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The Interpretation Of Dreams

by Sigmund Freud, Trans. By A. A. Brill

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About Book

Whether we love or hate Sigmund Freud, we all have to admit that he revolutionized the way we think about ourselves. Much of this revolution can be traced to The Interpretation of Dreams, the turn-of-the-century tour de force that outlined his theory of unconscious forces in the context of dream analysis. Introducing the id, the superego, and their problem child, the ego, Freud advanced scientific understanding of the mind immeasurably by exposing motivations normally invisible to our consciousness. While there's no question that his own biases and neuroses influenced his observations, the details are less important than the paradigm shift as a whole. After Freud, our interior lives became richer and vastly more mysterious.

These mysteries clearly bothered him--he went to great (often absurd) lengths to explain dream imagery in terms of childhood sexual trauma, a component of his theory jettisoned mid-century, though now popular among recovered-memory therapists. His dispassionate analyses of his own dreams are excellent studies for cognitive scientists wishing to learn how to sacrifice their vanities for the cause of learning. Freud said of the work contained in The Interpretation of Dreams, "Insight such as this falls to one's lot but once in a lifetime." One would have to feel quite fortunate to shake the world even once. --Rob Lightner

From Library Journal
This volume of essays (part of a new series) reflects a wide range of disciplines: sociology, history, literature, and philosophy. Several are works of historic importance by major thinkers, including Wittgenstein and Erikson. Others are more recent works informed by modern thinkers, most notably Lacan. Though of limited appeal to the lay reader in its assumption of a working knowledge of Freud's dream work and its failure to link the essays, the book will interest scholars, particularly those in the humanities concerned with psychoanalysis. Several essays, particularly Meredith Skura's concerning the literary use of dream interpretation, are outstanding commentaries on Freud's landmark work. Paul Hymowitz, Psychiatry Dept., Cornell Medical Ctr., New York
Copyright 1987 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From The New England Journal of Medicine, March 23, 2000
The 100th anniversary of Freud's The Interpretation of Dreams saw the publication of a new translation by Joyce Crick and a "neurophilosophical" treatise on the subject by Owen Flanagan, professor of philosophy, experimental psychology, and neurobiology at Duke University. Taken together, they beg to be read in the light of current ideas about dreams.

How far Freud has fallen in the past few decades is clearly reflected in the introduction to the new translation, written by Ritchie Robertson. No, Robertson acknowledges, Freud's theory of dreaming is not scientific; it is not falsifiable, it is embarrassingly sexual and sexist, it undervalues imagery and emotions, and it overvalues verbal repartee. Indeed, Robertson admits, "the scientific study of the mind can proceed with little reference to Freud." Still, he insists, Freud has "helped us to understand the psyche as deep, complex, and mysterious." Is his theory only of historical interest?

Freud's own review of the scientific literature of the time suggests that he has not contributed as much as we might think. The content of dreams was already seen by pre-Freudians as determined by previous experiences and as arising in what Ludwig Strumpell referred to as "almost memory-less isolation" from those experiences. Dreams were already seen as bizarre and chaotic, driven, as Freud described the theories of Wilhelm Wundt, by "internal... excitations of the sensory organs." The views of this pre-Freudian scientific community were remarkably similar to those held by neurobiologists and cognitive neuroscientists today.

What, then, did Freud add to the study of dreams? Beautiful literature, but mostly bad theory and methodology. Dreams serve to discharge pent-up energy associated with unsatisfied infantile wishes. Dream construction follows a tortured path, with the condensation of many ideas into one and the displacement of their "energies" to unrelated images, all to keep the forbidden wishes from reaching consciousness. Freud's interpretations are stunning: a woman's dream about going to Italy (gen Italien -- to Italy) reflects a hidden wish concerning genitals (Genitalien). Why? Because it is obvious. One is reminded of Plato's "proof" in the Republic that the philosopher-king leads a life that is 729 times more pleasant than that of a tyrant.

All in all, Freud's theory of dreams can probably best be described as 50 percent right and 100 percent wrong. Many of his observations about dreams (not their interpretation) are insightful. If viewed as a historical work, perhaps metaphorically, The Interpretation of Dreams can be enjoyable and thought-provoking. But those looking for a scientific explanation of dreaming had best look elsewhere. Even those seeking to use dream interpretation as a clinical tool deserve a more useful model, one more consonant with modern scientific theory. A hundred years after Freud, we seem to be back where he started.

In Dreaming Souls, Flanagan seeks to answer philosophical questions about dreaming in the light of what we know about neurobiology. Still, when he talks about dreaming, he is referring specifically to the conscious experience of dreaming, with or without subsequent recall on waking, and not to the underlying physiology of the dreaming state. Although this minimal and somewhat naive attention to physiology is disappointing, it does not make his book uninteresting. Consciousness, he proposes, evolved to solve specific problems, such as how to permit the selective allocation of limited brain resources to just one of many competing sensory inputs -- what we call "attention." What, one might ask, does consciousness offer that the underlying neurophysiology could not handle equally well? Perhaps, Flanagan seems to suggest, consciousness just happened to appear before a "mindless" physiologic alternative did, and it worked well enough. Maybe consciousness and emotions represent just one of many solutions that could have evolved to deal with these problems. Perhaps (and it is a terrifying thought) consciousness could just as easily not have evolved.

What about dreaming? This, Flanagan argues, is merely an unintended side effect of waking consciousness; evolution forgot to turn the conscious mind off at night, resulting in dreams that "neither help nor hinder fitness." For Flanagan, the neurobiologic processes underlying consciousness in both waking and sleeping states are of only passing interest and may be, in the end, unimportant. He clearly feels that cognitive processing during sleep serves no evolutionary value, a position that flies in the face of most recent research (for example, on sleep and consolidation of memory). What, then, is sleep for? Flanagan seems to fall back on an old suggestion of Allan Hobson's, that sleep merely serves to allow stockpiles of neurotransmitters in the brain to be replenished. Such an explanation woefully underestimates both the cost and the value of sleep.

Still, Flanagan provides a fascinating view of dreaming from the perspective of a modern philosopher. He presents an elegant explication of how dreams, constructed through a chaotic process without intent on the part of the dreamer, can not only still have meaning, but also be self-revealing and useful as well. Even if the experience of dreaming (as opposed to its underlying physiology) arose without evolutionary selection, he argues, it does not follow that dreams are meaningless or that dreaming is useless. Much of what we are was never selected for -- the abilities to solve partial differential equations and to write sonnets and soliloquies were not selected by evolutionary pressures. What we are and what we have evolved to be are not the same. Destiny is not biology, and dreams are not just noise produced by the sleeping brain. Flanagan's provocative commentary would make quick and enjoyable reading for anyone interested in the thoughtful study of dreaming and may yet provide the basis for a new framework for understanding what dreams mean and how they can be used: the goal of dream interpretation. But the big scientific questions remain unanswered. What is the role of sleep in cognitive and emotional processing? How do we integrate these physiologic processes with the phenomenology of dreaming? The time is ripe to address these questions.

What might answers to these questions look like? Over the past 10 to 15 years, cognitive neuroscience has proved the existence of multiple, physically distinct memory systems, including working-memory, episodic-memory, and semantic-memory systems. As a consequence, the old idea of consolidating short-term memories into long-term memories has expanded to include concepts of transferring memories from one system to another and then integrating them into complex associative networks. New research suggests that these activities may depend on sleep and might even be the main function of sleep.

Processes of memory transfer and integration occur both intentionally (through the frontal cortex) and automatically (through "self-organizing" bottom-up processes). These processes are more complex and more time-consuming than simpler forms of memory consolidation, and they appear to use the same brain regions required for sensory processing. Taken together, they beg for a state in which sensory input is blocked and conscious control of cognitive and affective processing is turned off. Although such a state would be optimal for the automatic reactivation and reprocessing of ensembles of preexisting memories, it would leave the organism dissociated from its environment and unable to interact with it safely. By adding immobility to these other conditions, sleep makes this state of "off-line" memory reprocessing both safe and effective; herein lies the evolutionary pressure for sleep.

This, perhaps, is the beginning of a theory worth consideration by neurobiologists, cognitive scientists, and philosophers alike, and the questions it raises are both important and exciting. How would the reliable changes in chemical neuromodulation that are dependent on the stage of sleep, sensory-input gating, generation of electroencephalographic waves, and regional brain activation facilitate off-line memory reprocessing? Which component parts of such a memory-reprocessing system would each sleep stage support? For example, during rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep, distant and unpredictable cortical associations, but not episodic memories, appear to be preferentially activated, leading to the bizarre, symbolic, and hyperemotional narratives found in classic dreams. In contrast, during non-REM sleep, mentation is generally more linear and thoughtlike. How and why would the brain modulate memory-reprocessing systems in these ways? And, finally, what function, if any, might our conscious awareness of this reprocessing -- what we call dreaming -- serve? I hope that the answers to these questions are not too far away.

Reviewed by Robert Stickgold, Ph.D.
Copyright © 2000 Massachusetts Medical Society. All rights reserved. The New England Journal of Medicine is a registered trademark of the MMS.

From AudioFile
Freud's most famous and polemic book presents a challenge to narrator Robert Whitfield, who interprets the heavy rhetoric with dispatch and precision, while relating the fascinating dreams with expressive interest and skill. The German text is translated into unstilted English, but the remaining French allows Whitfield to exploit his bilingual ability. Modern medicines have made psychoanalysis less popular than in its heyday, but the impact of Freudian theory on our civilization can never be ignored. For the curious and the serious, Whitfield aptly augments the exploration of this classic book just as a guide aids the tour of an old church. J.A.H. © AudioFile 2002, Portland, Maine-- Copyright © AudioFile, Portland, Maine

Time magazine
"The groundbreaking masterwork that launched psychoanalysis"

Psychology Today
"Freud's classic. Freud has been a dominant force in Western thinking and here's the book that started it all."

The Economist
"[An] epoch-making book."

Book Description
In this book Sigmund Freud has attempted to expound the methods and results of dream-interpretation; and in so doing he does not think he overstepped the boundary of neuro-pathological science. For the dream proves on psychological investigation to be the first of a series of abnormal psychic formations, a series whose succeeding members-the hysterical phobias, the obsessions, the delusions- must, for practical reasons, claim the attention of the physician.

Language Notes
Text: English (translation)
Original Language: German

Download Description
In this book Sigmund Freud has attempted to expound the methods and results of dream-interpretation; and in so doing he does not think he overstepped the boundary of neuro-pathological science. For the dream proves on psychological investigation to be the first of a series of abnormal psychic formations, a series whose succeeding members-the hysterical phobias, the obsessions, the delusions- must, for practical reasons, claim the attention of the physician. Please Note: This book has been reformatted to be easy to read in true text, not scanned images that can sometimes be difficult to decipher. The Microsoft eBook has a contents page linked to the chapter headings for easy navigation. The Adobe eBook has bookmarks at chapter headings and is printable up to two full copies per year. Both versions are text searchable.

About the Author

Sigmund Freud was born in 1856 at Freiburg in Moravia and died in London in 1939. He embarked on medical studies in Vienna, working at the same time at the Institute for Cerebral Anatomy. Financial circumstances compelled him to postpone his prime interest, pure research, and he became a clinical neurologist. In 1884 he was introduced by Dr. Josef Breuer, a Viennese physician, to the "cathartic" method of treatment of hysteria, which was the starting point of what later became psychoanalysis. Studies in Hysteria was the result of Freud's and Breuer's collaboration in this area. Freud then went on alone to work at "psychoanalysis," examining the structure, nature, and diseases of the mind. As a result of his studies in literature, art, mythology, and religion, he found further evidence to support the revolutionary theories he had discovered in therapeutic practice. The Interpretation of Dreams was first published in 1900. Freud wrote of it in 1931: "It contains, even according to my present-day judgment, the most valuable of all the discoveries it has been my good fortune to make. Insight such as this falls to one's lot but once in a lifetime."



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