1. Dreaming is a form of mental functioning (basically cerebral cortical functioning) at one end of a continuum running from focused waking thought through looser thought, reverie, daydreaming, and finally dreaming.
2. Dreaming (mental functioning at the dreaming end of the continuum) is hyperconnective. Material in the mind is brought together, combined, and connected more easily in dreaming than in waking thought.
3. Dreaming is hyperconnective, but the connections are not random. dreaming avoids certain regions in memory that involve serial processing: logical A-leads-to-B leads-to-C thinking; and overlearned activities such as reading, writing, and arithmetic (Hartmann, 2000).
4. The connections are guided by the dreamer's underlying emotion and emotional concern. The dream--especially the CI [central image] of the dream--pictures or contextualizes the emotion. The intensity of the CI is a measure of the strength of the emotion.
5. The making of broad connections guided by emotion has an adaptive function, which we conceptualize as "weaving in" new material--in other words taking new experiences and gradually connecting them, cross-connecting them, and integrating them into existing memory systems. This process helps build memory sytems based on what is emotionally important. This process may be especially useful after trauma or stressful events. Once the new traumatic or stressful material has been integrated, the system will be more stable, and subsequent similar trauma or stress will be less disturbing.
6. This basic function of dreaming occurs whether or not a dream is actually remembered. When the dream is remembered, it can have further functions in terms of revealing braoder connections and possibilities useful in self-knowledge, life decisions, and new discovery.
7. In addition to these suggested functions of dreaming itself, the entire focused-waking-to-dreaming continuum has an adaptive function. It is obviously useful for us to be able to think in a clear, focused, serial fashion at certain times and to associate more broadly, and loosely at other times--in other words to daydream and to dream.
Hartmann, E. (March 2008). "The Central Image Makes "Big" Dreams Big: The Central Image as teh Emotional Heart of the Dream" in Dreaming: Journal of the Association for the Study of Dreams, vol. 18, no. 1.