What is the nature of dreams about deceased people?

Inspired by this thread, I’m wondering about the nature of dreams about deceased people. As I mentioned in the thread linked, I think that dreaming about deceased loved ones is very healthy, and an essential part of the grieving process, but others obviously feel that dreaming of deceased people is an actual visitation by the spirit of the deceased. I’m not inclined to totally discount that explanation, either.

So, I’ll toss it out there. What do you all think is going on when you dream of a deceased loved one? Does it have any significance for you, or is it just some wayward electrical impulses in your brain? Is there any psychological significance or beliefs in this area?

Does it have to be of any greater significance than dreaming about living acquaintances, or celebrities, or aliens?

Sometimes it’s just a dream; sometimes it’s an actual visit or communion with the departed.

Kept dreaming about a very close friend, died of drink. Near broke my heart, watching. We buried him, and every once in a while I would dream about him. Don’t much like to dream, usually anxious and unpleasant. So it began to bother me.

Until one day it occured to me that whenever I dreamed about him, he was smiling, healthy, happy. And then they stopped.

A friend recently died. I hadn’t seen or heard from him in months. I was expecting to see him again soon. Then I read in the paper he had died a month ago.

I had a dream a couple weeks ago about seeing him again. I can’t remember if he said it or I said it or I just figured it, but the idea was there that the paper was wrong. I was quite happy to see him again.

Then I woke up and realized he was still dead. didn’t help much.

I think so, because as I mentioned, I think dreaming about the deceased helps us grieve. I think it helps us work out unfinished business with people who are gone, so we can’t interact with them anymore.

I also assume dreaming of a deceased friend serves as part of the grieving process. What struck me as strange is that I’ve had a dream of a buddy of mine (much older) who I shared a hobby with. In the dream he must be in his 30’s (which would be younger than me). What makes it strange is that I met him in his late 50’s.

I think it’s wayward electrical impulses, but the mind can interpret these impulses much like when during a Rorschach test it interprets random ink splotches.

So, IMHO it could mean as much as a Rorschach.

I dream, not infrequently, about an ex-girlfriend (still living). I doubt that means that she’s visiting me, even in some extranormal sense.

Dreams are sometimes the mind’s way of working through psychological conundrums, like a difficult decision or an unresolved remorse. They may seem very real, and it is very easy to conflate memories of a dream with events that occur later in real life, but I doubt, in absence of any consistant evidence whatsoever, that spirits are able to manifest themselves in dream form. I find it much more persuasive that you miss the presense of a loved one and that your subconscious creates the form and image of said person in order to acquire a measure of comfort.

I sometimes have very vivid dreams about flying, often in places where I’ve previously been. It doesn’t mean I should go hopping off the roof of a building in the believe that gravity will utterly fail to slam me down into the pavement.


I’ve had dreams with my deceased father and brother.
Emotionally they are visits from their spirits.

Logically, they are dreams.

Isn’t all thinking simply electrical impulses?

i don’t know the answer to the question, none of us do. i do have an experience to add though. my sister died three years ago of an asthma attack in the middle of the night. i had a dream about her a couple weeks (i think it was a couple weeks) after. i was sitting in a room in front of a door. the door opened and it became so bright that i could not see until the door was closed. when it closed i saw my sister standing right in front of me so i jumped up and hugged her, but she didn’t hug me back so i stepped back and she said to me, “how did i die?” then she turned around, went back through the door and i woke up. the next day we got a letter from the medical examiner telling us how she died. i’m an agnostic, so even though i felt that i had been visited by my sister i know that emotions can be very deceptive.

Not “wayward” impulses, or random ones.

Here’s what I was thinking of:

Dreams are not completely random since that would have us dreaming hundreds of utterly unrelated images or sounds each second. We have memories and the cognitive ability to combine and permute those memories (ie. “imagination”) - this is the basis of dreams. Also note that dreams are only a bit like wakefulness, rather sketchy in the details. The reason we cannot read or feel like running properly is because the brain cannot itself create that vast amount of sensory data which the physical world provides so easily, such as thousands of ink-shapes on a page or the precise output of every nerve in your legs, skeleton and the inner ear upon each footstep’s impact with the ground. We tend experience only what the brain is tuned to remember or output, such as faces, spatial orientations and “raw” emotions from our amygdala and temporal lobes.

As for the crazy narrative of dreams, I find Daniel Dennett’s party game analogy quite compelling, wherein the brain’s hypothesis-confirmation mechanism behaves more randomly on its own than when immersed in the sensory jungle.

We all clearly have memories of the deceased, and these can be activated and permuted in dreams just as memories of living people, or places, or objects are. These are “wayward electrical impulses” only insofar as electrical impulses are causing these messages to appear on your computer monitor in a predictable manner: would you call them “wayward” also?

Your observations are correct but I think the cause is slightly different. It’s a fact also that people under hypnosis cannot “read” a book if you ask them to do so.

I’ve done my own “research” into reading in dreams, and I’ve seen it come up in threads here and there. You can read a sentence or a word or two, but the text shifts and you can never look away from it and then see the same thing again. I think the simple reason why the brain can’t read in a dream is that a) it cannot create the page all at once and have it scannable by the eye as in real life (contrary to your theory, and this is a nitpick, it can create quite a bit of data on the page but cannot order it properly), and, more importantly, b) the brain cannot, as in waking life, memorize the appearance of an entire page of text, even if it could create it.

As for running, my impression has been that the mind tries to access the actual legs, which are not moving in the bed, and thus has a hard time reconciling that with the dream world. We have a “mind’s eye,” after all, but not “mind’s legs.”

I think the reading issue has enormous implications for NDE research. I have e-mailed an NDE researcher about the reading issue, and he thought it was an interesting point. In a survey he had taken, he had asked people whether they did read or could have read something had there been something to read, but I don’t think his question was rigorous or probing enough. The result was that the majority said they could and the minority said they couldn’t. (But in either case, you really need to probe that. People might not consider it an important question.)

I think we can both agree that there is no way that the brain in a traumatized state is going to gain the power of creating clear, full pages of text. Of course, if people do say that they were given books to read and could read them as clear as day, then skeptics are going to blow that off as “anecdotal” or just testimony without credibility, but sincere people should recognize that as impressive evidence.

Yes, Aeschines, my explanation for why we cannot read in dreams is hardly categorical - it was only illustrative, really. As for research, I’d be very interested in the dream-reading of high-functioning autism patients who apparently can store vast reams of data “photographically”. If they said they could read almost as normal in dreams, this would suggest that the detail-level of memory was the crucial factor in determining our dream state abilities.

I must echo the belief that it’s just an emotional response of the psychie to the trauma or grief for the loss of someone who’s had an impact in one’s life. Having said that, it doesn’t even have to be someone very close or particularly loved. A lot depends on events surrounding the death and one’s state of mind at the time.

In short, it’s not a paranormal visitation. It’s just your brain trying to get itself around the event and not always to successful or necessarily happy conclusion.