Dreams -the most perplexing phenomena experienced, still remains a mystery to science and the biggest stumbling block in path of scientism and its absolute claim to truth. The other potent obstacle being consciousness. These two alone are enough to shake the very foundations of modern scientific thought that evolved from the 17th century.The failure to address these two basic human experiences appropriately, has made many scientists ask, “Do we even know anything?”All scientific efforts to unravel the mysteries have failed. Scientific studies involving electrodes attached to the head, recording firings of neurons by several parts of the brain have yielded nothing. What the mind actually sees or the imaginations it creates, have not been recorded by any electronic gadget.There is no answer to how the mind is able to construct the images it does. At ordinary times, man’s mind may not be able to imagine a beautiful figure, but it can construct an unforgivably beautiful image during the sleep! Why does the mind fail when awake, but succeeds when the man is asleep? Seeing that he never happened to see the like of a remarkably beautiful figure, say of a garden or human being, in his life, simply because no such figure exists in the real world, but the mind constructs it when the man loses control of his mind in his sleep. Similarly, a man may visit a foreign land (say a Brazilian visiting Germany in a dream), and see himself visiting whole towns, going through its streets and lanes, entering into jam-packed cafeterias, ordering food, and so on, yet none of the dream matches with anything there really is in the actual place (Germany). The mind is miraculously able to construct images of the town, its places, people and things, that do not exist at all, and that did not exist in the past either, the whole dream being an entirely new construct, yet beautiful and enchanting. But the same mind is unable to imagine the same sceneries when awake. The question that needs to be asked is if it is the mind even that is “constructing” these images and scenes. Or the “hard problem” of consciousness is again at play. And that makes sense. The mystery and enigma that shrouds “ Reality as we know it”, also shrouds this daily phenomenon called Dreams
In our dreams we are absolutely conscious of our own selves and other people just like we are, in the awaken state. And now after studying how the eyes and brain work in communion to produce the most suited interpretation of the outside world. Yes it is not our eyes that see, it is our visual cortex that processes the image at the back of our head. So scientifically speaking, we have no solid proof of the reality of the outside world, apart from the interpreted image constructed in a tiny dark corner of our head. This is precisely why optical illusions can cause a misinterpretation of the reality. But consciousness is separate from our brain. Like Descartes said,” I can doubt everything, but I cannot doubt the fact that I am doubting!”
The fact that this very “I” that is absolutely in control and awake in our dream state, should tell us that it's not just the mind, but something that activates the mind that produces dreams. Yes, it's true, that there are dreams that are purely from the mind, like you seeing yourself in office, or having a meal. But there is no “scientific” explanation of what we call “True Dreams”. And it is these type of dreams that are projected onto our consciousness. Example, you see yourself in a state in a dream, or you see an event happening in your dream and some time later, the very same thing, bit by bit, occurs in your life. There is not a single person that can say that they haven't encountered something like this at least once in their life. And as the material cosmos moves towards its culmination, we are informed by the Prophet (saw) that , “Around the end of time, the dreams of a true believer will never fail to be true”.
In fact, that the mind alone does it all is also not established. And of course, there is no explanation for how dreams prove to be true, except to seek escape through a door called “a chance occurrence.” They can use this door as exit even when the door is mathematically and scientifically shut. To give an example, for life to have first appeared by chance, is as impossible as hitting successfully a one square inch sized target placed 15 billion light years away in first shot.
So what happens in a dream and how do we recall them
Muslim scholars say that when the Nafs (Human Ego, Self or consciousness ) is freed from the body as it goes to rest, it is exposed to the `Alam al-mithal (the World of Images: wherein is everything in creation, is in images), or Alam al Ma’na (the Realm of meaning) and actually sees with its own abstract eyes, things happening there. Those visions are passed on to the mind, which it stores in physical memory and, if it is a properly developed, recalls at certain moments: though much lies at the bottom, never recalled. If the Nafs (the human being) possesses a proper metaphysical vision (baseerah) it is able to comprehend the events and the words uttered and reports to the person who knows the science of Dream Interpretation, who, if he is able, can give it proper interpretation, but if the nafs is not spiritually developed, it fails to allot any meaning to what it sees, and so it goes into memory lane as junk.
A Prophetic report says that true dreams are one-forty-sixth of Prophethood. Such a dream is from God - which He sends for the comfort of His slave, or to guide him in an affair. They are one-forty-sixth of Prophethood because just as the Prophets predict the future, a soul that has achieved at least one-forty-sixth of Prophetic purity, is granted visions from on High that unfold as future event.)
Kinds of Dreams
Dreams result from several reasons, a few being: (a) because of ill health, (b) what satan shows, (c) what the mind has been seriously thinking about during the day, and (d) true dreams granted by God to the pious or those He wishes to guide.
Everyone sees dreams as soon as sleep overtakes him; sometimes, even the while he dozes off for a minute.
Satan has a big role to play in dreams. Being a type of immaterial energy, it runs through the blood of the human being, and can interfere with the emissions of neurons and even cause release of quantum level energy waves in the mind. Recitation of adhkar (remembrance) recommended in the hadith keeps him away. The Prophet has said that when one of you sees an evil dream (and wakes up in fear) let him spit without saliva three times on the left and seek God's refuge from satan.
A third type is continuation of a thought the mind was occupied with during pre-sleep session. A hungry man’s uppermost thought is to satisfy his hunger, and so he finds himself going after food in his dream. A man worried about an affair will see completing it or failing to do it in his dream. He might experience the same dream several times over. It may have no bearing on the actualities of life. Some dreams are caused by what lies at the sub-conscious level. Nevertheless, within all such dreams, one might be shown a flash of truth from the 'Alam al Mithal (The realm of images and meaning) if he happens to be righteous to some degree.
The mature believer's heart that is purified from all falsehood can distinguish between these dreams and get the most appropriate meaning out as his/her heart is like a mirror that catches the the true picture of an event that has unveiled in a higher dimension or level of the Multiverse. The event exists as a "probability" till he/she interprets it and then it actualises in the Material world according to the interpretation. So that is precisely why Dream interpretation is a Knowledge of a very high order and the Prophet (pbuh) warned us from sharing our dreams with people who do not posses this knowledge or are envious, since their erroneous interpretation can affect the event in its unfolding. Quantum Physics tells us that at the Quantum level, the world is all about probability and the course of the quantum particle does alter with the conscious observer and his/her intention. One can understand the dream state in a similar way.
However, dreams are also classified in the following two categories in terms of their interpretation
1. Long term dream
2. Short term dream
A long term dream is a true dream that appears as a mixed up bundle of images, scenes and words that require intensive interpretation. Such an event will take time in its actualization. Eg: Yusuf (as)'s dream of the Sun, moon and 11 stars prostating to him. This was a symbolic dream and it took not less than 40 years for it to come true.
A short term dream is a direct vision. It actualizes in the near future. Eg: The dream of the prisoner in Surah Yusuf who say himself serving wine to the king. And shortly he was doing that
There are a few signs of a true dream.
Safiyyah Sabreen studied Mechanical Engineering and is currently pursuing her Master's in Philosophy. She is the Content Director for KNOW. Being interested in the field of Islam and Science and Islamic Eschatology, she produced a documentary on the Golden Age of Islam and directs the Second Golden Age series.