Dream Interpretation History

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A brief background on dream interpretation.

The idea of dream interpretation is not new. It has been around for many, many years even back to 3000-4000 B.C., where dreams were documented on clay tablets. Dream interpretation has always been the process of giving meaning to dreams.Now with science many people view dream interpretation as "quackery", but the innate desire to understand our dreams remains. People feel their dreams have direct connections to their lives, and they Do! Why? Descartes once said, "I think, therefore I am". Humans are capable of thought and are aware of their individual existence. We all have a curiosity about our existence, why we are what we are, and what meanings lay in it. This has always been a reoccurring theme throughout history.

One of the first and most famous books on dreams and their meaning came from Artemidorus, who lived in Greece around 140 AD. He drew together older works (such as clay tablets, assurbanipal's dream books, etc) as well as included personal observations that he had formed through the older books that preceded him. He believed that dreams could be best interpreted through details of everyday life of an individual, which was an "out of the box" idea at the time since it was generally accepted that dreams were divine inspiration. Artemidorus writes: "I have not relied upon conjectures here, nor have I constructed a system of probabilities. My writing is based on personal experience. I myself have observed, in each occasion, how these dreams have come true."

Aristotle believed dreams were a result of physiological functions and that they could be used to cure or predict illness. The focus of dream interpretation shifted from interpretation to it's ability to heal. Asclepius, who was traditionally considered a Hero, became a Greek God of medicine and healing. Hw held a physician's staff with a snake wrapped around it. It still stands to this day as the symbol of the modern medical profession. As the popularity of Asclepius grew more and more priests used Asclepeions to cure the sick and to interpret dreams. Travelers would come and sleep overnight, called incubation, and report their dreams to a priest when they woke.

The Chinese believed that our souls left our bodies and went to a place separate from our own. This notion was shared by early native American tribes and Mexican civilizations. Through dreams, they believed one could visit their ancestors. Chen Shiyuan wrote Lofty Principles of Dream Interpretation roughly in the sixteenth century. The purpose of some ideas was to question how one knew if they were dreaming of awake. A passage reads:"Once Chuang Chou dreamed that he was a butterfly. He fluttered about happily, quite pleased with the state that he was in, and knew nothing about Chuang Chou. Presently he awoke and found that he was very much Chuang Chou again. Now, did Chou dream that he was a butterfly or was the butterfly now dreaming that he was Chou?"

The Middle Ages thought dreams were messages or temptations of the devil, and that by following these dreams one would be heading down a wrong path. But, alas, in the early 1900's came Freud who wrote his book: The Interpretation of Dreams. He attached great significance to dreams, proposing that they were ways to see into our unconscious and that they were made up of infantile wishes, intense impulses and our need for love. Through him dreams became a scientific study." He claimed that formation of visual answer on stimulus (dream) is not coincidental. He figured out that some parts of manifest content typically correspond with certain latent content. Freud called these manifest elements symbols - to which he ascribed constant meaning." Freud proposed that dreams consisted of two parts:the manifest and latent content. Manifest content is thought of as what a person will remember when they wake. This is what a person describes when they recall a dream. He dismissed the manifest content saying that it could possess no meaning whatsoever because it was a hidden representation of thoughts that inspired the dream. To him, the latent content held the true meaning of a dream. It was a combination of forbidden thoughts and unconscious desires.

They could manifest themselves into symbols, as mentioned above. "Dream Work" is the process by which this latent content is transformed into manifest content.
He believed there were distortions, and they are as follows:

  • Condensation: one dream object stands for several associations and ideas
  • Displacement: a dream object's significance is separated from its real object or content and attached to an entirely different one.
  • Representation :thoughts are translated to visual images.
  • Symbolism: a symbol represents a person, action, or idea.

There were many more than just the examples I gave, for instance Jung:
"Ultimately Jung believed that by understanding how one's personal unconscious integrates with the collective unconscious, a person can achieve a state of individuation, or wholeness of self." (Versed 1997)


Added to on Mar 21, 2012
Last edited on May 07, 2021
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