Dream Study Essay, Research Paper
Dream Study by Alex Ryaboy
Although there have been many psychological and scientific explanations, nobody knows for sure what dreams are. Each generation comes up with new interpretations of dreams. About a third of a normal lifetime is spent sleeping, and much of that time is spent dreaming (MacKenzie 8). Some believe that dreaming occurs during the REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. Others believe that we dream all the time. However many of these dreams may not be remembered in waking consciousness (Sharpe 13).
In the ancient world the belief was that dreams were messages from gods and demons. People believed that dreams predicted the future and revealed cures for the ill. When humans developed a written language, they began recording interpretations of their dreams. The earliest records of dream study have been preserved from ancient Egypt. Other examples of this are shown in the Bible, in which the dreams of Joseph and Pharaoh are reported and interpreted (MacKenzie 26). Usually the recorded dreams were of god or important people such as priests and kings. They fall into three main groups.
The first are dreams in which gods appear to demand some pious act. In Egypt a large stone inscription that is placed before the sphinx tells about a dream of King Thutmose IV, in which the god Hormakhu promised him the kingdom; in return, on becoming a ruler, Thutmose cleared the sands away from the sphinx (29).
In the second group, the dreams are in forms of warnings or revelations from god, like the dream of the Ethiopian conqueror of Egypt Tanutamon, who saw two serpents on his left
and right. The dream was interpreted that he would be the ruler of North and South Egypt (29).
The third type is dreams in which the dream content repeats some mythological theme. The wife of an Egyptian magician, Setme Khamuas, was barren. In a dream she was told to go to her husbands privy and make a potion from one plant to give to her husband. The remedy succeeded. In a subsequent dream the father was told to name his child, who would become a great magician himself, leading and helping his people. This dream contains many elements of myths that predict the coming of a great leader (30).
Like many Egyptians, Romans were fascinated with all kinds of divination. The emperor Augustus took dreams so seriously that he made a law that anyone who dreamed about the commonwealth must proclaim it in the market place. It was said that Calpurnia, the wife of Julius Caesar, dreamed of his assassination the night before he was stabbed to death (50).
While most Greeks thought that dreams had a predictive power, Greek philosophers such as Plato and Aristotle, discussed dreams in a scientific manner. However, it was not until the 19th century that widespread belief in the divine source of dreams began to disappear. Plato states In all of us, even in good men, there is a lawless wild-beast nature, which peers out in sleep. Aristotle suggests that sleep reduces the activity of the senses, but residual activity continues even after the body has lapsed into torpor (47).
Aristotle says The senses can produce images that are not strictly dependent on external stimulation, and these images can be mistaken for real objects, especially under stress. Our ability to judge perceptions and our capacity to have them are distinct functions. Therefore a man s mind may be full of images in sleep, but be lacking the power to realize that they are not reality. (49, Aristotle On Dreams ).
Aristotle saw three ways in which dreams might be linked to the future. The first was the prodromic dream, in which small symptoms of a future illness would be perceptible to the sleeper. The second were cases in which the dream was the source of an idea or state of mind governing waking actions. Thirdly Aristotle observed that since there were so many dreams of such infinite variety, some of them would resemble later events (MacKenzie 50).
In the late 19th century people were seeking answers to many questions concerning the cause of dreams. Some of experiments conducted by Alfred Maury would give reasonable explanations. Maury was convinced that dreams were caused by external stimulation, and his tests were designed to show that the senses can convey messages to the brain, and that the brain responds with appropriate imagery (108). In his tests he used burning matches, speech, drops of water, and bright lights before the eyes. A burning match, for example, when held beneath the nose led Maury to dream that he was at sea, and that the powder magazine of the ship had blown up. A pair of tweezers that is struck to make a slight ringing noise, caused him to dream of the sound of bells ringing out an alarm that recalled the Paris revolution of June 1848.
Maury s tests were quoted in support of the theory that dreams had a physiological cause (108).
Perhaps the most famous theory of the significance of dreams is the psychoanalytic model developed by Sigmund Freud. In Freud’s view, the events of a dream are produced by dreamwork, whose task is to give hidden expression to unconscious desires. These desires are usually kept out of consciousness or repressed because they represent forbidden impulses, often of a sexual nature. During sleep, the force of repression is reduced, therefore repressed desires can be safely expressed. But to prevent those unacceptable desires from appearing in an explicit form into the dreamer’s consciousness, the dreamwork transforms them into acceptably disguised or symbolic images by drawing on sensory stimulation, waking experiences, and memories. A central therapeutic technique used in psychoanalysis is the interpretation of a patient’s dreams, in the effort to understand the workings of his or her unconscious mind (www.bibliomania.com/NonFiction/Freud/Dreams). Freud s main conclusion was that whatever causes a dream, a stimulus to the senses or a physiological condition, the nature of the dream was the important fact. Freud States:
The dream reveals what we have been and what we have wanted to be. For dreams are derived from the past in every sense. Nevertheless, the ancient belief that dreams foretell the future is not wholly devoid of truth. By picturing our wishes as fulfilled, dreams are after all leading us into the future. But this future,
which the dreamer pictures as the present, has been molded by his indestructible whish into a perfect likeness of the past (MacKenzie 175).
In the mid 20th century researchers led by Nathaniel Kleitman discovered REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. The observations showed that eyeballs of sleeping subjects in both humans and animals periodically move during sleep. The REM sleep begins 90 minutes after the sleep begins and recur in intervals of increasing length about 90 minutes apart, for a total of nearly 2 hours of REM dreaming per night. Studies showed that 90% of the time when people were awakened during REM sleep they reported a dream, and 60% awakened during non-REM sleep resulted in reports of dreamlike activity. With approximately five dreams a night, humans will have about 136,000 dreams in a lifetime, which is equivalent to six years in an REM dream state (256).
Some recent research indicates that dream content reflects problems that the dreamer experiences in life, and that the function of such dreams is to facilitate the emotional resolution of the problems. Numerous accounts exist of scientific problems being resolved, and literary works being developed in dreams after dreamers had consciously immersed themselves in a problem for an extended time (Sigler).
Today, we take dreams in a serious manner. We refer to them as one of fantasy states that provides us with clues and hidden states of mind. They are windows to our subconscious mind. For people, dreams are kind of a self-discovery. Because the study of the dream has opened the door on man s inner world it has been one of the golden keys to human freedom (MacKenzie 327).
Aristotle. On dreams http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/dreams.sum.html
Freud, Sigmund. Freud : The Interpretation of Dreams 1931
MacKenzie, William. Dreams and Dreaming New York 1965
Sharpe, Ella Freeman. Dream Analysis New York 1978
Sigler , Karen Diane. Nocturnal psychopathology: Sleep, dreaming, mood and light-therapy in bipolar disorder. 1999 APA/PsycINFO