Appletons' Popular Science Monthly, April 1899 (Illustrated)

Appletons' Popular Science Monthly, April 1899 (Illustrated)

by Various Various

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In our dreams we are taken back into an earlier world. It is a world much more like that of the savage, the child, the criminal, the madman, than is the world of our respectable civilized waking life. That is, in large part, it must be confessed, the charm of dreams. It is also the reason of their scientific value. Through our dreams we may realize our relation to stages of evolution we have long left behind, and by the self-vivisection of our sleeping life we may learn to know something regarding the mind of primitive man and the source of some of his beliefs, thus throwing light on the facts we obtain by ethnographic research.

This aspect of dreams has not always been kept steadily in sight, though it can no longer be said that the study of dreams is neglected. From one point of view or another—not only by the religious sect which, it appears, constitutes a "Dream Church" in Denmark, but by such carefully inquisitive investigators as those who have been trained under the inspiring influence of Prof. Stanley Hall—dreaming is seriously studied. I need not, therefore, apologize for the fact that I have during many years taken note from time to time and recorded the details and circumstances of vivid dreams when I could study their mechanism immediately on awakening, and that I have occupied myself, not with the singularities and marvels of dreaming—of which, indeed, I know little or nothing—but with their simplest and most general laws and tendencies. A few of these laws and tendencies I wish to set forth and illustrate. The interest of such a task is twofold. It not only reveals to us an archaic world of vast emotions and imperfect thoughts, but by helping us to attain a clear[Pg 722] knowledge of the ordinary dream processes, it enables us in advance to deal with many of the extraordinary phenomena of dreaming, sometimes presented to us by wonder-loving people as awesomely mysterious, if not indeed supernatural. The careful analysis of mere ordinary dreams frequently gives us the key to these abnormal dreams.

Perhaps the chief and most frequent tendency in the mechanism of dreaming is that by which isolated impressions from waking life flow together in dreams to be welded into a whole. There is then produced, in the strictest sense, a confusion. For instance, a lady, who in the course of the day has admired a fine baby and bought a big fish for dinner, dreams with horror and surprise of finding a fully developed baby in a large codfish. The confusion may be more remote, embodying abstract ideas and without reference to recent impressions. Thus I dreamed that my wife was expounding to me a theory by which the substitution of slates for tiles in roofing had been accompanied by, and intimately associated with, the growing diminution of crime in England. Amid my wife's rather contemptuous opposition, I opposed this theory, pointing out the picturesqueness of tiles, their cheapness, greater comfort both in winter and summer, but at the same time it occurred to me as a peculiar coincidence that tiles should have a sanguinary tinge suggestive of criminal bloodthirstiness. I need scarcely say that this bizarre theory had never suggested itself to my waking thoughts. There was, however, a real connecting link in the confusion—the redness—and it is a noteworthy point, of great significance in the interpretation of dreams, that that link, although clearly active from the first, remained subconscious until the end of the dream, when it presented itself as an entirely novel coincidence.

The best simile for the mechanism of the most usual type of dream phenomena is the magic lantern. Our dreams are like dissolving views in which the dissolving process is carried on swiftly or slowly, but always uninterruptedly, so that, at any moment, two (often indeed more) incongruous pictures are presented to consciousness which strives to make one whole of them, and sometimes succeeds and is sometimes baffled. Or we may say that the problem presented to dreaming consciousness resembles that experiment in which psychologists pronounce three wholly unconnected words, and require the subject to combine them at once in a connected sentence. It is unnecessary to add that such analogies fail to indicate the subtle complexity of the apparatus which is at work in the manufacture of dreams.

It is the presence of the strife I have just referred to between apparently irreconcilable groups of images, in the effort of overcoming the critical skepticism of sleeping consciousness—a feeble skepticism,[Pg 723] it may be, but, as many people do not seem to recognize, a real skepticism—that the impressive emotional effects of dreams are often displayed. It sometimes happens that two irreconcilable groups of impressions reach sleeping consciousness, one flowing from a recent stratum of memories, the other from an older stratum.

Product Details

BN ID: 2940148335269
Publisher: Lost Leaf Publications
Publication date: 01/13/2014
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
File size: 1 MB

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