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 more general,  realistic explanation of dreams.

Psychology and physics have progressed on separate tracks since the publication of Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams and the inception of Planck’s constant in about 1900. But there are more similarities than disparities between them.

The basic thing in regard to dreams is that we are reluctant to change from deep sleep. We wish to remain in the same state, unaffected and undisturbed by new energy. Besides inertia, which is characteristic of all objects or matter, humans have an inherent tendency to counteract the effect of energy upon them. This resistance to change means keeping momentum, which is defined as mass times velocity. constant.

Thus, when faced with new energy, the mind has the ability to avoid, or prevent, a significant increase in brain activity. The velocity of brainwaves indicates the amount of brain activity. A substantial increase in the size or number of mental images achieves an immediate reduction in brainwave velocity. For this to work without a change in momentum, the mind must also store the resulting lost energy.

This storage of energy however is limited, so that the enlargement of images must reach a maximum without one awakening. Nevertheless, we persist in the current state, trying to pacify and remedy any excess. Eventually, these efforts become frustrated, and we are threatened with a flood of energy and uncontrolled neural activity after all. 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 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 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 of 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 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. Physicists call devices for storing electrical energy 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 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. 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 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. 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. 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 energy that is imposed upon us, or free energy as physicists call it. Free energy can result in increased heat and temperature, making the mind 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 it appears the alignment represents a maximum that the mind can accomplish in handling imposed energy and maintaining the same state.

As we approach this limit, older images are harmed, and we want to cure, treat, or repair them to preserve the current state. Examples are a sick parent, who in real life may have died, or another older relative. An old car or a coal burning furnace or an overgrown garden needing repair  are further examples.

Once we reach that maximum, we may utilize activities from conscious living, however the images have grown so great that they frustrate these activities. We may in fact be overreaching the attainable maximum. Sports are 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. Such internalizing of the uses of energy has the effect of temporarily handling free energy and allowing us to remain in the same state. While this often reflects the potential satisfaction of some need (referred to in psychoanalysis as wish fulfillment), it’s main purpose is to allow one to continue to sleep (or to handle energy without waking).

At the end of other dreams, 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 calamity even more than the other frustrations prevents us from staying asleep.

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. 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.

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.


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 while asleep is no longer tenable, and a dream becomes unsustainable. It is time to wake up and to expend energy in various useful ways. Resistance to one’s energy must give way to the 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 enough 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, using Harmonic Motion, that waking first requires dreaming due to the buildup of potential energy and internal tension, and we can conclude that sleeping then restores our powers. Thus dreaming is both a sufficient and necessary condition of consciousness.

Many articles on nerve physiology and Action Potentials (AP) are 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 at the beginning of an AP. Combining sodium, which is lighter than potassium, and chlorine ions into salt at the end of an AP (assuming that happens) releases energy helping 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

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