Over a seventy-year life span, humans are asleep for approximately twenty-five years; devoting at least fifty thousand hours to dreaming, this research work on dreams is well documented by Freud (2013), in the book Interpretation of Dreams. Dreams have been objects of boundless fascination and mystery for humankind since the beginning of time. These nocturnal vivid images seem to arise from some source other than ordinary conscious mind. The bizarre and nonsensical characters and plots in dreams point to deeper meanings and contain rational and insightful comments on waking situations and emotional experiences.
There are many psychological theories about dreams and their meanings but by far the most important pioneers of modern dream interpretation are the Austrian psychiatrist Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) and his Swiss colleague, Carl Gustav Jung (1857-1961).
Sigmund Freuds theory consists of three aspects: the ego, the id and the super ego. The id is the unconscious side of humankind which consists of instinctive drives. As the instincts always aim at pleasure Freud calls the id the pleasure principle. Most of the desires expressed in dreams are sexual. The super-ego is the the moral principle. This roughly corresponds to the conscience that has a social origin. By living in a sexually restricted age, it was natural for Freud to conclude that the super-ego, the conscience is in continual conflict with the id, the instinctive sexual desires. The super-ego lives in a state of constant tension trying to control the irrational sexual demands of the id (Bergson 327). Between the two opposites are the conscious, self-acting thought as a referee between the rival claims of these two unconscious forces. Freud calls this the reality principle and names it the ego.
Humanity is to some degree neurotic because the ego can never satisfy the demands of both the id and the super-ego. When a person sleeps, the ego relaxes and can no longer adjudicate between the conflicting forces of the id and super-ego. It is at this time that the super-ego stands guard over the ego and protects it from the overwhelming instinctive urges of the id. Dreams are a symbolic language by which the id tries to communicate with the ego but its messages are censored by the super-ego. The result is that the messages from the unconscious come to the ego only in a disguised or misrepresented way (Bergson 330).
Freer Scot on the other hand supports much of the thoughts developed by Freud, but realizes that the unconsciousness of the human mind is not a repository for rejected emotions and desires. It can offer ways to inner wholeness and healing. The unconscious part of the human mind contains all the thoughts needed to solve the psychological troubles, and it gives access to positive energies (Freer 247). The human condition is not a continual conflict of the super-ego versus the id but a striving force towards wholeness of self. Instead of masking hidden desires, dreams have symbols that express activities taking place in the unconscious part of the human mind. The activities make an impression on the dreamer, indicating that there is a collective unconscious. This is the part of the mind that contains information that is common to all humans. In this manner, its existence acknowledges the fact that widely different cultures can have dreams in which specific symbols in the dreams have the same meaning. This is evident in many myths, fairy stories and rituals from around the world and which is almost identical yet have independent origins (Freud 302).
The Mystical Dream
The past generations believed that dreams were glimpses of the divine world and were sometimes messages from the gods or supernatural beings. It is not proven for certainty the thoughts of prehistoric people on dreams but some of the painted artwork in the caves are reminiscent of the strange world of dreams. The past generations considered dreams to be of great importance and treated them with the utmost reverence. This is evident in the cases of the ancient Egyptians who believed that the gods communicated through dreams and the ancient priests devised spells to bring them forth. Egyptian dream books have been discovered as well as spells to call upon the god Besa who would answer questions through dreams (Bergson 412). One of the earliest written records of dreams and their meanings is a papyrus of c.1250 BC. It records some 200 dreams and their interpretations, according to the falcon-headed god Horus.
A more well-known example is found in the book of Genesis, in which the Pharaohs precognitive dream of seven fat cattle was correctly interpreted by Joseph as prophesying seven years of plenty and seven years of famine for ancient Egypt. Similarly, the ancient Greeks also believed that dreams were messages from the gods, although this was disputed by Aristotle in Parva Naturalia in which he argues that dreams are the fragments of recollections of events of the day. However, the general belief throughout the ancient world is that dreams are the gods predictions of the future. The oldest surviving comprehensive book of dreams and dream meanings was compiled by Artemidorus of Ephesus in the second century. It was translated into English in the seventeenth century and reprinted thirty-two times before 1800. Freud uses the book in his research and has also influenced many of the first dream dictionaries. Other dream dictionaries that followed were primarily concerned with predicting the future through dreams; an art known as Oneiromancy (Freer 351). Although the old superstitions that can help to see the future is questionable, there is a great deal of empirical evidence to suggest that dreams can be prophetic. Keeping a dream diary will help identify prophetic dreams but the most interesting glimpses of the future can come through a phenomena called lucid dreams.
A lucid dream is any dream in which the dreamers are aware that they are dreaming. During lucid dreaming, the dreamer may allegedly be able to exert some degree of control over the dream characters, environment and narrative. Almost seventy-five per cent of the population has had at least one lucid dream, and lucid dreaming comes naturally to between 5 and 10 per cent. Lucid Dreams have been described for centuries but are only recently being taken seriously by modern day dream researchers. Freud and Scott, although aware of them, virtually ignored the theories yet references to them are found in the writings of the fourth century philosophers Aristotle, Saint Augustine and Saint Thomas Aquinas (Bergson 78).
One of the first systematic studies of Lucid Dreams was made by the ancient Yogis of Tibet, who are known for their extraordinary psychic, physical and mental abilities. The yogis learned by actual experience, resulting from psychic experimentation, that the character of any dream could be transformed by willingness that it shall be. They mastered the lucid dream state and used it as a means to realize that all things perceived through the senses are illusory and that the only reality is Nirvana. The Universal Creation, with its many mansions of existence, from the lowest to the highest Buddha paradise, and every phenomenal thing therein, are but the content of the Supreme Dream. The fascinating discovery of the Tibetans is how lucid dreams can be used to trigger extra sensory perception also known as ESP, and as a means to travel to other dimensions outside of the body (Freud).
There are no limits to the human minds ability to generate an infinite amount of dreams but amongst this mass of imagery are a few common dreams that happen to almost everybody, such as falling, being chased or losing teeth. Dreams like this are part of a shared human experience that crosses the cultural divides (Freer 219). The most common dream humans have is spiritual heritage, and connection through myth and symbolism to the thoughts and feelings of primitive ancestors. They reoccur throughout history and in all societies. An example is evident when someone from a tribal society in Brazil or Africa dreams of being stalked by a wild animal, whereas the dream of a person from London or Tokyo expresses the same sentiments by being shadowed by a mugger.
The core issue of the dream is the fear of being attacked, but is expressed in the cultural imagery of each dreamer. Many people do not have the skills of understanding what exactly their dreams mean. For an individual to interpret other peoples dreams, they need to have a great wealth of background information on the person they are interpreting in addition to having information on the dream itself. An example is seeing an elephant that means totally different things to different people; a zoo keeper will probably see it as a harmless and a beautiful mammal, whilst another person might see the elephant as an ugly, dangerous animal. This example shows that same dream with an elephant could be differently interpreted to everyone (Freud 388). But each individual is different, and the same dreams mean different things to people, and in this case, books that contain the guide to interpreting dreams cannot be always correct but they could still remain useful to provide a stepping stone to interpreting dreams. This proves that the bizarre and nonsensical characters and plots in dreams point to deeper meanings and contain rational and insightful comments on waking situations and emotional experiences.
Freud, Sigmund. The interpretation of dreams. Read Books Ltd, 2013.
Bergson, Henri. The world of dreams. Open Road Media, 2014.
Freer, Scott. "Magritte: The Uncanny Sublime." Literature and Theology (2012): frs056.
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