Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Dream Analysis: The Exploration of the Subconscious Mind

Dream Analysis:
The Exploration of the Subconscious Mind
A Brief History and Exploration into the Ages Old Attempt to Interpret Ourselves

             Dreams have always been a source of an enormous amount of philosophical and even scientific speculation. They seem to take us to another world inside of ourselves where our unconscious is laid bare. Some people believe that dreams are prophetic and can reveal future events. Some say that dreams can tell you about your body, and reveal the nature of illness and afflictions. Freud believed that our dreams were representations of dark, unspeakable sexual lusts. Others believe that dreams are just a recollection of the day in abstract form. The oldest notion of dreams was that they were divine messages or instructions from deities. There is an infinite array of ideas and theories that have unfolded over the ages, yet we do not seem to be very much closer to any certainty about the purpose or nature of dreams than we ever were. Perhaps none of the theories are right, perhaps they are all partially right, or perhaps there is no one right answer.
Dreams happen when our sleeping mind becomes active as though it was awake, but the body is paralyzed while dreaming, which is why we do not act out our dreams physically. Contrary to popular belief, blind people do dream in spite of their lack of sight, even those who are born blind, though what they see in their dreams are often different from what most people are used to. Their other senses are depended on much more, just as they are in the waking world. Some people dream in color, while other people report that they only dream in black and white (PPA). The average person spends six years of their life dreaming and has four to ten dreams each night. Most animals are believed to dream as well. Some people can dream lucidly, which means that you have more control over your dreams because you are aware that you are dreaming. Lucid dreaming helps people remember what has been dreamt, but most people forget 90% of what they dream within ten minutes of waking up (Crowl).
Throughout history dreams have been a source of mystery associated with magic and the supernatural. Dreams were originally thought to be messages from the gods sent to the people usually as a message of good fortune or a warning for some misfortune to come.  As far as historians can tell, the attempt to interpret one’s dreams goes back at least as far as the ancient Egyptians and they published  books on some of the conclusions they came to about the symbols often found in dreams.  In ancient Egypt there was a process called "dream incubation", wherein a person having troubles in their life, would sleep in a temple so that the gods would communicate with them through their dreams. When they woke up the priest, called the Master of the Secret Things, would be consulted for the interpretations of that person’s dreams (Thingquest).
  Greeks were among many who believed that dreams were messages from the gods, and were the means by which the divine beings communicated their wishes to mortal men. Greeks spoke in terms of seeing a dream rather than having a dream as we do. The belief in the divine source of dreams was adopted by the ancient Greeks, and then by the Romans. Such sentiments are reflected in works like The Odyssey in which Homer declares the presence of two gates from the underworld admitting dreams to mortals, one of horn and one of ivory, that were responsible for truthful and misleading dreams. Dream-oracles were common, wherein people were subjected to dream incubation in the hopes of receiving a prophetic dream much like the ancient Egyptians. In the cult of Asclepius, such practices were a part of medical treatment (Barbera).   
Democritus is best known for being the first to conceive the notion that the universe is composed of atoms. According to Democritus, all things release a constant stream of “eidola”, or fast-moving layers of atoms. He believed that the effect of eidola on the soul was responsible for dreams. Democritus said that, “The eidola penetrate bodies through their pores and when they come up again cause people to see things in their sleep; they come from things of every kind, artifact, clothes, plants, but especially from animals, because of the quantity of motion and heat they contain” (Barbera 907). By his reasoning, dreams are externally created from the energy permeated from objects and people we come into contact with. Democritus had the most naturalistic approach to dream philosophy at this point in history (Thinkquest).
Aristotle was one of the first who rejected the idea that dreams were messages from the gods. Aristotle suggested that dreams are the work of perception, but only of its imagining ability (Barbera).  He studied the dreaming process in a rational way, and in his De divinatione per somnum, he stated that "most so-called prophetic dreams are to be classed as mere coincidences," and then he went on to write that "the most skillful interpreter of dreams is he who has the faculty of absorbing resemblances.  I mean that dream presentations are analogous to the forms reflected in water" (Thinkquest n.p.).  Aristotle suggested that dreams are a reflection of the day’s events. Aristotle also believed that someone’s dreams could reflect the condition of the dreamer’s health. This idea proposed that doctors could make diagnoses based on someone’s dreams.  Hippocrates, the founder of modern medicine supported this theory, and there are still some doctors today who believe this theory has validity to it (Thingquest).
 Around the early nineteenth century Europeans started becoming wildly fascinated by dreams again and Robert Cross is credited with starting the dream craze.  He published a very successful book, The Royal Book of Dreams under the pen name Raphael.  Later a French doctor by the name of Alfred Maury led the way into modern dream interpretation.  He is said to have studied over 3000 different dreams and their symbols.  He believed that external stimuli are the catalyst to all of our dreams (Thingquest).
Sigmund Freud is one of the most well-known people from the nineteenth century to have tried their hand at interpreting dreams and building a dream philosophy. He considered his book, The Interpretation of Dreams to be the most significant contribution he made to the field of psychology. He said that “the interpretation of dreams is the royal road to knowledge of the unconscious activities of the mind” (Hergenhahn and Olson 46). He believed that although dreams may be prompted by external stimuli, wish-fulfillment was the most important aspect of our dreams. Freud's idea was that our dreams were reflections of our deep, hidden yearnings going back to our childhood.  No dream was superficial to Freud; they all held significant meanings and most of those meanings were related somehow to sexuality (Thingquest).

Freud insisted that dreams served the purposes of releasing psychic tension caused by unconscious desires and of preventing sleep from being disrupted. Freud said that:

 One of the most common types of dream-formation may be described as follows: a train of thoughts has been aroused by the working of the mind in the daytime. During the night this train of thoughts succeeds in finding connections with one of the unconscious tendencies present ever since his childhood in the mind of the dreamer, but ordinarily repressed and excluded from his conscious life. By the borrowed force of this unconscious help, the thoughts, the residue of the day’s work, now become active again, and emerge into consciousness in the shape of a dream. (Moorcroft 200)

Freud believed that symbols in dreams are usually condensed and/or displaced. Condensation occurs when a symbol in a dream has multiple meanings. Displacement occurs when symbols stand for something that is otherwise unacceptable or shameful to the dreamer’s conscious mind so it takes the form of something else. For example, Freud often interpreted long, cylindrical items in dreams such as poles, trees, tall buildings, or baseball bats in dreams as being phallic symbols. Round objects like balls, bags, melons, or hills Freud saw as being symbolic of breasts (Hergenhaun and Olson). However, Freud’s theories about dream interpretation may well have been best suited for Freud himself. Considering his own preoccupation with sex and sexuality, it would make sense that many of his dreams were in fact indicative of repressed sexual desires. This may not be true of every dreamer though.    
 Even though Carl Jung was a student of Freud’s for a long time, he disagreed with his idea that erotic urges were the basis of most of our dreams. In 1913 Jung split from his correspondence with Freud when his views started taking on a radically different form from his mentor’s.  To Jung, dreams are intended to be used for psychological self-healing to enhance emotional balance and over all well-being (Moorcroft).  Jung believed that dreams reminded us of our aspirations, which allows us to understand the things we intuitively long for, and aids us to achieve our own desires.  While Freud believed that the desires from our dreams are too outrageous for reality, and thus are concealed in the subconscious as a form of repression, Jung believed that dreams are messages to ourselves, and from ourselves, and that we must understand to them for our own benefit. Freud did not believe that anyone could interpret their own dreams either, while Jung believed it not only possible, but vital to do so. Most psychologists today seem to place more credence on Jung's theory, which is a far more positive view of dreams and makes dream interpretation something useful to our everyday lives (Thingquest).
Alfred Adler was also one of Freud’s students who differed on Freud’s theories over time. He theorized that the emphasis of dreams is on the dreamer’s routine and relate to the dreamer’s daily existence. Psychotherapists can use dreams to learn of an individual’s characteristics philosophies, behaviors, and outlooks, and free association, he said, should be used for looking at the emotional context of the dream.   However, in solving actual problems dreams are usually ineffectual in Adler’s eyes because they are self-protective fantasies, meaning that they reinforce the dreamers’ preconceived notions of self-worth. This is a subconscious form of ego defense. Interpretation of dreams can be helpful to see failures that are in need of work. However, according to Adler, dream interpretation requires a trained therapist, and the interpretation process is more of an art without structure rather than anything that could be analyzed with exact scientific logic. He believed that dreams anticipates the imminent future, yet seldom are specific solutions for personal problems carried from a dream to waking life, so in a sense, dreams fail. Contrary to Jung, Adler believed there are no universal symbols in dream (Moorcroft).
According to Thomas French and Erika Fromm, every dream is an unconscious interpretation of a real personal conflict. The remembered dream exposes what the conflict is and in what way the dreamer is attempting to resolve it. They both believed that interpretation required a trained professional with empathetic imaginations who can take into account the unique personality of the dreamer when trying to make conclusions regarding a dream’s meaning. Whether the interpretation is deemed successful or not depends primarily on the dreamer and their comfort and confidence that the therapist is correct in their interpretation (Moorcroft).
A psychologist at Brock University in Canada named Harry Hunt took a broader approach than many other psychologists preceding him by maintaining that there are many types of dreams. Personal-mnemic dreams contain ordinary matters from the dreamer’s waking life. Medical-somatic dreams reveal potential health-related issues, particularly illness. Prophetic dreams are said to foretell the future. Archetypal-spiritual dreams are encounters with supernatural forces and they are especially intense and overpowering, often supplemented by strong perceptions. Nightmares are just terrifying and upsetting reflections of personal fears. Lucid dreams occur when one is conscious of dreaming while in the dream, which usually allows for more freedom of choice in the dream (Moorcroft).
Some of these kinds of dreams occur regularly, such as the personal-mnemic dreams, while others, such as the archetypal-spiritual dreams, are rare but typically intense and not likely to occur in a sleep laboratory. Each kind of dream has its own arrangement of cognitive processes and different purposes. Hunt also says that dreams are not limited to being either stories or imagery because they are both. He took a holistic view and claimed that the study of dreaming should take evidence from a myriad of sources. For Hunt, dream statistics come primarily from anthropological studies, dream diaries, and distinctive dreams that tend to be noticed and easily recalled. He believed that dreams people have at home, not the ones from the lab, really tell what dreaming is all about (Moorcroft).
Some psychologists use dreams in an attempt to treat those suffering from severe cases of addiction. It has been found that many insights can be made from the dreams of an addicted mind. For instance “relapse-pending dreams” usually involve dreams wherein the dreamer is using their substance of choice. They are associated with the pleasure from consuming followed by distress upon awakening to find that they are not high:

The sobriety-affirming dreams are associated with guilt, worry in the dream and afterwards, and relief upon awakening. On the one hand, pleasure or acceptance in the dream, and/or disappointment upon awakening that it was just a dream warns of high relapse potential; that is the dreamer is still heavily allied with the addiction. However, reporting such a dream to the therapist reflects and will support the other side of the patient’s ambivalence. The therapist might work with the client about his or her ambivalent motivation. Such dreams can be part of the mourning process of recovery. (Flowers and Zweben 197)

Psychologists who use dreams in addiction therapy also teach clients to interpret their own dreams. Giving patients the ability to translate their dreams allows them to monitor their own needs in recovery without the presence of a therapist being necessary. This relieves the inconvenience of not always having a therapist present as well as gives the client a sense of power and control over their own healing process. Using these inexpensive psychodynamic methods to aid a person’s psychological well-being are far preferable to the increasing use of medication as a less expensive treatment, which is not always appropriate in addiction recovery (Flowers and Zweben).
Gillian Finocan created a study that looked into what role dreams had in women’s lives in particular. The study was designed to better understand the different ways in which women try to understand their dreams and the effects of such techniques. This study focused on self-help books verses face-to-face support groups called “dream groups” which are gatherings of people who share and attempt to interpret dreams for themselves and others. Her conclusions were that, though a great number of women seek self-help books to help them interpret their dreams, these books usually fail to do the job intended. Instead, they create disappointment and frustration so the user eventually loses interest altogether (Fincan).
This study claims that dream groups are a far more satisfactory method for interpreting dreams and helping them play a more central role in women’s lives. It takes time to gain trust within the group, so at first amusing and light-hearted dreams were the dreams shared. The dreams with more intense emotions could were reserved for when the dream group had developed more of a relationship with each other. She states that sharing in a group is more effective at producing fulfilling conclusions as to the nature and meaning of each other’s dreams and can more objectively take into account the subjects’ unique personalities. Her conclusions of the study emphasize a real personal, human element being necessary for a more detailed and accurate understanding of one’s dream world (Fincan).
Some books and theorists attempt to concretely establish that the symbols in dreams are mostly universal, thus can be interpreted. This seems like a far-fetched notion since each person’s frame of reference is entirely unique. For instance, Russell Grant in his book The Illustrated Dream Dictionary states that cats in dreams are a bad omen that means a lover is unfaithful, illness is coming, or romantic disappointment for men. However, these symbolic implications are greatly based on traditional, cultural preconceptions that are not applicable to many people (Grant). To people who have and adore cats in their home, this symbolism could represent trust, home, comfort, or something entirely different. Cultural and personal implications can change the meanings of symbols in dreams drastically. For example, in Buddhism the horse is symbolic of energy and effort of practicing dharma. Horses symbolize the air or “prana” which channels through the body and is the vehicle of the mind and the "Wind-Horse" is symbolic of the mind (Choskyi). However, in Celtic regions horses were associated with war, victory, longevity, and fertility (Noodén). The personal meaning an individual has towards a symbol needs to be taken into account for an accurate interpretation.

 Dr. Volney Gay, a professor of psychiatry, anthropology and religion at Vanderbilt University in Nashville and believes that symbols like horses can be interpreted but that "It's important to look at the dream in the context of what you're feeling during the dream and as you remember it” (Braeuner n.p.). He believes that a dream in which you're feeling the jubilant freedom of riding a horse in a dream naturally means something completely different than being trampled by a raging stampede of horses. In other words, the symbol has to be taken in context with the dreamer and the details in the rest of the dream. He also believes that sometimes dreams are just reflections of the previous day’s thoughts and experiences. Gay said, "For example, we may have a discussion about a movie, and I may dream about a character or situation from that movie when I sleep” (Braeuner n.p.).
For centuries the dream world has been a fascination for all of mankind, and I doubt the obsession shall ever cease. Dreams have been a source for academic speculation, philosophical wonder, and artistic inspiration for countless people throughout human history. Attempts have been made to try and make sense of our dreams, which seem so otherworldly and illogical much of the time, but perhaps there is no way to make a solid interpretation of the elements in dreams because we can never fully take into account the impact of the individual’s subjective reality. There is no one theory that fits for every individual and the dreams that they have. To have any hope of understanding the significance of one’s dreams, the unique personality of the individual needs to be taken into account. However, our dreams are most certainly passageways into the complex labyrinth of secret or unknown thoughts, desires, and fears. Dreams are doorways into the soul, if you will, and we should seek to understand them so that we may better understand ourselves.

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Barbera, Joseph. "Sleep and dreaming in Greek and Roman philosophy." Historical Issues in Sleep medicine. 8.9 (2007): 906-910. <>.
Braeuner, Shellie. "Dreams About Horses: Dream Meanings Explained." Huffinton Post. (2011): n. page. <>.
Choskyi, Ven. Jampa. Symbolism of Animals in Buddhism N.p. (1988). <>.
Crowl, Lauren, Ellen Higinbotham, David Minnick, and Victoria Owens. "Dream Analysis Through The Ages." The history of dream analysis. N.p., 2011. <>.
"Dream History." Oracle thinkquest education foundation. Thinkquest, n.d. <>.
 Fincan, Gillian. "Understanding Ourselves Through Dreamwork: Women Finding Significance in the Stories and Images of Dreams”. (2005): n.pag. < Gillian M.pdf?miami1122927116>.
"Five Fascinating Facts About Dreams You Should Know”. Philippine psychiatric association. N.p., 2011. Web. May 2013. <>.
Flowers, Loma and Zweben, Joan. "The Changing Role of “Using” Dreams in Addiction Recovery”. Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment. 15.3 (1998): 193-200. <>.
Grant, Russell. The Illustrated Dream Dictionary. Ontario: Virgin Publishing Company, 1996. Print.
Hergenhahn, B.R., and Matthew Olson. An Introduction to Theories of Personality. 6th. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 2003. Print.
Moorcroft, W.H. “Modern Theories of Dreams and Dreaming”. Understanding Sleep and Dreaming. (2013): 200-224.<>
Noodén, Lars. Animal Symbolism in Celtic Mythology. N.p. (2003). <>.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

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