|Dreaming, Vol. 6, No. 2, 1996|
OUTLINE FOR A THEORY ON THE NATURE AND FUNCTIONS OF DREAMING
Ernest Hartmann, M.D.*
Abstract: Based on dreams after trauma and other recent research a view of the nature of dreaming is developed along the following lines. Dreaming makes connections more broadly than waking in the nets of the mind. Dreaming avoids the "central" rapid input-to-output portions of the net and the feed-forward mode of functioning; it makes connections in the further out regions (further from input/output) and in an auto-associative mode. Dreaming produces more generic and less specific imagery. Dreaming cross-connects. The connections are not made in a random fashion; they are guided by the emotion of the dreamer. Dreaming contextualizes a dominant emotion or emotional concern. This is demonstrated most clearly in dreams after trauma as the trauma resolves but can likewise be seen in dreams after stress, in pregnancy, and in other situations where the dominant emotional concern is known. The form that these connections and contextualizations take is explanatory metaphor. The dream, or the striking dream image, explains metaphorically the emotional state of the dreamer. This entire process is probably functional. The dream functions to spread out excitation or reduce "computational energy" and does this by cross-connecting and "weaving-in". This has an immediate function in "calming a storm" or reducing a disturbance, and a longer term function relating to memory—not so much consolidating memory but rather cross-connecting, weaving in something new, increasing the connections.
: dreaming; dreams; Connectionist nets; psychotherapy; metaphor.
In some senses we know a great deal about dreaming. As a psychotherapist and psychoanalyst I have worked with my patients' dreams and my own dreams for many years and I know that dreams can be immensely useful in therapy and in self knowledge. I do not question that dreams are the royal road to the unconscious; but this tells me little about what a dream really is—the nature of the dream. I have also worked for many years on the biology of REM sleep and I believe we now understand quite well the biology of the underlying state which is the best (though not the only) substrate for dreaming. This is essential knowledge and it provides some basic facts about conditions underlying dreaming; but it does not tell us what dreaming is.
In some senses, we know very little about dreaming. We still have not agreed on its basic nature. I have recently been exploring a new approach to dreaming based on work with dreams after trauma, among other studies, and a new model of the mind. This has led to some revised formulations of the nature and also the possible functions of dreaming. The functions I arrive at are very close to those suggested by many others starting from different data, so what I am doing here is outlining a contemporary approach to the basic nature and functions of dreaming.
DREAMING MAKES CONNECTIONS
First of all, dreaming connects. Dreaming makes connections and it does this extremely broadly. At a clinical or everyday level, one can hardly disagree with this. For some, dreaming obviously makes beautiful and interesting connections; but even those who believe dreaming throws things together in a more or less random fashion must admit that a dream image somehow connects material in our memories, imaginations, etc. Clearly dreaming makes connections between recently experienced material (day residue) and old memories; dreaming often puts together or combines two different people, two different places, two different parts of our lives in the mechanism Freud refers to as condensation.
This tendency of dreaming to make connections very broadly or widely has been frequently noted. For instance, Erik Craig (1992) puts it, "While dreaming we entertain a wider range of human possibilities than when awake; the 'open house' of dreaming is less guarded." Elizabeth Campbell (1987) says, "Anything can happen in a dream. There are no boundaries." Many have simply called dreaming "hyperconnective." Of course, "broadly" is not necessarily a self evident term; as we shall see below, dreaming makes connections "broadly" in many senses but may also avoid certain regions of our minds.
DREAMING MAKES CONNECTIONS MORE BROADLY THAN WAKING IN THE NETS OF THE MIND
In order to discuss further the meaning of "making connections" at a basic level, we require a rough model of the mind. There is always a danger in picturing the mind according to our latest technological advances, a practice which has led to images such as the "hydraulic" or "steam engine" model of the mind soon succeeded by the calculating machine or computer model and now by a network model which may perhaps prove as ephemeral as the rest. Nonetheless, since we think in terms of visual models, I believe we definitely require some such image to hang our thoughts upon and at this particular point, I believe the best model involves a net or perhaps a network of nets. In fact, models employing net images have proliferated lately. Such nets are sometimes optimistically called "neural nets" in hopes that they will correspond with the actual structure of the cerebral cortex, or more conservatively "connectionist nets" described by computer models, assuming a large number of simple "on-off" units with variable connection strengths between them, and information widely distributed ("parallel distributed processing").
Even very simple connectionist models with only a few tens or hundreds of interconnected units have shown striking success in modeling certain aspects of how humans learn simple tasks. For instance such a net can model quite well our learning to form past tenses of regular and irregular verbs (Rumelhart and McClelland 1986) or performance on the Stroop color-naming test (Cohen, et. al. 1990). And, in fact, several researchers including Fookson and Antrobus (1992), Globus (1993), and Palombo (1992) have already attempted to apply certain aspects of connectionist net modeling to the process of dreaming.
I have postulated "connecting" and "reconnecting" as basic aspects of dreaming (Hartmann 1973, 1976, 1991b) but without specifying any particular net mechanism. In what follows I envision nets that derive from but need to be more complex than the connectionist nets specified so far. But I hope to maintain the elegance and simplicity of the assumptions of the model: the entire net is constructed of simple units and the connections between units. All that occurs is a flow of excitation in the nets determined by connection strengths between units; the use of the net determines and changes connection strengths so that the weights are slightly different each time the excitation has passed. Memory is the totality of all the connection weights in the net. A given mental "event"—a specific thought, fantasy, or dream image represents the excitation or lighting up of some widely distributed grouping of units.
In this sort of net, all that can happen during waking or during dreaming is the lighting up of certain patterns and the strengthening or weakening of the weights on certain connections; we make connections all the time. I suggest that there is an important difference: dreaming connects more broadly and more widely than does waking; in this sense dreaming can be considered "hyperconnective". Figure 1 illustrates part of what I have in mind. This is a highly simplified rendering in two dimensions of a few aspects of the net using a "spread of excitation" model. I suggest that in waking there is a tendency for linear development of specific imagery usually guided by a specific task or goal. For instance, in terms of something like a house, my waking mind seldom pictures a generic house; rather it is looking for a particular house to answer a specific question: "Where did I live in 1980?" The entire pattern lights up representing not just house but a specific house in my memory and in fact, the specific house in which I lived in 1980. The excitation follows a set pattern; it remains in a "groove", with relatively little "spread".
In dreaming, I suggest the progression is less specific and less focused. The pattern representing "house" may be lit up, but then rather than only moving to a specific house, the excitation process also spreads "laterally" to patterns representing other houses and other similar structures—hotels, institutions, etc. Waking—and for now I am speaking of focused waking thought, the sort of waking thought that is furthest from dreaming—tends to stay in a sort of "groove" or "rut" whereas dreaming thought tends to wander and combine. The setting for a dream can often be a generic house or a combination of several houses. In looking over 100 of my recent dreams in which I had very carefully noted details of the setting, I found that the most common settings (60%) involved a kind of generic house (or room or outdoor area); a house that was partly my house and partly a different, unknown house, a room that was partly a lobby and partly a lecture hall, etc. Freud's best known dream likewise starts with a generic setting: "A great hall...". These common "generic" settings would be scored as either "unfamiliar" or "questionable" settings in Hall and Van de Castle's standard content analysis (1966); their norms in students are 57% (male) and 53% (female) for the sum of these two categories.
|This characteristic of dreaming as opposed to focused waking thought is
consistent with the biology of REM sleep—the best though not only biological
substrate of dreaming. I suggested as early as 1973, based on a number of
pharmacological studies, that dreaming represents the functioning of the cortex
without the influence of norepinephrine (Hartmann 1973). This has since been
confirmed, extended, and elaborated using studies of single neurons and many
other techniques (for a review, see Siegel 1993 or Hobson 1988). The action of
norepinephrine on the cortex has been summarized as "increasing
signal-to-noise ratio" or producing "inhibitory sharpening"
(Foote, et. al. 1975, Woodward, et. al. 1979, Servan-Schreiber, et. al. 1990,
Hartmann 1973) (These descriptions fit best its action at beta-adrenergic
receptors). Such action can readily be mapped onto figure 1. Broader connections
in dreaming, more "generic" or combined rather than
"specific" images, means less inhibitory sharpening or lower
signal-to-noise ratio in the spread of excitation.
In figure 2, I outline, again very roughly, a model of the brain seen as a growing complexity of interconnections (interneurons) superimposed on the simplest "reflex arc" connection between sensory input and motor output. In this simplified picture I place mental activities such as calculating (for instance plotting trajectories in hunting prey or in catching a baseball) as still relatively close to the "center" though of course they involve complex interconnections. All our verbal and mathematical abilities, which activate many different parts of the cortex according to recent imaging studies (see for instance Grafman and Tamminga 1995; Holcomb, et. al. 1995), are nonetheless placed relatively "centrally" in this diagram. The "outer reaches" consist of the memory nets more readily accessed in reverie, daydreaming, and dreaming. This is a land populated by moving pictures and by metaphor (by the potential for producing pictures and metaphor—see below) with relatively little direct connection to sensory input or motor output. In this sort of picture, focused waking is more a hunt and dreaming is more an exploration.
I suggest that typical focused goal-directed waking thought makes connections in the relatively more central portions (on this diagram) that lead relatively rapidly from sensory input to motor output, or at least to some definite "result" or "solution", whereas dreaming makes connections more widely, especially in the "far out" regions. In fact, dreaming seems to avoid the "central" rapid-processing areas and functions. I have recently gathered data in 240 subjects (Hartmann 1996) demonstrating that reading, writing, and arithmetic are almost absent in dreams even in subjects who spend four to eight hours every day engaged in these tasks. These same people (frequent dream recallers), asked to rate the relative prominence of various activities in waking vs. dreaming, on the average rated reading, writing, and typing as "far less prominent in dreaming" whereas other activities (walking, talking with friends, sexual activity) were rated almost as prominent in dreaming as in waking.
Figure 2 employs a spatial map of different "regions", but this should not be taken too literally and obviously does not correspond in any simple way with the anatomy of the brain. It may be more meaningful to speak of "modes of functioning" rather than regions: focused waking thought follows the relatively serial A-B-C-D sequential mode of functioning related to reaching a goal; dreaming uses a more parallel, unfocused, less directed mode. Many kinds of connectionist nets have been modeled but they can be subdivided roughly (Figure 3) into two categories: feed-forward nets and autoassociative nets. A feed forward net consists of units in a number of "layers", which act on each other unidirectionally; interaction "flows" forward from input to output. In an autoassociative net (sometimes called an attractor net) the connections are symmetrical; there is no clearly defined input or output; the net "settles" into more or less stable patterns. I suggest that in focused waking the net is employed as, or constrained into acting relatively more as, a feed-forward net, whereas in dreaming it functions relatively more as an autoassociative net. Here we are visualizing the same process of "broader connections" as a shift in mode rather than a shift to a different "region".
The reader will notice that I have been speaking of waking in a kind of caricature as purely focused waking activity. Actually I believe that there is a whole continuum on the dimension we are discussing from the most focused waking thought through relaxed somewhat looser thought to reverie and daydreaming which begin to resemble dreaming. In fact in most of the senses we have discussed one can engage in relatively "dream-like" thought even while awake. This has in fact been demonstrated by studies of daydreaming and mental activity under relaxed isolated conditions by Foulkes and Fleisher (1975), Klinger (1990), and Reinsel, et. al. (1992), among others. I have artificially broken off the focused waking end of the continuum to make the distinction between waking and dreaming most clear.
EMOTION GUIDES THE PROCESS—DREAMING CONTEXTUALIZES EMOTION
I have outlined above some ways in which dreaming appears to make connections more broadly than waking, producing "generic" rather than "specific" imagery—in a more "peripheral" portion of the nets or in a more autoassociative fashion; but is this making of connections a random process? I think not. In terms of a net such as I have discussed above, there is a constant flow of excitation and shift of weights. One can see this as an equilibration, a smoothing out of peaks and valleys. In an auto-associative net this can be described mathematically as a settling into a pattern of reduced "computational energy" or increased "harmony" (Smolensky 1986). We can visualize this as a windswept sea which when the wind dies down tends to settle towards a relatively smooth surface. This settling occurs especially when there is less new input and when the net functions less in a feed-forward and more in an auto-associative mode—thus in dreaming. The process can be seen as "driven" by regions of "storm" and high waves—regions of the net with increased "charge"—or computational energy. But these waves and wind are not random or meaningless. I suggest that in everyday human terms they are the emotional concerns of the dreamer. The data I have collected (below) suggests that emotion—the dominant emotion of the dreamer—is the force which drives or guides the connecting process and determines which of the countless possible connections are actualized at a particular time and thus which images appear in the dream. Dreams "contextualize" the dominant emotion.
DREAMS AFTER TRAUMA
For many of us leading fairly ordinary lives, there are many emotional concerns active at any one time, and it is not easy to determine one dominant emotion; thus our dreams often seem confused and almost random. However, if we start with a clear-cut case—someone who has recently experienced a severe trauma—then we know exactly what is on this person's mind and it may be easier to see what is going on. I have been able to collect long dream series from a number of people who experienced an acute trauma such as barely escaping from a fire, being raped, or having someone killed next to them. These series often clearly show connections being made between the traumatic event and other images, past memories, etc. The connections appear to be guided principally by the emotions or emotional concerns of the dreamer.
For instance a young man recorded a series of dreams after a small trauma at age 15: He was traveling to Washington, D.C., with his parents and was inadvertently locked into a room from which he could not escape for most of a day and night. He became absolutely terrified, screaming, developing all kinds of fantasies about what was happening to him. He summarizes:
"I then had many dreams and nightmares about this event. I was always locked in, enclosed and trapped in some way but the dreams gradually changed. Sometimes I was trapped in a room like the actual one, sometimes in a very different situation. I also dreamt of being caught in a fire and of drowning in a tidal wave. Sometimes my parents were there, sometimes scenes from my childhood entered into the dreams. My dreams were playing with the theme of my being trapped in a room and bringing in all kinds of things from my life, from stories I'd read and from my imaginings."
A woman who was brutally raped had the following dreams over the next few weeks:
I was walking down the street with a female friend and the woman's 4-year-old daughter. A gang of male adolescents in black leather started attacking the child. My friend ran away. I tried to free the child, but I realized my clothing was being torn off. I awoke very frightened.
I was trying to walk to the bathroom when some curtains began to choke me. I was choking and gasping for air. I had the feeling I was screaming, but actually I didn't make a sound.
I was making a movie with Rex Harrison. Then I heard a train coming right at us, louder and louder; it was just about upon us when I woke up.
The dream is all in color. I'm on a beach. A whirlwind comes and envelops me. I'm wearing a skirt with streamers. The whirlwind spins me around. The streamers become snakes which choke me and I wake up frightened.
This woman's dreams incorporate some details of the rape experience (the rapist, about 18 years old, entered her window through curtains and threatened to strangle her with the curtains), but mainly she is dreaming about terror (a child is attacked; she is choked; a train rushes at her; a whirlwind envelops her; snakes choke her).
Several people in my series who escaped from fires dreamed first about fires but then reported dreams of tidal waves and of being chased by gangs of criminals. Alan Siegel (1996) has reported similar findings in his victims of the Berkeley fire of 1991. Why dream about tidal waves or gangs of criminals when you have just escaped from a fire? Obviously the dream images do not come from the sensory input experienced in the fire but are guided by the dominant emotions of terror, fear, or vulnerability.
In the material I have collected there is often a regular progression in which dreams first appear to deal with or contextualize emotions such as terror, fear, vulnerability; then, frequently, the dreams contextualize guilt—for instance, survivor guilt. "In my dreams, most of the time I am getting hurt in some way by my brother or I get hurt in an accident while my brother is safe" (in actual fact, the dreamer's brother died in the fire from which the dreamer escaped). In these situations, at least, dreaming does not make connections in a random fashion; the dominant emotion guides the process. The dreams make connections that contextualize the dominant emotion or emotional concern.
My impression is that such simple dreams or dream images apparently contextualizing an emotion are especially common after trauma. My coworkers, Rachel Elkin and Holly Moulton, and I have been trying to quantify this impression by scoring "contextualizing images" on a blind basis in several series of dreams after trauma and dreams without trauma. So far, based on sixty scored dreams, it does seem that such straight-forward contextualizing images are far more frequent in dreams after trauma, though the scoring system is still not perfected. When such an image occurs it is often quite clear-cut and appears to be scorable as such without need for free association or other information about the dreamer. For instance, here are some of the examples of such dream images apparently contextualizing emotion from our collection of dreams:
A huge tidal wave is coming at me.
A house is burning and no one can get out.
A gang of evil men, Nazis maybe, are chasing me. I can't get away.
I dreamt about children, dolls—dolls and babies all drowning.
He skinned me and threw me in a heap with my sisters; I could feel the pain; I could feel everything.
There was a small hurt animal lying in the road.
A shell heads for us (just the way it really did) and blows up, but I can't tell whether it's me or my buddy Jack who is blown up.
I let my children play by themselves and they get run over by a car.
I leave my children in a house somewhere and then I can't find them.
A mountain has split. A large round hill or mountain has split in two pieces, and there are arrangements I have to make to take care of it.
A huge tree has fallen down.
I'm in this huge barren empty space. There are ashes strewn all about.
Over a period of weeks or months as the trauma gradually resolves, the dreams often follow a discernable pattern. First the trauma is replayed vividly and dramatically but not necessarily in precisely the way it occurred: there is often at least one major change in the dream, something that did not actually occur. Very rapidly the dreams begin to combine and connect this traumatic material with other material that appears emotionally similar or related. Often, as we have seen above, a person who has been through one kind of trauma dreams of all kinds of other traumas that may be related to this same feeling of helplessness, terror or guilt. In some cases this connecting involves reactivating previous trauma and other emotionally important personal themes evoked by the trauma ("rekindling"). If the dreamer is a "survivor" while others have been killed or injured, the theme of survivor guilt almost always emerges. The themes of the dreams and nightmares are often "Was it him or was it me?" and/or "How come I survived and he/she didn't?" (For instance: " ... a shell blows up but I can't tell whether it's me or my buddy who is blown up"; "I get burned in the fire and my brother's safe."). If someone was injured there is often a theme of guilt in the sense of "did I have something to do with bringing this on, was I responsible for it?" (This can occur even if there is absolutely no realistic evidence that this was the case). The process of connecting the trauma with other emotionally related material from the dreamer's life (and imagination, reading, daydreaming) gradually expands and takes in more and more other material; the trauma itself plays a smaller and smaller role and the dreams return to their pre-trauma state.
The process seems to consist of cross-connecting or interweaving—making connections with whatever related material is available in memory and imagination, guided by the dominant emotions of the dreamer, which gradually become less intense and change their character as the trauma is resolved or integrated. Although at the level of the neural net we are still talking of smoothing out peaks or waves or spreading excitation from over-excited zones, the process follows definite non-random paths which we can understand in terms of the dreamer's emotions and past experiences.
I will be shamelessly anthropomorphic for a minute and try to dramatize this spread of excitation and making connections as though it were guided by a separate person, perhaps a therapist, trying to help the trauma victim. This may help us discern a possible quasi-therapeutic function of dreaming after trauma (Hartmann 1995, and see below). We can imagine the process as a series of emotion-generated questions, and the dreaming mind's attempt to find some sort of answers or at least a context.
First, absolute terror: THE WORLD IS ENDING! THIS IS THE MOST HORRIBLE THING THAT HAS EVER HAPPENED TO ANYONE! HOW CAN ANYONE SURVIVE THIS? An attempted answer along the lines of: "Well, let's take a look at what happened. Let yourself picture it, and any other pictures that come to mind. Picture whatever you want, picture other catastrophes. You're beginning to see other people in similar situations, too. All these scenes are horrible, but not unique; people seem to survive. In fact, does this remind you of anything else? Let's look at other times when you felt terrified. Not quite the same? No, but let's keep looking; wasn't there some similar feeling? Let's see what else is related. And you survived. In fact you seem to be surviving this time. Let's see what else comes to mind, even if it makes little sense just now." Terror lessens; the basic human fears emerge: fear of annihilation, separation, loss, etc.
Then guilt (survivor guilt): YES, I SEEM TO HAVE SURVIVED BUT HE WAS BLOWN UP / WAS BURNED. HOW COME I SURVIVED? AND DID I REALLY? MAYBE I'M THE ONE WHO'S DEAD / BLOWN UP / BURNED? I'M A MUCH WORSE PERSON THAN HE / SHE WAS. I CERTAINLY DESERVE TO HAVE DIED..."Well, let's keep thinking about it, picturing it. Picture yourself being hurt. See what pictures come to mind. This isn't the first time you've been in a difficult situation...weren't there other times something like this...with a feeling a bit like this? Let's see what happened. Let's look at those times or maybe a situation involving someone else...even in your childhood? What about you and your brothers or sisters? Haven't you been through a lot? Maybe not just siblings; how about pets, animals, stories, picture books? Things that stick in your mind. It may take a while but let's look at all that. Let's put it in perspective. And is it that simple? Is it always you who's unhurt while others are hurt? Aren't there a whole lot of such experiences, real or maybe imagined, that were important for you? It seems that sometimes you were hurt, sometimes others were, etc.. There are all sorts of possibilities, all sorts of combinations."
And/or: I WAS ATTACKED, I WAS HURT / BURNED / RAPED, BUT IT WAS ALL MY FAULT. I'M A HORRIBLE PERSON. I BROUGHT IT ALL ON, I DESERVE TO DIE..."Wait a second; let's look at it. Let's look at what happened; let's look at what else in your mind is connected to it, what else produced this kind of feeling. It doesn't seem clear that you caused it all; isn't it like......when your were much younger...yes I know you blamed yourself then too, but give yourself a chance to make some more connections. Let's see what else is there. You were in a complicated, difficult family situation...Now here's a place where it looks like your father / mother didn't treat you well / didn't protect you...hurt you, perhaps. The more we look the less clear it is that the fault is all yours...let's go on..."
In other words, in these relatively straightforward cases after trauma, the powerful emotion of the dreamer guides the dreaming process to choose or illuminate patterns in the memory nets related to that emotional concern. In terms of the nets of the mind, any input produces some change or disturbance in the net; trauma produces a huge disturbance with over-excited zones or huge storm-driven waves. Storms differ of course; the configuration of the disturbance or storm is related to the nature of the trauma and to the configuration and dynamics of the system (personality, past experiences). Any such storm is emotional; we could try to picture individual emotion as sea currents or wave patterns determined in part ("stirred up") by the trauma but also dependent on what is happening and has happened below the surface (subcortical connections). However I cannot here try to present a neuroanatomy of what is for now still a metaphor. In a general sense the nets after trauma are in an unstable configuration; the dreaming process involves making connections guided by this instability and this may be part of the process that restores a more stable state.
The above progression describes the situation in cases where the trauma resolves relatively well and the patient recovers without developing chronic Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. In severe cases, where classic Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder develops, the sequence is stopped short. The patient is stuck with repetitive post-traumatic nightmares. These are classically described as repeating the very earliest stages—picturing the trauma approximately as it occurred; in my experience, however, the nightmares often repeat a slightly later stage of the process with an added element of survivor guilt: "Was it him or was it me?" For instance: "Then I open the last body bag and the body inside is me! I wake up screaming." The actual traumatic scene with this one amendment then becomes the repetitive traumatic nightmare (Hartmann 1984; Van der Kolk et. al. 1984).
FROM TRAUMA TO ORDINARY DREAMS
We have examined above the possibility that in dreams after trauma, as the trauma resolves, the dominant emotions of the dreamer (first terror and fear and then often guilt and others) guide or organize the connecting processes of dreaming.
Dreams after trauma may appear to represent a rare situation and fortunately for many of us this is so. However, those living in inner cities and many parts of the Third World would strongly disagree. For them trauma is an almost constant presence and dreams often reflect this. Likewise, one hundred thousand years or so ago, when the human brain was gradually developing to its present form, our lives were considerably more traumatic; the after-effects of trauma may well have been an everyday reality and the resolving of trauma a constant necessity. But however common or uncommon it may be in our lives, I suggest that trauma can be seen as a paradigm or a simplest case in which we can see most clearly what happens in dreams, and that probably other dreams follow the same pattern though it may be more difficult to discern.
In someone who has just experienced a severe traumatic event, we can be quite certain of the dominant emotions even without knowing the person's life in great detail. Of course past experiences, day residues, etc. are not irrelevant; they are, in fact, what is swept up by the emotion to form the pictures of the dream. I believe, if we move on from trauma to somewhat less dramatic situations, we can still see the same patterns though not always as clearly. For instance, examining dreams in several specified stressful situations led Breger, et. al. (1971) to formulate an adaptive view of dream functioning which relies heavily on dreaming dealing in a symbolic fashion with the emotional concerns of the dreamer. Cartwright (1991) in more formal research studies on people going through divorce has come to somewhat similar conclusions. We are now dealing not with one dominant emotion as after trauma but rather with a group of related emotional concerns.
Dreams of pregnant women provide another situation in which there is a series of somewhat predictable emotional concerns which can be traced in the dreams. I have a few series, and such dreams have been studied in detail by Garfield (1988), Maybruck (1989), and Van de Castle (1994) among others. The dominant concerns early in pregnancy appear to be "what is happening to my body?" which includes "will I still be attractive?" and the dreams reflect this through changes of shape and increases in size of objects, animals, etc. including creatures dreamt of as "ugly" or "beautiful". Later there are concerns of "what will this thing, this baby, actually be like" which leads to innumerable dreams of small and then large creatures—sometimes monsters or strange ill-formed things— portraying these concerns of the dreamer.
We sometimes know the dominant emotional concern of the dreamer quite well even in someone who has not been in an acute trauma or stressful situation and who is not pregnant. This occurs, for instance, in a patient we have gradually come to know in therapy or psychoanalysis. I recently treated a mother of two young children who was for the most part satisfied with her career and her husband and as far as I could tell was a good wife and mother. However, in one way her life was not going well. She was dominated by an obsessive emotional concern that could be described as longstanding guilt, especially guilt about not being a good enough mother. Her parents, for pathological reasons of their own, had always been extremely demanding and critical; no matter what she did or how well she did it as a child, she was always criticized and made to feel she could have done better. She internalized this parental attitude and became, at times, acutely unhappy during her childhood and adolescence—always feeling guilty that she had done something wrong or had not measured up to an external or internal standard. When she left home for college, her life improved considerably. She actually had many intellectual and social talents which she found (to her surprise) were appreciated outside of her home; she began to relax and enjoy life. She finished college, became a nurse, and married a man with whom she was in love. Everything appeared to be going beautifully until the births of her two children. Becoming a mother herself revived her early concerns about her inadequacy and brought back many criticisms by her parents, especially her own mother. At this time she developed almost constant anxiety dreams and nightmares, all of them dealing with a similar theme:
My children are lost in a storm; I can't find them.
I leave my son alone and a big cat is clawing him, killing him.
I'm at a hotel by the seashore in Maine. My two children are off in separate rooms and the tide is coming up fast. I wake up panicked that they'll drown.
Even without the benefit of her associations, I think it is clear that the dreams are about her feelings of guilt and more specifically, they are contextualizing her emotional concern, "I'm not a good mother; I'll never be a good enough mother."
This woman is an example of what occurs more generally when there is one dominant emotion or emotional concern; dreams find a way to portray it or contextualize it repeatedly in what is often a fairly obvious manner. I could give many examples from patients in therapy in which a known dominant emotional concern is portrayed and readily decipherable. As a very simple example, three different patients beginning psychoanalysis had similar dreams which went approximately:
"I am walking along a mountain path with steep drop-offs on each side. It is a bit dangerous. There is a large, shadowy figure accompanying me—I am not quite sure whether this figure is good or evil."
These patients are obviously contextualizing the concerns involved in beginning a long treatment with an unknown therapist or "guide". Even Freud's famous Irma dream, which has been analyzed in many different ways, can be looked at in a broad sense as contextualizing emotional concerns: the dreamer is obviously worried about whether he is helping or hurting his patients and about his reputation among his colleagues.
Recurrent dreams reported in a large percentage of students and usually frightening or negative in tone (Cartwright and Romanek 1978) also provide an opportunity to examine how dreams deal with emotional concerns. Larue (1970) reports on a woman of twenty who had a recurrent dream off and on since a major change in her life at age fourteen when she left her mother's house to live with her father and stepmother.
....It is pitch black and like a vacuum. There is a vague feeling of dizziness. A large, hairy (masculine) hand reaches out and pushes me into my closet. The door cannot be opened. The hand sets the closet on fire and I suffocate and die in the heat and smoke.
Obviously an emotional concern is being pictured though we do not have more details.
I have spoken with three women who had recurrent dreams of violence and murder including dreams of committing murder themselves. All three had had abortions some years before and the dreams appeared to be picturing their concerns about this. In fact, in two out of the three the recurrent dream stopped after the women became aware of the connection and explored their unresolved feelings about the abortions.
I have studied approximately 100 persons who suffered from lifelong frequent nightmares (about 50 of these have been described in detail (Hartmann 1984)), most of whom did not describe their dreams as recurrent dreams but nonetheless dreamt repeatedly about the same themes. The dreams usually began in childhood and the themes involved being chased by a monster or a strange animal. As the dreamers grew up, the chaser was more likely to be a large unidentified man, a group of frightening people, or a gang. Detailed interviews with these nightmare sufferers suggested that most of them did not have a single acute trauma in their childhood, but rather had "thin boundaries"—they were unusually sensitive in a number of ways. Thus traumas that might have seemed minor to others had a great impact on them and they felt highly vulnerable. In their later nightmares they appeared to be repeatedly picturing fears and vulnerabilities they had experienced in childhood. Almost all children have nightmares of being chased at some point (most frequently at age 4 to 6); in these cases the pattern seemed to continue into adulthood.
Physical illnesses are obvious sources of emotional concern. Dreams often portray these concerns very vividly, at times even before the waking patient is aware of the illness. A man awaiting vascular surgery on his leg, and afraid of losing the leg, has dream images of defective tools or other defective objects in eleven of fourteen recorded preoperative dreams (Breger, et. al. 1971). Garfield (1991) has collected a large number of examples of dreaming in various phases of physical illness which portray metaphorically (contextualize) the dreamer's concerns about the illness.
The extensive body of literature on incorporation of external stimuli into REM-dreams, from Dement and Wolpert (1958) to Nielsen (1993) can also be considered in this light. The stimulus (water on the skin, sound, tightening of a blood pressure cuff on the leg) produces a disturbance in the mind-nets of the sleeper. The "storm" or emotional concern is a minor one compared to the ones we have considered above, but its known source makes it more traceable. When incorporation of the stimulus occurs (rates vary from 9% to 75%), the dream does not merely report the stimulus ("there's a cuff on my leg") but contextualizes the emotional concern: "The dream protagonist found his leg to be paralyzed and unmovable despite his strongest attempts" (Nielsen 1993).
In many situations reviewed above we have been able to discern a dominant emotion or an emotional concern fairly easily from the content of the dream without obtaining a great deal of background information and associations to the dream; but of course, this is not always possible. Using our image of a storm at sea, we have looked at situations where there are large waves and perturbations on the surface, where there is one fairly clear "storm" at work. Often the sea may already be fairly calm without a great deal of storm activity or there may be a number of minor storms in a number of different places, and in such situations the processes we have discussed are difficult to discern. Indeed there has been some laboratory research attempting to relate dream content to students' "current concerns" generally asking judges to match dream content and concerns on a blind basis (see Roussy, et. al. 1996 for a review and a recent study). The results have often been negative or unconvincing. However the concerns elicited in such studies deal with plans for the coming weekend, making money at part-time jobs, etc. These concerns are relatively minor and I am not certain they contain much "powerful emotion" or "emotional concern" to be contextualized. The students may have in fact had more important emotional concerns such as "how can I escape the influence of my powerful mother (or father or background) and finally become a person on my own?" but may have been unaware of these and/or not encouraged to think of them by the conditions of the study. In a human being with an intact central nervous system, I believe it is impossible for there to be no emotional concerns whatever. More likely, there may often be a number of active concerns, with no one of them so dominant as to single-handedly guide the formation of the striking dream images we saw after trauma. This is where various techniques of interpretation are useful. One can associate to each element of the dream as Freud suggests. One can amplify certain images as per Jung or use any number of interpretive techniques all of which will usually lead to emotional concerns of the dreamer. I have little question that dreaming in this sense is the " royal road to the unconscious"; I am not convinced, however, that every dream is basically the fulfillment of a wish although in many cases a wish can indeed be found within a dominant emotional concern.
In any case, I believe we can see dreams after trauma as a paradigm: the same processes occur all the time though less clearly discernable. Dreams make cross-connections—to distribute excitation or smooth out the net—guided by a powerful emotion (in the simplest cases) or, more commonly, an emotional concern. In the clearest cases, after trauma, the dreams need little interpretation to discover the emotional concern. As we move to less dramatic situations, with smaller disturbances in the net and multiple emotional concerns, it is harder to see what is going on and some form of interpretation is helpful.
DREAMS AS EXPLANATORY METAPHOR
So far, I have suggested that dreams make connections more widely, more broadly, than waking and that the connections are guided by emotion. Dreams contextualize emotion. But what form do these connections or contextualizations take? Obviously they do not, or very rarely, take the form of verbal narratives or mathematical formulas. Though we are often forced to work with verbal dream reports, we need to keep in mind that these are only attempts to render the dream experience in a preservable and reproducible form. What is experienced generally is images and usually—at least in sighted persons—visual/spatial images in motion. The dream-world looks very much like the waking world. The visual/spatial form of dreams is a fascinating problem in its own right; for instance, David Foulkes and his associates (1971) have studied in detail how the visual/spatial imagery of dreaming develops gradually in children at about the same time such imagery develops in waking life.
I do not consider it surprising that dreaming takes the form of moving visual/spatial imagery because basically that is what’s there. The nets in our minds are made of units and connection weights, which we cannot directly see or experience, but which represent the ability to construct, or approximately reconstruct, a visual/spatial "reality". This view derives from the basic parameters of distributed processing: memory is not facsimile but reconstitution. It is also consistent with work from a totally different direction: Antonio Damasio (1994), based on his clinical neurological work with brain-damaged patients speaks of knowledge as embodied in "dispositional representations". "What 'dispositional representations' hold in their commune of synapses is not a picture per se, but a means to reconstitute a picture."
As we walk through life in a waking state, we are constantly constructing visual/spatial imagery depicting our surroundings. This is based in part on direct sensory input; but there is always a portion that derives from our own experiences and personalities. It is well recognized that even while wide awake the way we see the world depends to a certain extent on what we expect or wish to see, depending on our beliefs or our emotional states. So that when (while awake) we close our eyes or simply allow our minds to drift from the actual scene before us, what we experience is generally more visual/spatial imagery, somewhat dimmer often than the eyes-open version before us, but imagery just the same and usually imagery in motion. The same thing happens in dreaming. For most of us dreams are considerably more vivid than daydreams, which can probably be related to the biochemical state of the brain, but the basic structure of the dream is not so different. There is a visual/spatial story or sequence in motion.
If we compare a dream with a directed focused waking thought, then we are struck by how visual or perceptual dreaming seems to be. However, this may not be the best comparison. We should rather compare dreaming (how our minds function at night) with our total experience in waking (how our minds function in the daytime) which includes living and navigating in the perceptual world as well as the world of daydreams, fantasy, and imagination. As mentioned, under certain conditions, waking activity is as visual and "dreamlike" and bizarre as dreaming (Reinsel, et.al. 1992, Foulkes and Fleisher 1975).
Occasionally, a dream may simply pick up bits of daytime material (day residue), or may consist of a word or a formula, but this is rare. When a dream is fully structured—a true dream—its structure can be understood not only as pictures in motion, but usually as metaphor in motion. In fact, Ullman (1969) has written an entire paper on dreaming as metaphor in motion. I am using the term metaphor in a very broad sense here consistent with modern linguistic thinking. I am not speaking only of the technical rhetorical term metaphor in which "man is a wolf" would be called metaphor whereas "man is like a wolf" would be called simile. I am including similes and analogies in the term metaphor, which is basically a noting and expressing of similarities.
A group of modern linguists and philosophers has made us aware that metaphor is constantly present not only in our speech but in our thought. Lakoff, in his contemporary theory of metaphor, points out how our everyday thought and speech—even when we are in no way being poetic—is pervaded by metaphor (Lakoff and Johnson 1980, Lakoff 1993a). For instance, the broad metaphors, "life is a journey" and likewise "love is a journey" are ubiquitous: "I am stuck", "our goals are in sight", "we are spinning our wheels", "it should be smooth sailing from here on", "I have to bail out of this relationship", etc. It is hardly surprising then that in dreams, too, a journey by car frequently represents a relationship, and that in general dreaming makes use of many of the same metaphors, as Lakoff (1993b) points out.
In a very broad sense, any noting of similarities can be considered metaphor. Much of the "connecting" or bringing together of similar networks which occurs in dreaming (condensation) could be considered simple metaphor; for instance: "I dreamt of my boyfriend and he turned into my father" or "I dreamt of this monster but it looked a bit like my boyfriend".
But I believe dreaming is metaphor in a more specific sense. Although theoretically and in some poetry metaphor can be of many different types, the kind we use most often in our speech and thinking is what I would call explanatory metaphor. Metaphor is used to explain something: a "first term" (such as life, love, death, jealousy) which is somewhat abstract or problematic is explained by a "second term" (such as a plant, a journey, a departure, a green-eyed monster) which is simpler or more easily pictured. In exactly this sense, I believe that dreams are explanatory metaphor. The dream pictures metaphorically the overall state—especially the emotional state—of the dreamer or at least part of the dreamer's mind. Again, this is easiest to see in the clear-cut examples we have noted after trauma. "I am drowning in a tidal wave" is a metaphorical description for the emotional state of the dreamer involving terror and vulnerability. "A mountain has split; there are pieces lying around and I must make arrangements about it" is a metaphoric description of a state of mind and the concerns of a man whose powerful and beloved mother has just died.
Some dreams in illness can be seen in the same way. The most dramatic example I know is a patient described by Oliver Sacks in "Awakenings" (1973), his series of case studies describing patients with post-encephalitic Parkinsonism. This patient had a vivid dream that he was turning into a statue; indeed he had a viral encephalitis which affected his brain in such a way that within a few weeks he became a living statue, unable to talk and almost unable to move until "awakened" by l-DOPA some forty years later.
Self-psychologists talk about the "self state dream" in which occasionally a dream expresses the entire state of the patient's "self". The example often cited involves a woman who dreamt of being a comet that spent most of its time in the dark cold reaches of space and only once in a long while came near the sun to absorb its heat and light. Kohut (1977) claims this dream is a perfect (metaphorical) description of the patient's state of mind. The dreams described previously, "I am walking along a mountain path...", from patients beginning psychoanalysis, are also clear metaphoric description of the emotional state of the dreamer.
Recent approaches to "dream working" and dream interpretation likewise make use of this concept although they do not necessarily use the term metaphor (Faraday 1974, Delaney 1979, Garfield 1991). For instance, in Gayle Delaney's approach, the dreamer, after being asked to describe a dream in detail, is asked for a bridge to waking life: "does this remind you of anything or anyone in your waking life?" Does this remind you of any part of yourself?" When there is a successful "bridge", when the dream is understood by such dream working techniques, the understanding is in terms of the dream providing a metaphorical description of an emotional concern of the dreamer's, most often involving interpersonal relations.
I am not claiming that every piece of every dream must be understood as
explanatory metaphor. What I have discussed here, as well as in previous
sections, applies best to the major or striking visual features of a dream. Any
long dream also has portions which seem to serve mainly to provide continuity in
a relatively straightforward way; this is a whole separate topic that I cannot
discuss in detail here. But, following a suggestion by States (1995), we might
speak of metaphoric and metonymic elements in dreams. The metonymic elements
would be the less salient elements, pulled along by their proximity (past
connection) to a metaphoric element.
INDIVIDUAL DIFFERENCES: DREAMING IS A THIN-BOUNDARY STATE
As outlined so far, I see dreaming as a process of making connections broadly, making connections which contextualize emotion, and which can be seen as a metaphoric explanation of the dreamer's state.
Obviously there are great individual differences, not only in frequency of dream recall, but in how vivid, emotional, metaphoric, or, in a word, "dreamlike", one's dreams are. Individual differences in dreaming, about which much has been written, need not concern us here unless they can help elucidate the nature of dreaming. I believe some light may be shed on the nature of dreaming by work over the past years on thin and thick boundaries in the mind. I suggest that in a broad sense mental functioning during dreaming (as opposed to focused waking) is like the overall functioning of people with very thin boundaries (as opposed to those with very thick boundaries). Dreaming is a thin boundary state.
Briefly, thickness or thinness of boundaries refers to a dimension of personality which relates to the degree of separateness or compartmentalization (thickness) versus fluidity or merging (thinness) in all mental functions (Hartmann 1991a). Someone with very thick boundaries keeps perceptions, thoughts, and feelings distinct and separate; keeps time and space well organized; tends to think in black and white; has a clear demarcated sense of self; and is usually very solid, well defended, sometimes even rigid. Someone with very thin boundaries is the opposite: may experience synesthesia; allows thoughts and feelings to merge; often has vivid fantasies, not always distinguished from reality; is less well defended; tends to think in shades of gray; has a less solid sense of self; and becomes over-involved in relationships. It turns out that boundary thinness is highly correlated with Costa and McCrae's dimension of personality called "openness to experience" (McCrae 1994).
We demonstrated some intriguing relationships between dreaming and thinness of boundaries measured on the boundary questionnaire (Hartmann 1991a, Hartmann, et. al. 1991). First of all, in over 800 subjects, there was a highly significant correlation (r = .40) between thinness of boundaries and dream recall frequency. Further, a subgroup of frequent dreamers (reporting 7 or more dreams per week) had significantly thinner boundaries than nondreamers. In fact, the frequent dreamers had thinner scores in all 12 categories of the boundary questionnaire covering everything from sensitivity to views about organizations and the world. Frequent dreamers also were significantly thinner on the first three major factors of the boundary questionnaire. Finally, the dreams of people with very thin boundaries were rated by blind judges as significantly more vivid, detailed, emotional, bizarre, and dreamlike, and with more interaction between characters compared to dreams of those with thick boundaries (Hartmann, et. al. 1991). Also, we found that certain definable groups who scored significantly thicker than average on the boundary questionnaire (naval officers, lawyers, patients diagnosed Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder, patients with alexithymia) all reported very few dreams, much fewer than average. Conversely, groups who scored thin on the boundary questionnaire (including art students and patients diagnosed Borderline Personality Disorder or Schizotypal Personality Disorder) reported more dreams than average. Thus thin boundaries and dreaming are related in some way.
Also, in terms of their mental functioning, people with thick boundaries are described as more focused, thinking in a straight line, thinking from A to B to C to D with relatively few detours, whereas people with thin boundaries explore all kinds of side connections; their thinking is less straight-forward but more flexible, more creative (Hartmann 1991). In all these senses the mental processes of those with very thick boundaries resemble the processes of focused waking, whereas the mental processes of those with thin boundaries involves something more like daydreaming or dreaming.
Thus, what I am suggesting is that the continuum running from very thick boundaries to very thin boundaries bears some similarity to the continuum from focused waking thought at one end to dreaming at the other end. I believe this could lead to some interesting studies. For instance, a preliminary study (Kunzendorf, et. al., unpublished) finds that overall dreams are rated more "bizarre" than daydreams, but the daydreams of subjects with thin boundaries are rated just as "bizarre" as the night dreams of subjects with thick boundaries. In any case, these interpersonal differences may tell us something about the nature of dreaming; another way to approach the connectiveness of dreaming is to consider dreaming a "thin boundary" state.
THE FUNCTIONS OF DREAMING
I have outlined above my views about the fundamental characteristics of dreaming and how dreaming differs from waking—in other word the basic nature of dreaming. But is this simply the way things are or does dreaming have a function? Does it play a role in maintaining the human organism? In brief, I believe dreaming does have a function which can be related to but is not the same as the function of REM sleep. Starting again with my material on dreams after trauma as the trauma is resolving, I have suggested that dreaming has a quasi-therapeutic function (Hartmann 1995). Dreaming allows the making of connections in a safe place. I reviewed many similarities between dreaming (whether or not remembered) and the process of psychotherapy, especially after trauma. Both good psychotherapy after trauma and dreaming first provide a safe place for work to be done. In therapy the safe place is much more than the physical setting; it involves the safe "boundaries" of the therapeutic situation and the gradual trusting alliance formed between patient and therapist. In dreaming—especially in REM sleep—the safe place is provided by the well-established muscular inhibition which prevents activity and the acting out of dreams.
Once a safe place is established the therapist allows the patient, especially the traumatized patient, to go back and tell her or his story in many different ways, making connections between the trauma and other parts of the patient's life—overall making connections and trying to integrate the trauma. Dreaming performs at least some of these same functions—since its nature is making connections broadly in a safe place. As connections are made between the terrible recent event and other material, the emotion becomes less powerful and overwhelming and the trauma is gradually integrated into the rest of life. Thus, dreaming appears to have a quasi-therapeutic adaptive function which can be seen most easily after trauma though I believe again that trauma is a paradigm and that dreaming has the same function, though less easily discernible, at other times.
In terms of the nets of the mind, the spreading out of excitation or "computational energy" (the subsiding of storm waves) is useful in presumably allowing the net to function better, in a more harmonious state. But the effect is not purely "energetic"; the spread of excitation or energy occurs by forming cross-connections which inevitably alter the future functioning of the net. The trauma, or any disturbance, is cross-connected, "woven in" by dreaming as numerous new connections and contexts are provided. This process is likely to be useful for future functioning since a new trauma or disturbance will be less serious, will produce less "storm-waves" since appropriate contexts and cross-connections are already present. In our anthropomorphic terms, a future disturbance will produce relatively less of the reaction: "HELP! THE WORLD IS ENDING", "THIS IS THE MOST HORRIBLE THING THAT HAS EVER HAPPENED" and more of "YES, THIS FEELS BAD BUT IT'S A BIT LIKE....", "I'VE EXPERIENCED THIS, I'VE WORKED ON THESE FEELINGS", or "I'VE DEALT WITH SOMETHING LIKE THIS".
Thus, I suggest that the broad making of connections and contextualizing has a function which can be seen as both restorative/adaptive in an immediate sense (spreading excitation, calming the storm) and as producing changes in memory networks which are adaptive for the future. This change in networks is not a consolidation of memory but a broadening of memory through cross-connections—an increase in connections, a weaving in of new experience.
This suggested function of dreaming is compatible with views proposed by a number of others starting from very different data bases. For instance, French and Fromm (1964) and Palombo (1978) using clinical data, Breger, et. al. (1971) studying acutely stressful situations, and Cartwright (1991) in research on people under a prolonged stress (divorce), have all proposed versions of an adaptive function of dreaming. Jones (1970) made an analogy between dreaming and effective psychotherapy. Koulack (1991) has proposed a complex functional theory which at least in part involves "mastery of stress". Fiss (1986) has proposed that dreams function to maintain "self structures". Greenberg and Perlman (1975, 1993) have suggested several versions of an adaptive problem-solving function. Milton Kramer (1993) has proposed a "selective mood regulation" function of dreaming which derives from very different studies but is similar to what I have been discussing in terms of a calming of stormy seas or spreading out of excitation. I believe all these views are very compatible with what I have proposed above. We are in basic agreement, at least about certain functions of dreaming, and I hope that my proposal of cross-connections in neural nets may be helpful in integrating these viewpoints.
Critics skeptical about any function of dreaming often question how dreams can be important if most of them are forgotten. I suggest that remembering the individual dream images is not what is essential—though sometimes, of course, a remembered dream image can be extremely important in learning about oneself in therapy or in producing a work of science or art (see below). What is important is probably the making of cross-connections in the net, the redistribution of weights, etc. as we have discussed, all of which can occur whether or not the actual dream content is remembered. Of course, our thoughts and theories about dreaming—including the present one—are necessarily based on examination of the subset of dreams that have been remembered.
Although dreaming should not be confused with REM sleep, nonetheless most of our memorable dreams come from REM sleep, which is the ideal place for dreaming activity to occur; thus a theory of the functions of dreaming should at least be compatible with the functions of REM sleep. As I have pointed out, the present function of dreaming in terms of making connections and cross-connections is at least compatible with the view that REM sleep, especially in young organisms, helps to develop the nervous system (Roffwarg, et. al. 1966)—evidently by making or organizing new connections. It is also compatible with the view that REM sleep functions in the "repair, reorganization, and formation of new connections in amine-dependent forebrain systems" summarized as "knitting up the raveled sleave of care" (Hartmann 1973).
THE DREAM REMEMBERED: PROBLEM SOLVING, THERAPY, SCIENCE, ART
We have discussed above how the making of connections broadly (cross-connecting) in dreams is a function which must operate whether or not dreams are actually remembered. In addition to this, connections brought to waking from remembered or even half-remembered dreams can be useful to our waking thought processes in any number of ways.
At a simple level, a young woman dreamt, "my boyfriend turned into my father" and found this a very useful insight which she had not previously noticed and which helped her in thinking about her relationship. This sort of thing happens all the time and can be made use of by the dreamer with or without the help of a therapist. Barrett (1993) tried to study this objectively and found that at least one third of dreams by college students trying to "incubate" a problem included at least a partial solution to the problem, as rated by the dreamers and by a group of judges.
We are all familiar with the many examples of works of art and scientific discoveries attributed by their creators to a dream. In my view, the role of dreaming has at times been greatly exaggerated; it is obvious that the great preponderance of problem solving and creative work in science and art is performed in the waking state—though the work often dips into reverie and daydreaming—the more dreamlike parts of waking. I do not believe that works of art are created in dreams with any frequency. For instance, though Robert Louis Stevenson claimed that Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde came to him in a dream, I think it likely that the dream provided one new image—presumably a respectable doctor turning into a hideous monster—and Stevenson's well-prepared waking mind and story-writing skills took over from there.
Along the lines developed in this paper, I am suggesting that the contribution made to these works by dreaming is a new connection derived from the broader and more auto-associative connecting found in dreams; the waking mind does the rest. However, this apparently tiny contribution—one new connection—may be exactly what is needed. There are many instances of athletes who found themselves trying out a small new variation of their technique (a different golf grip for instance or skating technique) in their dreams and then finding it crucial in waking; and there are examples of inventions depending on one small new "twist"—Elias Howe's sewing machine needle with the hole at the tip is the best known example. Along these lines, it seems not unreasonable to suggest that our ancestors may have used the new connections made in their dreams to develop new types of tools, weapons, chariots, etc— minor innovations which nonetheless played a major role in our world.
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* Correspondence to:
Ernest Hartmann, M. D.
Tufts University School of Medicine
27 Clark Street
Newton, MA 02159