A MODERN HISTORY
& SCIENTIFIC BACKGROUND OF DREAMS
The 20th century’s most famous dream pioneer was Sigmund Freud who began the field of psychoanalysis. However, Freud was not the first to study dreams. One distinguished predecessor was Scottish physician Robert McNish (1802 1837) who noticed that "a man wearing a damp nightshirt" dreamed he was being dragged through a stream. Early on, this brought up the question of whether bodily sensations produce dreams, and by the time Freud entered the scene, research on the effect of ow physical stimuli on dreams was quite the rage. Modern research confirms that outer noises or sensations can affect the details of a dream—but not its overall story or meaning.
Freud was the first to identify the subconscious as a storehouse of memories and desires that show up in dreams, and which are linked to dreams to daily activities and motives. As Freud confirmed that dreams act as a mirror of the psyche's contents, he revived an idea that was readily accepted by the ancients, namely, that dream content is linked to waking life.
Even though his theories did not always pan out, Freud’s observations on dreams and the how the mind works initiated the study of modern psychology. A pronounced distortion was that Freud linked all dream content to sexuality and sexual motives, a perspective psychologists no longer hold. Freud lived in the Victorian Age during which sex was a hidden, yet a hot topic. For his day, Freud’s thinking was relevant as a theory and history will continue to acknowledge his brilliant legacy.
Jung was a younger contemporary of Freud who brought fresh understanding for dreams as tool to grow into one's full potential. Jung expanded Freud’s perspectives by adding dimensions of self awareness, psychological growth, and spirituality—as aspects of dream insights.
DREAM LABS—& HOW DREAMS WERE DISCOVERED
The next major breakthrough to understand sleep and dreams came during the 1950’s. Nathaniel Kleitman was a physiologist at the University of Chicago; his accidental discovery about sleep led him to set up the first "sleep laboratory" which accelerated our understanding of the physiology of sleep and dreaming. Like many scientists, Kleitman often worked late into the night. In 1952 he and a colleague returned to his home to unwind. Kleitman looked in on his infant son who was sleeping peacefully, and noticed that his son’s eyes, although closed, moved side to side—as if watching a tennis match. Kleitman wondered if the movement indicated that a dream was taking place. To test that thought, in the next few weeks he hooked up electrodes to the eyes of adults sleeping in a lab and woke them up each time their eyes moved back and forth. Kleitman and his associates were astonished that each time they woke someone, the person reported a dream. They named this phenomenon "Rapid Eye Movement" or "REM sleep," for short.
Kleitman’s research opened a new phase of the scientific study of dreams and sleep. Using electrodes (tiny metal plates) attached to the eyes of a sleeping person, scientists discovered that everyone dreams every night, even if they do not remember their dreams. We dream like clockwork about every ninety minutes for a total of twenty percent of our sleep time. A dream lasts from ten to thirty minutes and tends to be the longest and clearest just before waking.
As the next step forward in scientific research, William Dement and Charles Fisher of New York's Mount Sinai Hospital were the first to show that dreaming or REM sleep is important for psychological well-being, not just for physical rest. To carry out "dream deprivation" experiments, they woke subjects whenever a dream began (REM movement in closed eyes). Participants were not allowed to begin or to finish a dream for up to six nights, and they could not nap during the day. Subjects were allowed to sleep—but not to dream. As a result, they were dream-deprived but not sleep-deprived. During the day, they became more and more anxious and irritable and their decisions became poorer and less in accord with choices they would normally make. For example, they drank more, smoked more, and showed increasingly more hostility, resentment, and falling apart of personality—as compared to their normal state.
A second control group of participants were awakened the same nights for an equal amount of time, but only during "non dream" sleep. The control group subjects were equally sleep-deprived but were allowed to dream. They showed no change in personality or behavior. Dement and Fisher concluded that a "lack of dreams" rather than a "lack of sleep" was related to the altered, strange behavior of the dream-deprived group. It meant that dreams were important for emotional and psychological well being—not just physical refreshment.
SCIENCE & DREAM CONTENT
As scientists began to ask the question, "What does this dream mean?" they looked at dream content, which led to two important observations. First, they noticed dreams are stories linked to waking thoughts and feelings that revolve around daily problems and activities. Secondly, dream stories and their themes make relevant statements about waking life and its directions.
VARIOUS CONCLUSIONS & POINTS OF VIEW
Progress in modern science always includes different points of view. When it comes to dreams, some researchers see dreams as random firing of neurons, with no meaning to dream content. Other researchers conclude that dreams add important insight and are worthy of serious consideration. Words from ancient traditions such as Hebrew texts in the Talmud suggest that dreams are "A letter unopened from a friend." In the end, personal experience counts. Those who analyze their dreams regularly easily conclude that dreams are a built-in counselor and problem-solver. Accept the psyche’s invitation to dialogue through dreams and become adept at opening the memos from your inner self.