Dreams: The Process of Awakening

A Physical and General Theory of Dreams

Last Revised in January, 2023

By Bruce McKeithan


In the past people have removed the mystery and strangeness from dreams by claiming that dreams help us to deal with life better. At different times, they have assumed that dreams contain messages from deities, foretell future disasters or problems, enhance learning, suppress our desires so that we may sleep sounder, provide insight as to our desires and wishes. We want dreams to be constructive, providing us with direction or at least prioritizing our memories and thoughts.

My study of dreams over many years has indicated quite a different explanation. Before waking, we seem to want to deal internally with new energy and its effects. An expansion, such as with a balloon or a combustion engine, normally provides relief from new energy. In the case of dreams, the base of the brain releases energy that flows into the brain’s central area (presumably the limbic system) where it can be processed as discussed here. Thus we can think of this processing as constituting dreams.

Thus the first thing to do is to take care of the disruption or disturbance that the new energy causes. Thermodynamics refers to this disorder or disorganization as entropy and designates it by the letter S. The new energy causes nerve cells to have dissimilar wave motions, or oscillations, which the brain must immediately rectify. The brain’s limbic system has the capability of synchronizing these various oscillations. It aligns or attunes such characteristics as phase or frequency. In so doing it produces a storage of energy which appears as groups of buildings, people, or natural objects.

This synchronization or storage process is not 100 percent efficient so that there is some residual internal energy. Internal energy exhibits heat, which is the product of temperature and entropy, so that it makes sense that we also try to offset or nullify it by doing work internally, or remembering people and places from the past. We utilize familiar activities to accomplish this task, but the main process of storing energy predominates and frustrates these efforts. Overall two structures in the limbic system aid in this process: the stimulation of the amygdala and the hippocampus provide a defensive reaction and a recall of people and objects from the past respectively.

 The 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.

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. After all, getting back to deep sleep requires an external expenditure of energy.

Stage 2 Our Efforts

The increase in internal energy (and heat) can do some damage to this area of the brain, and so must be offset or fixed by work to prevent or reduce it. Various scenes in a dream reflect this internal use or expenditure of energy. 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, particularly old memories. We may also try to offset or reduce entropy by imagining some activity that we have previously enjoyed  such as sports, or a card tournament, or a job, or school. We may see ourselves visiting people or places that we have known a long (or sometime) ago, which again puts us in a restorative mode. Of course at times, sexual activity also serves to neutralize internal energy.

The storage of energy takes the form of various large objects or groups of eople. 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. We may even see a large display and variety of food set before us. Being large, we can refer to these groups by the physics term “mass”, although the term is not usually used in this way.

An interaction and sometimes a competition between mass and our personal attempts to accomplish something occurs. The growth in mass seems to predominate and frustrate our actions, blocking our efforts to offset heat and to prevent internal energy. For example. 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; or the indoor tennis club has moved in a busy downtown, and there is a long line to get in. We are turned down for a large loan to start a business. Sexual activity is frustrated in some way as well.

We must recognize that the storage of energy simply takes up room and is in the way of our efforts. Thus, it passively interferes and blocks our personal efforts. Stated the other way around, our actions are inferior to the mass of images. Imagine two ships colliding at sea, or two ships at harbor one smaller than the other. Occasionally though we may find 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, or we may win a lawsuit. But we still have to consider these successes as nearly incidental, that it is the mass which ultimately crowds out our efforts, produces fluid energy again, and leads to awakening.

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, or a flood. 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.

Trying to fix something in one way or another is desirable, but prolonging sleep thereby makes it criminal. Additional internal energy may actually occur, e.g. a hard baseball line drive passing close to one. Elements in a dream become hostile toward one, such as some police or military force or enemy even threatening us with execution or death. An adverse, deadly condition or situation affecting someone else may also occasion wakening.

Stage 3 Consciousness

It then becomes imperative that we extend energy into the brain’s upper and outer regions, which control many functions necessary for living. This brings about consciousness and the need to expend energy and finally to use 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 at this point 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, although we are concerned with our safety and comfort. That is to a great extent self determined.


We can refer to the consolidation of nerve cells into a network by the physics term “mass”. When there is additional energy, which means shorter wavelengths, we can expect greater mass in some form or greater velocity. We like to think in terms of objects or particles traveling faster. We see this aspect of energy in our dealing with internal energy. But it is the passive, stationary mass which is major and requires our attention if we are to understand dreams. Physiologists can explain the networking that occurs in dreams in considerably more detail.

A couple of other points about nerves 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.


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. He has also forced me to rethink certain things.