The Interpretation of Dreams


I shall have to justify myself for not extending my summary of the literature of dream-problems to cover the period between the first appearance of this book and the publication of the second edition. This justification may not seem very satisfactory to the reader; none the less, to me it was decisive. The motives which induced me to summarize the treatment of dreams in the literature of the subject have been exhausted by the foregoing introduction; to have continued this would have cost me a great deal of effort and would not have been particularly useful or instructive. For the interval in question - a period of nine years - has yielded nothing new or valuable as regards the conception of dreams, either in actual material or in novel points of view. In most of the literature which has appeared since the publication of my own work the latter has not been mentioned or discussed; it has, of course, received the least attention from the so-called "research-workers on dreams," who have thus afforded a brilliant example of the aversion to learning anything new so characteristic of the scientist. "Les savants ne sont pas curieux,"[56] said the scoffer Anatole France. If there were such a thing in science as the right of revenge, I in my turn should be justified in ignoring the literature which has appeared since the publication of this book. The few reviews which have appeared in the scientific journals are so full of misconceptions and lack of comprehension that my only possible answer to my critics would be a request that they should read this book over again - or perhaps merely that they should read it!

In the works of those physicians who make use of the psycho-analytic method of treatment a great many dreams have been recorded and interpreted in accordance with my directions. In so far as these works go beyond the confirmation of my own assertions, I have noted their results in the context of my exposition. A supplementary bibliography at the end of this volume comprises the most important of these new publications. The comprehensive work on the dream by Sante de Sanctis, of which a German translation appeared soon after its publication, was produced simultaneously with my own, so that I could not review his results, nor could he comment upon mine. I am sorry to have to express the opinion
that this laborious work is exceedingly poor in ideas, so poor that one could never divine from it the possibility of the problems which I have treated in these pages.

I can think of only two publications which touch on my own treatment of the dream-problems. A young philosopher, H. Swoboda, who has ventured to extend W. Fliess's discovery of biological periodicity (in series of twenty-three and twenty-eight days) to the psychic field, has produced an imaginative essay,[57] in which, among other things, he has used this key to solve the riddle of dreams. Such a solution, however, would be an inadequate estimate of the significance of dreams. The material content of dreams would be explained by the coincidence of all those
memories which, on the night of the dream, complete one of these biological periods for the first or the nth time. A personal communication of the author's led me to assume that he himself no longer took this theory very seriously. But it seems that I was mistaken in this conclusion: I shall record in another place some observations made with reference to Swoboda's thesis, which did not, however, yield convincing results. It gave me far greater pleasure to find by chance, in an unexpected quarter, a conception of the dream which is in complete agreement with the essence of my own. The relevant dates preclude the possibility that this conception was influenced by reading my book: I must therefore hail this as the only demonstrable concurrence with the essentials of my theory of dreams to be found in the literature of the subject. The book which contains the passage that I have in mind was published (in its second edition) in 1910, by Lynkeus, under the title Phantasien eines Realisten.


The above apologia was written in 1909. Since then, the state of affairs has certainly undergone a change; my contribution to the "interpretation of dreams" is no longer ignored in the literature of the subject. But the new situation makes it even more impossible to continue the foregoing summary. The Interpretation of Dreams has evoked a whole series of new contentions and problems, which have been expounded by the authors in the most varied fashions. But I cannot discuss these works until I have developed the theories to which their authors have referred. Whatever has appeared to me as valuable in this recent literature I have accordingly reviewed in the course of the following exposition.


[1]The following remarks are based on Buchsenschutz's careful essay, Traum und Traumdeutung im Altertum (Berlin 1868).

[2]The relationship between dreams and disease is discussed by Hippocrates in a chapter of his famous work.

[3]Griechische Mythologie und Religionsgeschichte, p. 390.

[4]For the later history of dream-interpretation in the Middle Ages consult Diepgen, and the special investigations of M. Forster, Gotthard, and others. The interpretation of dreams among the Jews has been studied by Amoli, Amram, and Lowinger, and recently, with reference to the psycho-analytic standpoint, by Lauer. Details of the Arabic methods of dream-interpretation are furnished by Drexl, F. Schwarz, and the missionary Tfinkdji. The interpretation of dreams among the Japanese has been investigated by Miura and Iwaya, among the Chinese by Secker, and among the Indians by Negelein.

[5]We dream of what we have seen, said, desired, or done.

[6]Communicated by Winterstein to the Zentralblatt fur Psychoanalyse.

[7]And whatever be the pursuit to which one clings with devotion, whatever the things on which we have been occupied much in the past, the mind being thus more intent upon that pursuit, it is generally the same things that we seem to encounter in dreams; pleaders to plead their cause and collate laws, generals to contend and engage battle.

[8]And especially the "remnant" of our waking thoughts and deeds move and stir within the soul.

[9]Vaschide even maintains that it has often been observed that in one's dreams one speaks foreign languages more fluently and with greater purity than in the waking state.

[10]See Vaschide, p. 232.

[11]Vaschide, p. 233

[12]That every impression, even the most insignificant, leaves an ineradicable mark, indefinitely capable of reappearing by day.

[13]From subsequent experience I am able to state that it is not at all rare to find in dreams reproductions of simple and unimportant occupations of everyday life, such as packing trunks, preparing food in the kitchen, etc., but in such dreams the dreamer himself emphasizes not the character of the recollection but its "reality" - "I really did this during the day."

[14}Chauffeurs were bands of robbers in the Vendee who resorted to this form of torture.

[15]A sort of relation which is, however, neither unique nor exclusive.

[16]Gigantic persons in a dream justify the assumption that the dream is dealing with a scene from the dreamer's childhood. This interpretation of the dream as a reminiscence of Gulliver's Travels is, by the way, a good example of how an interpretation should not be made. The dream interpreter should not permit his own intelligence to operate in disregard of the dreamer's impressions.

[17]In addition to the diagnostic valuation of dreams (e.g., by Hippocrates) mention must also be made of their therapeutic significance in antiquity.

[18]See below for a further discussion of the two volumes of records of dreams since published by this writer.

[19]Dreams do not exist whose origin is totally psychic.

[20]The thoughts of our dreams come from outside.

[21]Periodically recurrent dreams have been observed repeatedly. Compare the collection made by Chabaneix.

[22] ...The observation of dreams has its special difficulties, and the only way to avoid all error in such matter is to put on paper without the least delay what has just been experienced and noticed; otherwise, totally or partially the dream is quickly forgotten; total forgetting is without seriousness; but partial forgetting is treacherous: for, if one then starts to recount what has not been forgotten, one is likely to supplement from the imagination the incoherent and disjointed fragments provided by the memory.... unconsciously one becomes an artist, and the story, repeated from time to time, imposes itself on the belief of its author, who, in good faith, tells it as authentic fact, regularly established according to proper methods....

[23]Silberer has shown by excellent examples how in the state of falling asleep even abstract thoughts may be changed into visible plastic images, which, of course, express them. (Jahrbuch, Bleuler-Freud, vol. i, 1900.) I shall return to the discussion of his findings later on.

[24]Haffner, like Delboeuf, has attempted to explain the act of dreaming by the alteration which an abnormally introduced condition must have upon the otherwise correct functioning of the intact psychic apparatus; but he describes this condition in somewhat different terms. He states that the first distinguishing mark of dreams is the abolition of time and space, i.e., the emancipation of the representation from the individual's position in the spatial and temporal order. Associated with this is the second fundamental character of dreams, the mistaking of the hallucinations, imaginations, and phantasy-combinations for objective perceptions. "The sum-total of the higher psychic functions, particularly the formation of concepts, judgments, and conclusions on the one hand, and free self-determination on the other hand, combine with the sensory phantasy-images, and at all times have these as a substratum. These activities too, therefore, participate in the erratic nature of the dream-representations. We say
they participate, for our faculties of judgment and will are in themselves unaltered during sleep. As far as their activity is concerned, we are just as shrewd and just as free as in the waking state. A man cannot violate the laws of thought; that is, even in a dream he cannot judge things to be identical which present themselves to him as opposites. He can desire in a dream only that which he regards as a good (sub ratione boni). But in this application of the laws of thought and will the human intellect is led astray in dreams by confusing one notion with another. Thus it happens that in dreams we formulate and commit the greatest of contradictions, while, on the other hand, we display the shrewdest judgment and arrive at the most logical conclusions, and are able to make the most virtuous and sacred resolutions. The lack of orientation is the whole secret of our flights of phantasy in dreams, and the lack of critical reflection and agreement with other minds is the main source of the reckless extravagances of our judgments, hopes and wishes in dreams" (p. 18).

[25]Compare with this the element of "Desinteret," in which Claparede (1905) finds the mechanism of falling asleep.

[26]There are no dreams which are absolutely reasonable which do not contain some incoherence, some absurdity.

[27]The dream is psychic anarchy, emotional and intellectual, the playing of functions, freed of themselves and performing without control and without end; in the dream, the mind is a spiritual automaton.

[28]There is no imaginable thing too absurd, too involved, or too abnormal for us to dream about.

[29]The production of those images which, in the waking man, most often excite the will, correspond, for the mind, to those which are, for the motility, certain movements that offer St. Vitus' dance and paralytic affections...

[30]A whole series of degradations of the faculty of thinking and reasoning.

[31]An action of the mind spontaneous and as though automatic; (2) a defective and irregular association of ideas.

[32]Later on we shall be able to understand the meaning of dreams like these which are full of words with similar sounds or the same initial letters.

[33]The dream is neither pure derangement nor pure irrationality.

[34]In sleep, excepting perception, all the faculties of the mind intellect, imagination, memory, will, morality - remain intact in their essence; only, they are applied to imaginary and variable objects. The dreamer is an actor who plays at will the mad and the wise, executioner and victim, dwarf and giant, devil and angel.

[35]Hervey de St. Denys.

[36]The Marquis Hervey attributes to the intelligence during sleep all its freedom of action and attention, and he seems to make sleep consist only of the shutting of the senses, of their closing to the outside world; except for his manner of seeing, the man asleep is hardly distinguishable from the man who allows his mind to wander while he obstructs his senses; the whole difference, then, between ordinary thought and that of the sleeper, is that with the latter the idea takes an objective and visible shape, which resembles, to all appearances, sensation determined by exterior objects; memory takes on the appearance of present fact.

[37]That there is a further and important difference in that the mental faculties of the sleeping man do not offer the equilibrium which they keep in the waking state.

[38]The image in a dream is a copy of an idea. The main thing is the idea; the vision is only accessory. This established, it is necessary to know how to follow the progression of ideas, how to analyse the texture of the dreams; incoherence then is understandable, the most fantastic concepts become simple and perfectly logical facts.

[39]Even the most bizarre dreams find a most logical explanation when one knows how to analyse them.

[40]Cf. Haffner and Spitta.

[41]That brilliant mystic, Du Prel, one of the few writers for the omission of whose name in earlier editions of this book I should like to apologize, has said that, so far as the human mind is concerned, it is not the waking state but dreams which are the gateway to metaphysics (Philosophie der Mystik, p. 59).

[42]For the further literature of the subject, and a critical discussion of these problems, the reader is referred to Tobowolska's dissertation (Paris, 1900).

[43]Compare Havelock Ellis's criticism in The World of Dreams, p. 268.

[44]Grundzuge des Systems der Anthropologie. Erlangen, 1850 (quoted by Spitta).

[45]Das Traumleben und seine Deutung, 1868 (cited by Spitta, p. 192).

[46]It is not uninteresting to consider the attitude of the Inquisition to this problem. In the Tractatus de Officio sanctissimae Inquisitionis of Thomas Carena (Lyons edit., 1659) one finds the following passage: "Should anyone utter heresies in his dreams, the inquisitors shall consider this a reason for investigating his conduct in life, for that is wont to return in sleep which occupies a man during the day" (Dr. Ehniger, St. Urban, Switzerland).

[47]Our tendencies speak and make us act, without being restrained by our conscience, although it sometimes warns us. I have my faults and vicious tendencies; awake I try to fight against them, and often enough I do not succumb to them. But in my dreams I always succumb, or, rather, I act at their direction, without fear or remorse.... Evidently, the visions which unfold in my thoughts, and which constitute the dream, are suggested by the stimuli which I feel and which my absent will does not try to repel.

[48]In a dream, a man is totally revealed to himself in his naked and wretched state. As he suspends the exercise of his will, he becomes the toy of all the passions from which, when awake, our conscience, horror, and fear defend us.

[49]In a dream, it is above all the instinctive man who is revealed.... Man returns, so to speak, to the natural state when he dreams; but the less acquired ideas have penetrated into his mind, the more his "tendencies to disagreement" with them keep their hold on him in his dreams.

[50]If they are very much in love, they have almost never dreamed of each other before the marriage or during the honeymoon; and if they have dreamed of love, it was to be unfaithful with someone unimportant or distasteful.

[51]So many taut lines.

[52]A novelist, Anatole France, expresses himself to a similar effect (Le Lys Rouge): "Ce que nous voyons la nuit ce sont les restes malheureux que nous avons neglige dans la veille. Le reve est souvent la revanche des choses qu'on meprise ou le reproche des etres abandonnes." [What we see at night are the unhappy relics that we neglected while awake. The dream is often the revenge of things scorned or the reproach of beings deserted.]

[53]In short, the dream is the product of wandering thought, without end or direction, successively fixing on memories which have retained sufficient intensity to put themselves in the way and block the passage, establishing between themselves a connection sometimes weak and loose, sometimes stronger and closer, according to whether the actual work of the brain is more or less suppressed by sleep.

[54]Among the more recent authors who have occupied themselves with these relations are: Fere, Ideler, Lasegue, Pichon, Regis Vespa, Giessler, Kazodowsky, Pachantoni, and others.

[55]The real determining cause of the madness.

[56]The learned are not inquisitive.

[57]H. Swoboda, Die Perioden des Menschlichen Organismus, 1904.

The Interpretation of Dreams

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