If we all agree that dreams are created by our own minds, then how could some dreams surprise us, since, after all, all the things that could happen in a dream are made up by us, and should be utterly predictable and be of no surprise at all? For example, if you are awake and doing some day dreaming, you would never be surprised by what you are imagining, right?

Then why some dreams are surprising, and kind of unpredictable?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Conscious thoughts can be plenty surprising too. $\endgroup$ Aug 23, 2014 at 18:58
  • $\begingroup$ we don't understand our own minds $\endgroup$
    – user6654
    Sep 1, 2014 at 12:12
  • $\begingroup$ I have managed to hide the answer to a puzzle on a dream, like someone doing something and I need to figure why he is doing it and for what purpose, and eventually I find a solution that totally fits. Some illogical thing is going here (unless the brain can isolate two things and process it separately), but then again, there are people with multiple personalities, so everything is possible. $\endgroup$
    – ajax333221
    Oct 11, 2014 at 3:13
  • $\begingroup$ If you exercise mindfulness while awake then daydreaming isn't going to surprise you. However, in general, both daydreaming as well as dreaming reflect your unconscious. Dreams therefore are not random, as their content reflects the unconscious. If you dream about something anxiety inducing, it is for a reason. However, you could also say that thoughts you have during the day, as well as while dreaming, are themselves just byproducts of the brain's processing, but despite this fact, the unconscious is a huge pool of things that are relevant, and are as significant as the conscious. $\endgroup$
    – jiniyt
    Dec 7, 2014 at 4:53

2 Answers 2


Let's first dispel this myth: "all the things that could happen in a dream are made up by us, and should be utterly predictable". This is a common fallacy known as the introspection illusion:

The introspection illusion is a cognitive bias in which people wrongly think they have direct insight into the origins of their mental states. ... In certain situations, this illusion leads people to make confident but false explanations of their own behavior (called "causal theories") or inaccurate predictions of their future mental states.

This is a common notion in psychology research. So the more interesting question is not why are we surprised by our dreams, so much as why are we not surprised by our non-dreams. But I digress.

Dream imagery is often generated partly from long-term memory rather than external stimuli. Unlike normal perception, which is continuous and generally sensical, dream imagery is disjointed and not sensical. Interestingly however, subjects of dream research report only realizing the bizarre nature of their dreams after they wake - they are not "surprised" by the imagery during the dream:

During most dreams, the person dreaming is not aware that they are dreaming, no matter how absurd or eccentric the dream is. The reason for this may be that the prefrontal cortex, the region of the brain responsible for logic and planning, exhibits decreased activity during dreams.

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    $\begingroup$ +1. Also, our dreams are of course influenced by external stimuli such as sounds or your limbs moving under gravity when your muscles relax while you drift off into deeper sleep (which causes falling types of dreams). $\endgroup$
    – user3116
    Dec 14, 2014 at 12:43

Although both daydreaming and dreaming are created by our own mind, they happen in different mental states. Daydreaming happens in wakefulness, there is still some awareness involved, it's one actively imagine things; while dreaming occurs in sleep usually we are not aware of that we are dreaming unless in lucid dream (LaBerge, 1980). Hope this answers your question why daydream doesn't surprise us but dream does.

LaBerge, S. P. (1980). Lucid dreaming as a learnable skill: A case study. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 51(3f), 1039-1042.


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