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 psychoanalysis, which emphasizes the unconscious and the repression of drives and wishes. Neither does it attempt to show how particular dreams may help us in our daily lives, although this may occasionally happen. If anything it hopes to demystify dreams and pleads for acceptance of some simple facts as to who and what we are.

Let us start with the premise that we must and can handle the energy that arises after deep sleep. Initially, energy is transferred from its origin at the base of the brain to the interior of the brain. This in itself provides some relief from the accompanying agitation. Next the mind forms images which eventually appear great in number or size to offset the velocity of the ensuing brainwaves. As part of this process, it is essential to store the reduced amount of energy, although this is not witnessed in a dream. Finally, the stored energy reaches a limit and must be released and used through waking to return us to a normal, resting position.

Evidently, the second step is so successful that we are reluctant to wake up. This attachment creates a third phase whereby we try to alleviate or remedy any breakdown of what has already been accomplished. More often, we try to hold onto the second phase by anticipating waking activities and carrying them out internally. But these efforts are frustrated and fail so that ultimately we do have to awake to undertake the intended restoration and so complete the sleeping-waking cycle.

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. Another, older way of stating this is that energy flows into the interior of the brain to relieve the ensuing pressure.

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 lower brain.


Because the brain has a limited capacity for expansion, the waves are still quite excited, indicating a considerable amount of remaining energy. We shall refer to this imputed energy as free 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 handle free energy. We can better the situation only by decreasing the velocity of the waves, making them more agreeable.

To this end, the mind forms images of a multitude of people or a 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 produce a reciprocal decrease in velocity and energy provided the mind can store the decrease in energy. A reduction in the electric fields (and their associated voltage) within the brain accomplishes the requisite storage of energy. Mathematically speaking, the divisor of the electric field must equal the multiplier of the images for one to remain asleep. Devices for storing electrical energy are called capacitors. The brain has various structures that serve 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 strength of the microscopic electric fields within the brain. We can interpret this physically as a self-regulating increase in the dielectric strength (or charge-resistance) of the material between opposite charges. It allows an increase in the amount of electric charge which can be stored, something called capacitance. Without an increase in capacitance in direct proportion to the increase in images, one cannot handle free energy.

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 synapse) between neurons. There are also inhibitory neurons as well as the principal neurons acting on a postsynaptic nerve. While the net effect of the two may determine whether an impulse is propagated further, a reduction in the electric field must still be involved.

Let us also briefly discuss thermodynamics as it pertains to dreams. The release of energy that precedes a dream is called 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 that is imposed upon us, as it can result in increased heat and temperature. To lessen that impact, the mind must take preemptive action. 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. 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, or there is a busload of seated people. The alignment of the figures is essential in order to store the energy that is lost due to lowering the frequency and velocity of brainwaves. Given the limit to this process, it appears the alignment represents a maximum that the mind can accomplish in handling imposed energy.

The mind is resilient so that once we reach that maximum, it wants to return to its previous, resting state. Hence it threatens to release the stored energy, and this presents a serious danger to one. We can see this in a dream of a large lake (stored energy) with a high dam over which water flows, or a stream rushing down a hill toward a town, or water rapidly going through a culvert, sweeping one along with it. in the final analysis, the only way to prevent the danger is to wake up and pursue some activity.

Despite the need to protect ourselves from this release of energy, we are attached to the current state which up until now has been successful in handling free energy. In a dream, we may see ourselves wanting to help older images that are harmed, for example a sick parent who in real life may have died, or another older relative. It may be an old car, or a coal burning furnace, or an overgrown garden needing repair that we see.

As we anticipate having to awake, we may utilize activities from our experiences to try to exhaust energy internally and continue sleeping, but the images that have been built up frustrate the goals or objectives of these activities. We can refer to this as an internalization of the expenditure of energy. Sports offer a good example. In golf there are too many trees, hills or rocks to achieve success. In football, one’s opponent is too strong. In tennis, the court is too large or there is another problem. Sexual or romantic fantasies have a role to play here, too. While these activities often reflect the potential satisfaction of some need (referred to in psychoanalysis as wish fulfillment), its main purpose is still to allow one to continue to sleep by internalizing the use of energy.

At the end of another dream, we prepare or try to go home. Home represents deep sleep which we can really only achieve by waking up and participating in real activities. So we also utilize this idea, but we have trouble getting started home. We cannot get our clothes together, or there is some obstacle such as a steep hill. A deep ravine before us represents dying. This possible calamity even more than the other frustrations prevents us from staying asleep.

Many other failures can also occur in dreams, including failing a test at school, failing at a job, and even a plane preparing to make a crash landing. While these failures represent being ultimately unable to accomplish a pacification of the release of potential energy, they represent our wish to persist in the current state despite the difficulty or futility of now doing so.

Prolonging sleep can even engender a more dangerous, or severely hostile, situation. Occasionally in a dream, 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.

As the images are no longer effective when we try to continue to sleep, there may be some dysfunction among them. Examples are heavy ships colliding and a group of important people withdrawing from an initiation into some organization.


The mind can handle new energy internally up to a point, but it creates a situation where pressure is put on us to awake. We need to become active in order to get back to rest. Not knowing any better, we resist this restoring force until our frustration and discomfiture are too great. Possibly, we can also learn a little more to accept the need to awake at this juncture. We must then depend on a favorable environment, and  be clever enough, to expend our energies in useful ways.


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.


Any physics textbook contains chapters on Harmonic Motion, Electric Energy, Thermodynamics, and The Atom which help explain the concepts in this paper. We believe that an explanation of  dreaming relies on these concepts, and we assume that dreaming is a necessary as well as usually a sufficient precondition of awakening.

There are many articles on nerve physiology and an Action Potential (AP), which constitutes an impulse, on the internet. Many of them however do not mention the role of energy in the various chemical reactions involved in impulse transmission. For example, if potassium and chlorine exist as potassium chloride molecules within a nerve, it takes energy to separate them into its component ions and eject positive potassium ions from a nerve cell allowing sodium ions to enter at the beginning of an AP. The notion of many automobiles trying to squeeze through a gate on a road is reminiscent of sodium ions trying to enter a nerve. Combining left over sodium, which is lighter than potassium, and chlorine ions into salt at the end of an AP (assuming  that happens) releases energy helping presumably to propagate impulses. It is calcium that facilitates the transmission of chemicals across synapses (glutamate for principal neurons and GABA for inhibitory neurons), also requiring energy in some way.

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