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The process of dreaming

Dream interpretation

Experimental studies of dreams


Dreaming is a unique form of behavior. It ordinarily occurs only during sleep and may be the only psychological activity that does occur during sleep. It is involuntary and unintentional in the usual meaning of these words. Customarily, it is not accompanied by, and does not eventuate in, appropriate, relevant, or purposeful overt activity. Dreaming is expressed in the form of hallucinatory imagery that is predominantly visual and is often very vivid and lifelike in nature. It is this hallucinatory experience that constitutes the dream. No other human experience seems to have excited so much interest or so much speculation regarding its cause.

Until recently, the process of dreaming was not directly accessible to scientific investigation; no one knew how to tell when a person was dreaming. Nevertheless, one could study the product of dreaming—the dream—when it was reported or described by the dreamer upon his awakening. Today, we can tell with almost complete certainty when a person is dreaming. The dream itself, however, still remains virtually inaccessible to direct investigation and will remain inaccessible until the invention of some means of transcribing the dream as it is taking place. Until that time, investigators must depend upon the dreamer to communicate his dream verbally or through some other medium. Studies of dreams, therefore, are actually studies of reported dreams. How much correspondence there is between the dream as reported and the dream as dreamed cannot, as yet, be determined. We know now that failure to recall a dream does not mean that the person has had a dreamless sleep. In fact, except under certain abnormal conditions, everyone dreams every night, having from four to six separate dreams.

The process of dreaming

Objective study of eye movements

The process of dreaming, as distinguished from the product, was made available for scientific study by the discovery of objective indicators of dreaming. The first of these was reported in 1953 by E. Aserinsky and N. Kleitman, who noted while observing sleeping subjects that bursts of rapid eye movements (REMs) occurred periodically during sleep. Kleitman later described this fruitful discovery:

In our laboratory at the University of Chicago we literally stumbled on an objective method of studying dreaming while exploring eye motility in adults, after we found that in infants eye movements persisted for a time when all discernible body motility ceased. Instead of direct inspection, as was done for infant eye movements, those of adult sleepers were recorded indirectly, to insure undisturbed sleep in the dark. By leads from two skin spots straddling the eye to an EEG machine, located in an adjacent room, it was possible to register potential differences whenever the eye moved in its socket. … By this method … slow eye movements were found to be related to general body motility. In addition, jerky rapid eye movements …, executed in only a fraction of a second and binocularly symmetrical, tended to occur in clusters for 5 to 60 minutes several times during a single night’s sleep. In order to correlate the REMs with other concomitants, simultaneous recordings were made of changes in the sleepers’ EEG, pulse, and respiration. It was soon apparent that the REMs were associated with a typical low-voltage EEG pattern and statistically significant increases in the heart and respiratory rates … though occasionally the pulse was slowed. These changes suggested some sort of emotional disturbance, such as might be caused by dreaming. To test this supposition, sleepers were aroused and interrogated during, or shortly after the termination of, REMs and they almost invariably reported having dreamed. If awakened in the absence of REMs, … they seldom recalled dreaming. (Kleitman 1963, pp. 93–94)

Like most discoveries, the correlation of eye movements with dreaming was not unanticipated. In 1892, G. T. Ladd tentatively concluded on the basis of introspective studies that the eyes move during dreaming, and many years later, E. Jacobson (1938) corroborated Ladd’s introspections by actually observing that the eyes do move during dreaming. Despite these historical antecedents, it was the findings of Aserinsky and Kleitman that launched the modern era of dream research, just as half a century earlier it had been Freud’s book The Interpretation of Dreams (1900) that established the dream as the main vehicle for studying the operations and products of unconscious processes.

Why do the eyes move during dreaming? The best answer seems to be that the eyes are scanning the dream scene, just as the eyes of a person who is awake scan the visual field. There is some evidence to support this scanning hypothesis. Dreams that involve much action are reported after a REM period in which there are many large eye movements, whereas more passive dreams are correlated with smaller eye movements (Berger & Oswald 1962). In some instances, the direction of the eye movement has been shown to correspond with the direction of the movements in the reported dream (Dement & Wolpert 1958). For example, following a REM period in which only vertical eye movements were recorded, the subject reported a dream of looking alternately down at the sidewalk and up toward the top of a flight of stairs.

Dreaming and sleep cycles

Not only is dreaming a unique form of behavior, but it also occurs during a unique stage of sleep. Unlike any of the other stages, the one during which dreaming occurs is characterized not only by bursts of rapid, conjugate movements of both eyes and by a low-voltage EEC pattern but also by other physiological and behavioral concomitants. Breathing and heart rate tend to be irregular, and the muscles of the throat adjacent to the larynx become flaccid, although, interestingly, the penis becomes more erect. The electrical resistance of the skin, which is ordinarily high during sleep, is reported to be even higher during so-called dreaming sleep. All of this evidence suggests that the stage during which dreaming occurs may be, as one authority has stated, “a separate organismic state, different from both ‘nondreaming’ sleeping and from waking” (Snyder 1963).

Dreaming is cyclical throughout the sleep period, with from four to six such cycles occurring during the night. The first cycle appears approximately an hour after a person falls asleep, and succeeding ones occur about every 90 minutes. The length of successive REM periods increases from 5 to 10 minutes for the first one to 30 minutes or longer for the last one. This finding revokes the common belief that a dream lasts for only a few seconds. In fact, some recent evidence suggests that what transpires in a dream occupies approximately the same length of time as it would were the same events to occur in waking life.

Although a hallucinatory dream experience is rarely reported if a person is awakened when eye movements are lacking, some investigators have obtained thoughtlike reports from persons who were awakened during non-REM periods. In one such study the subjects compared their reports of non-REM periods with those obtained from dreaming sleep. They found that their reports of non-REM periods were more difficult to recall, were more plausible and less emotional, were more concerned with contemporary events, and, generally speaking, resembled thinking more than dreaming (Rechtschaffen et al. 1963.) It has been suggested that the thinking the subject reports on being awakened from a non-REM period occurs while the sleeper is being awakened and does not reflect mental activity during sleep itself.


By employing the objective indicators of dreaming in studies involving numerous subjects, investigators in the United States and abroad have established that everyone dreams every night. Exceptions to this have been noted when the subject is in an abnormal state, such as during a high fever or when certain drugs have been administered. Even people who say they have never dreamed or who rarely remember a dream will report dreams when they are awakened during a rapid-eye-movement period (Goodenough et al. 1959).

A young adult spends about one-fifth of the sleep period dreaming, babies considerably more, and older people less. Rapid eye movements have been observed in blind people whose blindness is not of long standing. In those who have been blind for several years, low-voltage EEG waves still occur and a nonvisual type of dream is reported when the blind person is awakened (Berger et al. 1962). Other animals besides man show cyclical periods of rapid eye movements during sleep.

Biological necessity? One of the most interesting findings resulting from the use of objective indicators of dreaming is that when a person’s dreaming is reduced by awakening him every time his eyes begin to move, there is a significant increase in REM time when he is finally permitted to sleep undisturbed (Dement 1960). Moreover, if a person is deprived of dreaming for a number of nights, his waking behavior appears to be adversely affected. He manifests various aberrant “symptoms” that border on being pathological, and it has been conjectured that if he were deprived of dreams long enough, he might become psychotic. These results seem to indicate a “need to dream,” comparable in its psychobiological insistence to any of the other basic needs of the individual.

One authority believes, however, it may be the kind of sleep and not the dreaming itself that is the biological necessity (Snyder 1963). Support for this hypothesis is found in the work of the French investigator Jouvet, who has observed periods of eye movements and low-voltage waves in decorticate cats (Jouvet 1961) and in decorticate humans (Jouvet et al. 1961). It is considered unlikely that either a decorticate cat or a decorticate person is capable of having dreams, yet the physiological concomitants of dreaming persist in the decorticate state. It is these physiological processes and not the dreaming that Snyder considers to be the biological necessity.

External events

The availability of indicators of dreaming will enable investigators to observe the effects of certain stimuli upon dreaming. Studies made prior to the discovery of objective indicators showed that experimentally introduced discrete stimuli had, for the most part, very little influence upon the dream (Ramsey 1953). They may appear either directly or in distorted form in the dream, but they do not instigate, control, or shape the substance of the dream. Preliminary studies using the objective indicators have produced similar results, namely, that such external stimuli as sounds, pressures, and temperature changes have little influence on the dream. It is believed, however, that more complex forms of stimulation, such as movies shown to a person before he retires, will influence dreams. It is an established fact that the experimental situation for monitoring sleep becomes represented in dreams, especially during the subject’s initial nights in the laboratory. It will now be possible also to determine whether the sleeping person is more sensitive to telepathic or clairvoyant influences, as some authorities believe, by noting the appearance of subliminal stimuli in his dreams.

One question that is being investigated is whether the dreams obtained from persons whose sleep is monitored can be compared with dreams remembered by them upon awakening from non-monitored sleep. Preliminary findings indicate that the two samples are not comparable. A related question is whether the dreams of a person throughout the night show any consistent pattern of thematic material. Again preliminary findings suggest that there are minimal correspondences among a person’s dreams of the same night.

Dream interpretation

Interpretation before Freud

Although Freud was not the first person to assume that the dream has a “deeper” meaning—such an assumption seems always to have existed—he was the first to develop an empirical method for “interpreting” a dream. Dream interpreters before Freud—men like Artemidorus, who is Credited with being the first compiler of a dream book, and Joseph, whose exploits are recounted in the Bible—depended upon intuition, wisdom, and a scholarly knowledge of dream lore for deriving significance from the dream. Elements in a dream were assumed by these ancient dream interpreters to have a fixed meaning. It is this assumption that underlies dream books. Although dream books, with their prophecies of good and bad fortune, have fallen into disrepute among educated people, they are still published and purchased in large quantities and influence the decisions of many people (Weiss 1944). Among societies lacking books, dream interpreters still flourish and enjoy great prestige for their knowledge of a phenomenon deemed to be steeped in personal and even social relevance. There are societies like the Senoi in which people tell each other their dreams for the express purpose of reducing interpersonal tensions (Steward 1951).

That the dream among all the cognitive activities of man should be singled out as possessing special and mysterious properties, and requiring as a consequence special and often supernatural explanations, is not surprising when one considers how unique the dream is. For example, the ancient theory that the dream is a record of the experiences of a soul that leaves the body during sleep is based upon the fact that many dreams are so vivid and lifelike that they are mistaken for real perceptions.

Also, in view of the fact that the dream appears as an alien visitation without warning and without intention during the dead of sleep, a condition that is itself charged with mystery, it is not difficult to comprehend why many people construe the dream as a prophetic message from supernatural beings, from the sleeping person’s ancestors, or, in the present age of science fiction, from people living on other planets. Other prescientific theories that purport to explain dreaming are based upon other equally singular features of the dream.

Freud’s theory

Freud’s empirical method for interpreting a dream involves free association. After a person reports a dream to his analyst, he is instructed to say everything that comes into his mind when each successive element of the dream is presented back to him. By using the method of free association with his patients’ dreams, Freud (1900) was able to formulate a comprehensive theory of the dream. The dream has two kinds of content: the manifest (conscious) content, which is the dream as experienced and remembered by the dreamer, and the latent (unconscious) content, which is discovered through free association. Dream interpretation involves replacing the manifest with the latent content. The nucleus of the latent content is an unconscious infantile wish with which later experiences have become implicated. The ultimate task of interpretation is to unearth the nuclear infantile wish through free association. Much of the latent content consists, however, of “day residue,” that is, memories of experiences and thoughts that the dreamer has had on the day previous to the dream. Day residue alone is not sufficient to create a dream; it must be charged by an infantile wish in order to transform it into the conscious imagery of a dream.

When the dream thoughts (latent content) are transformed into the manifest content of the recalled dream, they are altered in certain ways. They are subject to condensation; an element in the manifest dream may be a compression of several dream thoughts. They are subject to displacement; feeling associated with a particular dream thought is transferred to an otherwise neutral element in the manifest dream. Latent thoughts may also be represented in the experienced dream by symbols. The interpretation of a dream requires, then, that all of the condensed manifest elements be expanded into their constituent dream thoughts, that all displaced affects be traced to their proper sources in the latent content, and that referents be found for all symbols. This is a formidable undertaking, the result of which is an interpreted version that is many times longer than the text of the manifest dream. The practicability of this method of interpreting dreams appears to be restricted to long-term psychotherapy.

Freud hypothesized that the dream work, which consists of the operations for transforming latent into manifest content is governed by two aims: regard for representability and disguise. Regard for representability refers to the transformation of abstract dream thoughts into concrete dream imagery. The aim of disguise is protection, based on the assumption that the undisguised latent thoughts would evoke so much anxiety that the dreamer would awaken. Many dreams do, in fact, awaken the sleeper because they are not sufficiently disguised. The sleep-protection hypothesis is a biological one, for it explains not what we dream but why we dream.

Dreams, then, according to Freud’s theory, are useful in establishing the contents of the unconscious. Since the foundation of the unconscious is laid down early in life, before the age of five or six, and contains repressed material from the psycho-sexual stages, the analysis of dreams constitutes one of the few methods for studying early psychological development. That the unconscious may also contain material from the racial past was discussed by Freud, but he neither strongly affirmed nor denied the notion, although he seems to have been sympathetic to it.

Jung’s theory

It remained for one of Freud’s early associates (later an apostate), Carl Jung, to examine dreams for evidence of a racial uncon scious that all men share (Jung 1960). Jung was convinced that there was sufficient evidence in dreams and other types of material, e.g., myths and religion, to validate the concept of a collective unconscious. He called the contents of this unconscious “archetypes” and identified a number of them: the anima, the shadow, the earth mother, the wise old man, and, most important of all, the archetype of personal unity symbolically represented in dreams and elsewhere by the form of the mandala. Whereas Freud used dreams to explore the formative years of a person’s life, Jung used them to explore the psychological development of the race.

Jung also thought, in contradistinction to Freud, that dreams are oriented to the future as well as to the past. They mark out for the individual the proper path to a more complete actualization of personality and help reveal poorly developed parts of the personality.

Other theories

In addition to the theories of Freud and Jung, there are a number of other theories, for example, those of Hall (1953), French (1954), Hadfield (1954), Boss (1953), Ullman (1955; 1958; 1959), and Jones (1962). These have several features in common. They deal more with the manifest than with the latent content, and they are more concerned with the dream as an expression having adaptive significance for the dreamer than as a disguise for infantile wishes. Hall, for example, regards the dream as a concrete representation of the dreamer’s conception of himself, of others, and of his world. The dream reveals more than it conceals. French stresses the integrative role played by the dream. The dreamer is attempting to solve his emotional problems. Hadfield also sees the dream as problem-solving activity, and Ullman emphasizes the dream’s adaptive function. For Boss, an existential–phenomenological therapist, the dream is a confrontation experience in which the dreamer faces directly his own questions of existence as a unique experiencing self. In the most recent of these theoretical formulations, Jones describes the synthesizing function of the dream within the context of a developmental sequence of critical phases through which a person passes in growing up.

It would seem from these theories that the dream was a complex, multidimensional, multileveled phenomenon capable of supporting diverse theoretical superstructures. The dream may, in fact, be just such a complex phenomenon, although the ratio of research to speculation is still so small that it is difficult to draw any firm conclusions regarding the validity of these speculations. Although research is scanty, the usefulness of dream analysis in psycho-analytic and other forms of psychotherapy seems to be generally acknowledged by psychotherapists (Bonime 1962).

Experimental studies of dreams

The dream as a projective device

It is not possible to say just how much research on dreams has been deterred by Freud’s distinction between manifest and latent content and by the complex set of operations that must be carried out under a very special type of relationship between the observer and the subject before the operations can be successful. There are indications that these methodological obstacles are being bypassed by treating the manifest dream as significant material in its own right (Hall 1947; Eggan 1952; Jones 1962). This approach regards the dream, or preferably a series of dreams, as a projective device similar to those of the Rorschach and story-telling techniques. It may be argued that the dream is almost a pure form of projection, since external stimuli seem to have so little to do with its formation or its content.

The projective approach may be illustrated by a study made by Hall and Van de Castle (1965). Following Freud’s theory of sex differences in psycho-sexual development, they hypothesized that there would be a greater frequency of castration anxiety in dreams reported by males and that there would be a greater incidence of castration wish and penis envy in dreams reported by females. Scales for identifying castration anxiety, castration wish, and penis envy in dream reports were developed, and a large number of male and female dream series were scored using these scales. The hypotheses were confirmed at a high level of significance.

Another study employing the same methodology was conducted by Beck and Hurvich (1959). They predicted that depressed patients would show a greater incidence of manifest dreams with masochistic content than would nondepressed patients. A collection of dreams secured from depressed and nondepressed patients was scored, and the hypothesis was confirmed at an appropriate level of significance.

This method of dream analysis has much to recommend it. Dream reports can easily be collected in large numbers from groups of people living under different cultural, economic, social, educational, and geographical conditions. They can be subjected to quantification, and the same set of dreams can be analyzed in many ways to serve different empirical and theoretical purposes. Norms for different populations can be established so that an individual’s deviation from the norms for the group may be accurately described. The influence of experimental manipulation of variables can be assessed by comparing a treated group with a control one.

Of particular significance for the social sciences is the comparison of dreams obtained from people living in different cultures. Dorothy Eggan’s pioneering efforts in studying the dreams of Hopi Indians show what can be done by correlating the themes of reported dreams with culturally relevant material (1961).

The objective method of analyzing dreams

It is to be expected that the availability of objective indicators of dreaming will prove a stimulant to research and increase our knowledge of dreams and dreaming in the future. The physiological emphasis so far in research probably reflects the fact that rapid eye movements and brain waves were discovered by physiologists and that their measurement employs apparatus that is more familiar to physiologists than to social and behavioral scientists.

Calvin Hall

[Other relevant material may be found inAnalytical psychology; Nervous system, article onelectroencephalography; Projective methods; Psychoanalysis; Sleep; and in the biography ofJung.]


Aserinsky, Eugene; and Kleitman, Nathaniel 1953 Regularly Occurring Periods of Eye Motility, and Concomitant Phenomena During Sleep. Science 118:273–274.

Beck, Aaron T.; and Hurvich, Marvin 1959 Psychological Correlates of Depression: 1. Frequency of “Masochistic” Dream Content in a Private Practice Sample. Psychosomatic Medicine 21:50–55.

Berger, Ralph J.; Olley, P.; and Oswald, Ian 1962 The EEC, Eye-movements and Dreams of the Blind. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology 14: 183–186.

Berger, Ralph J.; and Oswald, Ian 1962 Eye Movements During Active and Passive Dreams. Science 137:601 only.

Bonime, Walter 1962 The Clinical Use of Dreams. New York: Basic Books.

Boss, Medard (1953) 1958 The Analysis of Dreams. New York: Philosophical Library. → First published as Der Traum und seine Auslegung.

Dement, William 1960 The Effect of Dream Deprivation. Science 131:1705–1707.

Dement, William; and Wolpert, Edward 1958 The Relation of Eye Movements, Body Motility, and External Stimuli to Dream Content. Journal of Experimental Psychology 55:543–553.

Diamond, Edwin 1962 The Science of Dreams. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday. → This book, written by the science editor of Newsweek, is a popularized account of recent dream studies.

Eggan, Dorothy 1952 The Manifest Content of Dreams: A Challenge to Social Science. American Anthropologist New Series 54:469–485.

Eggan, Dorothy 1961 Dream Analysis. Pages 550–577 in Bert Kaplan (editor), Studying Personality Cross-culturally. Evanston, III.: Row, Peterson.

French, Thomas M. 1954 The Integration of Behavior. Volume 2: The Integrative Process in Dreams. Univ. of Chicago Press.

Freud, Sigmund (1900) 1953 The Interpretation of Dreams. 2 vols. New York: Macmillan; London: Hogarth. → Constitutes Volumes 4 and 5 of The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud.

Fromm, Erich 1951 The Forgotten Language: An Introduction to the Understanding of Dreams, Fairy Tales and Myths. New York: Holt.

Goodenough, Donald A. et al. 1959 A Comparison of “Dreamers” and “Nondreamers”: Eye Movements, Electroencephalograms, and the Recall of Dreams. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology 59:295–302.

Hadfield, James A. 1954 Dreams and Nightmares. Baltimore: Penguin.

Hall, Calvin S. 1947 Diagnosing Personality by the Analysis of Dreams. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology 42:68–79.

Hall, Calvin S. 1953 The Meaning of Dreams. New York: Harper.

Hall, Calvin S.; and Van de Castle, R. L. 1965 An Empirical Investigation of the Castration Complex in Dreams. Journal of Personality 33:22–29.

Jacobson, Edmund 1938 You Can Sleep Well: The ABC’s of Restful Sleep for the Average Person. New York: McGraw-Hill.

Jones, Richard M. 1962 Ego Synthesis in Dreams. Cambridge, Mass.: Schenkman.

Jouvet, M. 1961 Telencephalic and Rhombencephalic Sleep in the Cat. Pages 188–208 in Ciba Foundation, Symposium on the Nature of Sleep. Edited by G. E. W. Wolstenholme and Maeve O’Connor. Boston: Little.

Jouvet, M.; Pellin, B.; and Mounier, D. 1961 Étude polygraphique des différentes phases du sommeil au cours des troubles de conscience chronique (comas prolongés). Revue neurologique 105:181–186.

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The occult significance of dreams was a matter of speculation among the wise at an early period in the history of civilization. The entries on Babylonia and Egypt to some extent out-line the methods by which the wise men of those countries divined the future from visions seen in sleep, and articles dealing with other countries include data relating to dreams and dreamlore. This entry addresses some of the more outstanding theories of antiquity regarding the nature and causes of dreams and the manner in which the ancient diviners generally interpreted them.

Historical Views of Dreaming

Dreams were regarded as of two kindsfalse and true, in either case emanating from a supernatural intelligence, evil or good. Sleep was regarded as a second life by the ancients, a life in which the soul was freed from the body and was therefore much more active than during the waking state. The acts it observed and the scenes through which it passed were thought to have a bearing on the future life of the dreamer, but it is also believed that the dream life was regarded as supernatural and "inverted," and that the events that the bodiless spirit beheld were the opposites of those that would later occur on the earth-ly plane. The idea thus originated that "dreams go by contraries," as both popular belief and many treatises upon the subject of nightly visions assure us is the case.

A belief in the divinatory character of dreams arose, and their causes and nature occupied some of the greatest minds of antiquity. Aristotle, for example, believed them to arise solely from natural causes. Posidonius the Stoic was of the opinion that there were three kinds: the first was automatic and came from the clear sight of the soul, the second from spirits, and the third from God. Cratippus, Democritus, and Pythagoras held doctrines almost identical to this or differing only in detail.

Later, Macrobius divided dreams into five kinds: the dream, the vision, the ocular dream, the insomnium, and the phantasm. The first was a figurative and mysterious representation that required an interpretation; the second was an exact representation of a future event in sleep; the third was a dream representing some priest or divinity who declared to the sleeper things to come; the fourth was an ordinary dream not deserving of attention; and the fifth was a disturbing half-awake dream, a species of nightmare.

Other writers divided dreams into accidental dreams and those induced for the purposes of divination. Herodotus wrote that in the temple of Bel in Babylon, a priestess lay on a bed of ram skin ready to dream for divination. The ancient Hebrews obtained such dreams by sleeping among tombs. Dreams are believed to be as successful as hypnosis and other methods of reaching the supernatural world and hearing its pronouncements.

Sleep was, of course, often induced by drugs, whether the soma of the Hindus, the peyotl of the ancient Mexicans, the hashish of the Arabs, or the opium of the Malays or Chinese. These narcotics, which have the property of inducing speedy sleep and of heightening inward visions, were and are still prized by professional dreamers all over the world, especially as they render dreaming almost immediately possible.

Ancient Methods of Dream Interpretation

As stated, interpretation of dreams was generally undertaken by a special class of diviners, who in ancient Greece were known as oneiocritikoi, or "interpreters of dreams." The first treatise on the subject was that of Artemidorus (ca. 100C.E.). He differentiated between the dreams of kings and those of commoners, since he believed that the visions of royalty referred to the commonwealth and not to the individual. Dreams that represented something happening to the dreamer revealed a personal significance, whereas a dream relating to another concerned him alone. He detailed the numerous species of dreams throughout five books, giving numerous examples. The rules of Artemidorus are far from clear, and according to them, any dream might signify any event, and any interpretation might be considered justifiable.

The method of testing dreams according to Moses Amyraldus in his Discours sur les songes divins (1625) was to determine whether the instructions and advice they contained made for good or illa test impossible to apply until after the result is known. But Amyraldus addressed this difficulty by proposing to test dreams by the evidence of divine knowledge they showedby asking whether the dream gave any evidence of things such as God alone could know.

It seems from an examination of dreams submitted to the ancient diviners that the exhibited symbolism could only be interpreted through divine aid, as in the cases of Moses and Daniel in the Bible. Many improbable interpretations were given to most epochal dreams of antiquity. There are some students of the occult who doubt the occult significance of dreams and do not classify dreams generally with vision, second sight, or ecstasy.

Dreams and Psychical Phenomena

Dreams of a supernormal character fall within the purview of psychical research. The dividing line between normal and supernormal dreams is not easy to draw. It is believed that sub-conscious elaboration often presents supernormal effects.

Reportedly Goethe solved scientific problems and composed poetry in his dreams. Jean de La Fontaine composed The Fable of Pleasures and Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote "Kubla Khan" (1816) as a result of dreams. Bernhard Palissy made a piece on dream inspiration. Matthew Maury confessed, "I have had in dream ideas and inspiration that could never have entered my consciousness when awake." Giuseppe Tartini heard his "Sonate del Diavolo" played by Beelzebub in a dream, Holden composed La Phantasie in his sleep; and Charles Nodier's Lydia was similarly born. Robert Louis Stevenson's most ingenious plots were evolved in the dream state. Reportedly Kruger, Corda, and Maignan solved mathematical problems in dreams and Condillac finished an interrupted lecture. For many of the Romantic writers, such as Coleridge and Nodier, these creative dreams were induced by the ingestion of opium.

A dream of Louis Agassiz is frequently quoted. He tried for two weeks to decipher the obscure impression of a fish fossil on the stone slab in which it was preserved. In a dream he saw the fish with all the missing features restored. The image escaped him on awakening. He went to the Jardin des Plantes in the hope that an association with the fossil would recapture it. It did not. The next night he again dreamed of the fish, but in the morning the features of the fish were as elusive as ever. On the third night he placed paper and pencil near his bed. Toward morning the fish again appeared in a dream. Half dreaming, half awake, he traced the outlines in the darkness. On awakening he was surprised to see details in his nocturnal sketch that he thought impossible. He returned to the Jardin des Plantes and began to chisel on the surface of the stone using the sketch as a guide. Reportedly Agassiz found the hidden portions of the fish as indicated in the drawing.

The dream of a Professor Hilprecht, a Babylonian scholar who tried to decipher writing on two small pieces of agate, is more complicated and belongs to the clairvoyant order. As reported in the Proceedings of the Societry for Psychical Research (August 1900), he went to sleep and dreamt of a tall, thin priest of the old pre-Christian Nippur who led him to the treasure chamber of the temple and went with him into a small, lowceilinged room without windows in which there was a large wooden chest; scraps of agate and lapis lazuli lay scattered on the floor. Here the priest addressed Hilprecht as follows:

"The two fragments which you have published separately belong together, and their history is as follows: King Kruigalzu [c. 1300 B.C.E.] once sent to the temple of Bel, among other articles of agate and lapis-lazuli, an inscribed votive cylinder of agate. Then we priests suddenly received the command to make for the statue of the god Nidib a pair of ear rings of agate. We were in great dismay, since there was no agate as raw material at hand. In order for us to execute the command there was nothing for us to do but cut the votive cylinder into three parts, thus making three rings, each of which contained a portion of the original inscription. The first two served as ear rings for the statue of the god; the two fragments which have given you so much trouble are portions of them. If you will put the two together you will have a confirmation of my words." The continuation of the story is given by Mrs. Hilprecht, who testified to having seen her husband jump out of bed, rush into the study and cry out, "It is so, it is so."

The scientist Nikola Tesla had waking visions in which a complex electrical engineering apparatus was perceived in total details of design and construction.

There are many cases of bits of information obtained in dreams. William James was impressed by the Enfield case, in which the discovery of the body of a drowned woman was effected through a dream of a Mrs. Titus of Lebanon, a stranger to the scene. Charles Richet recounts the following instance of dream cognition:

"I saw Stella on the 2nd of December during the day, and on leaving I said 'I am going to give a lecture on snake poison.' She at once replied: 'I dreamt last night of snakes, or rather of eels.' Then, without of course giving any reason, I asked her to tell me her dream, and her exact words were: 'It was about eels more than snakes, two eels, for I could see their white shining bellies and their sticky skin; and I said to myself I do not like these creatures, but it pains me when they are hurt.' This dream was strangely conformable to what I had done the day before, December 1. On that day I had, for the first time in twenty years, experimented with eels. Desiring to draw from them a little blood, I had put two eels on the table and their white, shining, irridescent, viscous bellies had particularly struck me."

A case of dream clairvoyance, possibly under spirit influence, is that of a Miss Loganson, 19, of Chicago. She saw in a dream the murder of her brother, Oscar, who was a farmer of Marengo, about 50 miles northwest of Chicago. She accused a farmer neighbor named Bedford for days, but no one paid attention to her. At length she was permitted to send a telegram; the reply was, "Oscar has disappeared." Starting for Oscar's farm, accompanied by another brother and by the police, she went directly to Bedford's house. Traces of blood were found in the kitchen. Proceeding to the hen house, the yard of which was paved, the girl said, "My brother is buried here." Because of the girl's insistence and her agitation, consent was given to dig. Under the pavement they first found the brother's over-coat; five feet down they came upon the body. Bedford was arrested at Ellos, Nebraska, and hanged in due course. Miss Loganson, in explanation, said that the spirit of her brother haunted her for seven days in dreams.

Lost objects are frequently found in dreams. In most cases subconscious memory sufficiently explains the mystery. There are, however, more complicated cases. According to legend Hercules appeared in a dream to Sophocles and indicated where a golden crown would be found. Sophocles got the reward promised to the finder.

Supposedly the paranormal character of dreams is clearest in telepathic and prophetic dreams. They often produce an impression lasting for days. Sweating and trembling are occasionally experienced on waking from a dream of this character. The dreams tend to be repeated. One case of prophetic dreams announced the murder of a Chancellor Perceval. It is thus narrated by one Abercrombie: "Many years ago there was mentioned in several of the newspapers a dream which gave notice of the murder of Mr. Perceval. Through the kindness of an eminent medical friend in England I have received the authentic particulars of this remarkable case, from the gentleman to whom the dream occurred. He resides in Cornwall, and eight days before the murder was committed, dreamt that he was in the lobby of the House of Commons, and saw a small man enter, dressed in a blue coat and white waistcoat. Immediately after, he saw a man dressed in a brown coat with yellow basket metal buttons draw a pistol from under his coat, and discharge it at the former, who instantly fell; the blood issued from the wound a little below the left breast. He saw the murderer seized by some gentlemen who were present, and observed his countenance; and on asking who the gentleman was that had been shot, he was told that it was the Chancellor. He then awoke, and mentioned the dream to his wife, who made light of it; but in the course of the night the dream occurred three times without the least variation in any of the circumstances. He was now so much impressed by it, that he felt much inclined to give notice to Mr. Perceval, but was dissuaded by some friends whom he consulted, who assured him that he would only get himself treated as a fanatic. On the evening of the eighth day after, he received the account of the murder. Being in London a short time after, he found in the print-shops a representation of the scene, and recognised in it the countenance and dresses of the parties, the blood on Mr. Perceval's waistcoat, and the yellow basket buttons on Bellingham's coat, precisely as he had seen them in his dreams."

J. W. Dunne's An Experiment with Time (1927) is a study of how future events are foreshadowed in our dreams. By keeping a record of his dreams, putting them down immediately on awakening, he found that a considerable part of his dreams anticipated future experiences, and this was corroborated by fellow experimenters.

Many other dreams, difficult to classify, bear the stamp of paranormal. Camille Flammarion in his Death and its Mystery (1922-23) quoted the curious dream of a Mrs. Marechal, who between sleeping and waking, saw a specter taking her arm and saying, "Either your husband or your daughter must die. Choose!" After great mental sufferings she decided for her child. Five days later her husband, who was in good health, suddenly died.

The experience of déjà vu to which advocates of reincarnation often refer, may be explained by traveling clairvoyance in dreams. Another explanation, a theory of ancestral dreams, is offered in the Bulletins et Mémoires de la Societé d'Anthropologie de Paris by Letourneau, as follows:

"Certain events, external or psychic, which have made a deep impression on a person, may be so deeply engraved upon his brain as to result in a molecular orientation, so lasting that it may be transmitted to some of his descendants in the same way as character, aptitudes, mental maladies, etc. It is then no longer a question of infantile reminiscences, but of ancestral recollections, capable of being revived. From that will proceed not only the fortuitous recognition of places which a person has never seen, but, moreover a whole category of peculiar dreams, admirably co-ordinated, in which we witness as at a panorama, adventures which cannot be remembrances, because they have not the least connection with our individual life" (Paul Joire, Psychical and Supernormal Phenomena, 1936).

Hereward Carrington called attention in The Story of Psychic Science (1930) to the neglect shown for the dreams of mediums. It is believed that if the communicators are subconscious personalities, some connection may be established between them and the dreams of the medium. In the Lenora Piper trances the communicators themselves alleged that they were in a dreamlike state. In one instant a statement came through that was quite wrong, but upon investigation, it turned out to be a remark that the communicator made in the delirium of death.

Modern Views on Dreaming

Modern scientists have studied the relationship of eye movements to dreaming. Professors N. Kleitman and E. Aserinsky of the Department of Physiology, University of Chicago, monitored eye movements of sleepers using electroencephalographic records. They distinguished four types of brain wave and sleep periods, ranging from lightest sleep to deep coma. In stage 1 there were rapid eye movements; in stages 2, 3, and 4, eye movements were slow. They concluded that rapid eye movements (REMs) were related to dreaming, when the eyes move like a spectator watching a theater play or reading a book.

This relationship between eye movement and mental states makes interesting comparison with Eastern religious techniques of meditation. In both Indian and Chinese yoga meditation exercises, eye rolling and focusing is linked to techniques of concentration and visionary experience.

The dream state plays a prominent part in Hindu religious philosophy, which recognizes four states of consciousness waking, dreaming, deep sleep, and a fourth condition of higher consciousness that embraces the first three. Hindu mystics have stressed that since the essential self (the unconditioned sense of "I") is constant in all states of consciousness, identification with the body, mind, emotions, memories, age, sex, and so on in waking life is illusorya false egosince such characteristics are transitory. The pure self is always present, and this essential "I-ness" is the same in all individuals. Awareness of this true self in the fourth condition of higher consciousness (turiya ) is known as self-realization, in which there is unity with all creation. The significance of dreaming, deep sleep, and waking states is discussed in the Hindu scripture Mandukya Upani-shad.

Many out-of-the-body travel experiences (astral projection ) appear to be stimulated by vivid dreams, particularly when waking consciousness is aroused by some irregularity in the logic of a dream. For example, a dreamer recognizes the familiar environment of his own room, but notices that the wallpaper is the wrong design and color, and immediately thinks "This must be a dream!" This gaining of waking consciousness while still in a sleeping condition sometimes results in a subtle or astral body moving independently of the physical body. (See dreaming true; lucid dreams )

Some experimenters have claimed that release of the subtle body may be stimulated by deliberately induced images of release (e.g., taking off in an airplane, traveling upward in an elevator), just before passing into the sleep state. Such out-of-the-body experiences were also recognized in Hindu religious philosophy and are described in ancient scriptures. The subtle body was named the sukshma sharira.

Freudian and Jungian psychoanalysis have moved in a different direction in their interpretation of the significance of dreams. Certain elements in dreams are said to be wish fulfilling, or to contain clues to psychic problems of the individual. In Jungian analysis, dream symbols are also understood as universal archetypes of human experience. Carl G. Jung drew heavily upon Eastern religious philosophies in his exposition of the concept of a collective unconscious.

Scientific research indicates other fascinating areas of dreaming. In 1927 J. W. Dunne, a British airplane designer, published his remarkable book An Experiment with Time, in which he analyzes a dream experiment suggestive of the occur-rence of future elements in dreams, side by side with images from past experience.

In 1970 the Soviet psychiatrist Dr. Vasily Kasatkin reported on a 28 year study of 8,000 dreams and concluded that dreams could warn of the onset of a serious illness several months in advance, through a special sensitivity of the brain to preliminary physical symptoms.

At the Dream Laboratory, founded at Maimonides Medical Center, New York, in 1962, volunteers submitted to controlled experiments in dreaming, studying the rapid eye movements noticeable in people as they dream. One of the most interesting projects was a statistical study with pairs of subjects, which tended to show that telepathic dreams could be produced experimentally.

It would seem that dreaming and the elements in dreams have many different aspects of a physiological and psychological nature, with certain paranormal characteristics. Many of these aspects differ widely in various individuals. There have been well-authenticated prophetic dreams, as well as fragmentary elements of future events of the kind described by J. W. Dunne. Many aspects of dream imagery appear to be a visual presentation of individual psychic problems. Increasing evidence from out-of-the-body travel experiences has convinced some researchers of the reality of astral travel and of its stimulus through dream images. It may well be, as noted in several religious traditions, that there are also meta-physical dimensions to dream experience.

More than a century has passed since Sigmund Freud's The Interpretation of Dreams (1899) was first published. Its main premise, holding with Freud's conception of the unconscious mind, was that dreams are the symbolic fulfillment of repressed childhood desires. Although the book's sales were abysmally slow for its first several years in print and, despite the holes in Freud's theory that are obvious today, Interpretation of Dreams has greatly influenced Western thought and culture and is now considered by some dream analysts to be the bible of dream studies. Bookstores have long carried dream dictionaries that offer interpretations of nearly any and every symbol or image seen in a dream. Modern dream studies have demonstrated, if anything, that the evaluation of dreams is far more complex than these popular dream interpretation manuals even begin to suggest. To address a more educated society, recent dream manuals offer more in-depth in their analysis of dream interpretation with many concentrating on awareness of hidden messages and awakening the unconscious mind.


Artemidorus. The Interpretation of Dreams: Oneirocritica. Translated by Robert White. Park Ridge, N.J.: Noyes Press, 1975.

Cartwright, Rosalind D. Night Life: Explorations in Dreaming. Englewood, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1977.

Christmas, Henry. The Cradle of the Twin Giants, Science and History. 2 vols. London, 1849.

Colquohoun, John C. An History of Magic, Witchcraft & Animal Magnetism. 2 vols. N.p., 1851.

De Becker, R. The Meaning of Dreams. London, 1968.

Diamond, E. The Science of Dreams. London, 1962.Dunne, J. W. An Experiment with Time. London, 1927.

Ellis, Havelock. The World of Dreams. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1922. Reprint, Detroit: Gale Research, 1976.

Faraday, Ann. Dream Power. New York: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, 1972. Reprint, New York: Berkeley, 1973.

Freud, Sigmund. The Interpretation of Dreams. London, 1942.

Garfield, Patricia L. Creative Dreaming. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1974.

Green, Celia E. Lucid Dreams. London: Hamish Hamilton, 1968.

Hutchinson, H. Dreams and their Meanings. London, 1901.Jung, C. G. Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious. Collected Works, vol. 9. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1959.

Kelsey, Morton T. God, Dreams, and Revelation: A Christian Interpretation of Dreams. Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1974.

LaBerge, Steven. Lucid Dreaming: The Power of Being Awake and Aware in Your Dreams. Los Angeles: Jeremy P. Tarcher, 1987.

Lang, Andrew. The Book of Dreams & Ghosts. London, 1897. Reprint, New York: Causeway Books, 1974.

Lawrence, Lauren. Dream Keys: Unlocking the Power of Your Unconcious Mind. New York: Dell Publishing, 1999.

Lincoln, J. S. The Dream in Primitive Cultures. London, 1935. Reprint, Academic Press, 1970.

Luce, Gay Gaer. Body Time. Pantheon, 1961.

Luce, Gay Gaer, and J. Segal. Sleep. New York: Coward, McCann, 1966.

Lukeman, Alex. What Your Dreams Can Teach You. St. Paul: Llewellyn Publications, 1997.

Muldoon, Sylvan J., and Hereward Carrington. The Projection of the Astral Body. London, 1929. Reprint, New York: Samuel Weiser, 1967.

Nikhilananda, Swami, trans. Mandukya Upanishad. Chicago: Vedanta Press, 1972.

Pohle, Nancy C. Awakening the Real You: Awareness Through Dreams and Intuition. Virginia Beach, Va.: A.R.E. Press, 1999.

Priestley, J. B. Man and Time. London, 1964. Reprint, New York: Dell, 1971.

Ratcliff, A. J. J. A History of Dreams. London, 1913.Sabin, Katharine C. ESP and Dream Analysis. Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1974.

Seafield, Frank. The Literature & Curiosities of Dreams. 2nd ed. London, 1877.

Staff, V. S. Remembered on Waking; Concerning Psychic & Spiritual Dreams & Theories of Dreaming. Crowborough, UK: V. S. Staff, 1975.

Tart, Charles, ed. Altered States of Consciousness. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1969.

Tolson, Jay. "The Bible of Dreams Turns 100." US News & World Report. Vol. 127, No. 18. pp. 79.

Ullman, Montague, Stanley Krippner, and Alan Vaughan. Dream Telepathy. New York: Turnstone Books; London: Macmillan, 1973.

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It is midnight in the desert, and the full moon has just passed its apex. On the sandy ground, staff in hand, guitar and jug by his side, a dark-skinned man is nuzzled by a tawny-maned lion. Is the man dreaming? Are we? Or is this the dream of the artist, Henri Rousseau (18441910)? If, as some traditions have it, the Universe was dreamed into existence by its Creator, then it makes perfect sense that all of artthe microcosm created by human beings in emulation of the Creator's macrocosmis a dream of sorts. And art is a dream, in a waya projection of the deepest subconscious and unconscious desires upon canvas and stone, the etching plate and the loom. But when artists depict dreams and dreaming, whether explicitly, with the dreamer in the picture, or implicitly, with the picture illustrating the dream, ambiguities flourish, and polyvalency abounds.

There are many loci classici of the dream in art, in many times, places, and cultures. Some are explicit, yet ambiguous, like Rousseau's Sleeping Gypsy of 1897. Some are explicit and distinctly unambiguous, such as Francisco Goya's (17461826) Capricho 43: El Sueno de la Razon Produce Monstruos (17971798, "The Sleep/Dream of Reason Begets Monsters") or Henry Fuseli's (17411825) The Nightmare (1781) where dreams are made manifest in oil on canvas. Even those depictions in which the intention to depict a dream is overt are fraught with a multiplicity of interpretive possibilitiesMaurice Sendak's (b. 1928) nightmare creatures in Where the Wild Things Are (1963) are both the products of the dreams of Max, the young protagonist, and of Sendak's own family history, wherein those things that go bump in the night are stand-ins for his loud, invasive, cheek-pinching aunts and uncles.


Just as Max creates a world in his dream, Krishna acts out the role of Vishnu in his sleep, and the universe is created out of the navel of the dreaming god. The individual adept, like the artist, assumes the role of conscious creator. Dreams have been represented in art for thousands of years. The Talmud describes sleep as "one-sixtieth part of death," one part in sixty being the threshold of perception for Jewish legal purposesa taste, in other words, of what death is like. Likewise did the ancient Egyptians consider sleep a sort of preliminary glimpse of death, and in dreams, certain aspects of what one would call the soul encountered the upper and lower realms. The lessons thus learned were transmitted by the forces of the other world to the priests of the cult of the dead, who could then advise the dead about the pitfalls and pratfalls of the journey before them. The Ba, the spiritual entity that was believed to leave the body both in dreams and in death, is represented as a jabiru bird in art, whether in reliefs or in papyri. It is depicted hovering over the inert body as it is in the famous Scroll of Ani of the Theban Book of the Dead (c. 1250 b.c.e.).

The Egyptians also evoked the topos of the dream in art in the representation of Bes, god of crossroads and transitions, on the headrests they used as pillows. And the great Sphinx of Giza is among the earliest artworks attributable to a dream, that of Pharaoh Tutmosis IV, who either constructed orsome sources sayuncovered or rediscovered the colossus around 2620 b.c.e. on the basis of a night vision.

Some of the loveliest depictions of sleep and dreams come out of the Hellenistic-Roman world. In Greek mythology, Nyx (Night) gives birth to Hypnos (Sleep) and Thanatos (Death). The god of dreams is Morpheus, whose symbols are a smoking horn and a staff, symbols respectively of false and true dreams. Morpheus is not often represented in art, but Hypnos is, quite often and quite beautifully. He receives a melancholically sensitive treatment in a Roman copy of a lost Bronze statue of the fourth century b.c.e., which simply depicts a winged, sleeping, boyish head. And on the famous and controversial Euphronius (flourished c. 520470 b.c.e.) krater (Greece, 520510 b.c.e.), a winged Hypnos is paired with his twin brother Thanatos, gently bearing Sarpedon to his eternal sleep.

The Bible in the Middle Ages

In the biblical tradition, sleep is rarely personified, but dreams bear great significance as prophetic moments, or as the means of connection between the divine and the earthly realms. Thus, occasions arise in art not to depict images that are "dream-like," or that one may imagine represent the artists' dreams, but that, rather, explicitly represent dreams as described in the text of the bible. Most often, these depictions include the dreamer, with the dream itself in a realm slightly above and beyond. In both Jewish and Christian art from late antiquity through the Renaissance, the biblical dreams of the Patriarchs Jacob and Joseph, the Egyptian Pharoah, and of King Nebuchadnezzar are favorite subjects for depiction. The New Testament and, particularly, its apochrypha introduce the subjects of the dreams of Joseph the husband of Mary, those of Three Magi, and that of Pilate's wife. The dreams are depicted sometimes simply, sometimes with elaboration, but the fact that the viewer recognizes that these are crucial prophetic turning points in the story make them ever powerful.

While many of the illustrations, illuminations, and carvings depicting these subjects are anonymous, biblical and apocryphal dreams were treated by artists known to history, such as Simone dei Crocifissi (13301399), whose "Dream of the Virgin" heralded an interest in this topos in Italian painting of the fourteenth century, and Piero Della Francesca's (14151492) quiet and lyrical depiction of Constantine's Dream as part of the fresco cycle of the Legend of the True Cross in the Church of San Francesco in Arezzo, Italy (c. 14571458). Night scenes are notoriously difficult to depict, yet the artists, through the simple devices of positioning and composition, manage to convey a supernal and pervasive sense of quietness, calm, and sacred anticipation.

Saints and Holy People, East and West

Depictions of prophetic dreams or dreams that advance the narrative of a sacred tale or myth are not limited to the biblical realmsaints and holy people of all religious traditions are depicted in art. Vittore Carpaccio's (c. 1455c. 1525) lyrical Dream of St. Ursula (Italy, early sixteenth century) is devoted mostly to a depiction of the saint asleep in bed, with a rather self-effacing angel as the only evidence that we are witnessing a dream. Again, a modesty, a sense of calm permeates the composition. In Asian art, one can view depictions of the dream of Maya, the Buddah's future mother, in which, wakeful, she sees the white elephant that symbolizes her son's birth. The Indian Bhagavata Purana of the nineteenth century describes a spontaneous out-of-body experience, a dream flight by a woman named Usha, from which she returned with verifiable information. Her flight is depicted in illuminated manuscripts with a jewel-like clarity that parallels the clarity of her vision. And in Muslim iconography, Muhammad's nighttime conversations with the angel Gabriel show the prophet awake but in his bed, engaged in a rather static conversation (Iran, fifteenth century). By way of contrast, the beautiful iconography of the famous Night Journey tends to show Muhammad in actionon his mount al-Buraq, speeding through the clouds and accompanied by angels and celestial beings.

While we like to think of dreams as spontaneous, it has long been known that they can be incubated or induced, and from antiquity through the modern period, sacred sites were used as loci of incubation. In the East and in the West, temples and churches dedicated to various deities and saints were places whose architecture and geographical disposition were believed to be conducive to dream incubation, and where believers retreated, prepared themselves, and received their visionary experiences. The total environment of these placesas enhanced by art, among other factorswas key in terms of the potential success of the visionary process.

And when dreams do come, they could advocate reconsideration of even those aspects of the culture most taken for grantedthe appearance of the gods. Like the dream that gave birth to the sphinx, dreams can often be the cause of the creation of new iconography or the alteration of existing iconographic conventions, as they represent the direct intervention of the higher powers through the realm of vision. Although part of a strictly aniconic culture when it came to the depiction of the deity, the visions of the prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel, though both glimpses of the God of Israel, presented radically different "images" of that imageless deity that influenced the way those in the West envision God. Likewise, Kan Hiu, a Chinese Buddhist monk who was also a painter and a poet in the late ninth and early tenth century, was able to radically change conventional portrayals of the Buddhist saints through the inspiration of dreams. The way in which he envisioned these people was sometimes at odds with historical tradition as transmitted by the mainstream, but his vision was so compelling that the tradition changed to accommodate it. And in the same way, the visions of St. Bridget of Sweden (c. 13031373) completely altered the view of the Nativity for Christianity. The snowy landscape, the broken manger, the many details of the story as it is commonly depicted are responses to her dream.

Finally, inspiration and even instruction in art is attributed to dreams. William Blake (17571827) claimed he was instructed in painting by a spirit who appeared in his dreams in the form of a man, and whom he depicted in a lost sketch (copied, fortunately, by a friend around 1819).

Native and Tribal Societies

The dream as a time out of time, depicted from the perspective of a soul out of body, is an important topos in native and tribal cultures. The native peoples of what is now Australia imagined the Dreamtimean era in which humans and nature came to be as they are now. They created churinga, magical depictions, tracings, or maps of Dreamtime events seen from the point of view of the spiritual essence of the individual, that part of the self that exists outside of time. These are similar to maps made by shamans in a number of culturesboth in the northern and southern hemispheres and over the historical longue durée depicting their dream journeys.

In native and tribal society, the active dreamthe one that the dreamer calls down upon him or herself and in which he or she is a conscious participantis an important factor in religious and spiritual life, and art and adornment help create the atmosphere in which such dreams may be invoked. An Arapaho dress, made in Oklahoma around 1890, situates the dreamer at the conjunction of various symbols that make it clear that she is on the threshold between light and darkness, between the spirit and the material worlds.

Iroquois people danced in cornhusk masks in order to help recall forgotten dreams, since these were believed to be windows on the soul. The masks, with their hungry, haunted, and longing looks, were meant to symbolize the psychological state of the dreamers seeking to remember their dream-desires and enact them in order to fulfill the hunger of their souls.

Dreams as Symbolic and Spiritual

Sleep and dreams in art can also take on symbolic and what one would term psychological valences, what would have been called at the times and places of the creation of the art stages or stations in the spiritual journey. The story of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus was current in the sixth century and remained popular in both East and West throughout the Middle Ages. Paintings of this theme based in the Sufi tradition depict the seven sleepers as seven stages of human personality and its awakening into full development. Likewise, in some Arab and Muslim traditions, five sleeping, dreaming, and waking figures may represent the five organs of spiritual perception into the care of which one is delivered after regaining consciousness in sleep. The dream as a nexus for the quest for love and knowledge is vividly illustrated in the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili (1499), an erudite, enigmatic, and beautifully illustrated example of the book arts of the Renaissance that depicts the dream of the protagonist Poliphilo in his quest for his beloved Polia (Greek for "many things"). And the waking of the self from the dream is drawn in parallel with the alchemical process of the refinement of metals in the woodcuts of Giovanni Battista Nazari's (15331599) Della Transmutatione Metallica, sogni tre (Brescia, 1599).

Dreams and the Visionary: Fifteenth
to Eighteenth Centuries

The late medieval and early modern periods saw the triumph of the visionary in art. While not illustrations of dreams or dreamers per se, the work of this period, including the phantasms of Hieronymous Bosch (c. 14501516), Pieter Bruegel the Elder (c. 15251569), and others, first in large-scale commissions and later in more popular prints, brought the realm of the dream-like and highly imaginative to a growing audience, taking the visionary beyond the confines of the physical building of the church, and into the street. Popular series, some anonymous, some attributable to artists like Jean Duvet (14851561), include prints illustrating visions of heaven and hell and of the apocalypse.

The rise of popular interest in the natural worldparticularly in alchemygave rise to a host of fantastic images in alchemical works of the seventeenth century illustrated by Theodor de Bry (15281598) and others. Baroque art transformed the quotidian into the phantasmagoric, and as such, can also be viewed as dreamlike in its elaboration and imaginative ornamentation. But however dreamlike the imagery, less emphasis is ultimately placed in this period on dreams and the dreameron imaginative phenomena occurring outside the range of perceivable reality and natureand more attention is devoted to the overriding interest in the ingenious exposition of the natural in fanciful ways.

Psychoanalysis, the Dream, and Art in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries

The nineteenth century heralded a revolution in the understanding of the dream, with Sigmund Freud (18361939) and Carl Jung (18751961) engaging very different interpretations of what both agreed was a phenomenon highly significant for the understanding of the farthest reaches of the human subconscious. Freud argued that dreams revealed the most occluded aspects of the individual unconscious, particularly the realm of sublimated sexual desire, the universal constant of the human condition. Jung saw the dream as tapping into the universal consciousness of humankind, and containing symbols that permeate all human cultures, ultimately uniting humans in what he argued was a more elevated universal and common bond than Freud's lowest common denominator. Art since the nineteenth century has blended these two currents, with most manifestations depicting the dream experience from the perspective of the individual (one sees the dream but not the dreamer), displaying a pervasive sexuality (whether implicit or explicit), and drawing upon the rich symbolic treasury of the entire history of world art. Consciousness of the importance of the dream experience for and in art has resulted in the creation of dream realms that are awe-inspiring, fascinating, and quite often frightening. Salvador Dali (19041989) and René Magritte (18981967) both play with the idea of the elasticity of time and perspective in the dream, while Giorgio De Chirico's (18881978) dream-scapes have to do with the bending of space. Paul Delvaux's (18971994) dreamlike scenes are simultaneously sexual and menacing, whereas Marc Chagall's (18871985) work is playful, blending the quotidian and the bizarre in a lush, colorful, and romantic synthesis that is instantly recognizable as "dreamlike." Max Ernst's (18911976) overlapping and repeated imagesrecognizable, yet juxtaposed incongruously, Paul Klee's (18791940) often extremely playful and "light" images that yet conceal a highly intellectual subtext, Rousseau's lush forests and spare deserts of the imagination, and the elemental power of Constantin Brancusi's (18761957) visions of flight (a common element in dreams) are but a few manifestations of the dream in twentieth century art.

The dream is a particularly widespread theme in film and photography. From Edwin Porter's (19691941) early short films, notably An Artist's Dream (1900) and Dream of a Rarebit Fiend (1906), to the dream sequence in Alfred Hitchcock's (18991980) Vertigo (1958), Akira Kurosawa's (19101998) Dreams (1990), and the vivid dream landscapes of Ingmar Bergman's (b. 1918) Wild Strawberries (1957) and Federico Fellini's (19201993) 8 1/2 (1963), the very nature of film has proved fertile ground for the exposition of dreams through the varying lenses of each director. The deceptive realism of film provides an excellent foil for the recounting of dreams through the eyes of the dreamer.

Contemporary Art

Contemporary art is so much enamored of the idea of the dream that one would be hard-pressed to name an artist in the postwar era who did not engage the subject on some level. The work or stages in the work of some artists revolves around dreams. African and African-American artists such as Olu Amoda (b. 1959), in his Window of Dreams (1991), and Jacob Lawrence (19172000), with his Dreams #2 (1965), have engaged the dream as a metaphor in particularly poignant and affecting ways.

Though photography is a static medium, it is like film in that it is self-conscious about giving the appearance of replicating reality while never actually and completely doing so. Jerry Uelsman's (b. 1934) untitled images with dream themes owe their sensibility to the painted dreamscapes of the nineteenth century, while works like Ralph Gibson's (b. 1939) Sonambulist Series (1968), with its creepy hand reaching out of a doorway, draw on the fearful depths of human consciousness, known to the ancients, filtered through Freud and Jung, and always lurking under the surface.

Yet the dark and menacing vision, as eternal and pervasive as it is, is matched by an equally pervasive transcendent mythic consciousness. Contemporary photographers Suzanne Scherer (b. 1964) and Pavel Ouporov (b. 1966), in their preoccupation with the dream, draw on such mythic archetypes as a dream maze replete with minotaur, and an Icarus-like flying dreamer, a topos they share with contemporary artists, notably Jonathan Borofsky (b. 1942) in his series titled I dreamed I could fly. These works articulate and draw upon common dream themes in all times and places, from Muhammad's flight to Usha's, to the launching of the very universe from Krishna's dream.

See also Consciousness ; Mind ; Psychoanalysis ; Surrealism .


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Coxhead, David, and Susan Hiller. Dreams: Visions of the Night. London: Thames and Hudson, 1976.

Devereux, George, ed. Psychoanalysis and the Occult. New York: International Universities Press, 1973.

Freud, Sigmund. On Dreams. Vols. 4 and 5. Translated from the German under the general editorship of James Strachey. London: Hogarth Press, 1953. The standard edition of the complete psychological works of Sigmund Freud.

Gamwell, Lynn, ed. Dreams 19002000: Science, Art, and the Unconscious Mind. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2000.

Jung, Carl Gustav. Dreams. Translated by R. F. C. Hull. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1974.

Marc Michael Epstein

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The dream, guardian of sleep, provides disguised satisfaction for wishes that are repressed while we are awake; dream interpretation is the "royal road that leads to knowledge of the unconscious in psychic life." Such, in highly condensed form, is Freud's theory as set forth in the founding work of psychoanalysis, The Interpretation of Dreams (1900a). As Freud himself pointed out, this was a revolutionary thesis.

The only scientists interested in dreams during the late nineteenth century were psychologists looking for "elements" of mental activity or psychiatrists interested in hysteria and hypnosis. All of them saw dreams as nothing more than degraded products of a weak and thus dissociated psyche. Freud's approach was a radical departure for he claimed that hysterical symptoms were the expression of "conflicts," and that dreams were the product of a "dream work." In both cases there was no weakening of psychic activity but quite the opposite, an intense activity driven by the opposition between wishes and psychic defense mechanisms. The radical nature of Freud's position was illuminated by his divergence from Josef Breuer, who saw hysteria as the product of "hypnoid states" brought on by a weakening of organizing mental activity and a concomitant decrease in what Pierre Janet called "mental tension" (Freud and Breuer, 1895d).

Freud conceived his theory of dreams very early. His exposure to the work of Charcot and later to that of Bernheim was undoubtedly a contributing factor. In 1892 he noted that many dreams "spin out further associations which have been rejected or broken off during the day. I have based on this fact the theory of 'hysterical counter-will' which embraces a good number of hysterical symptoms" (1892-94a, p. 138). ("Counter-will," meaning an opposition to the satisfaction of desire for moral reasons, was a conceptual forerunner of repression.) The "Project for a Scientific Psychology" (1950c [1895]) introduced a number of ideas about dreams that were later expanded and refined.

Between 1897 and 1900 Freud, with moral support from his correspondent Wilhelm Fliess, conducted the self-analysis that gave birth to psychoanalysis. For the most part, that self-analysis drew on Freud's own dreams (Anzieu, 1975/1984), and in due course those same dreams supplied a large portion of the material of The Interpretation of Dreams.

Freud's dream theory may be summarized as follows:

  1. The dream expresses a wish unsatisfied during the waking state, whether because of a conscious objection or, more frequently, because of repression, in which case the wish is unrecognized. During sleep, the psychic apparatus finds its natural tendency, which is to reduce tension, that is, to experience pleasure. The dream, like hysterical symptoms, slips, parapraxes, and so on, is a sign of the return of the repressed. Freud went further still, claiming that every dream was the fulfillment of a wish, which obviously invites an objection about unpleasurable dreams and anxiety dreams. On several occasions Freud rebutted this objection, continuing to analyze such dreams until he isolated a wish behind distress or anxiety, which he claimed were merely expressions of resistance and conflict. Truth to tell, his argument was not always persuasive. On the basis of necessarily fragmentary material, it sometimes gave an impression of the ad hoc. Freud was able to overcome this difficulty only much later, when he introduced the repetition compulsion that lay "beyond the pleasure principle" (1920g).
  2. Two circumstances favor this return of the repressed. The first is the inhibition of perception and motricity during sleep, protecting the dreamer against the dangers of actual satisfaction. This results in a "topographical regression," that is, the excitation flows back unto the psyche and reinforces the dream-work. The second circumstance is that sleep weakens the censorship.
  3. A measure of censorship remains, however, and often allows satisfaction of a disguised kind only. This is the function of the "dream-work." This work employs the mechanisms of condensation and displacement (primary processes) before proceeding to generate images (representability). Then, by means of secondary revision, the "dream façade" is improved to provide a plausible meaning; i.e., the manifest content of the dream, which is quite different from the underlying meaning, that of the "latent dream-thoughts." The dream work is a form of thinking, but its rules are very different from those that prevail in the logical thought of the waking state: dreams know nothing of contradiction.
  4. The dream thus provides an outlet for libidinal pressure. It is the "guardian of sleep" since, without its intervention, the pressure would awaken the dreamer.
  5. The dream's raw materials are "day's residues" (events, thoughts, or affects from the recent past) and physical sensations that occur during sleep. But its "real" content is reactivated infantile memories, especially those of an oedipal kind: the dream is a regression to an infantile state.

These tenets underpin dream interpretation, whose aim is to render meaningful elements in the dream's manifest content (to restore their latent meaning), on the basis of the dreamer's associations. Freud insisted that any "key to dreams," that is, any list of symbolic equivalents of supposedly general value, be excluded. He did, however, recognize some universal "symbols," transmitted by culture, and some "typical dreams" to be met with in many dreamers (dreams of nudity, for example).

Roger Perron

See also: Action-(re)presentation; Agency; Alpha function; Anticathexis/counter-cathexis; Beta-elements; Beyond the Pleasure Principle ; Breton, André; Censorship; Certainty; "Claims of Psychoanalysis to Scientific Interest"; Compromise formation; Condensation; Contradiction; Delusions and Dreams in Jensen's "Gradiva" ; Subject's desire; Directed daydream (R. Desoille); Displacement; Dream and Myth; Dream interpretation; Dream's navel, the; Convenience, dream of; Nakedness, dream of; "Dream of the Wise Baby;" Dream screen; Dream symbolism; Dream work; Ego ideal; Ego states; Forgetting; Formations of the unconscious; Functional phenomenon; Hypocritical dream; Hysteria; Infantile, the; Inferiority, feeling of; Interpretation of Dreams, The ; Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis ; Isakower phenomenon, Jokes; Latent; Latent dream thoughts; Letter, the; Logic(s); Manifest; Metaphor; "Metapsychologic Supplement to the Theory of Dreams"; Metonymy; Mnemic trace/memory trace; Mourning, dream of; Myth; Myth of the Birth of the Hero, The ; Narcissistic withdrawal; New Introductory Lectures on Psychoanalysis ; Nightmare; Night terrors; Oedipus complex; On Dreams ; Overdetermination; Primal scene; Primary process/secondary process; "Project for a Scientific Psychology, A"; Psychic reality; Psychic temporality; Psychoanalysis of Dreams; Punishment, dream of; Purposive idea; Reality testing; Regression; Repetition; Repetitive dreams; Representability; Representation of affect; Reversal into the opposite; Reverie; Schiller and psychoanalysis; Screen memory; Secondary revision; Secret; Self-state dream; Somnambulism; Substitutive formation; Surrealism and psychoanalysis; Telepathy; Thing-presentation; Thought; time; Training analysis; Trauma; Typical dreams; Unconscious, the; Wish/yearning; Wish fulfillment; Wish, hallucinatory satisfaction of a; Work (as a psychoanalytical notion).


Anzieu, Didier. (1984). The group and the unconscious. (Benjamin Kilborne, Trans.). London and Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul. (Original work published 1975)

Diatkine, René. (1974). Rêve, illusion et connaissance. (Rap-port). Réponse aux interventions. 1107-1108. Nouvelle revue de psychanalyse, 38 (5-6), 769-820. P.L.R. Congrès XXXIV "Le rêve." Madrid, 1974.

Freud, Sigmund. (1900a). The Interpretation of Dreams. SE, 4-5.

. (1892-94a). Preface and footnotes to the translation of Charcot's "Tuesday Lectures." SE 1: 129-144.

. (1920g). Beyond the pleasure principle. SE, 18: 1-64.

. (1950c [1895]). Project for a scientific psychology. SE, 1: 281-387.

Freud, Sigmund, and Breuer, Josef. (1895d). Studies on hysteria. SE, 2: 48-106.

Pontalis, Jean-Bertrand. (1981). Frontiers in psychoanalysis: between the dream and psychic pain. (Catherine Cullen and Philip Cullen, Trans.). London: Hogarth Press and the Institute of Psycho-Analysis. (Original work published 1977)

Further Reading

Blum, Harold P. (2000). The writing and interpretation of dreams. Psychoanalytic Psychology, 17, 651-666.

Lansky, Melvin R. (Ed. ). (1992). Essential papers on dreams. New York: New York University Press.

Lewin, Betram. (1955). Dream psychology and the analytic situation. Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 24, 169-199.

Reiser, Morton. (1997). The art and science of dream interpretation: Isakower revisited. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 45.

Solms, Mark. (1995). New findings on the neurological organization of dreaming: Implications for psychoanalysis. Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 64, 43-67.

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dreaming is a mental state associated with sleep whose characteristics have important implications for theories of normal consciousness as well as for its extreme derangement in major mental illness. The advent of modern sleep laboratory science has provided an objective aspect to the study of dreams and has opened the way to a brain-based theory of dreaming. Recent excitement about the prospects of this agenda stems from the application of brain imaging techniques that allow dream activity in humans to be correlated with the selective activation and deactivation of various brain regions. The modern scientific study of dreaming thus provides an avenue of access to the mind–body problem, one of the most obdurate philosophic conundrums of human history.

While dreaming can be broadly defined as any kind of mental activity occurring in sleep, most people and most brain scientists are interested in a more specific state of mind that is normally unique to sleep. When we say ‘I had the craziest dream last night’ we refer to a conscious experience during sleep marked by visual imagery, delusional misidentification of our state as waking, difficulties with thought processes, emotional intensification, and very significant recent memory loss. It is important to emphasize this particular definition of dreaming for two reasons. The first reason is that this kind of dreaming is so highly correlated with the physiology of the stage of sleep known as paradoxical or REM (rapid eye movement) sleep as to invite an integration of dream psychology with the specific brain processes of REM. The second is that this kind of dreaming shows many of the formal features of such major dysfunctional states as schizophrenia, manic depression, and organic psychoses. But even these intense dreams are not restricted to REM sleep. Furthermore, many other cataclysmic states of mind, like the night terrors of normal children and the horrifying replay of experiences in people who have been brutalized or traumatized, occur almost exclusively in other, non-REM stages of sleep (NREM).

Until recently, the traditional approach to understanding dreaming has emphasized its narrative or scenario-like character and attempted to elaborate an interpretive scheme that could bring order to the emotional and cognitive chaos of dreaming. The most famous approach of this type is the psychoanalytic theory of Sigmund Freud, who abandoned his early hopes for a brain-based approach because the necessary neurophysiological data were then non-existent. Freud was therefore obliged to account for all of the formal properties of dreaming in psychological terms, a heavy burden, which caused his ingenious speculations to become Byzantine in their complexity and comical in their interpretive oversimplification.

For Freud, every dream was caused by unconscious wishes that were released in sleep. These forbidden impulses threatened to invade consciousness and to cause an awakening if their unacceptable meaning was not censored and disguised by symbolic transformation. The hallucinatory character of dreams, the bizarreness of dream perception, the defective cognition, and even the memory loss were all ascribed to psychological defence mechanisms whose function was to protect sleep. For Freud, the common existence of strong negative emotion in dreams was a factor that his theory could not explain.

The discovery of the biphasic cycle of NREM and REM sleep and the possibility of waking people up at particular stages of sleep in the laboratory, immediately provided an alternative approach. The flood of data quickly overthrew many age-old assumptions about dreaming, as well as challenging Freud's ideas. For example, it was soon clear that everyone dreams, every night, and that dreaming of the vivid kind emphasized here occupies finite amounts of time — up to one and a half or even two hours of sleep. Unless we awaken spontaneously, or are awakened by an external stimulus (such as an experimenter), we may recall nothing. More interestingly, the most vivid and sustained dreaming occurs in association with REM sleep. Moreover, dreaming intensifies the intermittent bursts of eye movement that punctuate that sleep phase. These discoveries showed that the subjective experience had been not only grossly inadequate but also downright misleading in suggesting, for example, that dreams are rare, colourless, evanescent events that occur in the instant before awakening. Furthermore, Freud's speculative hypotheses about the instigation of dreams by unconscious wishes, and about censorship and repression moulding the content of dreams, were called into question.

To develop the detailed brain-based theory of dreaming that Freud himself yearned for, it was also important to utilize information from animal experiments that identified the specific brain cells and molecules involved in REM sleep generation in all mammals, including man. For example, the electrical activity of the brain (recorded by electroencephalography) and the movements of the eyes are very similar in the awake state and during REM sleep. However, in REM, the activated brain is operating without those neurotransmitter chemicals known to be necessary to order attention, perception, thought, and memory. No wonder dreaming is so chaotic, bizarre, unfocused, and unremembered. No need to postulate psychological defences, symbolic transformations, or any other Freudian fantasy to understand what is going on.

This is not to say that dream narratives are without interest or without meaning. The interpretive stance taken by modern dream science is that the emotionally salient aspects of dreams mean exactly what they appear to mean, while the meaningless nonsense is simply a by-product of the brain's physiological handicap. In other words, dream psychology is of interest precisely because it so directly and undefensively reveals the dreamer's psychological concerns. On this view, dream meaning is transparent, not disguised, and is synthesized as the dreamer tries to make sense of the activation of his emotional and perceptual brain without the aid of the organizing and directive powers available to it during waking.

Neuropsychological evidence

The capacity to deduce regional activation patterns in the human brain during natural sleep is afforded by imaging techniques, such as positron emission tomography (PET) and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), which measure differences in local blood flow and thus infer the increases in nerve cell activity that call for more oxygen. For the first time in history scientists are able to study the depths of the human brain in action and to correlate the differences between, say, waking and REM sleep with the psychology typical of these states.

Recent PET data affirm the importance of the brain stem in REM sleep dream generation, that was suggested by animal studies, but they also emphasize the importance of emotion centres in the limbic system. The integration of the emotions and internally-generated perceptions of dreams is facilitated by selective activation of a specific cortical zone at the junction of the parietal, temporal, and occipital lobes, whose damage typically results in disintegration of these functions, and to a loss of dreaming. Dreaming is also lost when strokes damage the deep basal forebrain area thought to mediate emotional and motivational drive, a finding that would have thrilled Sigmund Freud in 1895 when he was still struggling to produce a brain-based theory of the mind.

But the most significant finding of all may be the discovery that the brain region responsible for working memory, critical evaluation of behavioural options, and decision-making is selectively deactivated in REM sleep. How, and why, this critical area of the frontal cortex escapes the activation process that is otherwise at least as prominent in REM as in waking is as yet unknown, but it is irresistibly attractive to speculate that it may be related to the regional differences in chemical modulation of the brain that have been discovered in animal studies.

Whatever the answer to detailed questions such as these, it can safely be concluded that no one interested in dreaming, including the most die-hard psychoanalyst, can any longer afford to be either ignorant of or indifferent to the findings of modern brain research.

J. Allan Hobson

See also brain stem; consciousness; emotion, biological basis of; limbic system; mind–body problem; sleep; sleep disorders.

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Dreaming is an episodic activity of the sleeping mind during which spontaneous sensory experiences occur that are perceived at the time as if real. Although dreaming is common, occurring in all humans, the dreams themselves are unique, based on each persons own memory bank of images, a residue of their particular life experiences. The meaning and purpose of dreaming has been a source of speculation over the course of history. It was not until 1900, when Sigmund Freud (18561939) published The Interpretation of Dreams, that there was a comprehensive theory that placed dreams as centrally important for the understanding of waking behavior. This theory formed the basis of the psychoanalytic treatment method, which relied on patients recall of and associations to their dreams.

Dream interpretation dominated the practice of psychiatry for the next fifty years. The key to their understanding rested on Freuds model of the mind as operating on three different levelsthe conscious, preconscious, and unconsciouswith all three influencing waking behavior. The conscious mind is what is in awareness in the moment; the preconscious consists of mental representations that, although not in immediate awareness, can be brought to consciousness voluntarily; the unconscious material, while not accessible by an act of will, is a major source of dream scenarios. The unconscious contains the remains of early childhood experiences related to learning to control basic impulses (particularly those of sex and aggression) and to express these only in a socially appropriate fashion. These powerful instinctual drives remain active throughout life and cause anxiety if they threaten to become conscious. They are controlled during waking by defenses, the learned ways of keeping them out of consciousness. These defenses are weakened during sleep, when the danger of a breakthrough into action, which would cause internal guilt or external punishment, is reduced due to our inability to act while sleeping.

Freud believed that dreams allow the mind to hallucinate the fulfillment of these prohibited impulses safely, without the risk of consequences. Because the risk, though lowered, is not completely absent during sleep, and to ensure that the sleeper is not shocked into wakefulness, dreams express these wishes in disguised forms. Thus, dreams require some expert interpretation to decode their true meaning. Freud distinguished the dream story, called the manifest dream, from its underlying or latent meaning, which refers to the unfulfilled instinctual wishes. The latent meanings can only be expressed symbolically to allow their safe gratification. The interpretation of dreams thus became the basis for understanding patients who came for help with emotional problems of overcontrol or undercontrol of their impulse-related behavior.

A challenge to this view followed the discovery in the 1950s of the close association of rapid eye movement (REM) sleep and the experience of dreaming. By monitoring the brain waves, eye movements, and muscle tone of persons observed while sleeping in a laboratory, three to five episodes of REM sleep could be identified each night. If the sleeper were then awakened at these times and asked to report what he or she had just been experiencing, 85 percent of the time the sleeper would describe a dream. The regularity of REM sleep, occurring approximately every ninety minutes, allowed a more complete sampling of dreaming than had ever before been available. Many people have no recall of their dreams, and even those with good recall rarely remember more than one per night. The sleep laboratory technique opened the door to studies of the continuity of a theme from first dream to last, and of the relation of the dream content to some waking, emotion-arousing stimuli, such as a frightening or sexually arousing movie, or an experimentally induced change in a basic need, such as thirst by depriving sleepers of water beforehand. For the most part, these studies showed that dreams are difficult to influence and more often follow their own agenda.

The finding that REM sleep is turned on periodically, starting at the primitive brain structure called the pons, further challenged Freuds view. Dreams could not have any inherent meaning if they spring from the nonthinking pons. The activation-synthesis hypothesis of dreaming, proposed in 1977 by J. Allan Hobson and Robert McCarley, explained the apparent (manifest) meaning of a dream as an afterthought, most likely resulting from associations to the sensory images, which are accidental, triggered by the activation of a brain pathway that flows upward from the pons to the visual association areas of the cortex. These images are then linked into a dream story under the influence of the ongoing emotional concerns of the dreamer. In this way dreams are given meaning in the same way as are waking stimuli, when what we see is colored by the present state of our needs and interests. This theory robbed dreams of any special meaning and had a generally dampening effect on dream research for the next twenty years.

The resurgence of interest in dreaming is partly due to the development of sleep disorder centers, which attract patients with dream disorders, such as the repetitive nightmares of those suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder. The resurgence of interest is also partly a result of the development of more sophisticated technology. Brain imaging methods allow a closer look into the areas of the brain activated when REM sleep is ongoing. Using this technology, differences between those areas that are more active in REM sleep than in non-REM sleep or waking confirm that during REM the brain is more intensely active in areas related to instinctual behaviors (hypothalamus and basal forebrain), the emotional areas (limbic and paralimbic), and the visual association areas of the cortex. Activity is lessened during REM in the areas associated with the executive functions: thinking and judgment (the prefrontal cortex).

Brain imaging studies are looking into differences between REM sleep in normal persons and in those with various psychiatric diagnoses. This method has illuminated the abnormality of REM sleep of those suffering from major depression. These patients, when most symptomatic, have increased REM sleep but greatly reduced recall of any dreaming. Their imaging studies show more activity in the emotional areas (limbic and paralimbic) than do nondepressed persons, and heightened activity in the executive cortex. Perhaps these patients are flooded with negative emotion but are overcontrolled in its expression. In Freuds terms, the dream function has failed to allow gratification of unconscious wishes. Without dreams these patients would be difficult to treat psychoanalytically and require another approach.

SEE ALSO Psychoanalytic Theory; Psychotherapy


Dement, William, and Nathaniel Kleitman. 1957. The Relation of Eye Movements During Sleep to Dream Activity: An Objective Method for the Study of Dreaming. Journal of Experimental Psychology 53: 339346.

Freud, Sigmund. [1900] 1955. The Interpretation of Dreams. New York: Basic Books.

Hobson, J. Allan, and Robert McCarley. 1977. The Brain as a Dream-State Generator: An Activation-Synthesis Hypothesis of the Dream Process. American Journal of Psychiatry 134: 13351348.

Mellman, Thomas, and Wilfred Pigeon. 2005. Dreams and Nightmares in Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. In Principles and Practice of Sleep Medicine, 4th ed., eds. Meir Kryger, Thomas Roth, and William Dement, 573578. Philadelphia: Elsevier.

Nofzinger, Eric. 2005. Neuroimaging and Sleep Medicine. Sleep Medicine Reviews 9 (3):157172.

Rosalind D. Cartwright

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The sequence of imagery, thoughts, and emotions that pass through the mind during sleep.

Dreams defy the laws of physics, the principles of logic, and personal morality, and may reflect fears, frustrations, and personal desires. Often occurring in story-form with the dreamer as participant or observer, dreams usually involve several characters, motion, and may include sensations of taste , smell , hearing , or pain . The content of dreams clearly reflects daytime activities, even though these may be distorted to various degrees. While some people report dreaming only in black and white, others dream in color. "Lucid dreaming," in which the sleeper is actually aware of dreaming while the dream is taking place, is not uncommon. Research has indicated that everyone dreams during every night of normal sleep . Many people do not remember their dreams, however, and most people recall only the last dream prior to awakening. The memory shut-down theory suggests that memory may be one of the brain's functions which rests during dreaming, hence we forget our dreams.

In order to understand how dreaming occurs, brain waves during sleep have been measured by an electroencephalograph (EEG) . Normally large and slow during sleep, these waves become smaller and faster during periods of sleep accompanied by rapid eye movement s (called REM sleep), and it is during these period when dreams occur. During a normal eight-hour period of sleep, an average adult will dream three to five dreams lasting ten to thirty minutes each for a total of 100 minutes.

Dreamswhich Sigmund Freud called "the royal road to the unconscious"have provided psychologists and psychotherapists with abundant information about the structure, dynamics, and development of the human personality . Several theories attempt to explain why we dream. The oldest and most well-known is Freud's psychoanalytic theory, elucidated in The Interpretation of Dreams (1900), in which he suggested that dreams are disguised symbols of repressed desires and therefore offer us direct insight into the unconscious . According to Freud, the manifest content of dreams, such as daily events and memories, serve to disguise their latent content or unconscious wishes through a process he called dream-work, consisting of four operations. Condensation refers to the condensing of separate thoughts into a single image in order to fit the latent content into the brief framework of a dream. Displacement serves to disguise the latent content by creating confusion between important and insignificant elements of the dream. Symbolization serves as a further effort to evade the "censor" of repressed desires by symbolizing certain objects with other objects, as in the case of phallic symbols. Secondary revision enables the dreamer to make the dream more coherent by additions that fill it in more intelligibly while he or she is recalling it.

Although Carl Jung 's system of analysis differed greatly from that of Freud, the Swiss psychologist agreed with Freud's basic view of dreams as compensating for repressed psychic elements. According to Jung's theory, significant dreams (those that involve the collective unconscious) are attempts to reveal an image, or archetype , that is not sufficiently "individuated" in the subject's personality. Another Swiss analyst, Medard Boss , offered yet another perspective on dreams as part of his system of "existential analysis." Under Boss's system, the significance of dreams lay close to their surface details rather than corresponding to an intricate symbolic pattern. Thus, for example, dreams set in a narrow, constricted room indicated that this was how the dreamer viewed his or her existence. Existential analysis was based on the feelings of the dreamer, the contents of the dream, and his or her response to them.

In contrast with the methods of these early dream analysts, modern researchers gather data from subjects in a sleep laboratory, a mode of investigation furthered in the 1950s. Calvin Hall, a pioneer in the content analysis of dreams, posits that dreams are meant to reveal rather than to conceal. Hall and his associates gathered dreams from a large and varied sampling of subjects and analyzed them for the following content categories: 1) human characters classified by sex, age, family members, friends and acquaintances, and strangers; 2) animals; 3) types of interactions among characters, such as aggressive or friendly; 4) positive and negative events; 5) success and failure; 6) indoor and outdoor settings; 7) objects; and 8) emotions. Other investigators have devised their own systems of content analysis, such as the one outlined by David Foulkes in A Grammar of Dreams. The dreams of children have also been extensively assessed through laboratory testing and shown to be linked to their cognitive development . Content analysis has also yielded longitudinal information about individuals, including the observations that an adult's dreams remain strikingly similar over time and are strongly linked to the preoccupations of waking life, a phenomenon known as the continuity principle.

Dream analysis may occur in certain therapies. In the 1970s, writers and psychologists, such as Ann Faraday, helped to take dream analysis out of the therapy room and popularize it by offering techniques anyone could use to analyze his or her own dreams. Widely recommended techniques include keeping paper and pen by the bed to write dreams down upon waking (even in the middle of the night), keeping a dream diary to recognize recurring themes, and making associations with the imagery in the dream to decode its personal meaning. Analysts, such as Robert Johnson, maintain that dreams contain the dreamer's thoughts or feelings not yet expressed or made conscious. Johnson recommends making associations to the dream to unlock ways the dream mirrors inner tensions or dynamics of the dreamer's emotional life. The dreamer uses the associations and dynamics linked to daily life to interpret or give meaning to the dream. Some psychologists recommend cultivating lucid dreaming where the dreamer is aware in the dream that he or she is dreaming and then can direct the events of dreams and the manner in which they unfold.

Not all dreams reflect daily life. Reports indicate dreams have foretold events upcoming in the dreamer's life, including death. One study reports that 70 percent of women successfully predicted the sex of their unborn child based upon dreams.

Some scientists have attempted to discount the significance of dreams entirely. The activation-synthesis hypothesis created by J. Alan Hobson and Robert W. McCarley in 1977 holds that dreaming is a simple and unimportant by-product of random stimulation of brain cells activated during REM sleep. Another dream theory, the mental housecleaning hypothesis, suggests that we dream to rid our brains of useless, bizarre, or redundant information. A current synthesis of this theory sees dreaming as analogous to a computer's process of program inspection in which sleep is similar to "down" time and the dream becomes a moment of "on-line" time, a glimpse into a program being run at that moment.

See also Rapid eye movement (REM)

Further Reading

Gardner, Richard A. Dream Analysis in Psychotherapy. Cresskill, N.J.: Creative Therapeutics, 1996.

Hall, Kirsten. Last Night I Danced With A Stranger. New York: Black Do & Leventhal Publishers, 2000.

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dream / drēm/ • n. a series of thoughts, images, and sensations occurring in a person's mind during sleep: I had a recurrent dream about falling from great heights. ∎  [in sing.] a state of mind in which someone is or seems to be unaware of their immediate surroundings: he had been walking around in a dream all day. ∎  a cherished aspiration, ambition, or ideal: I fulfilled a childhood dream when I became champion | the girl of my dreams | [as adj.] they'd found their dream home. ∎  an unrealistic or self-deluding fantasy: maybe he could get a job and earn some money—but he knew this was just a dream. ∎  a person or thing perceived as wonderful or perfect: her new man's an absolute dream | it was a dream of a backhand | she's a couturier's dream. • v. (past and past part. dreamed or dreamt / dremt/ ) [intr.] 1. experience dreams during sleep: I dreamed about her last night. ∎  [tr.] see, hear, or feel (something) in a dream: maybe you dreamed it | I dreamed that I was going to be executed. ∎  indulge in daydreams or fantasies, typically about something greatly desired: she had dreamed of a trip to Italy. ∎  [tr.] (dream time away) waste one's time in a lazy, unproductive way. 2. contemplate the possibility of doing something or that something might be the case: I wouldn't dream of foisting myself on you | I never dreamed anyone would take offense. PHRASES: beyond one's wildest dreams bigger or better than could be reasonably expected: stockbrokers command salaries beyond the wildest dreams of most workers. in your dreams used in spoken English to assert that something much desired is not likely ever to happen. in one's wildest dreams used to emphasize that a situation is beyond the scope of one's imagination: she could never in her wildest dreams have imagined the summer weather in New York. like a dream inf. very well or successfully: the car is still running like a dream.PHRASAL VERBS: dream on [in imper.] inf. used, esp. in spoken English, as an ironic comment on the unlikely or impractical nature of a plan or aspiration: Dean thinks he's going to get the job. Dream on, babe. dream something up imagine or invent something: he's been dreaming up new ways of attracting customers.DERIVATIVES: dream·ful / -fəl/ adj. ( poetic/lit. ) dream·less adj. dream·like / -ˌlīk/ adj. ORIGIN: Middle English: of Germanic origin, related to Dutch droom and German Traum, and probably also to Old English drēam ‘joy, music.’

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dream, mental activity associated with the rapid-eye-movement (REM) period of sleep. It is commonly made up of a number of visual images, scenes or thoughts expressed in terms of seeing rather than in those of the other senses or in words. Electroencephalograph studies, measuring the electrical activity of the brain during REM sleep, have shown that young adults dream for 11/2 to 2 hours of every 8-hour period of sleep. Infants spend an average of 50% of their sleep in the REM phase (they are believed to dream more often than adults) a figure which decreases steadily with age. During dreams, blood pressure and heart rate increase, and breathing is quickened, but the body is otherwise immobile. Studies have shown that sleepers deprived of dream-sleep are likely to become irritable and lose coordination skills. Unusually frightening dreams are called nightmares, and daydreams are constructed fantasies that occur while the individual is awake. Studies have demonstrated the existence of lucid dreaming, where the individual is aware that he is dreaming and has a degree of control over his dream.

Sigmund Freud, in his pioneering work The Interpretation of Dreams (1900, tr. 1913), was one of the first to emphasize dreams as keys to the unconscious. He distinguished the manifest content of dreams—the dream as it is recalled by the individual—from the latent content or the meaning of the dream, which Freud saw in terms of wish fulfillment. C. G. Jung held that dreams function to reveal the unconscious mind, anticipate future events, and give expression to neglected areas of the dreamer's personality. Another theory, which PET scan studies appear to support, suggests that dreams are a result of electrical energy that stimulates memories located in various regions of the brain.

See J. A. Hobson, The Dreaming Brain (1988); M.-L. von Franz, Dreams (1991).

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"dream." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . 12 Dec. 2017 <>.

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197. Dreaming

  1. Alice dreams of falling down a rabbit-hole and experiencing strange adventures. [Br. Lit.: Lewis Carroll Alices Adventures in Wonderland ]
  2. Caedmon 7th-century English religious poet supposed to have heard his verses in a dream. [Br. Lit.: Benét, 156]
  3. Calpurnia dreams that a statue of Julius Caesar is spouting blood from a hundred wounds. [Br. Drama: Shakespeare Julius Caesar ]
  4. Finnegans Wake Joyce novel based around the dreams and nightmares of H. C. Earwicker. [Br. Lit.: Joyce Finnegans Wake ]
  5. Ibbetson, Peter learns how to dream true and return to the scenes of childhood and the times of his ancestors. [Br. Lit. & Am. Opera: G. duMaurier Peter Ibbetson in Magill I, 736]
  6. Kubla Khan poem supposedly composed by Coleridge from an opium dream. [Br. Lit.: Benét, 555]
  7. Little Nemo dreams every night of Slumberland, a place of story-book palaces and fairy-tale landscapes. [Comics: Horn, 458]
  8. Morpheus god of dreams. [Gk. Myth.: Benét, 688]
  9. Pharaoh had dreams of cattle and corn by which Joseph was able to foretell the future. [O.T.: Genesis 41]
  10. Pilgrims Progress, The Bunyan dreamed this allegory of Christians adventures while in prison. [Br. Lit.: Bunyan Pilgrims Progress ]
  11. Quixote, Don falls into a trance and has visions of Montesinos and other heroes. [Sp. Lit.: Cervantes Don Quixote ]
  12. Under Milk Wood the commonplace inhabitants of a Welsh village voice their dreams. [Br. Drama: Dylan Thomas Under Milk Wood in Magill IV, 1247]

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"Dreaming." Allusions--Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. . 12 Dec. 2017 <>.

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129. Dreams

See also 372. SLEEP .

1 . a tendency to daydream.
2 . Psychiatry. an extreme withdrawal into fantasy in thought or behavior, not correctible by external information. autistic , adj.
the interpretation of dreams. oneirocritic , n. oneirocritical , adj.
Medicine. a disturbed sleep, involving nightmare and sometimes sleepwalking.
the science and interpretation of dreams. Also oneiroscopy .
a form of divination involving dreams. oneiromancer , n.
a type of magic-lantern show in which rapidly moving images blend, change size, etc.; hence, any series of images that move and change rapidly, as a dream. phantasmagorial , phantasmagoric , adj.
a nightmare.
a person much inclined to dream, especially to day-dream; a dreamy person.

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Dreaming or dream-time. The sense of identity, in Australian aboriginal culture, with the primordial guarantee of life and land by commanding figures (deities), together with the actions which sustain that identity and relatedness. Many different terms (e.g. alcheringa, bugari, djugurba) express this sense of reverent relatedness to the land and the conditions of its peace and prosperity. The ‘dream-time’ is the state in which those of the present-day live, in the company of the ancestors, in this ideal (but realizable) state.

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"Dreaming." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . 12 Dec. 2017 <>.

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Dreams. The interior consequences of continuing brain activity during periods of sleep; day-dreaming arises from the cessation (or suppression) of ordinary modes of consciousness or attentiveness, allowing other modes and contents of thought to take place. Both forms of dream have been important in religions, the former because it allows the possibility of insight, information and warning that would not otherwise be accessible, the latter because it exists on the edge of trance states and altered states of consciousness.

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dream Mental activity associated with the rapid-eye-movement (REM) period of sleep. It is usually a train of thoughts, scenes and desires expressed in visual images and symbols. On average, a person dreams for a total of 1.5–2 hours in eight hours of sleep. Dream content is often connected with body changes. For centuries, dreams have been regarded as a source of prophecy or visionary insight. In psychoanalysis, patients' dreams are often examined to reveal a latent content.

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dream dream of a funeral and you hear of a marriage an illustration of the general proverbs dreams go by contraries; saying recorded from the mid 17th century.
dream team a team of people perceived as the perfect combination for a particular purpose.
dream ticket a pair of candidates standing together for political office who are ideally matched to attract widespread support.

See also dreams go by contraries.

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"dream." The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. . 12 Dec. 2017 <>.

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dream sb. XIII. ME. drēm, identical in form with the ME. repr. of OE. drēam joy, jubilation, music, minstrelsy ( = OS. drōm mirth, noise), but corr. in sense to OFris. drām, OS. drōm (Du. droom), OHG. troum (G. traum), ON. draumr, with which it may be identical.
Hence vb. XIII.

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"dream." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. . 12 Dec. 2017 <>.

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dreamabeam, agleam, beam, blaspheme, bream, cream, deem, deme, downstream, dream, esteem, extreme, gleam, hakim, kilim, meme, midstream, Nîmes, ream, régime, scheme, scream, seam, seem, steam, stream, supreme, team, teem, theme, upstream •cross-beam • hornbeam • moonbeam •sunbeam • academe • morpheme •phoneme • jet stream • airstream •daydream • mainstream • Brylcreem •millstream • slipstream •bloodstream • monotreme •buttercream • raceme • septime •centime

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"dream." Oxford Dictionary of Rhymes. . 12 Dec. 2017 <>.

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