The great theorist Sigmund Freud attempted to bridge brain and mind by theorizing that dreams helped protect sleep by partially covering up disturbances, while letting them blow off a little steam. Thus we might feel the need to urinate during sleep, but not strong enough that it would cause damage, so instead of the mind receiving the message from the brain to wake up and pee, it instead got the signal that it was already awake and looking for a bathroom. The dreamer could imagine him/herself urinating and get some relief from this, thus allowing the body to continue sleeping until the need to urinate was truly urgent and not just a little impulse. The same process was then applied to thoughts about topics and situations in the dreamer’s past that might arise during sleep, especially the ones that the dreamer might keep repressed when awake.
Carl G. Jung
Swiss analyst Carl G. Jung also tried to bridge the brain-mind barrier with his theories of dreaming. One of his theories involved the theory of compensation. Jung felt that during the daytime, the human mind, especially in Western cultures, was very willful and often acted in ways that were not conducive to the maturation of the whole individual. That is, we often decide to ignore the messages of health and wholeness and “damn the torpedoes” and “go our own way.” This leads to a psychological imbalance that Jung felt dreams tried to address. During sleep, the unconscious attempted to address and compensate this daytime attitude symbolically by finding reconciling symbols that could hold the rational and irrational together in a way that would further the development of the dreamer.
However, most psychological dream theories avoid dealing with the brain-mind connection. Most have story-contexts which don’t necessitate bridging this gap. In psychotherapy, for instance, its not so important that the dreaming brain seems to be activated at regular cycles by the brain stem causing rapid eye movements (REM). But it can be important that the dream produced during this REM cycle includes a story about the patient finally asking a clown to smile. The story-context of brain-evolution is superceded by the story-context of emotional healing. The meaning and value of a dream then is found in the service of story-context in which it is told.
But wait, is this saying that the meaning of all dreams is just relative to the person and his/her story-context? Don’t dreams have a real and true meaning independent of the person that is trying to impose a meaning on them?
I feel they do, but not in the way we used to think about real and true meanings. 3
Tribal Meaning and Value.
It used to be that we all lived in local zones, less globally distributed, and the true meaning and value of life and its dreams were determined very differently. I live in a very different world now, but pockets of these indigenous peoples still exist. At one time, meaning and value was circulated through one’s family and tribe, as well as one’s affiliations. Dream stories were circulated and flowed through lines of filiations and alliance. That is, one got up during the night, went to the fire in the village and told whoever was there what their dream was. The people gathered there used the rules, the story-context of the their tradition, to extract various meanings and notice various impacts that the dream produced. Sometimes these needed to be further told to a specialist, a village shaman, and sometimes the shaman called in other shamans to discuss the meaning and value of the dream. The results could change the flow of goods and people, marriages and other events. It was if the dreams came up from the night of the bio-cosmic earth itself, were captured by the tribes, coded, and circulated among them.
Despotic State Meaning and Value.
There was, and at too many places still exists, yet another form of society that imposes a particular style of meaning and value, the despotic state. Here there is a singular center that draws together all the meaning and value to a central point. The king is one and the earthly servant of the One. All the codes in the despotic state point to this singular accumulator and distributor. Everything flows to and from the Pharaoh, the King, the Despot. All money bears his image or the god he represents. All primitive codes and laws that determine the flow of life are overcoded and redirected to flow through him. The meaning and value of life is rigidly set and any questioning of this is considered a sin and transgression of his law. The first thing to know or find out about a dream in this kind of system is its relationship to the emperor. Does the dream indicate favor or bad omens? Will there be more money and children, or illness and poverty? Dreams can no longer be messages from the gods, as this might challenge the hierarchy and place the authority for revelation and the flow of goods and ideas and people beyond the court. But elaborate systems of interpretation and representation in service of the Pharaoh will proliferate so that no flow of decoded dreams escapes the empire.
Capital Economy and the Free Market of Meaning and Value.
and go to their cars in the parking lot and think they have moved from the unreal back to the real. What a farce.
Dreams are made to serve quick analysis that brings people back into alignment with the culture, to serve to bring the people who can no longer handle it, the decoded flows, back into conformity with the capital economy and its needs. Good little job, nuclear family, and lots of time to watch advertisements for products to consume.
So fine, if we are all conditioned to see only the meaning and values that our culture, or some past culture imposes, how can we get to the really real of the meaning of a dream?
Jungian theorist James Hillman, speaks to this issue of true meaning in dreamwork and creates a bridge to many postmodern theories in his writing about perspectivism and Archetypal Psychology. In perspectivism, one is always coming from at least one or more perspectives. This is the story-context. Even the belief that one can set aside all perspectives, [as in the phenomenological epoche of "bracketing-out"] is itself a perspective. But Hillman is not a relativist, he is an archetypalist. This means that each perspective we put on to see and understand the world is not ours, it is just borrowed. And usually we can’t even borrow them, they borrow us. It would be better to use the word ‘possession’ than ‘borrowed’. Consider how young lovers see the world. They don’t choose to be in love, they are possessed by this perspective of Eros and more likely than not, to play out the game of love very unconsciously and without much control. Depressed individuals also rarely choose their depression, but are seized by it and dragged down into the underworld and its perspectives.
We find the myth of Heracles, who could will his way through most situations. But note what happens when he goes down into the underworld. He doesn’t get it. He starts swinging his club at phantoms with no effect. Hillman points out that each time we attempt an interpretation of a dream, we impose upon it a particular interpretive stance, a particular perspective. The way around this, he feels, is to stop imposing structures on the dream images and begin listening to them. Though this too is a perspective, it is one that includes the dream as valid autonomous image that is not *our* image but an existing essence in its own right. When we are asleep we are more aware that we are in the dream, it is not in us. It is only when we are awake and more willful that we take on the notion that the dream is in us. Hillman would rather we see the dream image as living in-between, in the mundus imaginalis, an imaginal world. This is not an imaginary world of an individual, but a world that exist somewhat independent of the individual. This used to be somewhat of a radical notion, but with the advent of the Internet and the growing abundance of virtual realities that exist outside of us, it becomes clearer that there are realms that we participate in, but do not fully control alone. However, the mundus imaginalis is not controlled like computer mediated virtual reality where groups of people contribute somewhat consciously. The mundus imaginalis is more like the world of Greek gods, inhabited by powers that can enlighten us, frighten us, and seize control of us through the parts of our personality that remain forever beyond our control. Its a realm that we continually live in, but of which we are not very aware.
The importance for us here is that this view breaks up the mind-body split into a neo-platonic three way split of 1. matter/empirics/concrete —- 2. imaginal/soul/psyche —- 3. ideal/abstract/spirit. Psyche in Greek means ‘butterfly’ and in this system psyche, like the butterfly, hovers between the material world and the abstract sky of spirit. It also connects them. Our minds or imagination interpret the material world and its relationship with the ideal world. And in the other direction, we interpret the ideal world and attempt to create it in the material world though our imagination, our perspectives.
This is also how psyche gets a bad name. She operates by taking what is and bending it, twisting it, distorting and folding in, unfolding out. She can fool us and deceive us about the world and our relationship with it. These same procedures can also create new perspectives.
But if everything we see and understand is a perspective from this middle zone, how can we ever escape this hall of mirrors? Hillman’s suggestions to listen to the forces as they manifest to us can lead us to know more about the realm itself and its inhabitants, but it also sucks us deeper into the soul. For a dreamwork that is interested in exploring the soul, this may be enough. True, Hillman’s soul is more a cultural thing, out there and surrounding us as much as in us. However, for a dreamwork that wants to connect with the material world, the political world, the social world, this relation building with images, in or out, though vital, will not be enough.
Hillman’s attack on using dreams as representations of something other than themselves seems to lead to a kind of theatre of the unconscious which parades itself through all aspects of life, dispensing thoughts, feelings and actions to individuals who no longer can do much but act out the individuation of these powers.
At times, this is exactly what is needed. In dreamwork that connect image and body, for example, like Gendlin’s Focusing or Arnold Mindell’s process psychology, the is an increase in the fluxion or flow of mind/body/emotions. The dreamworker listens to his/her images with the ear of the body, and gives voice and movement to processes that are often blocked. I feel that one of the keys to this work is the shift from representational work to a process of making connections. Not singular connection, not conscious connections, but swarms of connections, multiplicities of connections, connections that break into the normally rigid channels and create disjunctive synthesis, connections that are themselves in-process of making more connections rather than consolidating territorialized representations.
I feel that many dreamwork programs can get at this real level of the dream, though their theories cannot, or more accurately, have not. Freud gave us the technique of free association, for example, which allows for the images and emotions remembered about the dream to begin to speak again with polyvocity. And yet, at just the moment he released the dream image, he again theorized its meaning back into a pre-assigned object. Free association is seen as leading backwards up a chain of associations to a singular cause of the dream. Carl Jung was deeply aware of the many voices and trajectories of the soul and knew one didn’t have to follow up the chain of associations to get at a profound level. And yet his techniques to bring people in contact with the polyvocity of life get overcoded by the project of the integration or alignment of the Self, a teleological being that guides all the multiple becomings and thus tends to wreck their true freedom. For these voices need a complete indetermination, from the future or the past, to establish legitimate connective syntheses that will provide novel trajectories.
However, I don’t want to fully develop a postmodern dreamwork here, but rather to investigate the problem with answering the simple question, “Do dreams have meaning?”
Please continue to Meaning of Dreams Pt 4