This is Part 3, in an on-going look into the History and Meaning of Dreams.
With the increase of printed books in Europe from the 15th Century, onward, dream dictionaries proliferated, mostly based on the works of Artemidorus. Despite the naivety, such dictionaries filled a useful role in taking dream interpretation away from the seers and priests and placing it in the hands of the individual. Even though scientific rationalists of the 18th Century believed that dreams were of little consequence, and that their interpretation was a form of primitive superstition, at a popular level the interest in dreams gathered strength.
Dreams began to feature as prominent themes in literature and art, as the new Romanticism, led by visionaries such as William Blake and Goethe, rejected the claims of the rationalists and placed new emphasis on the importance of the individual and the creative power of the imagination.
For Freud the unconscious was primarily the seat of desires and impulses, mostly of a sexual nature, that are repressed by the conscious mind. He believed most dreams are simple wish- fulfillments, or expressions of repressed ideas that force their way into our consciousness when our egos relax control during sleep. Transformed into dream images and symbols, our deepest urges lose immediacy and so become more easily manageable.
The greatest breakthrough in dream research in the 2nd half of the century was the discovery in 1953 of REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, when the most vivid episodes of dreaming occur. By waking dreamers up during REM periods, dream recall is greatly enhanced, enabling us to work more accurately with the images, symbols, and other psychic events that punctuate our sleep. A lot of work remains to be done before we can construct a fully-fledged science of dreaming. In the meantime, through dream workshops and other forms of analysis, we are building up a corpus of case studies that will form an invaluable body of evidence for the dream scientists of the future.
Normally we dream for about one-fifth of the time were asleep. Most of our 'big' dreams come to narratives, symbols and detailed dream scenery. As we fall asleep and in the moments before we wake up, we experience the fleeting images of hypnogogic, (dreams that precede sleep) and hypnopompic, (dreams that come just as we are waking).
We dream at other phases of the night as well, and although some of the dreams are indistinguishable from REM dreams, most are fragmentary, less meaningful, less vivid, rarely remembered upon waking.
Further research of dreams revealed four distinct levels or stages of sleep, each characterized by particular physiological activities and brain rhythms. During the first fifteen minutes, the sleeper descends progressively through each of these stages, before spending about one hour in stage four, the deepest level, when the body is at its most relax576ed and brain rhythms are at their slowest. After this, an ascent back up to stage one is often accompanied by a change in sleeping posture, and it is at this point that the first REM period of sleep begins, usually lasting about ten minutes. Therefore, the process of descent and ascent is repeated between four and seven times during the night, though sleep rarely again reaches a state as deep as stage four. Each REM episode becomes progressively longer, as does the frequency and rapidity of eye movements and the final REM period can last as long as forty minutes.
We will take a deeper look into these four stages in Part 4 and also discuss how our brain processes the stimuli that dreaming provokes. How does our body keep from acting out our dreams? Join me in Part 4 to find out.
Information from: "The Secret Language of Dreams", By David Fontana.A17