Wednesday, September 30, 2009

On Dreams - Sigmund Freud

Freud’s first book on the topic was The Interpretation of Dreams published in 1899. It was such a lengthy and formidable work that Freud decided to write a more accessible version entitled On Dreams. It was first published in 1901.
I must say this brief work itself is formidable enough.
44 pages. I picked it up thinking I would finish reading it in 2 days. And it took me about 2 weeks.
But I must admit it’s a very interesting and informative book.

The language used though, is very convoluted. First of all the subject itself is a rather serious one and somewhat difficult to understand and then the convoluted language makes it all the more difficult.

Using examples, the book explains the various phenomena in and around dreams. The examples however are inadequate both in number and detail. There certainly could have been more number of examples but as far as detail is concerned Freud gives an explanation for their incompleteness; every dream investigated leads to a point after which there is a need for discretion or secrecy. Every Dream!

The first phenomenon explained is the simplest and easy to understand – dramatization. These are straightforward dreams common among children – direct wish fulfilment. The dream is usually related to an incident that occurred on the same day or the previous day. Example, a child is taken to a beach where it plays for a while and then when it asks for ice cream, it is denied to him by parents. The child dreams that night that he was on the beach having ice cream. An idea merely existing in the region of possibility is replaced by a vision of its accomplishment.

Before I proceed further, I will have to introduce you to the terminology used in book.

Dream content – the content of the dream – images, sounds, words, conversations and all that one sees in a dream.
Dream thoughts – when one begins to analyse and dissect a dream, one is lead through a chain of thoughts, wishes and incidents in the waking life of the dreamer that relate to the dream content and from which the dream is constructed.
Dream work – the psychic process which converts dream thoughts into dream content and puts the dream together.

The next phenomenon explained is condensation – the dream itself is a very short one- sometimes just a scene – but when dissected, the different components of the scene can be traced back to several dream thoughts, all of them related to or having a common aspect – a common thought – a common idea etc – ‘all these things have an x in common’. The dream work therefore condenses several thoughts, puts together several ideas – some thoughts of the present time and some from the past, all having a common thread and then creates a scene in which all of them can be presented, slightly modifying and tailoring each component of the dream, blending ideas and persons to create persons with new identities in order to make them all fit together – a remarkable job!

An important thing to be noted is that the dream work is not creative; it develops no fancies of it’s own, judges nothing, decides nothing. What it presents is ‘already there” but after a lot of processing.

The next phenomenon explained is a common characteristic of almost all dreams in adults – Dream Displacement: Displacement is the reason why dreams are weird, meaningless, obscure and unintelligible. The dream work uses symbols, metaphors, allegories, substitutes and allusions to represent thoughts, ideas and impressions of our waking life.
The next phenomenon is presentation – as the last step, the dream work gives a facade, an appearance to the content – out of regard for intelligibility.

Further explained is a very interesting thing – the motive behind displacement.
As you proceed along the chain of thoughts during analysis, you arrive finally at ideas that surprise you, that you have not known to be yours and which not only appear foreign to you but which are unpleasant and which you would like to oppose vehemently. By virtue of a particular psychological condition, these thoughts cannot become conscious to you. This condition is called Repression. The cause of obscurity in dreams is the desire to conceal these thoughts. Displacement serves the purpose of disguising these repressed objects.

An example of a repressed thought – your best friend gets the first rank while you get the second. At the conscious level, you are happy, for it is your best friend. At the unconscious level, there is a streak of jealously (assuming) but if the possibility is even mentioned to you by someone, you would vehemently oppose it. This streak of jealousy is a repressed or suppressed thought which cannot enter your consciousness.

Our psychical apparatus contains 2 procedures for the construction of thoughts. In the 2nd procedure, the products find an open path to consciousness whereas the activity of the first procedure is unknown to itself and can only arrive at consciousness through the second one. At the border land between 2 procedures, where the 1st passes over to the 2nd, a censorship is established which only passes what pleases it, keeping back everything else. That which is rejected by censorship is in a state of repression.

During the sleeping state, the balance of power between 2 procedures is so changed that what is repressed can no longer be kept back. In the sleeping state, the censor becomes weak, and what has been hitherto repressed will find its way to consciousness. But since censorship is never absent but merely weak, certain alterations must be made to the repressed thoughts so as to placate the censor. It is a compromise between what one procedure has in view and the demands of the other. Therefore, the repressed thought is replaced by a substitute, a symbol that makes the dream meaningless and obscure.

Next, what sort of thoughts require suppression?
No other class of instincts has required so vast a suppression at the behest of civilization as the sexual!
Thus Freud deduces that the dreams of most adults are traced by analysis to erotic desires!
A very logical deduction, but one that, after you have finished reading the book and closed it, you should like to disagree with.

Another interesting fact is that, in contrast with those views that assume that sleep is disturbed by dreams, dream is a guardian of sleep!
If not for dreams, a place for wish fulfilment, the many unfulfilled desires would disturb one’s sleep! Freud says – “A boy woke up screaming “I want a rhinoceros!. A good boy in his place would have dreamt that he was playing with a rhino, while sleeping peacefully”... a dream removes a desire and makes sleep possible.
The function of the dream is to prolong sleep. You can find proof of this fact in dreams that you see during early hours of the morning. Did you dream that you were performing before an audience and there was clapping after that? At that time, someone, like your mom was probably beating the carpet or your bed. The dream converted this disturbance into a sound in your sleep so that you could continue to sleep some more!
Many a time, I have dreamt that I was drinking water and suddenly woke up to find that I was actually thirsty! My dream was fulfilling my thirst so that I need not have to actually wake up!

That was the summary of the book for you.
I would like to read The Interpretation of Dreams someday but I don’t think I will pick up the book in the next five years.

Do pick up this book if you find it.

Happy Dreaming!


Satish said...

A nice insight into the science of deciphering dreams.....

It would be fun to get our dreams deciphered. It brings out the unknown dimensions of ourselves.

Hope they find some cure for day dreaming, other than work :) :)

Anonymous said...

C.G Jung had much more appealing views on dreams.

Ref: Memories,Dreams,Reflections.

Man and his symbols.

Tarun Goel said...

I come here from the blogland of panchal, the name of your blog is just too good :)

nice post, planning to go thr, ur post will help me ;)

Sowmya said...

Thanks for the comment Satish. I wish I did not have any unfulfilled desire, so I would never have to dream...

Anonymous, thanks for the information. I will check out his works someday

Tarun, welcome to this space. keep coming...

Anonymous said...

A very nice summary of the book. I have read the original book and let me tell you the language is difficult even for psychology students to comprehend and digest. Freud was in the victorian age where there used to be a lot of restrictions on what people thought and did. He revolutionized the thinking trend by his innovative ideas and suggestions, but today his thoughts are considered to be very pessimistic and most of them outdated. Still, a few of them are relevant today. I would suggest you to read Abraham Maslow's books on related topics. Another psychologist called Sudhir Kakkar has a lot of things to say abuot why we Indians are like what we are. It would make a very good reading.