Sleep time is not detached from life, and it has a certain effect on a person’s experience in the state of wakefulness. The dreams of shamans had become the source of the mythological picture of the world, new religions had arisen from the dreams of the prophets, and the dreams of the rulers had been declared the reason for political and societal changes. The reason why dreams could cause cultural shifts is that people used to perceive them as signs and symbols that contain messages from the gods. The notion of a dream and a myth was the same (Thonemann, 2020). In other words, the interpretation of dreams was literal and did not differ from waking life. The phenomenon of a dream as an object of scientific study has lacked integrity in the academic community. In recent decades, however, the situation has changed, and the study of culture, while ignoring the study of such an aspect of human existence as dreaming, is not possible.
Among the notable events in the history of dreaming are the dreams Descartes. During the night of November 10, 1619, Descartes saw three amazing dreams that changed his whole subsequent life. In the first of these dreams, a whirlwind tore Descartes from shelter against the walls of a church. In his second dream, he observed a powerful storm through the eyes of a scientist and noticed that as soon as he managed to examine the real nature of this hurricane, it was no longer able to do him any harm (Waldow, 2017). In the third dream, Descartes read a poem by the late Latin author, Ausonius (Waldow, 2017). Awakening from these dreams, Descartes felt a strong sense of an unprecedented emotional upsurge and enthusiasm, accompanied by the absolute certainty that he had the key to the real foundation of all sciences (Waldow, 2017). Comparing this picture with similar events in the lives of other people, one can say that Descartes’s illumination is similar to the sudden enlightenment of the founders of religions.
By 1620, Descartes had developed his universal method of deductive reasoning, applicable to all sciences. His goal was to use a mathematically rigorous approach to analyze and explain the entire structure of the universe in its smallest details (Waldow, 2017). Today, such naive youthful claims can be perceived exclusively humorously. Descartes, however, with his unwavering confidence in the unlimited power of the mind, helped create a number of phenomenally popular works that have captured the minds of educated people in Europe for more than a century.
Another notable person that made significant contributions to the theory of dreams is Sigmund Freud. According to him, a dream is an unmasked hallucinatory fulfillment of desires or an expression of satisfaction of actual somatic needs – for instance, when a sleeping thirsty person sees in a dream how he or she drinks (Thonemann, 2020). However, dreams do not always embody the fulfillment of desires in such an explicit form as children’s dreams. Usually, desires are integrated into a dream in such a distorted shape that it requires the use of special psychoanalytic techniques in order to identify them.
The reason is that a dream undergoes a special procedure before appearing in the consciousness of a sleeping person. This process consists of four steps – representation, condensation, displacement, and secondary revision (Thonemann, 2020). The first conversion that occurs is the transformation of thoughts into visual images. This operation is very complicated, as it requires the representation of abstract relations in the form of concrete instances that can be contained in images (Thonemann, 2020). Logical elements, those that are expressed in a speech by abstract concepts and logical unions fall out and have to be restored.
The effect of condensation is manifested in the fact that several elements of a hidden dream in an explicit dream are embodied in one element. In addition, some of the aspects of a hidden dream may not be reflected in the explicit version at all (Thonemann, 2020). The work of displacement is expressed in replacing the element of a hidden dream with a hint. This mechanism can shift the emphasis from one aspect of a dream to another so that the most critical elements of a hidden dream are almost invisible in an explicit dream, and vice versa (Thonemann, 2020). The last step is secondary revision, in which the explicit dream is modified to become more logical in content structure (Thonemann, 2020). The goal of this step, according to Freud, is to convince the dreamer that the images he or she is seeing are only a dream.
In the context of the interpretation of dreams, the notion of wish fulfillment is crucial. The reason is that a desire to be fulfilled is an end goal of a dream and a starting point for the search (Thonemann, 2020). Wish fulfillment is the foundational aspect of Freud’s dream work. Without this element, the interpretation of a dream would take the form of guesswork, in which individual components of a dream can be given an infinite number of meanings.
Thonemann, P. (Ed.). (2020). The Interpretation of Dreams. Oxford University Press.
Waldow, A. (2017). Activating the mind: Descartes’ dreams and the awakening of the human animal machine. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 94(2), 299-325.