Do Animals Dream? (In the Light of Theosophy)
Do animals dream like we do and, if so, what they are dreaming about? and if they do, about what? It is not easy to figure this out and yet, biologists feel that studying the dream-like states of octopuses, pigeons and spiders, can help us understand the purpose of human dreams. In order to dream, one must sleep, and scientists believe that there is no known animal that does not sleep. It may enable animals to get rid of waste products and toxins that build up when they are active, says Daniela Rößler, a behavioral ecologist at the University of Konstanz in Germany.
Sleep pattern of human beings consists of REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, during which our eyes move, though our eyelids are closed. Most dream states, and certainly those with the most vivid dreams, happen during REM sleep. We also experience non-REM or quiescent sleep. There is plenty of evidence that other mammals, such as mice, have similar sleep patterns to humans. However, since the brains of non-mammals are very different from those of humans, it is very difficult to image them while they are sleeping. However, in the recent past, when Gianina Ungurean at the Max Planck Institute for Biological Intelligence in Germany, and her colleagues succeeded in recording brain activity in awake and sleeping pigeons, the recordings revealed bouts of REM and non-REM sleep as in mammals. “REM sleep activity was high in brain regions involved in processing visual information, especially images that slide across your field of view when you are in motion,” and these activities are indicative of birds flying, and perhaps that is what pigeons were dreaming about, says Ungurean.
All animals do not experience dreaming and REM sleep. For instance, sponges do not have brains, or even neurons, so they lack the machinery for dreaming. In the case of birds and mammals there is growing evidence which suggests that REM sleep and dreaming are important for forming memories. According to Ungurean, since events are replayed during sleep, it helps to integrate memories into longer-term storage. According to David Scheel at Alaska Pacific University, it is possible that dreaming has served multiple purposes since the first complex animals evolved. And hence animal dreams might shed light on the true purpose of our own, writes Michael Marshall. (New Scientist, December 12, 2023)
Theosophy teaches that waking, dreaming (REM sleep) and dreamless (Non-REM) sleep are three planes of human life, or three states of consciousness. All these different states are necessary for growth. In the waking or Jagrat state various organs of the body, senses and faculties get necessary exercise and development. The dream state or Swapna state is necessary for the physical faculties to get rest, where astral faculties become active and develop. In the dreamless sleep or Sushupti state, both physical and astral senses and faculties enjoy rest. In this state the lower mind is more or less paralyzed, and the Higher Ego is active, so that it can develop itself by appropriate exercise.
As far as human beings are concerned dreams could be divided into two main classes: ordinary dreams and real dreams. What are described as ordinary dreams or idle visions are caused by physiological, biological and we might say, even psychic activities of man. The real dreams are the reflections of the activities of the real man, or the Higher Ego on its own plane, when the brain and body are paralyzed during sleep. H.P.B. says that there are many kinds of dreams. There are brain dreams and memory dreams, mechanical and conscious visions. There are dreams of warning and premonition which require active co-operation of our spiritual nature, our inner Ego, and it is these real dreams which are of importance for every human being.
During the waking state, we are receiving impressions and sensations, which are stored in appropriate nerve centres. During sleep, memory acts mechanically and reproduces past sensations. Our brain, in falling asleep, is like last embers of a dying fire. Any idea or event that impressed itself on the active brain during waking hours can produce dreams. During sleep, when active functioning of cerebrum ceases, cerebellum begins to throw off impressions just as a bar of heated iron radiates heat.
As to the difference between the dreams of men and those of animals, H.P.B. writes: “The dream state is common not only to all men, but also to all animals, of course, from the highest mammalia to the smallest birds, and even insects. Every being endowed with a physical brain, or organs approximating thereto, must dream. Every animal, large or small, has, more or less, physical senses; and though these senses are dulled during sleep, memory will still, so to say, act mechanically, reproducing past sensations. That dogs and horses and cattle dream we all know, and so also do canaries, but such dreams are, I think, merely physiological. Like the last embers of a dying fire, with its spasmodic flare and occasional flames, so acts the brain in falling asleep.” (Transactions, p. 70)
[This article also appeared in The Theosophical Movement. For more articles published in this excellent magazine follow this link: https://www.ultindia.org/current_issues.html