The Psychology Of Dreams Essay, Research Paper
I remember my dream last night quite vividly. We, my roommates and I, were navigating our way through the confusing highways of Long Island trying to get home to New Jersey, all of which happened that very day. In my dream, as in real life, I was sitting shotgun in the car since I was assumed to be the expert. However, in the dream we continually arrived at one intersection
with the normal amount of traffic but we would just stop not knowing where to go: Straight, left, right, or back? This happened over and over again. Of course when I woke up, I realized the significance of this particular dream. In real life we were lost on our way home and my friends put their trust in me so we wouldn t get lost in the first place, but, unfortunately, we did get sidetracked a little. So, by having a crossroads in my dream and not knowing where to go was my unconscious telling me what it felt like to be on a trip where trust was put on you, and you failed. Of course we got home safe and sound, though two hours late.
Sigmund Freud also experienced unusually vivid dreams ever since his own boyhood. He had always had a keen, almost superstitious interest in dreams and dreaming. He wrote to Martha, his wife, about one instance when he had a blissful dream of a landscape, which, according to the private note-book on dreams which I have composed from my experience indicates travelling (Thornton 209). Freud s first published reference to his interest in dreams occurred in his writing Studies , where he reported unusually vivid dreams, beginning in late 1894. At about this time some of his patients began to relate their dreams, which they often explored in their psychoanalytical sessions. (Thornton 210)
Despite this, there is no proven fact on why we dream, which is why there are so many theories on the topic. Freud’s theory states that dreams carry our hidden desires. There is also Jung’s theory that dreams carry meaning, although not always of desire, and that these dreams can be interpreted by the dreamer. After these theories, others continued such as the Cayce theory in which dreams are our bodies means of building up of the mental, spiritual and physical well-being. Finally came the argument between Evans’ theory and the Crick and Mitchinson theory. Evans states that dreaming is our bodies way of storing the vast array of information gained during the day, whereas Crick and Mitchinson say that this information is being dumped rather than stored.
Out of all theories before his, and all of those today, Freud s is the one that stands out the most. He believed that a dream represented an ongoing wish along with the previous day s activities. They may even portray wishes that have been inside us since early childhood. In fact, he believed, every dream is partially motivated by a childhood wish. Another interesting idea was that nothing is made up during a dream and that they are biologically determined, derived completely from instinctual needs and personal experiences.
Probably one of the most interesting ideas among these theories is his theory of dream occurrence. Dreams occur in a state of “ego collapse” when the demands of the Id (imperative bodily needs) and Superego (conscience ego ideals) converge upon the Ego (personal desires and mediator between the Id and Superego). In simpler terms, a dream will occur when the unconscious wish is bound to the preconscious, instead of just being discharged.
Many of Freud’s theories still stand true today, but most of all in the area of defense mechanisms our body uses while we dream. If our minds have been dealing with too much denial, regression, or repression, it causes an internal conflict, a dream in this case, to take place. This prevents us from building up intolerable states of psychological tension in waking life. This is why, if one becomes overemotional, it actually works to “sleep it off.”
The actual study of dreams in the late twentieth century has focused on two topics: 1.) The physiological process of dreaming, and 2.), The content of dreams. Researchers have found physiological clues as to when a dream is actually taking place. The principal dream period, marked by a combination of rapid eye movement, a brain-wave pattern similar to that produced during wakefulness, and increased physiological activity, is known as REM Sleep (or the Dream state).
Ever since the discovery of REM Sleep in the mid-1950s, researchers have conducted experiments in which they awaken subjects who show signs of REM sleep–in most cases the subjects report intensely the experience of vivid visual dreams. Subjects awakened while not in REM sleep report dreams less frequently and have more difficulty remembering them. This evidence naturally supported a close association between REM sleep and the experience of vivid, spontaneously recalled dreams. However, extreme sleep-related behaviors such as night terrors, nightmares, enuresis (bed-wetting), and sleepwalking have generally been found unrelated to ordinary dreaming.
It s a known fact that REM sleep recurs about every 90 minutes throughout the time spent asleep, in periods that successively grow in duration from an initial length of 10 minutes. Between the ages of 10 and the mid-60s, people spend about a quarter of their time asleep in REM sleep. If this amount is temporarily lowered because of the use of certain drugs or by waking a sleeper in REM sleep, as soon as permitted, the person will recover by naturally increasing his or her amount of time in REM sleep, accompanied of course by an increase in dreaming.
From this it was deduced that the presence of REM sleep indicated a high probability that a person is in fact dreaming. Nevertheless, the content of his or her dream is directly available only to the dreamer and so to study the contents of dreams, researchers must rely on reports made by dreamers after they awaken. Unpleasant feelings in dreams are reported almost twice as often as pleasant ones. The contents of most dreams seem to consist of fairly direct representations of people and settings familiar to the dreamer. (Lewis 2)
Many theories have been proposed regarding the purposes of dreaming. Freud believed that the principal purpose of dreams is simply wish fulfillment . He felt that people fulfill ungratified needs from waking hours through wishful thinking in dreams. An example of this can be someone who is sexually frustrated would tend to have highly erotic dreams, while an unsuccessful person would dream about great accomplishments.
Other theorists such as Rosalind Cartwright in 1977 proposed that dreams provide an opportunity to work through everyday problems. This is known as her cognitive Problem-Solving View , in which there is considerable continuity between waking and sleeping thought. Proponents of this view believe that dreams allow people to engage in creative thinking about problems because dreams are not restrained by logic or realism. (Weiten 127)
J. Allan Hobson and Robert McCarley have argued that dreams are simply the by-product of bursts of activity emanating from subcortical areas in the brain. Their Activation-Synthesis model proposes that dreams are side effects of the neural activation and produces wide awake brain waves during REM sleep. According to this model, neurons firing periodically in lower brain centers send random signals to the cortex (the seat of complex thought). The cortex supposedly constructs a dream to make sense out of these signals. In contrast to the theories of Freud and Cartwright, this theory significantly downplays the role of emotional factors as determinants of dreams.
These theories are only three of at least seven major theories about the functions of dreams. All seven theories are based more on conjecture than research. Once again, this is partly because the private, subjective nature of dreams makes it difficult to put the theories to an empirical test. Naturally the real purpose of dreaming still remains a mystery. (Weiten 127)
Not surprisingly though, drugs and dreaming have always gone hand in hand, and Freud was no stranger to using drugs such as cocaine. His unusually vivid dreams, which he had no difficulty in remembering, are explained by the peculiar properties of cocaine, which he was then using so freely. In common with many other drugs of addiction, cocaine significantly reduces or even suppresses both total sleep and REM sleep, in which dreaming occurs. However, as the effects of the drug wear off, there is a compensatory rebound effect, so that REM sleep becomes longer and more intensified, accounting for the vividness and hallucinatory quality of the dreams and the fact that on waking there is no difficulty in recalling them.
On July 24, 1895 Freud had what he called an historic moment when he had a dream while he and his family were vacationing in the Vienna suburb of Bellevue. This dream was called his Irma dream and this became his first specimen dream on psychoanalysis , which would take up the entire second chapter of his book Interpretation of Dreams. From then on it was that dream interpretation came to assume a major role in psychoanalysis.
Again, Freud s main theory of the dream was that it represented the disguised fulfillment of a repressed wish , though the material that broke through undisguised he called dreams as well. Sexual symbols were also used in his interpretation of dreams and were only a few of the many postulated by Freud and his followers in the succeeding years; Basically anything cylindrical in a dream was a male or phallic symbol , and anything hollow was a female symbol.
Dreams had an additional interest for him in that they had access to the forgotten material of childhood-In his own self-analysis Freud was discovering further elements of the Oedipus complex, in his case, a deep hostility to his father and death wishes to his baby brother who died in infancy. Despite this, he was not completely frank in recounting his own dreams, confessing to some natural hesitation about revealing so many intimate facts about one s mental life. (Thornton 214)
In his time as a psychoanalyst Freud had to deal with many cases of strange behavior accompanying dreams. Nightmares are defined as anxiety-arousing dreams that generally occur near the end of the sleep cycle, during REM sleep. They occur more often in childhood and seem to decrease with age. Less common, but more frightening it seems, are the night terrors – Abrupt awakenings from NREM sleep accompanied by intense physiological arousal and feelings of panic. (Huffman 143)
These night terrors occur generally early on in the cycle during Stage 3 or Stage 4 of NREM. With night terrors, the sleeper awakens suddenly, in a state of panic, with no recollection of any dream. Night terrors are most prevalent among young children, but can also occur in adults. Sleepwalking and sleeptalking tend to accompany night terrors and generally occur during NREM sleep (which explains why movement is possible). Nightmares, night terrors, sleepwalking, and sleeptalking all seem to be found more often in young children, and when in adults, during times of stress. The only real treatment recommended by experts is patience and soothing reassurance at the time of the sleep disruption.
Huffman, Karen; Vernoy, Mark & Judith, Psychology in Action , 4th edition,
pg. 143, ã1987 John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New York
Lewis, James R., The Dream Encyclopedia , pg 2, ã1995 Visible Ink Press,
Thornton, E.M., The Freudian Fallacy: An Alternative View of Freudian Theory ,
pg. 209-210, 214, ã1984, The Dial Press, Garden City, NY
Weiten, Wayne, Psychology, Themes and Variations , 2nd edition, pg. 127,
ã1994, Brooks/Grove Publishing Co., Pacific Grove, CA