Dreams: The Process of Awakening

A Physical Interpretation of Dreams

Last Revision: April 1, 2021

By Bruce McKeithan


How do we understand dreams? We see a great many people or objects, or a very large object, in our dreams. How is this explained?

Energy that the brain releases at its base flows into the central part of the brain, threatening our equilibrium. We wish to remain undisturbed by such free energy and to counteract it in some way. The brain handles this situation by storing energy among its many cells, which reduces the velocity of the associated brainwaves. According to quantum physics, which has been around since 1900 as has psychoanalysis, energy is equivalent to the frequency of the waves carrying it. Reducing the velocity of brainwaves increases the mass of images within the brain. A formula called the De Broglie relation explains this phenomenon (see Appendix).

Once the energy storage reaches, or nearly reaches, a maximum, it reverses itself, constituting a second phase of a dream (see Appendix). We do not welcome this change as it again confronts us with disquieting free energy. New energy means a shortening of wavelength which means additional images occur, again in accordance with the De Broglie relation. We see ourselves trying to preserve the first phase’s state by repairing any damage or harm done by the second phase, or by succeeding at some activity.

As the new images frustrate our efforts to remain in the same state and threaten to take over completely, we must find an alternative solution. So we awake.

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 can refer to this imputed energy as free energy. Because the mind can store this energy, it reduces the velocity of the brainwaves in inverse proportion to the amount of stored energy. The mind deals with electrically charged chemical elements and electrical energy so the method of storage is a reduction of electric fields. As a result, waves become more agreeable, or certainly less aggravating.

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 provides for an increase in the amount of electric charge which can be stored, something called capacitance.

In physiology, 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. While the net effect of the two may determine whether an impulse is propagated further, it must still involve a reduction in the electric field. See Appendix for further discussion of impulses from a physiology point of view.

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.

Thus dreaming is one step in a four-step thermodynamic cycle. It reflects our efforts to control energy before we accede to the fourth step, namely waking where we expend energy.

In a dream, we are able to reduce the velocity of brainwaves creating an increase in mental images. These images are in inverse proportion to the reduction in velocity and in direct proportion to the storage capacitance. The De Broglie quantum physics relation requires this effect (see the Appendix). We may see ourselves up a river at a college where presumably we learn about how to handle free energy. At different times, the mind may also form 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 or alignment which further expresses their ordering (a reduction in S, or entropy) 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.

In The End

Once the storage of energy reaches its limit, as it must, it begins to degrade. It gives up new energy, creating a new set of images in opposition to the previous set. This is again in accordance with the De Broglie relation which states that mass increases with the shortening in the wavelength that occurs with an increase in energy at a static velocity (since w = v/f). We seem to anticipate this change over (a so-called depolarization) and an imminent flush of energy. See Appendix for a further discussion of this phenomenon.

At first we try to preserve the results of our older efforts by curing or repairing the damage done by the additional (new) mass to the previous, older mass. In a dream, we see ourselves wanting to help a sick parent, who in reality has died, or another older relative. It may be an old car, or a coal burning furnace, or an overgrown garden that needs repair.

To neutralize, or offset, the new energy as it predominates, we try to carry out activities internally to expend energy. In thermodynamic terms, we are trying to avoid internal energy by even such a simple exercise as counting out a series of integers.

Our resistance to the new energy may take the form of some activity such as sports, but the new energy greatly frustrates these efforts. For 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 and one’s opponent too good. Other failures can also occur in dreams, such as failing a test at school, failing at a job, and even a plane preparing to make a crash landing. These failures of course say that we cannot remain in the dream (or sleep) state any longer.

We know somehow that pursuing activities externally will bring us back to deep sleep. So we may also internalize the idea of going back home, but again we have trouble We cannot get our clothes together, or there is some obstacle preventing us from starting home. A deep ravine may confront us with a large amount of deadly, kinetic energy, if we fail to awake.

As the depolarization nears completion (ending the storage of energy), we become subject to it like being forced to join the army. It is then that we realize that we must recognize our instincts, particularly for food or sex, and identify with them. We may envision satisfying our basic needs and desires within a dream by participating in a related activity internally. But we become frustrated and  cannot placate the depolarization and forestall awakening much longer.

Prolonging sleep can engender a dangerous, or severely hostile, situation. Some police or military force, or enemy, may threaten us with execution or death. In these situations, where the instinct is self-preservation, it is of course impossible to stay asleep any longer.

Once the new energy  dominates, as we note in the large mass, we must find an alternative solution to handling it. Consciousness affords us the ability to have objectives and to use our energies.


We go through a process of handling energy internally, and when this fails we wake up. Waking gives us the ability to think and to act appropriately. Descartes in the 17th century said: I think, therefore I am. Existentialism in the 20th century may well have said: I act, therefore I am. Of course, it is their combination which is important. 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 depends on a favorable environment and our own cleverness or wits.

Still how do we reconcile the two points of view: doing nothing versus doing something? The analogy with a spring comes to mind. It is necessary to stretch or to compress a spring , perhaps significantly,  before we get a substantial oscillation. In physics this is called harmonic motion. So while we are unaware of it, handling of energy internally may well be a prerequisite to consciousness. It is also a necessary step in the life-giving thermodynamic cycle with control of energy as its purpose.

Whatever conclusions we reach about dreams, it is worth noting that the images, large or manifold, are connected to, or represent, changes in kinetic energy (and waves) within the brain. At first we store energy (polarization), thereby reducing velocity. Secondly as polarization naturally decreases we try to exercise energy internally, using images of objects and people that we have known in our lives. Ultimately the depolarization is too adverse to our efforts to offset it, causing us to awake.


De Broglie in his 1924 hypothesis intended to show that particles as well as light beams had wave motion. De Broglie 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 X velocity squared and f is velocity / wavelength (w), E = hf can be written as mv2 = hv/w, or simply mvw = h. This relation states that that lowering either v or w causes an increase in m. An increase in energy storage decreases v, increasing m. Subsequently, a decrease in storage capacity increases wave motion and frequency, so that w, which is equal to v / f, must decrease in the second phase of a dream. This again produces a great number of images or a very large object in dreams, particularly as a dream progresses.

Perhaps we should note that, in the second phase, velocity (v) would remain roughly the same as before since the wavelength and period (t) decreases by roughly the same percentage, as determined by the presentation of the new energy.

The brain deals with electrical energy in the form of electrically charged chemical elements like sodium, potassium, and chloride. Storage is like a capacitor with opposite charges migrating to opposite sides of a membrane. or other cellular structure, decreasing the electrical field. Initially, energy breaks apart potassium chloride within a neuron into charged atoms, called ions. The positive potassium ions migrate to the outside of the neuron, setting up the temporary storage of energy, or action potential as it is called. The term “action potential” can be considered a misnomer because the potential difference is a mechanism to store energy and avoid action.

A reduction in electrical energy storage, increasing the electric field once again, involves opposite charges attracting each other. Negative sodium ions, which are lighter than potassium ions, move into the neuron attracted by the negative chloride ions within. Scientists refer to this as depolarization, like the  discharging of a capacitor. We can represent the conflict between the two instances of created masses in the form of two ships colliding in an ocean of stored energy.

One other note, some negative sodium ions remain after things return to normal combining with the chloride ions to release energy to initiate another action potential down the line. This series of action potentials become an impulse traveling from one neuron to another.


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.

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