Why create a data driven dream dictionary?

Dreams are incredible, bizarre, mundane, confusing and life changing. We dream every night and we can remember a lot of these. Some of our dreams stick with us, confuse, and compel us to seek their meaning.

There are many dream dictionaries. In fact, we have records of dream interpretations and dictionaries that are almost 5,000 years old! People want to know what their dreams mean.

DreamWell's Dream Dictionary is unique and groundbreaking. It is the first dream dictionary to be based upon data. We've distilled insights and observations from over 125,000 dreams.

There are problems with most dream dictionaries

Most dream dictionaries present a symbol and a potential meaning. There are a number of problems with this approach.

The first is that you, as the dreamer, have the final say in what your dreams may or may not mean. No one else can know what your dreams truly mean. No one else can tell you what your dream means.

Second, dreams and dream symbols likely have many different meanings. This can never be fully captured within a single dream dictionary.

Third, the meanings of dream symbols change over time. The best example of this are surgical masks. Dreams of surgical masks likely have profoundly different meanings from before or after the pandemic. But, the meaning of dream symbols within your own life can change over time.

Most importantly dreams are fundamentally experiences. They are part of our lives, not interruptions to it. When you feel joy in a dream, you simply feel joy. Dreams are lived experiences and any tool that helps you understand your dreams needs to acknowledge that dreams are fundamentally part of life.

What are the benefits of using a data driven dream dictionary?

Our first aim is to explore and understand the dream world. Dreams are incredible and there are a vast range of different experiences that we have in dreams. Yet, we simply do not know everything that happens in dreams because we haven't looked. A data driven dream dictionary allows us to explore what is happening in our nightly and daily dreams.

Second, we hope this brings people together. So often we can have disturbing or confusing dreams. It can be a comfort to know other people have similar experiences. For example dreaming of an ex partner can be confusing, but up to 8% of dreams can involved an ex partner.

Third, we hope to help people understand what is unique about their own dreams. A data-driven dream dictionary can provide general expectations on what a dream symbol may mean. This allows people to interpret their own dreams with a new lens. For example, it probably will mean something if most people find vampires scary in dreams, but you do not.

What's the methodology of DreamWell's Dream Dictionary?

How has dream analysis been done in the past?

There have been many methods to quantify dream content, but none are more famous than the Hall/Van de Castle coding system. It was a time intensive process of reading dreams and manually coding different elements and actions. Within the last two decades there has been work to translate the Hall/Van de Castle coding system into keyword based searches. More complex analyses have also been used such as graph analysis, topic modeling, and so on.

All of these analyses suffer from the same problem. They seek to understand group differences in dream content. They seek to report on dreams in general. DreamWell's Data-Driven Dream Dictionary seeks to provide actionable information to you, as an individual dreamer.

The DreamWell Dream Dictionary uses a huge dataset of dreams

We have identified over 125,000 publicly accessible dreams from across the internet. A large majority of these come from reddit (r/Dreams, r/LucidDreaming, r/DreamInterpretation, and r/thisdreamihad). Additionally about 25,000 dreams come from the Sleep and Dream Database which includes the famous DreamBank dataset.

Obviously the dreams used in the DreamWell Dream Dictionary will influence the results and understanding of dream symbols. There will be biases in this dataset. This dataset will likely not be inclusive of everyone that dreams.

As a result the current version DreamWell Dream Dictionary is simply a first step. We acknowledge the short-comings of this dataset and hope that these can be addressed in future iterations.

The DreamWell Dream Dictionary contains more than 1,000 dream symbols

We have defined over 1,000 dream symbols. The list of dream symbols have been heavily influenced by the Hall/Van de Castle coding system, Kelly Bulkeley's work on digital dream analysis, J.M. Debord's (RadOwl) fantastic dream dictionary, the Typical Dream Questionnaire, and data-driven topic modeling (publication to be submitted). As a result, the DreamWell Dream Dictionary is comprehensive and informed by the scientific literature on dreams.

However, there are some problems with this approach. First, the symbols we have defined will reflect our biases as individuals and the biases from the scientific literature. Second, dreams are as complex as waking life. No one system of understanding will be comprehensive.

How are the dream symbols identified in the DreamWell Dream Dictionary?

We identify dream symbols using keywords within the dream text. For example with the dream symbol of “mother”, we see to identify the word “mother” within the dream text. Additionally, we seek to find other common forms of the word “mother” such as “mom”, “ma”, “mum” and so on. For some dream symbols we may employ regular expressions. These allow us to look for certain patterns of language beyond simply finding the key words.

There are obvious shortcomings with this approach. First of all, we have not accounted for spelling errors. Second, we may misidentify some symbols. For example the word “bat” can refer to an animal or an object. Third, we may miss some true examples. For example, many people will refer to their partner by name. We will not be able to identify these dreams by using keywords like “wife”, “husband”, “boyfriend”, “girlfriend”, “partner”, or “spouse”.

What sort of conclusions can we draw about dreams symbols?

We care about the relationships between dream symbols.

We'll use the example of ghosts in dreams. We'll be concerned about how ghosts affect fear in dreams. Do dreams of ghosts have more fear than dreams in general?

Our first step then is to calculate the percent of ghost dreams that have fear and then calculate the percent of dreams in general that have fear. This will allow us to have statistics like “dreams of ghosts have 30% more fear than dreams in general”.

This is an interesting statistic but it has a few problems. First of all, it is hard to understand. Second, it will depend upon the frequency the dream symbol is in dreams. For example if fear is present in 5% of ghost dreams and 1% of dreams in general, there would be a 500% more fear in ghost dreams. But if fear is present in 15% of ghost dreams and 10% of dreams in general, there would only be a 50% more fear in ghost dreams. This is a problem because a lot of the dream symbols that are interesting are relatively rare.

Here is where things get interesting. We then calculate how every dream symbol affects fear. Perhaps there is 30% less fear in dreams of mothers. Maybe there is 80% more fear in dreams of the devil. We're able to rank each dream symbol for how it affects fear. Doing this allows us to create definitions for how dreams symbols relate.

For example, if the DreamWell Dream Dictionary says that there is more fear than usual in dreams of ghosts, it means that dreams of ghosts increase fear more than 70% of all other dream symbols. If there is much more fear in dreams of ghosts than there is more fear in dreams of ghosts than 90% of other dream symbols.

Calculating dream statistics in this way allows us to overcome a number of statistical problems and present the data in an understandable manner. It additionally helps us present the data without being too precise. This is important because every dream is unique.

How can you use the DreamWell Dream Dictionary?

We hope that you use DreamWell's Data-Driven Dream Dictionary to simply explore the dream world. The breadth of experience of dreams is vast. People dream about all different kinds of things.

We think DreamWell's Data-Driven Dream Dictionary is particularly useful for understanding how your specific dream may be unique. As a result, if you are curious about a dream symbol you may have had, we'd suggest that you look at how your dream may be different. For example, you may have a ghost dream that is happy, while most are not. This is interesting information.

We hope that this encourages you to pay attention and explore your own dreams. View them as experiences, not just memories. When you are dreaming, you are experiencing the dream world in real time. When you experience joy in a dream, you simply experience joy.

What are the future plans for the DreamWell Dream Dictionary?

DreamWell's Data-Driven Dream Dictionary is currently just a first step to understanding and exploring the dream world. We plan to improve.

First, our dataset clearly has biases. It is additionally only historical. It does not rely upon real time data. As a result, we seek to expand our dataset. If you want to contribute, the best way to do this is to log your dreams within the DreamWell app or share them in r/Dreams.

Second, we seek to improve how we define and identify dream symbols. We're currently in the process of submitting a scientific manuscript using data-driven topic modeling in dream analysis. But we would love your feedback! Reach out to us at hi@dreamwellbewell.com if you think we're missing any symbols.

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