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WHERE AND WHAT IS THE DREAM FRONTIER?
DREAM INTERPRETATION AND THE GAME-SHOW JEOPARDY!
WHO AM I?
WE NEVER LIE IN OUR DREAMS
CREATIVE ARTISTS USE THEIR DREAMS
VECTORS OF DREAM INTERPRETATION
DREAMS AS SUPERVISION
A THERAPIST’S DREAM ABOUT A PATIENT
THE RULES OF REALITY TESTING
DREAMS AND THE BRAIN: DISJUNCTIVE COGNITIONS
DREAMS AND THE BRAIN
WHERE AND WHAT IS THE DREAM FRONTIER?
The title I have chosen for this book, like a dream itself, condenses several meanings. Where and what is the dream frontier? Dreams are themselves a frontier. They are the frontier of human knowledge, imagination, and creativity. They are the breeding ground of the truly new. In dreams we pull together all that we know and all that we have experienced, and then we create new experiences.
Our daytime thinking is hemmed in by language. We usually do not dare to think the literally unspeakable. We dare to say only what is understandable. We do not generally create new words or utter sentences out loud that are understandable only to ourselves. We do the things that are considered sane. For that we are rewarded by the fruits of communication. If we say things that others understand, then they can share our thoughts and respond to our emotions, which gives us all the benefits of interpersonal relations.
But at night, life is different. We close our eyes, we shut off our ears, and descend into a realm of existence where we are alone. For eight or so hours, we are freed from the constraints of functioning in a social world. For those precious hours, our minds are free to think about anything without worrying about being understood or judged. Released from the constraints of understandability and reality, we can think up new words, objects, and people, and we can create new situations. We are at the frontier of human experience. Anything can happen. Anything can be thought. Anything can be felt. Anything can be uttered. We do not have to worry about being thought insane. There is no criterion for sanity, because during those hours we are truly alone with our minds.
Perhaps during that time, our brains actually reorganize. Travel into the dream frontier may require a different set-up of our mind/brains. We can dream, “I knew she was my mother, even though it didn’t look like her.” If we said that about someone while we were awake, we should likely find ourselves in a psychiatric hospital. But alone at night we can entertain such experiences. Or we can dream of “something between a record player or a balance-scale.” We do not need to worry how something can be between those two different objects. It just is so. During the day, if we think such a thing, we correct it to fit with the world. We change it to either a record player or a balance scale, but not something in-between. At night, however, the familiar categories by which we structure our experience loosen their hold. And maybe, the effects of our thinking each night on this new frontier carry over into our daytime thinking.
There is another dream frontier: the frontier of our study of dreams. After 100 years of psychoanalysis and 50 years of modern sleep laboratories, we have learned a great deal. But the more we learn, the more we realize the vast unknown scientific frontier that lies before us. Dreams tell us a great deal about how the brain is organized, how the brain organizes our mind, and how our mind organizes our world. We feel intuitively that this is so, but so far we are standing at the beginning of a great voyage into the unknown. The field of oneirology, the study of dreams, has a long history, but in the twentieth century, more than ever before, we started to try to turn folklore and popular wisdom into science. We have only begun and much remains to be done in the future.
Dreams are also a clinical frontier. In psychiatric and psychoanalytic work, dreams are at the frontier of clinical understanding. A patient’s dreams are often ahead of any waking understanding of her or his problems. If the clinician is open to hearing dreams, they provide cutting-edge information about the patient. They chart out where a treatment can go and needs to go, and what personal barriers and defenses stand in the way. Dreams also spell out the problems that the clinician may be having in working with the patient. They provide the key to what is truly going on, for no one lies in his dreams.
Hobson asks us: “Why is the hardware ‘something like’ the lock of a door? Why is it ‘perhaps a pair of paint-frozen hinges?’” We can answer that both of them are means of blockading. They describe different kinds of defensiveness. A lock is an absolute defense. It allows one to choose whether to let others in through the door or not; hinges allow a door to open, but if they are paint-frozen, they work something like a lock, although they are less impenetrable and they do not give one the choice of locking someone else out or not. The paint-frozen hinge is frozen, but this is considered a dysfunction. This part of the dream is a typical dream formation. The lock/frozen-hinge is a composite creation that may represent various gradations and kinds of defensiveness. This defensiveness blocks the passage of information about brain hardware and mental software between psychoanalysis and cognitive neuroscience.
Hobson says that he usually would take the lock/hinge due to his “scavenger nature,” but he thinks he should refuse it. He sends it back, but Van insists that it is meant for him, and the scene changes without clear resolution of whether or not Hobson will keep it. The dream may represent the relationship between Hobson and Van, between neurobiology and psychoanalysis. Each of them is defensive, and they are playing a game of “hot potato” with the lock/hinge, i.e., with their charges of defensiveness. It is as if Van is saying, “You are blocked, and this lock/hinge symbolizes the way you are blocked,” and Hobson sends it back, as if to say, “No, the blocked-ness is yours, Van.”
What is the nature of the barrier between Hobson and Van? Is it something like a lock that a person can choose to open at will, if he is willing to open the latch or if he has the key? Or is it perhaps like paint-frozen hinges, which do not budge even if you want them to? To get frozen hinges to move is a tougher task; you have to soak them in solvent for a long time, which is messy and time-consuming. And maybe Hobson and Van, neurobiologist and psychoanalyst, are not sure if they want to engage in that slow, messy process to free up the hinge in their relationship.
The dream allows the mind to think without the constraints of language. Language is certainly crucial to formulating thoughts in ways that can be communicated easily and efficiently from one person to another, what Sullivan called the syntaxic mode of thought (Sullivan, 1953). But language is also very constraining of thought. Dreams allow us to supersede the constraints of language; dreams allow us to think the unspeakable. (I mean unspeakable, here, not only with its connotation of something taboo, but more literally, as something that cannot be spoken, because it is not expressible with words.)
Psychoanalysis was founded on the idea that translating the neurotic symptom into something spoken in words would lead to cure. This was the principle behind the treatment of hysteria. The bodily symptom was expressing something that could not be spoken. But the source of this “unspeakability” was usually dynamic repression; in other words, it could not be spoken because certain emotions, like guilt, or cultural taboos, militated against its being spoken. For instance, women who had been sexually abused were under strong cultural pressure not to speak about it. But the unspeakable thoughts that are reflected in dreams may not all be subject to repression or dissociation because they are unacceptable; it may be, rather, that they cannot be spoken because they employ concepts for which we do not have words in our language.
DREAM INTERPRETATION AND THE GAME-SHOW JEOPARDY!
Dream analysis may be like the game Jeopardy!, in which you are provided with the answer, and you have to come up with the right question. In dream interpretation, if you provide the right question, the dream image will function as the answer. If you set up the right context, then the seeming nonsense will make sense.
Lakoff and Johnson (1980) provide an excellent example of this from waking life. They propose the sentence: “Please sit in the apple-juice seat.” While in isolation this sentence has no meaning, it did in the context of its creation. “An overnight guest came down to breakfast. There were four place settings, three with orange juice and one with apple juice. It was clear what the apple-juice seat was.”
Sometimes Freud thought that secondary revision is only a kind of patchwork; it fills in the holes in the narrative structure, cleaning it up and making it more coherent. At other times he thought that most of the narrative structure of the dream came from secondary revision.
The rejection of secondary revision as part of the dreamwork became integral to Freud’s theory of dreams. It fit his claim that the overall narrative structure of the dream, being something patched on afterward, is not central to the meaning of the dream. He called the narrative structure of the manifest dream “an unessential illusion.” This viewpoint supported his rebus-like approach to interpreting dream elements, in which the dream interpreter ignores the narrative structure of the dream and decodes each element of the manifest content via the dreamer’s associations to uncover the latent dream thoughts.
If we see dream meaning as something that is constantly evolving, we can combine both of Freud’s views about secondary revision. Secondary revision may go on as a subprocess of dream formation, and it can continue after the dream experience. Part of the complexity of secondary revision is that it is not a one-time process. Each time we recollect or tell a dream, there is more secondary revision. The process of smoothing out or altering the dreamtext is inevitable. It goes on with all dreams, even in the Bible.
Consider, for example, Pharaoh’s dream in Genesis. The Bible tells the dream twice, first when Pharaoh dreams it, then when he tells it to Joseph to have it interpreted. If you look at the two tellings of the dream, you will see that they have small but significant differences.
WHO AM I?
There are studies that show that the brain initiates action before we are aware that we want to do it. Thus, the will of the brain precedes the conscious will. Consider the experiments of Libet and his colleagues (1983), in which brain activity is monitored electrically. The subjects are asked to flex a forefinger vigorously any time they choose. The subjects consciously make up their minds to move their fingers about 200 milliseconds (msec) before the actual movement. But the electrodes in their scalp detect a spate of mental activity 350 msec before the person makes the conscious choice to move his finger. Thus, the brain makes the decision to move the finger before the person is aware of having made such a decision. The brain first makes the decision, and our consciousness of the decision follows shortly thereafter.
Consciousness thus may be, in some instances, a process of monitoring brain activity, rather than directing of brain activity. Even when we think we are consciously making a decision to act, the decision may already have been made in our brains. Does that mean that “I” did not make that decision? Only if “I” does not include my brain. But in the kind of speaking that we are used to, when we use the word the word “I” as the subject of a sentence, we are accustomed to thinking of a consciously-directed activity, such as when we say, “I wrote, I said, I walked.” We don’t usually say, “My brain decided I would walk, and then I became aware of my brain’s decision, and, not having vetoed it, my legs began to move.”
It may be necessary for us to change how we think of “I.” Instead of a unitary self, there may be many aspects of “I,” including various sections of “my brain.” If, following some stressful news, we have stomach cramps, how shall we most accurately describe the experience? We would find it awkward to say, “My brain decided to cause me to have stomach cramps,” but that sentence may be close to the truth. If the brain is part of “I,” then a paraphrase of that sentence is “I caused me to have stomach cramps,” which sounds strange and awkward. The “I” refers to my brain, and the “me” refers to my total organism, including my stomach and my awareness through my brain of my stomach. We are accustomed to saying “I had stomach cramps,” but the causation, if it is unconscious, is usually not linked with “I.” It would perhaps be most precise to say, “Part of my brain caused my stomach to cramp, and part of my brain perceived those cramps.”
The questions of agency and experience are even more complicated when it comes to our dreams.
We experience dreams as if they are a story that is authored by someone else. By whom? The ancients thought that they were messages from the Gods. Freud told us that they were messages from our unconscious. If Freud is right, it leaves us with an astonishing experience. The dream is told to us by our own mind, and yet it feels interpersonal. It feels as if we are experiencing the dream without awareness of its source and, usually, without any control about how the dream goes. It feels as if it comes from someone or somewhere else, but it is ours. So the dream becomes a prime example of an experience in which our own mind is experienced as if it is another person.
WE NEVER LIE IN OUR DREAMS
Freud saw the main motivation in the construction of the dream to be the disguise of unacceptable wishes. For him, the dream censor is always disguising and transforming unacceptable thoughts into manifest dream thoughts, which keep the latent dream thoughts hidden.
At one point in The Interpretation of Dreams, he went quite far with this thesis:
“The resolution of what are ostensibly acts of judgement in dreams may serve to remind us of the rules laid down at the beginning of this book for carrying out the work of interpretation: namely, that we should disregard the apparent coherence between a dream’s constituents as an unessential illusion, and that we should trace back the origin of each of its elements on its own account.”
I propose something quite different: Our dreams are not concerned mainly with disguise and censorship. They are, in fact, our most honest communications, perhaps the only human communication in which we cannot lie. We can lie about our dreams, but not in our dreams. In light of Freud’s theory that dreams disguise the underlying latent dream thought, it may seem a bit ironic for me to claim that we cannot lie in our dreams. But I believe it to be so. We always tell the truth in our dreams, although their message may not be accessible to all. Because dreams represent the truth through means that differ from our waking thoughts, their meaning may be unclear to the dreamer. And since the message may be something that is dissociated for the dreamer, she may not see the meaning that may be obvious to another person who does not have the need to dissociate the same content. This is what the Jungian analyst Marie-Louise von Franz meant when she said, “No one can see his own back.”
Dreams are not crafted to disguise, nor are they crafted to be readily understood. They merely speak in their own language, which is designed to be meaningful without necessarily being communicative. Some effort and interest is required for the waking mind to understand them. But our dreams tell many truths about us that we might not reveal in waking speech. Since many people do not realize what is in their dreams, they may reveal things about themselves by telling a dream that they would otherwise prefer to keep secret.
Sometimes condensation occurs differently. Instead of the dream thoughts converging on a single element in the manifest dream, they converge and create a new object that does not occur in waking life and could not occur in waking life. It may have a vague structure that is described as “something between an X and a Y.” Hobson dreamt of “a piece of hardware, something like the lock of a door or perhaps a pair of paint-frozen hinges.” In dreams we accept these sorts of intermediate structures. Hobson calls them “incomplete cognitions” and Freud calls them “intermediate and composite structures.” I would prefer to call them partial condensations or, to use a neologism, interobjects. Rather than focus on what they are not (not complete condensations), I would prefer to focus on what they are (new creations derived from blends of other objects).
The combination is not fully formed into a new object with a complete “gestalt” but rather remains incompletely fused. With partial condensations, the evidence of condensation is much more obvious from the manifest content than in the other two types. The created object is not easily describable in the terms of the waking world of objects. The dreamer may say, “It was something between a phonograph and a balance” (Meltzer, 1984, p. 45). It is unclear whether, in the dream itself, the object’s characteristics were vague, or merely hard to describe. An artist could probably draw a single object that was something between a phonograph and a balance, perhaps incorporating familiar parts from each object. But it is also possible that in the dream experience, the object so described was either a stable double image, or an image that shifted between two objects, or something else. An inquiry into the dreamer’s experience may clarify this. Can the dreamer elaborate on how the object in the dream was “between” two objects?
In conducting such an inquiry, the interpreter should tread carefully. Secondary revision and the reality principle are always ready to smooth out incongruous perceptions that are unacceptable in the waking world. For this reason, it is important, in studying dreams, to transcribe verbatim the wording first used by the dreamer to describe the dream. Otherwise, the details are easily glossed over or “regularized.”
Freud is right that in communicating waking thoughts, we avoid intermediate and compromise structures, lest we be thought psychotic. Yet if they are socially unacceptable, that does not mean that they have no use. These intermediate and compromise structures, these interobjects, may have an elementary function in human thought that has barely been explored. There are constructive aspects of extra-linguistic formations, like interobjects, that can be crucial in the formation of really new ideas that would be harder to come by using only fully-formed, secondary process formations.
CREATIVE ARTISTS USE THEIR DREAMS
Charles Dodgson was a mathematician who also, under the pseudonym of Lewis Carroll, wrote poetry and literature, in which he cultivated a genius for the “nearly logical.” Carroll has much to tell us about the relinquishing of the rules of waking narrative, and he learned about this from his dreams. He wrote (Carroll, 1976, p. 277-8): “Sometimes one could trace to their source these random flashes of thought ... but they had also a way of their own, occurring a propos of nothing – specimens of that hopelessly illogical phenomenon, ‘an effect without a cause.’ ... such, again, have been passages which occurred in dreams [Italics his], and which I cannot trace to any antecedent cause whatever.” One example is a passage in Sylvie and Bruno:
The Baron said, “My ancestors were all famous for military genius.”
My Lady smiled graciously. “It often runs in families,” she remarked, “just as a love for pastry does.”
This passage shows the genius of dreams, and their irony, too. The first clause of My Lady’s remark suggests agreement with the idea of military genius running in families, but her second clause trivializes it in two ways: first, by comparing military genius [presumably important] with a love of pastry [presumably unimportant]; second, the suggestion that love of pastry runs in families suggests, ironically, that a trait’s running in families may be unprovable, and of no consequence in any case. Her statement is a kind of condensation; using those two mischievous words, “just as…,” My Lady puts together two seemingly unrelated traits, military genius and love of pastry, into a single conceptual grouping.
Lewis Carroll’s phrase, “an effect without a cause,” is not unlike a “subjectless predicate.” Dreams often seem to be an effect without a cause, although dream interpretation sets out to elucidate the cause, or at least a possible cause. Much of Lewis Carroll’s greatest work produces just this effect – seeming total nonsense that, on reexamination, proves to have a delicious near-meaning.
For example, again from Sylvie and Bruno:
He thought he saw an elephant, that practiced on a fife;
He looked again, and found it was
A letter from his wife.
‘At length I realise,’ he said,
‘The bitterness of life.’
This poem is like a resolved psychosis. First there is a set-up: what he thought he saw – a fanciful percept, perhaps frightening, perhaps delightful – and then, upon looking again, what he “actually” saw. At the end, the final couplet reflects back on this experience of corrected hallucination. The fanciful image of the elephant practicing on a fife turns out to be a letter from his wife, presumably more mundane, which makes him realize the bitterness of life. Also, the connection of his wife to an elephant may also contribute to his bitterness.
VECTORS OF DREAM INTERPRETATION
That, in a nutshell, is my view of dream analysis. The dream has within it a huge amount of information about the dreamer. Exactly what information you will extract from the dream will depend on the vector of your dream analysis. The kinds of information that you can extract are all valid, but the dream will tell you different things depending on how you approach it. And so you, as the dream analyst, can choose the kind of information you will get out of the dream.
There are many different vectors of dream analysis. Freud’s approach was to ask what is the unconscious wish expressed in the dream. While Freud may have been wrong that wish fulfillment is the cause of all dreams, it is still a magnificent way to approach dreams. Freud has often been called a pessimist, but the theory of dreams as wish fulfillment is an extremely optimistic viewpoint. If every dream has encoded in it a fundamental desire, then the process of dream analysis can, when properly carried out, reveal to the dreamer what he truly desires in life. This is one very fruitful vector of dream analysis.
The dream interpreter should become familiar with many vectors of interpretation, including:
- what is the most prominent issue and the area of greatest conflict for the dreamer at the present time?
- what is the dreamer’s personality like?
- what was the dreamer’s childhood development like, down to some very specific facts of his history?
- what does the dreamer want?
- how does the dreamer experience herself in the physical world?
- how does she see her body?
- how does she sees herself in relation to other people?
- what were some significant traumas in the dreamer’s history?
- if the dreamer is in psychoanalytic treatment, what is the nature of the transference and countertransference?
- what are the prominent emotional patterns of the dreamer?
Some other, more controversial aspects of the dream are whether it can also tell you something about the dreamer’s physical health and about the future.
The first task of the dream interpreter is to develop an interest in dreams and a relative lack of fear of what dreams may tell. This is an achievement that may seem easier than it actually is. We all have areas of our personality that we would rather not know about, and we also know on some level that those dissociated areas of our personality are quite visible in our dreams. So some discomfort with dreams or fear of them, which I call oneirophobia, is normal.
The best way to become comfortable with dreams is to analyze your own. If you are in psychoanalysis, that is a good place to start (provided that your analyst is comfortable with dreams).
You can also work on dreams independently. Keep a log of all of your dreams. No matter how unforgettable a dream seems in the moment, the forces against remembering it may be high. If you do not remember your dreams, keep a pad of paper and a pen next to your bed. If you awaken from a dream, write it down immediately. Or find an alternative way of recording your dreams. Some people keep a small tape recorder or digital recording device near their bed. Some people, who have an answering machine at a different location, “call in” the dream and transcribe it later.
Keeping all your dreams in a computer file is a big help. It allows you to retrieve them easily, and if you ever have the feeling that something in one of your current dreams seems familiar, but you cannot remember when you last dreamt it, you can use the “Find” function of your word processor to help you locate all previous occurrences of key words.
When you have recorded your dream, try analyzing it by yourself. One method, which was Freud’s, is to write down every thought you have about your dream. This method of free association, which Freud himself used during his self-analysis, can be extremely productive – but you must write down everything that occurs to you, no matter how trivial or seemingly irrelevant. When all of your associations are exhausted, start again at the beginning. Think about how you feel at each point in the dream, and jot it down. Give yourself time here to really think it through. If there are other people in the dream, imagine how they feel at each point in the dream. Finally, when that is all done, try imagining being every non-human or inanimate object in the dream. If you are taking a bath in the dream, imagine being the bathtub. What are you like? What do you feel? Are you new, shiny, clean, white, and hard? Or are you old, dull, grimy, and gray? Is the water cold, lukewarm, or hot?
Next, think about which aspects of your dream relate in any way to actual events in your life. Do this with all of your own actions in the dream, but do not stop there. Consider everything that everyone else does in the dream. If something strange or objectionable is done by anyone else in the dream, think about how you might have done something similar in your life. Or how you might have wanted to. Or you can consider, if you were going to do something like that, under what circumstances would you do it, and with whom?
Next, look through your dream for any resemblance to stories and myths. If you know classical mythology, think in those terms; but if you do not know much mythology, think in terms of stories you know from movies, fairy tales, novels, television shows, or from the news stories of the day. The most popular entertainers of the day usually capture some essential aspect of civilization that resonates with individual psychology. At the end of 20th century in the United States, a surprising number of my patients connected their dreams to the popular television show, Seinfeld. They identified with the selfishness, alienation, sexual freedom, or meanness of the characters. In the idealistic 1960’s, the Beatles provided dream models of gentle revolution and idealistic love. In the spirit of post-war capitalist expansion of the 1950’s, there was Jack Benny, who mined the paradox between great wealth and cheapness. All of these are as valid when thinking about dreams as Zeus and Aphrodite.
When you have done all this and taken your thinking about the dream as far as you think you can – it is time to tell the dream to someone else. It does not have to be a professional – it can be a friend or relative. The most important thing is that it be someone you are comfortable with. First tell that person your dreamtext only. Then let him (or her) tell you everything he can think of about the dream. Listen carefully and write notes about what he says. The parts that seem at first to have nothing to do with your dream may prove later on to be important things about which you have resistance, that is, things of which you would rather not be aware.
When your partner in dream analysis has said all he can, then ask him the same questions you have asked yourself – concerning feelings, mythological references, etc.
You will note that some of the things that your dream-analysis partner says may strike you as off-base. You may feel, “That is more true of him than of me.” You may be right. The interpreter cannot help injecting some of his own psychology into the situation. There is no way around this, but try to withhold judgment for a while. Remember that almost everything he says, no matter how much it applies to him, may in part be insightful about you, too. And it may take some time for you to realize how.
Our lives are drenched in symbolism. We do not necessarily think of words as symbols, so much is their usage overlearned, but language itself is nonstop symbolism. Words are used to stand for objects. Sometimes the prehistory of words shows a structural or physical connection between the word and the object, as in onomatopoeia. But most words and things are more arbitrarily connected.
Culture is built of symbols. But how? What aspects of our external world are brought into play in symbol construction? The answer is complex and multifold. We will consider some of the primary sources of relation between symbol and symbolized.
- Similarity of shape or form: Things that look alike can stand for one another. This is the source of much of classical Freudian sexual symbolism. The penis is oblong and cylindrical, so any object with a similar shape can symbolize a penis. This includes poles, brooms, cigars, hoses, spears, etc. The vagina and womb have internal space, and so, as topology meets psychoanalysis, any object with an internal space can symbolize the vagina or the womb. This includes rooms, houses, buckets, purses, boxes, etc.
- Linguistic connection: Any object can stand for another object when their names are either homonyms or otherwise related linguistically. Thus, the bee that flew around strangely, the “cagey bee,” can stand for the Soviet intelligence agency (KGB). A man who was feeling conflicted about commitment to marriage dreamt about a cantaloupe. He thought of the play by Edward Albee, “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” in which George says, “Here comes Martha with her melons bobbing!” drawing a connection between melons and breasts and also connecting with unhappy marriage. But he did not feel really convinced about the dream until he made the linguistic connection “cantaloupe” and “can’t elope,” which came closest to the details of his concerns.
- Cultural references: These can involve any arbitrary representation of one thing by another through long-standing cultural association. Thus, anything in the shape of a cross can stand for Christianity. Stars, especially the six-pointed variety, can stand for Judaism. Stars and stripes stand for the United States. These are so ingrained in us, that when we hear them in a dream, we may not think of them as symbols. But they are.
- Similarity of associated materials: Such symbolism involves the connection of the symbol and symbolized through a similarity of primary or accessory features. For example, pleasurable swimming dreams, which are common in enuretics, may symbolize bed-wetting. Fire may also symbolize enuresis, possibly through the unconscious connection of urination with the extinction of flames.
- Mythic references -- the collective unconscious: Jung posited that certain symbols may be consciously unknown to us, but are part of our collective psychological heritage. These archetypal mythic characters may symbolize certain characteristics. Thus a clown may be connected with the mythic trickster, or a bearer of messages with the messenger, Hermes. Through these mythic connections, characters in dreams can stand for many of the attributes associated with the mythic character. Thus any Mary-like figure can symbolize the theme of virginity or motherhood.
- Idiosyncratic connections: Very personal symbols may be connected with their referents in a manner that is unique to the individual dreamer. A patient dreamt that the left side of his body was much warmer than the right side. His associations led to the strong emotional warmth that he felt from me, so that the side of him nearest to me was warmer. Another patient, wracked by an inordinate sense of guilt, dreamt of a man on a flying bicycle that made a buzzing sound warning of his approach. His name was “Mr. Gill Tee.” She thus combined a punning name with an added wished-for feature of a warning sound that could prepare her for his guilt-laden onslaught.
DREAMS AS SUPERVISION
The idea of dreams as supervision implies a theoretical postulate – namely, that dreams are not just a reflection of intrapsychic process, but can instead be used by the dreamer for interpersonal communication. This was not Freud’s view. In The Interpretation of Dreams he wrote:
“The productions of the dreamwork, which, it must be remembered, are not made with the intention of being understood, present no greater difficulties to their translators than do the ancient hieroglyphic scripts to those who seek to read them [Freud, 1900, p. 341].” In 1933, Freud returned to this question: “...dreams are not in themselves social utterances, not a means of giving information [p.9].” Freud conceived of the dreamwork as a disguiser, as a flawed attempt at hiding the dream’s meaning from the analyst and patient, which the analyst, through his skill, triumphs over. Ferenczi took a different approach; he may have been one of the first psychoanalysts to view some dreams as communications by one person of his views about another person. In 1913 he stated, “one feels impelled to relate one’s dreams to the very person to whom the content relates.”
Today, many analysts see the intention of dreams as ambivalent. Dreams can function as both disguisers and communicators, especially those dreams that are told to another person. We know from experimental dream studies that many more dreams are dreamt than are remembered (Aserinsky and Kleitman, 1953); most of us know from personal experience, too, that more dreams are remembered than are told to someone. Thus, when a dream is remembered and told, there may be an intent not to hide, but to communicate something. That which is expressed may be some aspect of the patient’s personality, but it may also be a communication to the analyst about his or her personality, at least as perceived by the patient, that for any number of reasons cannot be expressed overtly by the patient. It may also be a plea for a change in the analyst, or in the relatedness between patient and analyst.
A THERAPIST’S DREAM ABOUT A PATIENT
In the film Analyze This, Billy Crystal played a psychoanalyst who was frightened by the coercive transference of his patient, a Mafia don. He told one of his dreams to his patient, played by Robert de Niro, who was not pleased. But the analyst’s dream turned out to have an important clue to the patient’s psychodynamics, and the treatment, such as it was, worked out well. But that was Hollywood. Do such things happen in real analyses?
Many analysts whom I know cringe at the idea of telling their own dream to a patient. The very fact that it seems so taboo has discouraged open discussion of the procedure. Many analysts wonder, why do it? Granted that one’s own dreams are extremely informative, is it useful to the patient to tell them to him? Could the information be used otherwise, and would it be more or less effective? Yet how many analysts have actually tried telling a dream to a patient?
I am still quite cautious about telling a patient my own dream, but I have been inspired to conduct some limited research on it in the library and in my practice. As far as I can discover, Jung (1962) was the first psychoanalyst who regularly told patients his dreams about them. He reports doing so with no apparent self-consciousness that this is in any way a radical procedure. Instead, it accords with his trust of the validity of his own unconscious impressions. According to Marie-Louise von Franz (1998, p. 28), who knew Jung personally, when Jung had a dream about someone, whether a patient or someone else, he tended to tell it to the person, without commentary or interpretation. The person was then free to decide if and how the dream was relevant.
THE RULES OF REALITY TESTING
The rules of reality testing, which we struggled as children to learn, require us to dismiss as unreal that which we have learned cannot be as well as some things that ought not be. This is one message of the story of “The Emperor’s New Clothes”: If it cannot be that the emperor is parading naked through the streets, then it is not so. We learn to dismiss as a passing illusion many things that our sensorium registers, but which do not follow our rules of how the world should work. Children, not having yet learned this, can often see what we adults cannot – except in our dreams, for there we find the survival of our early capacities for perception and thinking unfettered by reality testing.
The examination of mutual contradictions between what one knows can happen and what one perceives happening is part of what psychoanalysts call reality testing. It is something that develops over time; children may violate it without anxiety until a parent corrects them repeatedly. A young boy told his mother: “I just heard our dog speak.” Mother said, “No, dear, that cannot be. You must have imagined it.” The boy takes in his mother’s lesson that dogs do not speak. But his perception had been that he heard the dog speak. He learns from this experience, not only that dogs do not speak, but that immediate sense impressions are not to be trusted if they violate knowledge of how the world works. Over time the boy learns to fine-tune this belief. Dogs and other animals may speak in stories and on television, but not in “real” life.
This knowledge is part of “common sense,” which Marvin Minsky has defined as “knowing maybe 30 or 50 million things about the world and having them represented so that when something happens, you can make analogies with others. …you can push something with a stick but not pull it. You can pull something with a string, but you can’t push it (Dreifus, 1998).”
In dreams the requirements of reality testing are lessened – though not entirely and not to the same degree in all dreams. When we are awake and recall our dreams, we tend to notice when the rules of reality testing were violated, but we do not notice when they were retained. While many strange and bizarre things may happen in our dreams, we do not usually notice how many normal facts of common sense and procedural knowledge, like those mentioned by Minsky, are retained in the action of our dreams.
DREAMS AND THE BRAIN: DISJUNCTIVE COGNITIONS
I would like to propose a model – that in dreams, different levels of perceptual processing can provide input to the final “percept” of the dream. They can all do so separately, and without the usual coordination of waking consciousness. If this is so, then the specifics of bizarre dream experiences may be a source of data about the different levels of perceptual processing. By careful examination of the experiences in dreams, we may gain insight into the workings of our mind/brains.
I know that this is a far-reaching hypothesis and will require a great deal of research to test it. But we already have some relevant data. Let us start with one example of a seemingly bizarre dream formation. A dreamer says, “I knew she was my mother, although she didn’t look like her.” Any clinician who hears dreams regularly can tell you that such statements are not at all uncommon.
It surprises me that this is not usually surprising to people. Many people, when reporting a bizarre experience in a dream, will prepare the listener by saying, “It was the strangest thing…” or “I don’t really understand how this could happen, and yet…” But when people see someone in a dream whose identity doesn’t match their appearance, they usually don’t need a qualifying preface to describe the experience – at least my patients don’t. They take it for granted that I will know what they mean. It is a commonplace bizarreness of dreamlife. In our waking lives, we would not normally say, “It didn’t look like my mother, but I knew it was she.” Such statements could quickly get one psychiatrically hospitalized. Yet somehow we feel comfortable reporting such experiences when they occur in a dream. Open any text with multiple dream examples, and you are likely to find an example of this experience quickly. I have been collecting them for a while. Here are a few examples:
“I’m sitting in a dream beside a man I don’t recognize, but I know in the dream is my father (Boas, 1994, p. 155).” Or: “At that moment, I spied Popeye lying on the ground, only he looked like my patient (Myers, 1987, p. 43).” Or: “I was the opposite of what I actually look like. I was tall and lanky like Katharine Hepburn, but not particularly attractive (Fosshage and Loew, 1987, p. 10).”
In all of these examples, the dreamer recognizes a character’s identity, even though the person’s appearance does not match the identity. There is a disjunction between appearance and identity. I call such occurrences “disjunctive cognitions.” Two aspects of cognition do not match each other; the dreamer is aware of the disjunction, yet that does not prevent it from remaining. In waking life, most sane people would assume that they mis-saw or mis-identified the person, and correct for it; but not necessarily in dreams.
What might be happening in terms of brain processing with such dreams? Let us first consider what we know about facial recognition. One theory of facial recognition is that the visual information passes from the retina through the optic nerve to the lateral geniculate nucleus and thence to the cortex, for discrimination of the features by the feature discrimination area. There is thought to be an additional location in the temporal lobe specifically dedicated to facial recognition, called the facial recognition area. The feature discrimination area may be providing one input to the dream, while the facial recognition area may be providing a different input.
The neurological account of the disjunctive cognition does not invalidate the psychological account. Both are valid, and it is possible that considerations of meaning coordinate the brain reorganization, or vice versa. A dream interpreter interested in meaning may well inquire as to how the dreamer knew that it was his mother, and also what were the physical details of the dream-figure that did not look like mother. In doing so, it may be possible to see the dream-image as a condensation of the physical attributes of one person and the emotional attributes of the mother, or some other combination, and thereby come to some better understanding of how the dreamer feels about his mother.
DREAMS AND THE BRAIN
The connection between dreams, psychopathology, and neuropathology is the dream frontier that has been least explored. At this frontier, both clinicians in the consulting room and brain scientists in the laboratory can proceed boldly, and find that each field of inquiry can contribute to the other. Throughout this book, I have tried to attend to both the meaning and the science of dreams, always stressing that we can turn to dreams both for their clarification of the dreamer’s psychological concerns and for clues about how the brain operates. If we attend to the neuropsychology of dreams and to the meaning of dreams with equal vigor, we may one day achieve what Freud originally hoped to develop – a unified science of brain and mind.