Dreams: The Process of Awakening

A Physical and General Theory of Dreams

By Bruce McKeithan

Last Revised in September, 2022

There have been many theories about dreams over the years. These theories have been at least partially effective in telling us how dreams explain or influence behavior. They also try to take the mystery out of dreams, but they are not always very scientific, nor universal.

When energy is produced a disruption or disturbance of the affected area occurs. In thermodynamics, this disorder or disorganization is referred to as entropy and designated by the letter S. It must be relieved to avoid or prevent excessive internal energy. This is usually accomplished by an expansion of the area, such as with a balloon or a combustion engine. Dreams represent an intermediate stage in the transition to waking.

 During sleep, energy is produced at the base of the brain and flows into the lower central part of the brain, which has the capability of storing it in order to reduce S there. The storage process is not 100 percent efficient, and some heat, which is the product of temperature and entropy, also occurs. It makes sense that we try to offset or nullify the residual S. We do so by utilizing familiar activities, but the main process of storing energy predominates and frustrates these efforts.

This accumulation of energy though has a limit, so that at its peak energy must again be released threatening us with internal energy. It is at this point that an expansion into the upper reaches of the brain occurs, bringing about consciousness and the expenditure of energy The peak apparently does not come until there is enough energy when used to get us back to rest and complete the sleep-waking cycle. This stage may be a suitable definition of the mind as well.

Stage 1 Initiation

Initially, we must avoid internal energy and relieve pressure at the base of the brain. Transferring energy into the lower central part of the brain where memory and emotion exists accomplishes this task. As a result, we see ourselves at a location away from home. We may be at the beach or some other resort or in the mountains, or in another region of the country, or even in another country. We are no longer in deep sleep.

Having done that though we wish to return to the peace of home (deep sleep), but we have trouble doing so. We are unable to get our belongings together, or the route home out of the mountains is unclear, or there is difficulty in getting an airplane flight, or we cannot find our room in a hotel which has become larger and has many more hallways and elevators. These enlargements represent the storage of energy, which is not yet quite adequate for it to be translated into action.

Stage 2 Our Efforts

The increase in heat which can do some damage to this area of the brain must be offset or fixed by work to prevent internal energy. Various scenes in a dream reflect this. We may see ourselves wanting to cure a sick parent or another relative. We may need to repair or fix an old car, or a coal burning furnace, or an overgrown garden. We may be a part of an office reorganization or change in office procedures. We may dream of restoring or preserving or correcting any number of things that we remember as pleasurable. We may try to offset entropy by imagining some activity that we have enjoyed in the past such as sports, or a card tournament, or a job, or school. We may of course also utilize our basic needs and desires to represent this effort.

The storage of energy takes the form of various large objects or groups of people. There may be crowds or gatherings of people in various venues. It may be reflected by a number of houses or other buildings, or a single large structure, or a large number of tables or desks in some setting, or some natural phenomenon such as a forest or high hills. Near the end of a dream, we may even see a large display of food. Being large, we can refer to these groups by the physics term “mass”, although the term is not usually used in this way.

As discussed, an interaction and sometimes a competition between mass and our personal attempts to accomplish something occurs. Mass though predominates and frustrates our actions, blocking our efforts to offset heat. Other examples are: In golf there are too many trees, hills or rocks to achieve success. In tennis the court is too large to hit a ball satisfactorily. We are turned down for a large loan to start a business, etc.. Passively storing energy is the preferred alternative. This can also be stated the other way around, namely that our actions are inferior to the mass of images. Imagine one ship colliding with another at sea, or two ships at harbor one smaller than the other. Occasionally, we may find some success at some endeavor, e.g. we may be able to hit a golf ball up a steep hill and have it go in the hole. But in the end frustration and failure prevail.

At the end of a dream, the increase in mass reaches a peak, and our frustration is clearly present.  When mass reaches the limit in the amount of energy that it can store, it is like a large waterfall spilling over a dam at the end of a large lake, or a stream rushing down a mountain towards a town, or water going rapidly through a culvert. These two things (a very large mass and utmost frustration or difficulty) are coincident at this critical point. They tell us that we must awake to avoid the danger from excess internal energy. 

Prolonging sleep can even engender a hostile situation: Some police or military force, or enemy, may threaten us with execution or death, and we attempt to escape. An adverse, deadly condition or situation affecting someone besides ourselves will also occasion wakening.

Near the end of a dream, we may only see ourselves involved in correcting something, but that something is a subset of something much larger. This also implies the storage of energy and that storage reaching a peak.

Stage 3 Consciousness

Thus, it becomes imperative that we extend energy into the brain’s upper and outer regions, which control many functions necessary for living. It brings about consciousness and the need to expend energy and finally to emit enough energy to allow us to go home. Once wake, we must find ways to satisfy our desires and interests and are highly motivated to do so.

We have finally realized that it is essential to wake up and commit ourselves to some task, profession, activity, or person in order to expend energy. Waking means that we agree to take such action, including developing and resolving ideas. How this goes, of course, depends on a favorable environment and our own cleverness or wits. Perhaps it ought to have been obvious from the beginning that we cannot significantly use our energy while still asleep, that such is futile.

Philosophically speaking, the need to act is imperative, compulsory, and as such predetermined (particularly in regards to survival needs). It does not however tell us how to act, what our behavior ought to be. That is to a great extent self determined.

Thus, we see that comparing the process of dreaming with the patterns of physics indicates that dreams are not so mysterious after all. This comparison suggests that there are consistent underlying mechanisms involving cause and effect, so that dreams really do have a rational explanation.

In the process, we have learned that we must accede to the demand to act in a conscious fashion despite our desire (and futile efforts) to prevent internal energy by dealing directly with the deleterious effects of heat and entropy. We learn that perforce we have no other option and are capable of doing so.


How mass, or a structure, is developed or created is beyond the scope of this article. This is something for physicists and physiologists to explain. The point here is that dreams are an intermediate stage between energy’s initial release and its expansion within the brain that results in external action. The intermediary storage of energy may include crystalline structures, which are well ordered, or structures with more loosely connected elements. To differentiate the storage of energy from internal energy, we may refer to it as potential and the latter as kinetic.

Below is a couple of points concerning physiology that may be of interest.

Dr. Clay Armstrong, professor emeritus at the University of Pennsylvania has found that positively charged calcium has a blocking effect within the membranes of nerves cells. In addition, there are antagonistic molecules within the space (or synapse) between neurons. There are also inhibitory neurons in addition to the principal neurons acting on a postsynaptic nerve.

Thus, neurons and other brain structures can be made less permeable to the conduction of electrically charged chemicals. We can refer to this as a self-regulating increase in the dielectric strength (or charge-resistance) of the material between opposite charges. It provides for an increase in the amount of stored electric charge, or greater capacitance.

The defensive nature of our actions (in dealing with heat) and the recall of people and objects from the past reflect the stimulation of the amygdala and its close relative, the hippocampus, respectively. The ultimate transfer of energy into other parts of the brain presumably is an expansion from the limbic system into the upper temporal lobe and into other lobes of the brain.


Thanks to Dr. John P. Ralston, professor of physics at Kansas University, for helping me during the past several years to understand and appreciate various things about physics and to put these concepts into words.