The Meaning of Dreams

Dreams: The Process of Awakening

A Physical Interpretation of Dreams

Revised July 22, 2021

By Bruce McKeithan


Dreams reflect the brain’s and our own efforts to minimize the disturbing effect of energy within us at various stages of awakening. Let us see how this happens and leads to waking up. We rely on certain principles from physics to do this and defer to others for a physiological exposition of dreams.

First of all, energy that the brain releases at its base flows into the central part of the brain, avoiding an excess of internal energy or heat at the base. This energy then threatens our equilibrium. We wish to remain undisturbed by the incoming energy and to counteract it in some way. The brain handles this situation by storing energy among its many cells, reducing the velocity of the associated brainwaves. We can speak of brainwaves because according to quantum physics, which has been around since 1900 as has psychoanalysis, energy is equivalent to the frequency of the waves carrying it. A lower frequency means a greater wavelength and a lower velocity of waves.

Once the energy storage reaches, or nearly reaches, a maximum, it reverses itself, constituting a second phase of a dream. We do not welcome this change as it confronts us with disquieting free energy. We make various efforts to offset or contain this energy, too. But these efforts fail, the new energy becomes too great to handle internally, and we finally realize that we need to awake to expend energy.

Phase 1

During sleep, we try to deal with the energy that the base of the brain releases. We may find ourselves away from home at a resort, or in the mountains, or in another region of the country, or even in another country. We remember people and settings that we have known in the past. To emphasize the point, we may being doing something in a cooler, more northern climate

Physics can explain this displacement: Brainwaves threaten to become too sharp to be sustained in the same place. A new state allows them to become more elongated and stretched out and decreases their momentum reciprocally. As momentum is a product of mass and velocity, it is mostly a decrease in velocity that occurs. Some mass in the form of individual people increases though as an offset to a decrease in velocity which is greater than the reciprocal of the increase in wavelength.

This process also involves a storage of energy. Kinetic energy, which involves velocity, becomes potential energy, like moving an object from the floor to a table. As the mind deals with electrically charged chemical elements and electrical energy, it reduces applied electric fields to accomplish this storage.

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. To decrease the strength of microscopic electric fields it is necessary to make these structures less permeable to the conduction of charged elements. 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 stored electric charge, 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.

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 imposed energy that can result in increased heat and temperature. To lessen that impact, the mind must take preemptive action. Two psychiatrists Hobson and McCauley have pointed out in their 1977 paper that dreams are the brain’s effort to make sense of the resulting chaos. Thus we can expect the mind to regulate the incoming energy in some way.

Phase 2

As a dream continues, the brain tends to relinquish the achieved state and produce new energy, but the mind resists this tendency. The dissolution of the energy storage may be due to the limitation on tension introduced by phase 1. It may also represent a rebound to additional entropy (to use that thermodynamic term). The discharge can also be considered just a natural reaction in an aging capacitor.

In any case, we first try to preserve the results of our older efforts by curing or repairing the damage done by the dissolution. 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 and we want to fix.

To offset the decrease in wavelength which accompanies the growth in energy, the mind may 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, or even hills. Homes may be in a line, or people may belong to a congregation in church or other assembly, indicating the density of the images. This is a pronounced feature of dreams which allows the velocity of the brainwaves to remain at a decreased level and one to remain asleep. at least momentarily. See Appendix for the physics relation which describes this.

An expansion of energy in order to prevent an increase in internal energy (again thermodynamics) also implies carrying out activities. Rather than waking up to do so, we imagine doing things while still asleep, such as even simply trying to count integers upward.

The inward activity may take the form of sports, but the new energy, as it predominates, 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.

The decrease in wavelength produces the numerous or large images, if velocity is held relatively steady. Thus it makes sense that these images such as a forest block the inward activity and steer us toward awakening (in other words, do not allow us to remain asleep any longer).

At the end of a dream, we may also envision going back home in order to return to a completely relaxed state (deep sleep). But we cannot really do this without awakening. It is impossible to accomplish this internally. Therefore, we have trouble getting started, we cannot get our clothes together, or there is some obstacle preventing us from starting home.

We may also envision the threat of new energy to ourselves in the form of a large waterfall at the end of a large lake (stored energy), or a stream rushing down a hill toward a town, or water rapidly going through a culvert, sweeping one along with it. This seems to indicate an overload of stored energy and the need to wake up to pursue some true activity to reduce the released energy.

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, we must find an alternative solution to handling it and transition to that. Consciousness affords us the ability to have objectives and to use our energies.


We try to handle energy that enters the brain anew during sleep internally before we realize that it is essential to wake up and really 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 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) They do not however tell us how to act, what our behavior shall be. That is to some extent self determined. After all, it is self determination that makes us human.


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 times velocity squared and f is velocity divided by wavelength (w), E = hf can be written as mv2 = hv/w, or simply mvw = h. This relation states that lengthening w along with a storage of energy can cause a decrease in v. Subsequently, the decrease in w that accompanies the conversion of potential energy back into kinetic can result in an increase in m, while v remains roughly the same.


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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