Simply Biological

Dr. John Allan Hobson and Robert W. McCarley have done extensive research on Rapid Eye Movement Sleep (REM) as well as the study of the brain during consciousness.

Dr.Hobson(1933) is professor of psychiatry, Emeritus, Harvard Medical School, and an advid dream researcher. He was raised in Connecticut, and recieved his MD at Harvard Medical School in 1959. He has numerous awards for his work such as being admitted to the Boylston Medical Society, and Honorary Membership of the American Psychiatric Association(1978), as well as recieving the Distinguished Scientist Award of the Sleep Research Society in 1998 and The Benjamin Rush Gold Medal for Best Scientific Exhibit (Robert, 2004).

Robert W. McCarely, MD(1937) is the head of Harvard Department of Psychiarty and Laboratory of Neuroscience. He is a member of The Sleep Research Society, American Academy of Sleep Medicine, Society of Neuroscience, American Psychiatric Association, Society of Biological Psychiatry, and American Physiology Society(

With the advancement of technology, the brain can be categorized into three ‘states’: awake, REM sleep, and NREM sleep(Hobson, 2009). They have also concluded three states of a conscious brain: Consciousness, Primary Consciousness, and Secondary Consciousness.

Random-Activation Theory

Hobson and McCarley are avidly against the idea that dreams are a parallel to our unconscious, and feels that dreams have no deep or repressed meanings to them. Rather, Hobson and McCarley stress that dreams are random activation of our forebrain, specifically to our amygdala and hippocampus (Hobson, 1977). In response to the internal activity that is stimulated, our brains depict images to compensate.

Hobson and McCarley’s theory is much different than Jung or Freud’s – the approach is strictly biological. They believe that dreams are a result of random energy that creates signals that reach the brain during REM. As a way of organizing the information that is received, the brain then forms dreams.  They are representatives of the “Random Activation Theory“, which was developed in 1977.

Sleep Stages

It is first important to understand what Hobson and McCarley mean when identifying the different stages of sleep. When we are awake, we are ‘aware of ourselves, our body and the world around us'(Hobson, 2009). With this awareness, we are able to make decisions about the past, present and future. We are also capable of spatial abilities, such as moving around freely and having valid motor coordination(Hobson, 2000) However, when we are dreaming, we are in a state where our brain is unable to detect external stimulation like it would when we are awake. During this time, our brain is unaware of the world around us.

While it may seem as if we fall right into ‘dream mode’, there are actually five separate stages of sleep. The first stage of sleep is extremely light, where simple sounds or movement may disrupt your state and wake you. During this time the muscles in your eyes slowly move and the the muscle activity throughout your body weakens. This state is also when many people report sudden muscle spasms and ‘sense of falling’ (Dement, 1957 ). Stage two and three consist of brain waves slowing down, and in stage three specifically, DELTA(faster, smaller)waves become present. In stage four, DELTA waves are the most predominant waves. This is considered ‘delta sleep’ or deep sleep. During this time, people commonly report sleepwalking or night terrors (Dement, 1957).

Then begins REM sleep. Physiologically, your eyes begin to jerk and breathing becomes more quick and sudden. Males may become aroused, heart rate increases, and blood pressure rises. The muscles throughout your body are in a temporary state of paralysis. Interestingly, brain waves are similar to that of when you are awake. An individual may experience approximately four cycles of REM each night. It is during this state that dreams occur (Dement, 1957).

Dreams:Not Wasted Time

Although Hobson defines dreaming a structure of our biology, he does not deem them useless. Instead, he says dreaming is “…our most creative conscious state, one in which the chaotic, spontaneous recombination of cognitive elements produces novel configurations of information: new ideas. While many or even most of these ideas may be nonsensical, if even a few of its fanciful products are truly useful, our dream time will not have been wasted.” (Hobson, 1999).



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