Why do we dream?
  The expectation fulfilment theory of dreaming
sleep and dreams


<< Go back

forgetting their dreams that they even come to believe they don’t dream at all. Most people, however, have experienced remembering one on waking only to forget it a few moments later. It seems that, once the dream work is done, we have no need to remember them. And here we have another similarity: forgetting, or amnesia, is also associated with hypnosis.

Time distortion

Most good hypnotic subjects have the experience of coming out of a trance surprised to learn that considerably more or less time has elapsed than they thought and recalling little of what actually happened in the trance. People are much more likely to recall a dream, however, if they wake up from it gradually, paying attention to what they were dreaming as they do so. Conversely, if they wake up suddenly, as a result of an alarm clock or a doorbell ringing, they are more likely to have amnesia for the dream.

Similarly, with hypnosis, any sudden switch of attention will facilitate the amnesia of what took place in the trance. But even if the hypnotic subject has amnesia for what took place, any posthypnotic suggestions (such as “You will blow your nose every time you hear a clock chime”), given during the trance, will still be triggered when the appropriate circumstances are encountered later. Just as our instinctive programming (which is laid down in the REM state) will always be activated when matched with the appropriate environmental conditions: when we blink our eyes, for instance, in the face of a sudden movement or when a bright light flashes.

Ultradian rhythms

Dr Milton H. Erickson, recognised the phenomenon of what he called “the common everyday trance” which occurs about every ninety minutes. During this state, which itself lasts about twenty minutes, the brain switches from left-brain information processing to predominantly right-brain information processing. Erickson discovered that this was a good time to give his clients suggestions because they were more suggestible in this state. This is because, in order to counteract a suggestion, it is necessary to analyse it and form another viewpoint, which is a left-brain activity. Erickson also discovered that this light trance state could easily be deepened into a more profound hypnotic state with appropriate suggestions. (We have made use of this ourselves, for therapeutic effect, on numerous occasions.)

Dr Ernest Rossi linked this periodically occurring trance state to certain ultradian (many times a day) rhythms, which involve a switch from left-brain functioning to right-brain functioning for a period of about 20 minutes, every 90 to 120 minutes. Again, dream sleep also follows this rhythm, occurring approximately every 90 to 120 minutes during sleep. (This is why a nap, if it coincides with the appropriate stage of these ultradian rhythms, can be incredibly refreshing as the sleeper drops straight into REM sleep, dearousing any currently unfulfilled expectations.)

Psychotherapists inadvertently induce trance

Another observation made by people experienced in using hypnosis is that inducing trance states in patients, albeit inadvertently, is the basic therapeutic agent in many other forms of psychotherapy besides hypnotherapy – despite therapists often hotly denying that they are doing any such thing.  Anyone who understands the principles of hypnotic inductions and how people are influenced can recognise this. Whenever someone is encouraged to concentrate and focus their attention – such as when remembering past events – it is trance inducing. So, too, is the rousing of strong emotions such as anger, fear, depression and greed – because these also focus and lock attention.

For instance, anxiety about visiting a GP to hear the results of important tests can induce trance and consequently amnesia for what the doctor has to say. Dissociation, positive hallucinations, and suggestibility – all are associated with hypnosis (trance) and all can occur in the course of therapy.

For instance, in gestalt therapy, therapists might ask clients to ‘imagine’ having a conversation with an absent person; the clients then become so absorbed that they hallucinate their mothers or some other important figure in their lives. Many GPs, psychiatrists, psychotherapists and counsellors are quite unaware that their interactions with patients can be deeply hypnotic. This is just as much the case in, say, cognitive therapy, which encourages people to focus on their thinking, as it is in therapies such as gestalt, which more obviously involve hypnotic phenomena.

If, as we suggest, the main reason for the reluctance to recognise the true value of hypnosis is the absence of a scientific theory to explain it, the expectation fulfilment theory of dreaming set out in this book could overcome this. We know that most people daydream, and about 20 per cent of the population can readily access a state of deep hypnosis, where suggested realities become as real as dream realities. Moreover, most of the rest of the population has the ability to access lighter trance states, such as we all experience as we drift off to sleep in front of the TV or become deeply absorbed in an activity such as reading.

Therapeutic suggestions given to someone in the REM state can have profound effects on the mind/body system. So it is to be hoped that hypnosis will become more widely employed, and its great therapeutic potential unlocked, as confidence in our scientific understanding of this phenomenon increases.

The dangers of hypnosis

However, we would add a word of caution. People in trance, however this is brought about (whether for therapeutic benefit, or as part of a crowd listening to an enigmatic speaker), are highly vulnerable – as are the people using it (it is very easy to go into a trance yourself when inducing one in others). This is because, when we are in trance, however briefly, we are accessing the REM state, the natural state for reprogramming our brains. So, although hypnosis can be used for enormous benefit as a powerful therapeutic tool, we should also be very aware, for obvious reasons, of the dangers inherent in the process it taps into. 

The dawn of daydreaming

This raises a fundamental question: if we can so easily be put into the REM state and become so vulnerable to outside influence that we can be made to do all kinds of wacky, weird or even dangerous things, why would nature have made the REM state so accessible to us?  We believe that, by answering this question, we have revealed a new explanation for the development of complex language, the rise of civilisations and why humans developed self-consciousness.

It was when, by some mutation (perhaps as recently as 40,000 years ago), some human beings learned how to daydream, and thus to develop and use a new psychological tool – that of imagination – to solve problems (rather than just reacting instinctively in the moment to immediate promptings from the environment, as animals do), that we became truly human. To daydream requires the ability to create illusory realities in the internal mental ‘theatre’ of one’s mind and try out different scenarios in imagination. As we shall show, that can only be done in the REM state reality generator we have been describing. This is what marks us out as different from the rest of the animal kingdom. When we daydream, we step out of the present moment (which all mammals experience in terms of instant emotional responses to instinctive perceptions). We might imagine what other people might be thinking or feeling. Or we might visualise different ways of doing things, or invent new tools and behaviours by imagining what might be possible if we did something differently. In other words, daydreaming allows us to develop a profound concept of possible futures derived from our learnings from the past. It was only when we had evolved sufficiently to step out of the present moment and into our own personal mental theatre of alternative realities whilst awake, that we could look backwards and forwards in time. And only when we had developed a strong sense of the past and the future could we become self-conscious beings, able to evolve complex language (with past and future tenses).  

We maintain that complex language, which for many years was thought to have evolved slowly and to be the most important reason for our becoming human, would have appeared as quickly as complex tool-making and art did. It must also have arisen as a consequence of getting access to the REM state whilst awake. Language is all about sound symbols standing in for complex concepts or metaphorical patterns. The most important symbolic mechanism we have is talking: talking about the past and the future; talking about people and things that are not there in front of us; talking about possible future actions and so on. But there can only be words for the past and the future if there are concepts for the past and the future. To develop such a concept, it first has to be experienced. And that must have required the evolution of the ability to step into the daydreaming state where such concepts can be experienced – in imagination. The very moment that became possible, humans could move beyond mere animality.


Return to top





> Read more about the REM state

> See 'The Therapeutic power of    Guided Imagery' CD


Sign-up to the Human Givens Newsletter

Keep up-to-date with the latest Human Givens information, insights and courses.


Follow us on FacebookFollow us on TwitterHuman Givens Blog





© Copyright Joe Griffin and Human Givens Publishing Ltd. 2007