This essay introduces a series of articles about the difficulties facing dream studies as a field of knowledge. These difficulties emerge at every level of participation with dreaming, from third-person gathering of dream reports to first-person remembered experience. How do we know what we know? What is the spectrum of possibility for human consciousness? What is real?
In science, these values are usually not transparent. However, in the study of dreams our personal beliefs influence our perception so much that we literally experience different realities. That’s why dream interpretation is dismissed by hard scientists, and also why Freudians dream about their mothers and Jungians dream about Germanic mythological creatures.
And the cynics? They have the lousiest dreamlife of us all, characterized by random and meaningless fragments of memory that only reinforce their belief in a dead and chaotic world. That’s too bad for them. As Henry Ford supposedly said “Whether you think that you can, or that you can’t, you are usually right.”
Rather than decreeing that all the schools of dream interpretation are untrue, a more holistic approach suggests that they are true enough for those who subscribe to that system. This value of cultural relativity is how anthropologists deal with the dizzying array of differences in human populations, because nobody has the final say on the meaning of meaning-making. There is no objectivity, no final analysis, and no judgement day when it comes to the human visionary capability that is dreaming.
Yet relativity only goes so far, as we are biological creatures living in a more-than-human ecology. These human universals of dreaming are elusive, but advances in neuropsychiatry, ethnopsychology, and empirical dream content studies are leading the way to a greater understanding. To this date, however, no serious theory about the role of dreaming in evolutionary psychology has been presented, largely due to the belief that consciousness is an epiphenomenon of biological processes.
In other words, from a materialistic standpoint, dreaming is the flotsam and jetsum of the human experience. Ergo, the universality of dreaming is moot.
While reason is a great tactic in the waking world, it can be self-limiting when we try to make sense of our dreams with reason alone. Analytical thinking is good for only one purpose, namely, dicing things into pieces. To understand dreaming cognition, we need to consider putting it together before we pull it all apart.
I believe mythology can complement Western scientific materialism, and so can our own experiences and intuitions that are grounded in emotional intelligence. These irrational ways often are the most reasonable course of action when trying to understand our dreams because these are precisely the ways of thinking that construct dreaming cognition.
These essays are about my beliefs, my intuitions, and my mythologies of the dreamscape. They are not meant to provide answers but stimulate new questions about our dreams and why we bother remembering them in the first place.
Continue with Belonging in the Dreamworld.