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Dreaming Reality: How dreaming keeps us sane, or can drive us mad

by by Joe Griffin & Ivan Tyrrell

listed in depression

[Image: Dreaming Reality: How dreaming keeps us sane, or can drive us mad]

Why we dream has posed one of the most enduring and puzzling challenges to science. The long, winding road to understanding has not produced a clear and accepted answer – red herrings and dead-ends have prevailed – resulting in a vast plethora of theories on the matter.

It was therefore somewhat surprising to read that the authors claimed to have revealed the actual psychological explanation. Single causal explanations make most psychologists shudder, though, and it was in such a state that I read the book.

Joe Griffin's idea is that the dream is purely "a metaphorical acting out of undischarged emotional arousal from our unfulfilled expectations of the previous day". Thus, say, if you have a row with a partner and the problem is not resolved at the end of the day, then the conflict will appear in a dream, whereas, if you kiss and make up, there's no emotional impetus for a dream. It's too simple. For a start, the theory assumes that emotional arousal drives dreams. Cognitive factors in humans would seem to be more significant – the dream flows along verbal and visual associative pathways (as my own work on the scene-shift effect illustrates). Things that you think within the dream state, cause their manifestation in a dream. ('I hope the mad axe-man doesn't come after me' will often result in his appearance.)

And what about the fact that a strong positive feeling of harmony re-established in a relationship might well be dreamed, but not according to Joe.

At one point in the book, the authors present the 'forgotten' (from 1909) findings of Silberer, who wrote about the 'autosymbolic' phenomenon of the hypnagogic (sleep onset) state – but his work is well known, and I've certainly discussed it in publications. It forms the basis of my own ideas about dreams. Essentially Silberer discovered that simple thoughts become transformed into metaphorical images.

We are still left with the main puzzle concerning dreams, of why there are such amazing distortions. The latest dream technique (The Dream Oracle, by Melbourne and Hearne) actually by-passes the distortion process by allowing the unconscious to select one message of a fixed number, based on the letters of the alphabet.

The authors of Dreaming Reality produce several examples of Joe's dreams to back up his thesis, but in this area, self report is massively open to expectation effects. (It's not the same as Ebbinghaus's recall of learned nonsense syllables after being woken from sleep).

With Joe's theory, what is happening in my opinion, is experimenter expectation. Freud's patients tended to report sexual dreams, while Jung's patients produced message-from-the-unconscious dreams. Perhaps Joe's dreams follow his own beliefs in similar fashion. It becomes, unwittingly, a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I witnessed a remarkable demonstration of dream expectation in the sleep laboratory. Subjects were wired-up to my 'dream-machine' (designed to induce lucidity in dreams by giving pulses to the wrist during REM sleep). In a 'control' study, where the device was not even switched on, several of these people reported experiencing vivid lucid dreams after having 'felt the pulses'.

To assert that the basis of dreams is undischarged emotions, is too narrow. Dreams can be anything we want them to be. In fact, I would hypothesize that persons convincingly told the exact opposite to Joe's idea (i.e. that dreams represent only discharged emotional arousal from fulfilled expectations of the previous day) will have many such dreams.

Despite my own personal criticisms of the theory, the book is very comfortably written, with interesting information, and certainly worth buying as a further outlook on the ever-fascinating topic of dreams.

Keith Hearne PhD
HG Publishing
1 899398 36 8

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