I went and saw 'Inception' on the weekend and really enjoyed the layers and complexity to their dream worlds, although they could have gone further with the weirdness of dreams. What really stuck out for me was the use of an old-fashioned elevator in the main character's own dream. This elevator took him between memories, one floor a day at the beach, another one a hotel room. It wasn't implicitly stated, but I got the impression that the lower the elevator went the more intense emotionally the memory was.
An elevator as a means to move between dream worlds resonates with me. I've often had my own versions of an elevator in my dreams, the same type of old-fashioned one with push button controls and mesh doors one has to pull shut before the elevator will move. Even the yellowish, dim, flickering lighting was the same. I guess my use of an elevator isn't unique, so I wonder how often an elevator of some form pops up in people's dreams? (I also wonder if its use will increase for people who have watched the movie.)
Thinking about dream worlds connected by elevators has lead me to thinking about dreams themselves. Like many people, I've always had full colour, vivid and bizarre dreams. Why do we dream? The answer is that we really don't know, but there are many theories. For me, I like the idea that dreams are a mechanism to sort and file random thoughts, fleeting impressions and half-formed emotions. This theory was first put forward in 1886 by a physician from Hamburg named Robert (a quick internet search didn't bring up any detailed info on him). Later this theory was built on by others including Freud.
I don't think there is deep meaning hiding in my dreams from somewhere beyond my own waking world. I've had ideas come forward in my dreams, but they were on things I was already thinking about. For example, I was looking for a SCUBA octopus (regulator, buoyancy compensator regulator, instrument panel etc all connected together with air hoses). One had gone missing after a group dive. We looked all over for it and spent a long time thinking about where it could be. That night, I dreamed it was hanging up on my dive partner's bedroom door under his bathrobe. The next day we looked and there it was. I didn't get any new information in that dream, although it would be easy to interpret it that way if I was so inclined. Instead, my mind just sorted through the information I already had.
Another point I've been pondering: are dreams continuous? By that I mean, are dreams like movies with a continuous flow from beginning to end? I don't think so or at least I don't think mine are. What I suspect is my mind takes the disjointed ideas and emotions and forces them together into the story I remember. Our vision functions like this – our eyes pick up small chunks of the world around around us and our mind puts them all together into a continuous environment. So why can't our mind take the pieces of a dream and put them together?