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The Scientific Literature of Dreams-problems (up to 1900)

(S.Freud--Interpretation Of Dreams)

In the following pages, I will demonstrate that there is a psychological technique which makes it possible to interpret dreams, and that on the application of this technique, every dream will reveal itself as a psychological structure, full of significance, and which may be assigned to a specific place in the physic activities of the waking state. Further, I shall endeavor to elucidate the processes which underlie the strangeness and obscurity of dreams, and to deduce from these processes the nature of the psychic forces whose conflict or co-operation is responsible for our dreams.

This done, my investigation will terminate, as it will have reached the point where the problem of the dream merges into more comprehensive problems, and to solve these, we must have recourse to material of a different kind. I shall begin by giving a short account of the views of earlier writers on this subject and of the status of the dream-problem in contemporary science; since the course of this treatise, I shall not often have occasion to refer to either. In spite of thousands of years of endeavor, little progress has been made in the scientific understanding of dreams.

This fact has been so universally acknowledged by previous writers on the subject that it seems hardly necessary to quote individual opinions. The reader will find, in many stimulating observations, and plenty of interesting material relating to our subject, but little or nothing that concerns the true nature of the dream, or that solves definitely any of its enigmas. The educated layman, of course , knows even less of the matter.

The conception of the dream that was held in prehistoric ages by primitive peoples, and the influence which it may have exerted on the formation of their conceptions of the universe, and of the soul, is a theme of such great interest that it is only with reluctance that I refrain from dealing with it in these pages. I will refer the reader to the well-known works of Sir John Lubbock (Lord Avebury), Herbert Spencer, E.B. Tylor and other writers; I will only add that we shall not realize the importance of these problems and speculations until we have completed the task of dream interpretation that lies before us. 

  • A reminiscence of the concept of the dream that was held in primitive times seems to underlie the evaluation of the dream which was current among the peoples of classical antiquity. They took it for granted that dreams were related to the world of the supernatural beings in whom they believed, and that they brought inspirations from the gods and demons. Moreover, it appeared to them that dreams must serve a special purpose in respect of the dreamer; that, as a rule, they predicted the future.
  • he extraordinary variations  in the content of dreams, and in the impressions  which they produced on the dreamer, made it, of course, very difficult to formulate a coherent conception of them,  and necessitated manifold differentiations and group-formations, according to their value and reliability. The valuation of dreams by the individual philosophers of antiquity naturally depended on the importance which they were prepared to attribute to manticism in general.
  • In the two works of Aristotle in which there is a mention of dreams, they are already regarded as constituting a problem of psychology. We are told that the dream is not-god-sent, that it is not of divine but daimnonic origin. For nature is really daimonic, not divine; that is to say, the dream is not a supernatural revelation, but is subject to the laws of the human spirit, which has, of course, a kinship with the divine.
  • The dream is defined as the psychic activity of the sleeper, inasmuch as he is asleep. Aristotle was acquainted with some of the characteristics of the dream-life; for example, he knew that a dream converts the slight sensations perceived in sleep into intense sensations ('one imagines that one is walking through fire, and feels hot, if this or that part of the body becomes only quite slightly warm') which led him to conclude that dreams might easily betray to the physician the first indications of an incipient physical change which escaped observation during the day.
  • As has been said, those writers of antiquity who preceded Aristotle did not regard the dream as a product of the dreaming psyche, but as an inspiration of divine origin, and in ancient times, the two opposing tendencies which we shall find throughout the ages in respect of the evaluation of the dream-life, were already perceptible. The ancients distinguished between the true and valuable dreams which were sent to the dreamer as warnings, or to foretell future events, and the vain, fraudulent and empty dreams whose object was to misguide him or lead him to destruction.
  • The following remarks are based on Buchsenschutz's careful essay, Traum und Traumdeutung im Altertum (Berlin, 1868).

Reference: Freud- The Interpretation Of Dreams: Sigmund Freud 

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