Dreams: The Process of Awakening

A Physical Interpretation of Dreams

By Bruce McKeithan


How do we understand dreams? This study takes a different approach than psychoanalyses, which emphasizes the unconscious and the repression of drives and wishes. It relies on analogies with physics for a general, more positive explanation of dreams.

In the first place, we are reluctant to change from deep sleep. We wish to remain in the same state, unaffected and undisturbed by new energy. In physics this is called inertia, which is characteristic of all objects, or matter.

When faced with new energy, the mind has the ability to avoid, or prevent, a significant increase in brain activity, as indicated by the velocity of brainwaves. We witness a substantial increase in the size or number of mental images. This represents an immediate reduction in brainwave velocity. For this to work, the mind must also store this transformed energy.

This storage of energy however is limited, so that the enlargement of images must reach a maximum. Yet we persist in the current state, trying to complete pacification and remedying the functional loss. Eventually, our efforts become frustrated, and we are threatened with a flood of energy and uncontrolled neural activity. We must then awake to expend energy.

In the Beginning

Energy originates at the base, or stem, of the brain. Brainwaves threaten to become too sharp to be sustained in the same place. To alleviate this disturbance, energy flows into the central part of the brain where dreams occur. The new state allows brainwaves to become more elongated and stretched out and momentum to decrease reciprocally.

Thus, we may find ourselves away from home. For example, we may be at a resort, or in the mountains, or in another region of the country, or even in another country. We also may find ourselves back in time: at an earlier home, or at an old school or workplace. In short a displacement in place and/or time occurs. Various happy memories are elicited as a part of the initial relief from excessive agitation and avoidance of a buildup of heat in the brain.


Because the brain has a limited capacity for expansion, the waves are still quite excited, indicating a considerable amount of remaining energy. We continue to draw upon memories and emotions that reside in the central part of the brain to improve the situation further. We may see ourselves up a river at a college, reflecting the learning that is necessary to avoid the heat from internal energy. We may be involved in a romantic relationship in some faraway place, appearing to fulfill a wish, or drive. Success though in various endeavors only enables us to sustain the current state, keeping us asleep. In effect, we are bettering the situation by decreasing the velocity of the waves, making them more agreeable.

To this end, the mind also forms images of a multitude of people or great many objects. For example, we may see large crowds or gatherings, or a number of buildings or houses, or a single large building or structure, or a large number of tables or desks in some setting. The objects also have a certain density which expresses their ordering.

This increase in images will produces a reciprocal decrease in velocity provided the mind can store the decreased amount of energy. A reduction in the electric fields (and their associated voltage) within the brain accomplishes the requisite storage of energy.  It must also occur in inverse proportion to the enlargement of the images. Physicists call devices for storing electrical energy capacitors. The brain has various structures that serves this purpose such as the membranes of nerves and the gaps between nerve cells. Making these structures less permeable to the conduction of charged elements decreases the electric fields within the brain. Physicists refer to this as a self-regulating increase in the dielectric strength (or charge-resistance) of the material between opposite charges, increasing capacitance. Without an increase in capacitance in direct proportion to the increase in images, one cannot remain asleep.

In physiology, Dr. Clay Armstrong, professor emeritus at the University of Pennsylvania has found that calcium has a blocking effect within the membranes of nerves cells. In addition, there are antagonistic molecules within the space (or synapses) between neurons. There  are also inhibitory neurons as well as the principal neurons acting on a postsynaptic nerve, the net effect of the two determining whether an impulse is propagated further. In this case, calcium facilitates the transmission of chemicals across synapses (glutamate for principal neurons and GABA for inhibitory neurons).

Let us also briefly discuss thermodynamics as it pertains to dreams. Physicists refer to the release of energy that precedes a dream as an increase in entropy, or disorder (symbol S). To avoid an increase in pressure, energy flows out of the stem of the brain into the interior of the brain. This presents a new challenge to us in the form of free energy which can result in increased heat and temperature.The mind must then take further action to lessen that impact. Two psychiatrists Hobson and McCauley point out in their 1977 paper that dreams are the brain’s effort to make sense of the resulting chaos. Once this effort results in the maximum attainable decrease in S, the mind releases this energy for one to handle consciously and to complete the brain’s thermodynamic cycle. Noteworthy is that some thermodynamic equations are the sum of two separate actions: one disruptive and the other remedial.

In The End

Toward the end of a dream, the images not only become greater in number, they also often align themselves. For example, homes are in a line or there is a congregation of people in a church or other assembly. The alignment of the figures is essential in order to store the energy that is lost due to lowering the frequency and velocity of brain waves. There is however a limit to this process so that the alignment represents a maximum that can be achieved.

We often utilize activities, situations, and even wishes from real life to represent our desire to continue sleeping despite the difficulty of doing so. Sports are a good example. In golf there are too many trees, hills or rocks to achieve success. In tennis or football, one’s opponent is too good or strong. We are trying to use our energies inwardly but become frustrated in doing so.

In another dream, we wish to go home and prepare to do so. Home represents deep sleep which we can really only achieve by waking up and participating in real activities. Going home directly during sleep is dangerous, like falling into a deep ravine. In a dream we cannot get our clothes together or have another problem getting ready, which also forces us to awake.

Many other failures may also occur in dreams, including failing a test at school, failing at a job, and even a plane preparing to make a crash landing. Wanting to help a sick friend or relative who is deceased in real life is an attempt to restore the failing dream state. We may have to repair an old car that we need for transportation home. These failures  represent being unable to accomplish any further pacification of the threat of internal energy. Nevertheless, we wish to persist in the current state despite the difficulty or futility of doing so.

Prolonging sleep can even engender a dangerous, or severely hostile, situation. We may approach a large waterfall at the end of a large body of water. Water here represents considerable stored, potential energy. Occasionally, some police or military force, or enemy, may threaten us with execution or death. In these situations, it is impossible to stay asleep any longer.

We may also witness many automobiles trying to squeeze through a gate on the road, or people trying to get through a door, or a stream rushing down a hill toward a town, or water rapidly going through a culvert, sweeping one along with it.


In the end, a reduction in the electric field (and increase in capacitance) cannot keep up with the accumulation of images. Control over one’s energies is no longer tenable, and a dream becomes unsustainable. It is time for us to wake up and to expend energy in various useful ways. Resistance must give way to acceptance of the need to awake.

In other words, we can neutralize the disturbing effect from internal energy, smoothing out and slowing down brainwaves, only so far. Then, our discomfiture overwhelms our resistance, causing us to awake. Hopefully, the environment and circumstances are favorable enough, and we are clever and have drive enough, for us to find ways to use our energies constructively.


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.


Chapters on Electric Energy, Thermodynamics, and The Atom are in any physics textbook. We can also argue from physics’ Harmonic Motion that without dreaming consciousness cannot occur, but this another story.

The internet has many articles on nerve physiology, including Action Potentials and Nodes of Ranvier. It is surprising though that many of these articles do not mention the role of energy in the various chemical reactions involved in impulse transmission. For example, it takes energy to separate potassium chloride into its component ions and to eject the positive potassium ions from a nerve cell at the beginning of an Action Potential.

See this document on the internet: http://www.thephysicalnatureofdreams.net