough highly predictable.
Human beings are irrational about dreams the same way they are irrational about a lot of things. We make dumb choices all the time on the basis of silly information like racial bias or a misunderstanding of statistics — or dreams.
Dumb choices aren't necessarily bad ones. A final finding from the study: When people have dreams about good things happening to their good friends, they are more likely to say those dreams are meaningful than when they have dreams about bad things happening to their friends. Similarly, we invest more meaning in dreams in which our enemies are punished and less meaning in dreams in which our enemies emerge victorious. In short, our interpretation of dreams may say a lot less about some quixotic search for hidden truth than it does about another enduring human quality: optimistic thinking.