Dreaming A Beautiful Art Essay, Research Paper
Dreaming, A beautiful Art
Scientists have made drastic improvements in the study of the human brain in the last
century. Consequently, the rational, or conscious, mind of the human being is more easily
understood. The conscious mind is responsible logic, such as mathematics. This makes the
conscious mind fairly easy to understand, for it functions in a sequential process to reach a
conclusion. The subconscious mind, however, is more ambiguous. The subconscious mind
contains emotional, creative, and personal aspects of a human being, as opposed to the
rationality of the conscious mind. The subconscious mind contains all of the personal elements
of a human being, such as desires and phobias, and this therefore responsible for the
individuality of a human being. The key to understanding the human personality is dreams, for
they are a window into the depths of the human psyche.
Everybody dreams several times per night – adults and children alike. Dreams occur in
REM (or rapid eye movement) sleep, in which brain activity parallels that of an awake individual.
During REM sleep, the dreaming individual’s eyes dart back and forth, and the individual is
virtually paralyzed, for only a trace of muscle activity can be recorded at this time. REM sleep is
accepted in the scientific community for its importance in recharging the mind and body for the
Dreams have various functions, such as helping the brain to sort an individual’s
memories and remember new tasks. For example, about 80% of dreams parallel events
encountered by the individual, usually in the preceding day (Empson, 112 ). Stronger
evidence exists, however, that individuals that learned a new task the previous
day dream about it at night in order to allow their brains to sort out the new information. For
instance, researchers at the Weizmann Institute in Israel experimented by teaching human
subjects new tasks that were generally repetitious, such as playing musical instruments or
dancing. They found that the subjects were markedly better at these tasks after
sleeping than immediately after learning them. The researchers then showed “..six subjects
different figures on a computer screen. Then they tested the subjects on what they had seen.
Later that night they deprived half the group of…REM sleep (in which many dreams occur)
and deprived the other half of ’slow wave’ sleep (few or no dreams)” ( Litowinsky, 43). The
subjects deprived of REM sleep showed no improvement when retested in the morning, but the
other half that did receive REM sleep tested better. “Something occurs in REM sleep
that’s a critical factor in memory consolidation,” according to neurologist Avi Karni, coauthor of
the Weizmann study.
Understanding the importance of dreams in the form of memory strengthening and
learning is practical to every person. It explains why people often appear confused and have
trouble remembering things when they have received little sleep. Dreams are so
important that they should not be neglected. Unfortunately, many health care workers,
especially highly specialized workers such as surgeons, often work long, grueling days and
resultantly receive little or no sleep at night. If hospitals hired more doctors and shortened their
hours, the doctors would probably be more efficient, and less hospital accidents would occur.
For example, it may be wiser for a surgeon who has to do two bypass surgeries to operate on
one patient, get a good night’s sleep, and do the other operation the next day. The doctor’s
memory may be strengthened during the night, and the next operation would be more
successful. In addition, the importance of dreams to memory consolidation should be known by
students, who often stay up late studying the night before a test. Everybody’s mother has told
him to get a good night sleep before a test, and increased understanding of dreams by the
scientific community has finally given results that support this wisdom.
Dreams also help the individual to resolve conflicts. According to psychologist Carl
Jung, recurrent dreams, or dreams that persist for a long period of time, indicate recurring
problems and bring them to the attention of the dreamer ( Freud, 224). Eventually, the dreamer
will acknowledge his conflict and solve it, and the recurrent dream will cease. Dreams that
solve problems can be considered passive thinking, for it is done freely and unpredictably, and
they generally occur in three stages. First, the “impact of…a new experience [is examined]”
(Litowinsky, 50 ). This helps the dreamer to understand his problem and his emotions
associated with it. Next, the “tension [is examined] from a historical perspective” (Ullman 4).
This helps the individual to examine his past to find comparable examples of similar tension in
order to resolve the conflict.
Finally, the dream makes “an effort at resolution” (Freud, 433). Thus, certain dreams can help
to solve problems. This is an important fact for people to consider when making crucial
decisions, for it may be wiser for the person to wait a day before making the choice. The
passive thinking the dreaming process will probably give a better answer than an immediate
rational one, for the subconscious mind evidently considers the decision as a whole as well as
the emotional context of the decision, whereas active thinking is mainly concerned with logic.
Dreams can often give better solutions to problems than the conscious mind can.
Dreams can also anticipate the future. Jung called these dreams “anticipatory dreams”
(Freud, 264). This occurs when the subconscious mind considers the past and the present, and
attempts to predict the future. Many people attach a spiritual or mystical element to anticipatory
dreams, especially when the dreams are incredibly accurate, yet it seems that these dreams are
merely subconscious predictions and are no different than an individual thinking about the future
in an awake state. The unconscious mind is unrestrained, however, for it takes a course that is
seemingly uncontrolled by the dreamer. This may explain why people predict certain events in
their dreams with accuracy, for the unconscious mind considers possibilities that the conscious
mind may overlook. In addition, some anticipatory dreams relate specifically to the future of the
individual dreamer, such as birth or death dreams. Canadian psychologist Ian Stevenson
noticed that many pregnant subjects had dreams relating to childbirth towards the very end of
their pregnancy when birth was near (Empson, 94). Certain dreams are obviously parallel to the
future when considered later, for these dreams are merely the subconscious attempt of
anticipating the future.
Dreams can also help an individual to overcome trauma. For example, traumatic
experiences, such as car accidents, are often relived in dreams. The dream may be troubling to
the dreamer, but these dreams can actually help the individual to overcome the trauma. This
trauma can be overcome by “turning” dreams. Turning dreams is documented by the Senoi tribe
of West Malaysia, who practice this useful technique often. For example, if a member had a
nightmare about “being chased by a tiger,” the dream would be “encouraged” so the
dreamer can face the tiger and “vanquish [his] fear” (Ulman, 71). Psychiatrist Morton
Schatzman used this technique to treat a patient of his, “Ruth”, in order to help her overcome her
traumatic past (she had been brutally raped by her father at age ten, and he also had fired a
shotgun at her on one occasion). This technique of turning dreams helped “Ruth” to overcome
trauma, as it does with many others. (Freud, 24). Trauma dreams often recur until the
dreamer does something in the dream to prevent the traumatic experience or “solve”
the problem, and are sometimes used in psychiatric work. In this manner, dreams can help an
individual to overcome trauma.
In addition to helping an individual cope with trauma, dreams can help an individual
cope with death. For example, people often dream about departed loved ones. According to
psychologist Alan B. Siegel, “The mind is fully capable of conjuring up vivid images of a
relative or friend, whether alive or dead” (Litowinsky, 60). These dreams are often very vivid and
sensual, which cause the dreamer to believe that they are actually interacting with the deceased
person. Again, people often associate a spirituality and religion to this type of dream, but it is
not an uncommon part of the dreaming process. These death dreams help the dreamer to
finally end his mourning, for it is a stage of acceptance. The deceased person in the dream is
nearly always accepting of their own death, which allows the mourner to accept it as well.
Siegel states: “When the dreamer is reassured that the deceased person is okay, it means that
the grieved is finally okay” (Ullman,27).
Dreams of death give a sense of closure to the relationship, especially when there are
still unresolved conflicts. Nan Zimmerman, coauthor of the book Working With Dreams, felt
unresolved feelings of “sorrow, guilt, and anger” at her deceased father (Ullman, 49). Years
later, she had a dream in which she vented all of her emotions at him: “My father looked at me
and smiled…a smile of complete acceptance. An avalanche of relief rushed over me” (Ullman
49). This sort of dream allows the individual to absolve himself of guilt and unresolved
feelings with a deceased loved one. In this fashion, dreams can help bring closure to a
relationship, even though one person in the relationship is dead.
A third type of dream about death is the acknowledgment of one’s own impending
death in order to allow the individual to accept it. James Hillman’s Suicide and the Soul gives
an account of a 94-year-old woman named Gram Shriver who had two dreams about death that
allowed her to accept her own death and help her daughter Lil to cope with the inevitable. In her
first dream, she saw Jesus and yearned to be with him, but “[she] felt [she] had more to do”
(Ullman 52). Gram, by now in poor physical condition, had a second dream in which she
“anticipated with exhilaration the freedom of physical death…[but] she heard her daughter’s
earnest desire that she live” (Ullman 52). Lil talked to friends and relatives about her mother’s
impending death, and Gram even ordered her own coffin. The next day she died, but her death
was acceptable to herself and to her daughter because of her powerful dreams.
Dreams of impending death, which are often peaceful and pleasant, may explain the
human concept of heaven. Dreaming of a bright, white light and a feeling of peacefulness is
somewhat universal, and ties in to the concept of God and His divine light. Dreams can then
be considered to be of utmost importance, for they help humans to accept the inevitability of
death. If no afterlife exists and mundane existence is the only form of human existence, then
dreams can help humanity to cope with finality, as the subconscious may be portraying
pleasant images to help the person enjoy his last moments of life. Dreams may be the a logical
explanation to the universal question of afterlife existence. This question can obviously never be
answered, but if an answer exists, the answer will inevitably be revealed to everybody.
Dreams often tell a person about himself. According to Sigmund Freud, dreams are
repressed wishes. Freud reached this conclusion on July 24, 1895, after he had a vengeful
dream. After analyzing his dream, he came to his conclusion: “The dream represented a
particular state of affairs as I should have wished it to be. Thus its content was the fulfillment of
a wish” (Freud, 32). He believed that the unfulfilled desires plague the unconscious and
threaten to disturb sleep because of their persistence, and therefore the mind satisfies the
desire in a dream in order to allow the person to sleep. Freud said, “Dreams are the guardians
of sleep, and not its disturbers” (Freud, 35).
The unconscious desires of dreamers are represented differently as the individual
becomes older. For example, Freud said that “…when his two-year-old nephew…gave his uncle
a basket of ripe cherries that he clearly wanted for himself, he dreamed of a cherry feast
all his own” . Thus, the child’s dream of a “cherry feast” fulfilled his desire that was
repressed during the day. The dreams of adults are not as innocent, however. For example,
workers at alcoholism treatment facilities note that “during the early weeks of sobriety, many
alcoholics report dreaming about bingeing” (Dunlop, 265). Freud acknowledged that since
carnal urges are virtually the strongest desires, adult dreams are full of sexual imagery. This
imagery is not entirely explicit, however; it is often represented symbolically. This is because
Freud believed that between the conscious and the subconscious was a “superego”. This
superego tries to censor sexual desires in dreams, so the desires often take the form of other
symbols in order to surpass the superego. For example, dreaming of objects that are long and
pointed often refer to the penis. Freud believed that helping people to understand the
symbolism of dreams was key to understanding oneself.
Freud believed that the process of displacement occurs in dreams, which states that
everything in a dream represents something else. Besides using symbolism, dreams often use
puns or rhymes to convey meaning. Ann Faraday, Ph.D., is an expert on dream puns, and
sorts dream puns into five different categories. Reversal puns are the reversal of syllables, such
as “a dream of filling full a jar which expresses a sense of being fulfilled” (Freud, 33). Visual
puns are puns “in which the dream creates a picture based on one sense of a word in order to
express an idea involving a different sense of the same word…for example, [Faraday's] dream of
a baseball game to reflect [her] feeling of being involved in a base, underhand game” (Empson,
58). A third use of puns in a dream is using proper names. Another use of puns in a dream is a
literal dream of a slang phrase. Finally, dreams may use body parts as puns. Understanding
the meaning of these puns in one’s dream can help to better understand oneself. Each symbol
represents an underlying emotion about some subject that the unconscious is trying to bring to
the attention of the dreamer.
Faraday’s explanation seems a bit questionable, and is not wholeheartedly supported by
other experts. Obviously, the subconscious mind is fully capable of using puns and metaphors,
but Faraday may be speculating too much. An important concept that is generally accepted by
most psychiatrists is that dream interpretation is best done by the dreamer; for example, if a
dreamer is satisfied with his interpretation of a dream, then that is the best and most suitable
interpretation of the dream. Carl Jung supported the notion that overanalzyation of individual
aspects of dreams is not an effective method of dream interpretation.
The Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, like Freud, believed that dreams serve an important
function in telling the dreamer something about himself. Jung became a disciple of Freud in
1903 when he read a book by him that contained dream theories that closely resembled his
own. He respected Freud as a teacher, but began to disagree with him in certain issues about
dreams. For example, Jung believed that dreams are mainly helpful, but Freud believed that
“the majority of dreams are symptoms of psychic illness” (Freud, 285). Jung also disagreed on
the fact that sex was symbolized in every dream, and that all dreams were the fulfillment of a
wish. Jung said, “It is true that there are dreams which embody wishes and fears, but what is
there which the dream cannot on occasion embody? Dreams may give expression to
ineluctable truths, to philosophical pronouncements, illusions, wild fantasies” (Ullman, 73).
Jung, although acknowledging the importance of understanding one’s dreams to understand
oneself, also sought other possibilities for the meaning of dreams.
Jung believed that dreams are messages from the unconscious mind. He believed that
they serve various purposes other than wish fulfillment, such as dealing with stress and
resolving inner conflicts. He did not believe that anything resembling a superego existed; rather,
Jung believed that dreams are straightforward. For example, the true self is often repressed by
society, for people are often influenced in how they act by the people around them. Thus,
dreams are the only moment in which the true person can be seen, for dreams are private and
known only by the dreamer, and they reveal the true inner self. Jung chastised the Freudian
notion that all images in dreams are symbols for something else, for Jung believed that dreams
are honest, and that it is more important to understand the emotional impact of a dream on the
dreamer than to understand every individual symbol. Although disagreeing with Freud on the
exact method that the unconscious used to communicate with the dreamer, Jung also believed
that dreams are important in understanding the true personality of an individual.
Dreams can function generally as a form of psychic regulation. Jung subscribed to this
notion when he stated: “Dreams are the natural reaction of the self-regulating psychic system.
This formulation is the nearest I can get to a theory about the structure and function of dreams”
(Empson, 26). Two types of dreams exist that serve a purpose of psychic regulation:
compensatory dreams and confirmatory dreams. Compensatory dreams compensate for a
strength or a weakness. It serves to balance the psyche by identifying something ignored by an
individual. For example, Ted Williams had a dream that compensated for his feelings of
physical inadequacy months after he had a stroke. He dreamed that he was facing the Seattle
Mariners’ ace pitcher Randy Johnson. Williams’ dream of hitting a home run compensated for
his negative feelings about himself.
The other type of psychic regulation dream is the confirmatory dream. The confirmatory
dream confirms something about a person. This type of dream occurs in two different ways.
First, a confirmatory dream may be an exact repetition of an actual event. For example,
“post-traumatic stress dreams…are nightmare repetitions of frightening…experiences…Such
dreams underscore the reality of the event and assure the dreamer that his or her response is
legitimate and not an overreaction” (Dunlop, 119). Thus, by repeating the actual event, a
confirmatory dream can help the dreamer to understand his emotions and accept them. The
other type of confirmatory dream is one that emphasizes an unacceptable truth. Mickey Mantle
had a confirmatory dream about his physical condition after retiring from baseball: “I had a
recurring nightmare that I was trying to make a comeback and, because of my legs, I couldn’t
quite make it to first base. I’d get thrown out from right field or left field” (Dunlop, 292). Mantle’s
dream was a confirmation of an unacceptable truth, but his dream eventually helped him to
accept his situation and resulting emotions. Confirmatory dreams, like compensatory dreams,
reveal a person’s inner emotions to his conscious mind.
Many dreams, such as the types previously discussed, relate to personal situations of
the dreamer. This is not always the case, however, for dreams are sometimes universal. The
universality of dreams is means that dreams are mixed experiences of the individual and
the species. Jung propounded the theory of the collective unconscious to describe the
unconscious as containing a collection of memories from the beginnings of mankind. This
explains the archetypes found in dreams that have universal representation, such as a circle
representing unity and a snake representing evil. The archetypical quality of dreams
is similar to the basic themes of fairy tales, for universal dreams often involve common factors of
existence, such as birth and death. Montague Ullman summarizes the universal quality of
dreams when he states: “Our dreams are connected with the basic truth that we are all
members of a single species” (Ullman 145).
Dreams can also lead to a sort of secular revelation in the form of artistic inspiration.
This makes sense because dreams in themselves resemble art, for dreams and art both have
qualities of “[visual nature, novelty, concreteness, contrast, vividness, emotion, universality, and
metaphorical association]” (Ullman 60). Dreams influenced several artistic genres, such as the
symbolists (like Van Gogh) and the surrealists (like Dali). The nature of dreams serve as an
inspiration for artists who try to capture emotion on canvas in the same manner that
Dreams are universal to the human experience. Studying dreams is useful to all of
humanity, for every single person dreams. Dreams are important to memory consolidation and
learning, conflict resolution and anticipation of the future. Dreams can also help to cope
with trauma and death, as well as reveal an individual’s inner personality. Finally, dreams may
result in artistic inspiration, which allows everybody to experience someone’s individual dream.
One can only hope that the scientific community can further understand the perplexity of the
subconscious, but perhaps the subconscious is so complex that it can never be understood. In
the meantime, one can dream about the endless possibilities of the human psyche.
Dunlop, Charles E. M.;edt., Philosophical Essays on Dreaming.
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Empson, Jacob, Sleep and Dreaming. London: Faber and Faber
Freud, Sigmund, The Interpretation of Dreams. New York, New
York: Random House Inc., 1994.
Litowinsky, Olga, The Dream Book. New York : Coward, McCann
& Geoghegan, Inc., 1978.
Ullman; edt., The Variety of Dream Experience Expanding our
Ways of Working with Dreams. New York : Continum
Publishing Co., 1998.