The Interpretation of Dreams
B. The Material of Dreams - Memory in Dreams
That all the material composing the content of a dream is somehow derived from experience, that it is reproduced or remembered in the dream - this at least may be accepted as an incontestable fact. Yet it would be wrong to assume that such a connection between the dream-content and reality will be easily obvious from a comparison between the two. On the contrary, the connection must be carefully sought, and in quite a number of cases it may for a long while elude discovery. The reason for this is to be found in a number of peculiarities evinced by the faculty of memory in dreams; which peculiarities, though generally observed, have hitherto defied explanation. It will be worth our while to examine these characteristics exhaustively.
To begin with, it happens that certain material appears in the dream-content which cannot be subsequently recognized, in the waking state, as being part of one's knowledge and experience. One remembers clearly enough having dreamed of the thing in question, but one cannot recall the actual experience or the time of its occurrence. The dreamer is therefore in the dark as to the source which the dream has tapped, and is even tempted to believe in an independent productive activity on the part of the dream, until, often long afterwards, a fresh episode restores the memory of that former experience, which had been given up for lost, and so reveals the source of the dream. One is therefore forced to admit that in the dream something was known and remembered that cannot be remembered in the waking state.
Delboeuf relates from his own experience an especially impressive example of this kind. He saw in his dream the courtyard of his house covered with snow, and found there two little lizards, half-frozen and buried in the snow. Being a lover of animals he picked them up, warmed them, and put them back into the hole in the wall which was reserved especially for them. He also gave them a few fronds of a little fern which was growing
on the wall, and of which he knew they were very fond. In the dream he knew the name of the plant; Asplenium ruta muralis. The dream continued returning after a digression to the lizards, and to his astonishment Delboeuf saw two other little lizards falling upon what was left of the ferns. On turning his eyes to the open fields he saw a fifth and a sixth lizard making for the hole in the wall, and finally the whole road was covered by a procession of lizards, all wandering in the same direction.
In his waking state Delboeuf knew only a few Latin names of plants, and nothing of any Asplenium. To his great surprise he discovered that a fern of this name did actually exist, and that the correct name was Asplenium ruta muraria, which the dream had slightly distorted. An accidental coincidence was of course inconceivable; yet where he got his knowledge of the name Asplenium in the dream remained a mystery to him.
The dream occurred in 1862. Sixteen years later, while at the house of one of his friends, the philosopher noticed a small album containing dried plants, such as are sold as souvenirs to visitors in many parts of Switzerland. A sudden recollection came to him: he opened the herbarium, discovered therein the Asplenium of his dream, and recognized his own handwriting in the accompanying Latin name. The connection could now be traced. In 1860, two years before the date of the lizard dream, one of his friend's sisters, while on her wedding-journey, had paid a visit to Delboeuf. She had with her at the time this very album, which was intended for her brother, and Delboeuf had taken the trouble to write, at the dictation of a botanist, the Latin name under each of the dried plants.
The same good fortune which gave this example its unusual value enabled Delboeuf to trace yet another portion of this dream to its forgotten source. One day in 1877 he came upon an old volume of an illustrated periodical, in which he found the whole procession of lizards pictured, just as he had dreamt of it in 1862. The volume bore the date 1861, and Delboeuf remembered that he had subscribed to the journal since its first appearance.
That dreams have at their disposal recollections which are inaccessible to the waking state is such a remarkable and theoretically important fact that I should like to draw attention to the point by recording yet other hypermnesic dreams. Maury relates that for some time the word Mussidan used to occur to him during the day. He knew it to be the name of a French city, but that was all. One night he dreamed of a conversation with a certain person, who told him that she came from Mussidan, and, in answer to his question as to where the city was, she replied: "Mussidan is the principal town of a district in the department of Dordogne." On waking, Maury gave no credence to the information received in his dream; but the gazetteer showed it to be perfectly correct. In this case the superior knowledge of the dreamer was confirmed, but it was not possible to trace the forgotten source of this knowledge.
Jessen (p. 55) refers to a very similar incident, the period of which is more remote. "Among others we may here mention the dream of the elder Scaliger (Hennings, l.c., p. 300), who wrote a poem in praise of the famous men of Verona, and to whom a man named Brugnolus appeared in a dream, complaining that he had been neglected. Though Scaliger could not remember that he had heard of the man, he wrote some verses in his honour, and his son learned subsequently that a certain Brugnolus had at one time been famed in Verona as a critic."
A hypermnesic dream, especially remarkable for the fact that a memory not at first recalled was afterwards recognized in a dream which followed the first, is narrated by the Marquis d'Hervey de St. Denis: "I once dreamed of a young woman with fair golden hair, whom I saw chatting with my sister as she showed her a piece of embroidery. In my dream she seemed familiar to me; I thought, indeed, that I had seen her repeatedly. After waking, her face was still quite vividly before me, but I was absolutely unable to recognize it. I fell asleep again; the dream-picture repeated
itself. In this new dream I addressed the golden-haired lady and asked her whether I had not had the pleasure of meeting her somewhere. 'Of course,' she replied; 'don't you remember the bathing-place at Pornic?' Thereupon I awoke, and I was then able to recall with certainty and in detail the incidents with which this charming dream-face was connected."
The same author recorded that a musician of his acquaintance once heard in a dream a melody which was absolutely new to him. Not until many years later did he find it in an old collection of musical compositions, though still he could not remember ever having seen it before.
I believe that Myers has published a whole collection of such hypermnesic dreams in the Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, but these, unfortunately, are inaccessible to me. I think everyone who occupies himself with dreams will recognize, as a very common phenomenon, the fact that a dream will give proof of the knowledge and recollection of matters of which the dreamer, in his waking state, did not imagine himself to be cognizant. In my analytic investigations of nervous patients, of which I shall speak later, I find that it happens many times every week that I am able to convince them, from their dreams, that they are perfectly well acquainted with quotations, obscene expressions, etc., and make use of them in their dreams, although they have forgotten them in their waking state. I shall here cite an innocent example of dreamhypermnesia, because it was easy to trace the source of the knowledge which was accessible only in the dream.
A patient dreamed amongst other things (in a rather long dream) that he ordered a kontuszowka in a cafe, and after telling me this he asked me what it could be, as he had never heard the name before. I was able to tell him that kontuszowka was a Polish liqueur, which he could not have invented in his dream, as the name had long been familiar to me from the advertisements. At first the patient would not believe me, but some days later, after he had allowed his dream of the cafe to become a reality, he noticed the name on a signboard at a street corner which for some months
he had been passing at least twice a day.
I have learned from my own dreams how largely the discovery of the origin of individual dream-elements may be dependent on chance. Thus, for some years before I had thought of writing this book, I was haunted by the picture of a church tower of fairly simple construction, which I could not remember ever having seen. I then suddenly recognized it, with absolute certainty, at a small station between Salzburg and Reichenhall. This was in the late nineties, and the first time I had travelled over this route was in 1886. In later years, when I was already busily engaged in the study of dreams, I was quite annoyed by the frequent recurrence of the dream-image of a certain peculiar locality. I saw, in definite orientation to my own person - on my left - a dark space in which a number of grotesque sandstone figures stood out. A glimmering recollection, which I did not quite believe, told me that it was the entrance to a beer-cellar; but I could explain neither the meaning nor the origin of this dream-picture. In 1907 I happened to go to Padua, which, to my regret, I had been unable to visit since 1895. My first visit to this beautiful university city had been unsatisfactory. I had been unable to see Giotto's frescoes in the church of the Madonna dell' Arena: I set out for the church, but turned back on being informed that it was closed for the day. On my second visit, twelve years later, I thought I would compensate myself for this disappointment, and before doing anything else I set out for Madonna dell' Arena. In the street leading to it, on my left, probably at the spot where I had turned back in 1895, I discovered the place, with its sandstone figures, which I had so often seen in my dream. It was, in fact, the entrance to a restaurant garden.
One of the sources from which dreams draw material for reproduction - material of which some part is not recalled or utilized in our waking thoughts - is to be found in childhood. Here I will cite only a few of the authors who have observed and emphasized this fact:
Hildebrandt (p. 23): "It has already been expressly admitted that a dream sometimes brings back to the mind, with a wonderful power of reproduction, remote and even forgotten experiences from the earliest periods of one's life."
Strumpell (p. 40): "The subject becomes more interesting still when we remember how the dream sometimes drags out, as it were, from the deepest and densest psychic deposits which later years have piled upon the earliest experiences of childhood, the pictures of certain persons, places and things, quite intact, and in all their original freshness. This is confined not merely to such impressions as were vividly perceived at the time of their occurrence, or were associated with intense psychological values, to recur later in the dream as actual reminiscences which give pleasure to the waking mind. On the contrary, the depths of the dream-memory rather contain such images of persons, places, things and early
experiences as either possessed but little consciousness and no psychic value whatsoever, or have long since lost both, and therefore appear totally strange and unknown, both in the dream and in the waking state, until their early origin is revealed."
Volkelt (p. 119): "It is especially to be remarked how readily infantile and youthful reminiscences enter into our dreams. What we have long ceased to think about, what has long since lost all importance for us, is constantly recalled by the dream."
The control which the dream exercises over material from our childhood, most of which, as is well known, falls into the lacunae of our conscious memory, is responsible for the production of interesting hypermnesic dreams, of which I shall cite a few more examples.
Maury relates (p. 92) that as a child he often went from his native city, Meaux, to the neighbouring Trilport, where his father was superintending the construction of a bridge. One night a dream transported him to Trilport and he was once more playing in the streets there. A man approached him, wearing a sort of uniform. Maury asked him his name, and he introduced himself, saying that his name was C, and that he was a bridgeguard. On waking, Maury, who still doubted the actuality of the reminiscence, asked his old servant, who had been with him in his childhood, whether she remembered a man of this name. "Of course," was the reply; "he used to be watchman on the bridge which your father was building then."
Maury records another example, which demonstrates no less clearly the reliability of the reminiscences of childhood that emerge in our dreams.
M. F., who as a child had lived in Montbrison, decided, after an absence of twenty-five years, to visit his home and the old friends of his family. The night before his departure he dreamt that he had reached his destination, and that near Montbrison he met a man whom he did not know by sight, and who told him that he was M. F., a friend of his father's. The dreamer remembered that as a child he had known a gentleman of this name, but on waking he could no longer recall his features. Several days later, having actually arrived at Montbrison, he found once more the locality of his dream, which he had thought was unknown to him, and there he met a man whom he at once recognized as the M. F. of his dream, with only this difference, that the real person was very much older than his dream-image.
Here I might relate one of my own dreams, in which the recalled impression takes the form of an association. In my dream I saw a man whom I recognized, while dreaming, as the doctor of my native town. His face was not distinct, but his features were blended with those of one of my schoolmasters, whom I still meet from time to time. What association there was between the two persons I could not discover on waking, but upon questioning my mother concerning the doctor I learned that he was a one-eyed man. The schoolmaster, whose image in my dream obscured that of the physician, had also only one eye. I had not seen the doctor for thirty-eight years, and as far as I know I had never thought of him in my waking state, although a scar on my chin might have reminded me of his professional attentions.
As though to counterbalance the excessive part which is played in our dreams by the impressions of childhood, many authors assert that the majority of dreams reveal elements drawn from our most recent experiences. Robert (p. 46) even declares that the normal dream generally occupies itself only with the impressions of the last few days. We shall find, indeed, that the theory of the dream advanced by Robert absolutely requires that our oldest impressions should be thrust into the background, and our most recent ones brought to the fore. However, the fact here
stated by Robert is correct; this I can confirm from my own investigations. Nelson, an American author, holds that the impressions received in a dream most frequently date from the second day before the dream, or from the third day before it, as though the impressions of the day immediately preceding the dream were not sufficiently weakened and remote.
Many authors who are unwilling to question the intimate connection between the dream-content and the waking state have been struck by the fact that the impressions which have intensely occupied the waking mind appear in dreams only after they have been to some extent removed from the mental activities of the day. Thus, as a rule, we do not dream of a beloved person who is dead while we are still overwhelmed with sorrow (Delage). Yet Miss Hallam, one of the most recent observers, has collected examples which reveal the very opposite behaviour in this respect, and upholds the claims of psychological individuality in this matter.
The third, most remarkable, and at the same time most incomprehensible, peculiarity of memory in dreams is shown in the selection of the material reproduced; for here it is not, as in the waking state, only the most significant things that are held to be worth remembering, but also the most indifferent and insignificant details. In this connection I will quote those authors who have expressed their surprise in the most emphatic language.
Hildebrandt (p. 11): "For it is a remarkable fact that dreams do not, as a rule, take their elements from important and far-reaching events, or from the intense and urgent interests of the preceding day, but from unimportant incidents, from the worthless odds and ends of recent experience or of the remoter past. The most shocking death in our family, the impressions of which keep us awake long into the night, is obliterated from our memories until the first moment of waking brings it back to us with distressing force. On the other hand, the wart on the forehead of a passing stranger, to whom we did not give a moment's thought once he was out of sight, finds a place in our dreams."
Strumpell (p. 39) speaks of "cases in which the analysis of a dream brings to light elements which, although derived from the experiences of yesterday or the day before yesterday, were yet so unimportant and worthless for the waking state that they were forgotten soon after they were experienced. Some experiences may be the chance-heard remarks of other persons, or their superficially observed actions, or, fleeting perceptions of things or persons, or isolated phrases that we have read, etc."
Havelock Ellis (p. 727): "The profound emotions of waking life, the questions and problems on which we spend our chief voluntary mental energy, are not those which usually present themselves at once to dream-consciousness. It is, so far as the immediate past is concerned, mostly the trifling, the incidental, the 'forgotten' impressions of daily life which reappear in our dreams. The psychic activities that are awake most intensely are those that sleep most profoundly."
It is precisely in connection with these characteristics of memory in dreams that Binz (p. 45) finds occasion to express dissatisfaction with the explanations of dreams which he himself had favoured: "And the normal dream raises similar questions. Why do we not always dream of mental impressions of the day before, instead of going back, without any perceptible reason, to the almost forgotten past, now lying far behind us? Why,
in a dream, does consciousness so often revive the impression of indifferent memory-pictures, while the cerebral cells that bear the most sensitive records of experience remain for the most part inert and numb, unless an acute revival during the waking state has quite recently excited them?"
We can readily understand how the strange preference shown by the dream-memory for the indifferent and therefore disregarded details of daily experience must commonly lead us altogether to overlook the dependence of dreams on the waking state, or must at least make it difficult for us to prove this dependence in any individual case. Thus it happened that in the statistical treatment of her own and her friend's dream, Miss Whiton Calkins found that 11 per cent of the entire number showed no relation to the waking state. Hildebrandt was certainly correct in his assertion that all our dream-images could be genetically explained if we devoted enough time and material to the tracing of their origin. To be sure, he calls this "a most tedious and thankless job. For most often it would lead us to ferret out all sorts of psychically worthless things from the remotest corners of our storehouse of memories, and to bring to light all sorts of quite indifferent events of long ago from the oblivion which may have overtaken them an hour after their occurrence." I must, however, express my regret that this discerning author refrained from following the path which at first sight seemed so unpromising, for it would have led him directly to the central point of the explanation of dreams.
The behaviour of memory in dreams is surely most significant for any theory of memory whatsoever. It teaches us that "nothing which we have once psychically possessed is ever entirely lost" (Scholz, p. 34); or as Delboeuf puts it, "que toute impression, meme la plus insignificante, laisse une trace inalterable, indifiniment susceptible de reparaitre au jour"; a conclusion to which we are urged by so many other pathological manifestations of mental life. Let us bear in mind this extraordinary capacity of the memory in dreams, in order the more keenly to realize the contradiction which has to be put forward in certain dream-theories to be mentioned later, which seek to explain the absurdities and incoherences of dreams by a partial forgetting of what we have known during the day.
It might even occur to one to reduce the phenomenon of dreaming to that of remembering, and to regard the dream as the manifestation of a reproductive activity, unresting even at night, which is an end in itself. This would seem to be in agreement with statements such as those made by Pilcz, according to which definite relations between the time of dreaming and the contents of a dream may be demonstrated, inasmuch as the impressions reproduced by the dream in deep sleep belong to the remote past, while those reproduced towards morning are of recent origin. But such a conception is rendered improbable from the outset by the manner in which the dream deals with the material to be remembered. Strumpell rightly calls our attention to the fact that repetitions of experiences do not occur in dreams. It is true that a dream will make a beginning in that direction, but the next link is wanting; it appears in a different form, or is replaced by something entirely novel. The dream gives us only fragmentary reproductions; this is so far the rule that it permits of a theoretical generalization. Still, there are exceptions in which an episode is repeated in a dream as completely as it can be reproduced by our waking memory. Delboeuf relates of one of his university colleagues that a
dream of his repeated, in all its details, a perilous drive in which he escaped accident as if by miracle. Miss Calkins mentions two dreams the contents of which exactly reproduced an experience of the previous day, and in a later chapter I shall have occasion to give an example that came to my knowledge of a childish experience which recurred unchanged in a dream.