Interpretation of Dreams
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Interpretation of Dreams(dreams)
Dreams are often profound experiences that stimulate us to wonder about their nature and meaning. It is the rare person who has not awakened from a particularly vivid dream that seemed to portend something important, but the meaning of which the dreamer could not infer. The frustration these kind of experiences can sometimes induce us to dismiss all dreams as meaningless.
It has often been asserted, even in the ancient world, that dreams are meaningless phenomena. As recently as 1977, a serious, scientific attempt to demonstrate this thesis was put forward in the activation-synthesis model of dreaming proposed by Robert McCarley and J. Allan Hobson. Hobson and McCarley believe their hypothesis, which stresses the purely physiological correlates of dreaming, refutes the notion that dreams are meaningful.
While such absolute dismissals of dreams have a certain appeal, they are ultimately unsatisfying. Throughout history and across cultures, the dominant tendency has been to attribute significance to at least some dreams. Until the advent of modern psychology and psychoanalysis, dreams were most often viewed as omens. In some societies, certain individuals were recognized as gifted in interpreting dream omens.
A common tool used to decipher dreams in the ancient world was the dream dictionary, which contained specific interpretations of various dream elements. In ancient dictionaries, the connection between the dream component and the predicted event was sometimes tenuous. For example, a dream in which the dreamer is sitting on a rooftop might be interpreted as a sign that the person should not go on a long journey in the near future. In most contemporary dream dictionaries, the connections between dream symbols and their interpretations are more obvious.
Although the connection did not originate with Sigmund Freud, it was Freud and the people he influenced who established the importance of dreams for understanding the psyche of the dreamer particularly for uncovering the dreamer’s psychological problems. In Freud’s view, the purpose of dreams is to allow us to satisfy in fantasies the instinctual urges that society judges unacceptable. So that we do not awaken as a result of the strong emotions that would be evoked if we were to dream about the literal fulfillment of such desires, the dreaming mind transforms dream content so as to disguise its true meaning. Hence, the purpose of Freudian dream interpretation is to penetrate this disguise.
Carl Jung‘s view is more benign, picturing the unconscious self as a complex mix of lower instinctual and higher spiritual impulses. Instead of concealing, the purpose of a dream is to communicate something to consciousness. The unconscious, in other words, has a kind of intelligence that attempts to guide and otherwise assist the conscious self. The language of the unconscious, however, is indirect and symbolic and requires interpretation. Jungian dream analysis is thus the task of helping clients to properly interpret the messages coming from the unconscious.
Other schools of depth psychology derived from the larger Freudian/Jungian tradition have also approached dreams as messages from the unconscious mind that have been shaped by our psychological state. In each of these schools of thought, dreams are regarded as less-than-clear communications that require some form of interpretation to reveal their true meanings. This basic interpretive orientation is evident in Gestalt therapy, in which patients act out various dream components as a strategy for discovering (i.e., for interpreting) the meaning of the dream. Another interpretive strategy in Gestalt therapy is for the dreamer to set up a dialogue between different components of the dream and then to analyze the meanings that emerge from the dialogue.
Finally, some depth psychologists have vigorously questioned the task of dream interpretation as formulated by Freud and Jung. Advocates of this position, stated most eloquently by James Hillman, question the assumption that dreams must always be dissected and re-patterned to make sense to the rational waking mind, thus extending the domain of daylight consciousness into nighttime consciousness and making the dreaming mind serve the purposes of the waking mind. Why not, Hillman asks, listen to dreams and allow them to transform the waking mind rather than vice versa? Hillman’s proposal is less radical than it sounds, because of his fundamentally Jungian understanding of dreams as the symbolic language of mythology and poetry. His proposal is more of a protest against the literalizing, objectivist consciousness of the modern world that he views as a deadening influence on the human psyche than it is a serious proposal to reshape our waking consciousness in the image of dreams.