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Are Dreams Meaningless?

The opinion that dreams are meaningless was frequently encountered while researching this book. People with this belief usually prescribe to the theory that dreams are flotsam of the mind, random wanderings of thought and feelings while the body and personality sleep. This approach to dreams arose from the rationalist view of human life and mind, from a lack of acquaintance with dreams, or from some areas of recent scientific research.. This view is not new. Shakespeare says “True, I talk of dreams, Which are the children of an idle brain, Begot of nothing but vain fantasy.”

The old concept of our dreaming mind tumbling through random bits of memory and imagination without any function or point was more recently enhanced or qualified by the theory arising from neurological research, that the sleeping brain uses dreaming as a sort of refuse disposal function. This is of course only one of many different scientific theories about dreams. Unfortunately it is one that has been grasped by people skeptical of the range of dream phenomena. When doing a computer search in the Bodleian Library in Oxford for recent papers on dream research that appeared in scientific journals, over three thousand papers were listed. In looking through abstracts of these, the spectrum of viewpoints is enormous. Certainly they do not as a whole point to refuse/flotsam theory.

I can see that any person who has not really explored a dream by getting into the unconscious would see the dream made up of different images and see it as all disconnected. But similarly words on paper are made up of disconnected images or ideas, and it takes an overall view of the words to see that they make up a whole sentence which when put together has meaning. And all the disconnected images in dreams also needs a mind which understands the meaning behind all the separated images – it needs understanding of our tendency to associated feelings and thoughts to everything we see.

As an example I was recently asked by a man who had given no thought to dreams how on earth you could extract any meaning from them. He was wearing a fairly old T-shirt, so I said, “OK, lets imagine you dreamt of your T-shirt, what would you make of that?”

After a while he said, “I don’t know that I would make anything of it.”

My response was to say, “Right, but now tell me where you bought the T-shirt, and what memories it has for you.” Whereupon he told me, with some hesitation his memories of being in the USA, and that the shirt was part of memories that he didn’t want to talk about. Not only did he realise he had very powerful associations with the T-Shirt, but he wanted to hide them. See Associations Working With

One of the most carefully researched of recent scientific statements is that of Allan Hobson in his various papers and his book The Dreaming Brain.(5) Hobson rejects the idea of dreams being flotsam of the brain, but he does say they are constructed from random bits of memory and feeling responses. Like some other investigators, Dement for instance, who examined the fact that while dreaming the brain is shut off from external sensory stimuli. During this shutdown from external stimuli, and while dreaming, the brain is said to fire randomly, producing imagery and experience. Hobson says that because of the innate tendency of the brain to interpret and give meaning to sensory input, while dreaming, which appears to be real sensory input, we create some sort of order. The order, or theme of the dream, depends upon personal fears, hopes, predispositions and preoccupations. So although dreaming is said to originate in a random way, Hobson and Dement say the outcome can be examined to give clear information about the person who dreamt it because it was shaped by the dreamer’s predispositions. Hobson goes so far as to disagree with Freud that dreams have hidden and censored meaning. He believes that dreams are in fact transparently obvious in what they show of the dreamer’s feelings and motivations.

This approach to the possible meaning of dreams is not unlike the modern way medicine deals with things like urine, blood and tissue samples. These parts of the body and its products are not in themselves meaningful, but through examining them in particular ways we can gain immense amounts of information about the person. Researchers like Hall particularly looked at dreams in this way, searching a series of dreams for insight into the dreamer. But Jung had also mentioned this approach. This dream sampling is one of the easiest ways to discover insights, and will be dealt with more fully later.

The theories underlying quantum mechanics are very similar. Some of the latest thinking in connection with physics states that a careful examination of the phenomena underlying the physical world suggests that we can never finally know what reality is. All we do is give a name or definition to an observable aspect of the phenomena, and in observing and naming it, in some way we create what we call reality. So the argument which surrounds dreams – do they have an innate meaning – may be relevant to every aspect of our daily life.

But if we truly investigate dreams we find something quite different. See Answer to CriticsTechniques for Exploring your Dreams

Here are examples:

Examples: Just before his title fight in 1947, Sugar Ray Robinson dreamt he was in the ring with Doyle. ‘I hit him a few good punches and he was on his back, his blank eyes staring up at me.’ Doyle never moved and the crowd were shouting ‘He’s dead! He’s dead!’ He was so upset by the dream Robinson asked Adkins, his trainer and promoter, to call off the fight. Adkins told him, ‘Dreams don’t come true. If they did I’d be a millionaire.’ In the eighth round Doyle went down from a left hook to the jaw. He never got up, and died the next day.

Example: When my wife and I were trying to sell our house and advertised nationally without success, my wife told me that she dreamt that if I put a notice in the window the fist people passing would buy the house. I put the notice in the window and that evening a young couple knocked on our door and told us they had seen the notice in the morning and were interested. They went ahead and bought the house.

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