The Meaning of Dreams

Dreams: The Process of Awakening

The Physical Nature of Dreams

By Bruce McKeithan

Revised January 1922

In sleep, we try to handle the energy that the base of the brain releases. At first we relieve the ensuing pressure by moving upward into the lower central part of the brain where emotion and memory reside. Subsequently, significantly additional energy moves upward as well, overlaying the first increment. We deal with this new energy differently by damming it up and storing it. Once the containment reaches a certain limit, its potential energy becomes  threatening to us and forces us to awake. Physics helps to explain the situation.

In the initial phase, we may find ourselves at some distance from home. We may be at a resort, or in the mountains, or in another region of the country, or even in another country. To emphasize the point, we may be doing something in a cooler, more northern climate. It is like an irradiated electron in an atom where the electron shifts to an orbital further away from the nucleus. The new state allows brainwaves to become less sharp and more elongated. This decreases the velocity of brainwaves reciprocally to their stretched length. From a thermodynamics viewpoint, physics refers to the release of energy as an increase in entropy. The transfer of energy upward represents an increase in volume in order to avoid internal energy and heat at the base.

When additional, greater energy enters the brain proper, something must be done to avoid excess internal energy there. Thus, now a decrease in entropy and/or an increase in volume has to occur to combat internal energy. We can understand the new situation as follows: New energy produces a shorter wavelength, so that a reciprocal increase in momentum must occur (see Appendix). Momentum has two components: mass and velocity. An increase in the mass of images which the mind produces represents a storage of energy while activity which we try to undertake in a dream embodies an increase in velocity.

We see mass in a dream in the form of large objects or groups of people, such as crowds or gatherings of people, or a number of houses or other buildings, or a single large structure, or a large number of tables or desks in some setting, or high hills. A decrease in entropy may also take the form of one being a part of a reorganization or a change in procedures in some office setting.

Activity in a dream may take the form of sports, or a card tournament, or a job or school, but the mass predominates and frustrates our activity. 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. These failing activities may be prospective, or they may indicate some interest or wish, a la Freud’s suggestion some years ago. But they mostly rely on our history, our current state, and desires in an effort to reduce internal energy. It is apparent though that this internalized activity while asleep is weaker than the associated mass, since it is unrealistic. From the standpoint of thermodynamics, we can say that it is inadequate as a means of taking care of, or allowing for, the expansion of energy.

Another dream reflecting the encounter with new energy and its disturbance is 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. In general, we want to preserve the old situation. Two psychiatrists Hobson and McCauley point out in their 1977 paper that dreams are the brain’s effort to make sense of the chaos which results from incoming energy.

Near the end of a dream, we may think that we have successfully completed some activity and can return home, i.e. deep sleep. But we have trouble carrying out this activity, too. We cannot get our belongings together, the route is unclear, or we have trouble getting an airplane flight.

In physiology, Dr. Clay Armstrong, professor emeritus at the University of Pennsylvania has found that positively charged calcium has a blocking effect within the membrane 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.

Increasing mass (to offset the decrease in wavelength accompanying the increase in internal energy) has its limitations though. There is a peak in the amount of energy the mind can absorb and the mass of images at this point seem too numerous or very large indeed. We must recognize the need to accept energy and to release the mass-stored energy in some way. We can envision the consequences of failing to do so as a large waterfall over a dam at the end of a large lake, or a stream rushing down a high hill toward a town, or water rapidly going through a culvert. 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.

Thus, it is imperative that we awake. Inward activity is ineffective, and we cannot extend the increase in mass any further. We can generally say that it is impossible to handle the internal situation any longer while asleep. We cannot go home directly, the rushing or falling water indicates an impending, substantial increase in velocity (or kinetic energy), and the danger to us threatens to become severe. We must now find an alternative solution to handling the situation and transition to that. Consciousness affords us the ability to have objectives and to use our energies.

We have finally realized that it is essential to wake up and really and truly expend energy to return to an equilibrium state. Once awake we commit ourselves to some task, profession, activity, or person in order to expend energy. Waking means that we agree to take such action. How this goes, of course, depends on a favorable environment and our own cleverness or wits.

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.


It is a formula called the De Broglie relation that informs us that the mass of images must increase in Phase 2 rather than Phase 1. The shortening of wavelength, which accompanies Phase 2’s energy increase, implies an increase in momentum. Since momentum is a combination of mass and velocity, both can increase. But mass is more effective in containing free energy during sleep, and so it takes precedence. As free energy grows so does mass until it reaches maximum containment.

De Broglie in his 1924 hypothesis intended to show that particles as well as light beams had wave motion. He derived his hypothesis from Planck’s formulation in 1900 that energy (E) was equal to Planck’s constant (a very small number represented by the letter h) times the frequency (f) of a radiation’s light wave, in short E = hf. De Broglie translated it as follows:

Because E = mass (m) times velocity (v) squared and f is (v) divided by wavelength (w), E = hf can be written as mv2 = hv/w, or simply mvw = h. This relation states that the lengthening of w, which goes along with a storage of energy, can cause a decrease in v. Subsequently, the decrease in w, which accompanies new energy, can result in a significant increase in m, while v increases only minimally.


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. Most college physics books cover this article’s topics in more detail. For information regarding physiology, see the internet or books about the brain.