Monday January 30 2023



Categories:Pointer Articles




ADIES AND GENTLEMEN, – It was discovered one day that the pathological symptoms of certain neurotic patients have a sense.¹ On this discovery the psycho-analytic method of treatment was founded. It happened in the course of this treatment that patients, instead of bringing forward their symptoms, brought forward dreams. A suspicion thus arose that the dreams too had a sense.

We will not, however, follow this historical path, but will proceed in the opposite direction. We will demonstrate the sense of dreams by way of preparing for the study of the neuroses. This reversal is justified, since the study of dreams is not only the best preparation for the study of the neuroses, but dreams are themselves a neurotic symptom, which, moreover, offers us the priceless advantage of occurring in all healthy people. Indeed, supposing all human beings were healthy, so long as they dreamt we could arrive from their dreams at almost all the discoveries which the investigation of the neuroses has led to.

¹ By Josef Breuer in the years 1880-2. Cf. the lectures delivered by me in America in 1909 (Five Lectures on PsychoAnalysis) and ‘On the History of the Psycho-Analytic Movement’.


Dreams, then, have become a subject of psycho-analytic research: once again ordinary phenomena, with little value set on them, and apparently of no practical use – like parapraxes, with which indeed they have in common the fact of occurring in healthy people. But apart from this the conditions for our work are a good deal less favourable here. Parapraxes had merely been neglected by science, little attention had been paid to them; but at least there was no harm in concerning oneself with them. ‘No doubt’, people would say, ‘there are more important things. But something may possibly come of it.’ But to concern oneself with dreams is not merely unpractical and uncalled-for, it is positively disgraceful. It brings with it the odium of being unscientific and rouses the suspicion of a personal inclination to mysticism. Imagine a medical man going in for dreams when there are so many more serious things even in neuropathology and psychiatry – tumours as big as apples compressing the organ of the mind, haemorrhages, chronic inflammation, in all of which the changes in the tissues can be demonstrated under the microscope! No, dreams are much too trivial, and unworthy to be an object of research.

And there is something else which from its very nature frustrates the requirements of exact research. In investigating dreams one is not even certain about the object of one’s research. A delusion, for instance, meets one squarely and with definite outlines. ‘I am the Emperor of China’, says the patient straight out. But dreams? As a rule no account at all can be given of them. If anyone gives an account of a dream, has he any guarantee that his account has been correct, or that he may not, on the contrary, have altered his account in the course of giving it and have been obliged to invent some addition to it to make up for the indistinctness of his recollection? Most dreams cannot be remembered at all and are forgotten except for small fragments. And is the interpretation of material of this kind to serve as the basis of a scientific psychology or as a method for treating patients?

An excess of criticism may make us suspicious. These objections to dreams as an object of research are obviously carried too far. We have already dealt with the question of unimportance in connection with parapraxes. We have told ourselves that big things can show themselves by small indications. As regards their indistinctness – that is one of the characteristics of dreams, like any other: we cannot lay down for things what their characteristics are to be. And incidentally there are clear and distinct dreams as well.

There are, more over, other objects of psychiatric research which suffer from the same characteristic of indistinctness – in many instances, for example, obsessions, and these have been dealt with, after all, by respected and esteemed psychiatrists. I recall the last such case that I came across in my medical practice.

This was a woman patient who introduced herself with these words: ‘I have a sort of feeling as though I had injured or had wanted to injure some living creature – a child? – no, more like a dog – as though I may have thrown it off a bridge, or something else.’ We can help to overcome the defect of the uncertainty in remembering dreams if we decide that whatever the dreamer tells us must count as his dream, without regard to what he may have forgotten or have altered in recalling it. And finally it cannot even be maintained so sweepingly that dreams are unimportant things. We know from our own experience that the mood in which one wakes up from a dream may last for the whole day; doctors have observed cases in which a mental disease has started with a dream and in which a delusion originating in the dream has persisted; historical figures are reported to have embarked on momentous enterprises in response to dreams. We may therefore ask what may be the true source of the contempt in which dreams are held in scientific circles.

It is, I believe, a reaction against the overvaluation of dreams in earlier days. The reconstruction of the past is, as we know, no easy matter, but we may assume with certainty, if I may put it as a joke, that our ancestors three thousand or more years ago already had dreams like ours. So far as we know, all the peoples of antiquity attached great significance to dreams and thought they could be used for practical purposes. They deduced signs for the future from them and searched in them for auguries. For the Greeks and other oriental nations, there may have been times when a campaign without dream-interpreters seemed as impossible as one without air-reconnaissance seems to-day. When Alexander the Great started on his conquests, his train included the most famous dream-interpreters. The city of Tyre, which at that time still stood on an island, offered the king such a stiff resistance that he considered the possibility of raising the siege. Then one night he had a dream of a satyr who seemed to be dancing in triumph, and when he reported it to his dream-interpreters they informed him that it foretold his conquest of the city. He ordered an assault and captured Tyre. Among the Etruscans and Romans other methods of foretelling the future were in use; but throughout the whole of the Hellenistic-Roman period the interpretation of dreams was practised and highly esteemed. Of the literature dealing with the subject the principal work at least has survived: the book by Artemidorus of Daldis, who probably lived during the reign of the Emperor Hadrian.

How it came about after this that the art of interpreting dreams declined and that dreams fell into discredit I cannot tell you. The spread of enlightenment cannot have had much to do with it, for many things more absurd than the dream-interpretation of antiquity were faithfully preserved in the obscurity of the Middle Ages. The fact remains that interest in dreams gradually sank to the level of superstition and could survive only among the uneducated classes. The final abuse of dream-interpretation was reached in our days with attempts to discover from dreams the numbers fated to be drawn in the game of lotto. On the other hand the exact science of to-day has repeatedly concerned itself with dreams but always with the sole aim of applying its physiological theories to them. Medical men, of course, looked on dreams as non-psychical acts, as the expression in mental life of somatic stimuli. Binz (1878) pronounced that dreams are ‘somatic processes, which are in every case useless and in many cases positively pathological, to which the soul of the universe and immortality are as sublimely superior as the blue sky above some weed-grown, low-lying stretch of sand.’ Maury compares dreams to the disordered twitchings of St. Vitus’s dance as contrasted with the co-ordinated movements of a healthy man. According to an old analogy, the contents of a dream are like the sounds produced when ‘the ten fingers of a man who knows nothing of music wander over the keys of a piano’.

Interpreting means finding a hidden sense in something; there can of course be no question of doing that if we adopt this last estimate of the function of dreams. Look at the description of dreams given by Wundt, Jodl, and other more recent philosophers. They content themselves with enumerating the respects in which dream-life differs from waking thought, always in a sense depreciatory to dreams – emphasizing the fact that associations are broken apart, that the critical faculty ceases to work, that all knowledge is eliminated, as well as other signs of diminished functioning. The only valuable contribution to the knowledge of dreams for which we have to thank exact science relates to the effect produced on the content of dreams by the impact of somatic stimuli during sleep. A recently deceased Norwegian author, J. Mourly Vold, published two stout volumes of experimental researches into dreams (German edition, 1910 and 1912), which are devoted almost exclusively to the consequences of alterations in the posture of the limbs. They have been recommended to us as models of exact research into dreams. Can you imagine what exact science would say if it learnt that we want to make an attempt to discover the sense of dreams? Perhaps it has already said it. But we will not let ourselves be frightened off. If it was possible for parapraxes to have a sense, dreams can have one too; and in a great many cases parapraxes have a sense, which has escaped exact science. So let us embrace the prejudice of the ancients and of the people and let us follow in the footsteps of the dream-interpreters of antiquity.

We must begin by finding our bearings in the task before us and taking a general survey of the field of dreams. What, then, is a dream? It is hard to answer in a single sentence. But we will not attempt a definition when it is enough to point to something familiar to everyone. We should, however, bring the essential feature of dreams into prominence. Where is that to be found, though? There are such immense differences within the frame that comprises our subject – differences in every direction. The essential feature will presumably be something that we can point to as common to all dreams.

The first thing common to all dreams would seem to be, of course, that we are asleep during them.

Dreaming is evidently mental life during sleep – something which has certain resemblances to waking mental life but which, on the other hand, is distinguished from it by large differences. This was, long ago, Aristotle’s definition. It may be that there are still closer connections between dreams and sleep. We can be woken by a dream; we very often have a dream when we wake up spontaneously or if we are forcibly aroused from sleep. Thus dreams seem to be an intermediate state between sleeping and waking. So our attention is turned to sleep. Well, then, what is sleep?

That is a physiological or biological problem about which much is still in dispute. On that we can come to no conclusion; but we ought, I think, to try to describe the psychological characteristics of sleep. Sleep is a state in which I want to know nothing of the external world, in which I have taken my interest away from it. I put myself to sleep by withdrawing from the external world and keeping its stimuli away from me. I also go to sleep when I am fatigued by it. So when I go to sleep I say to the external world: ‘Leave me in peace: I want to go to sleep.’ On the contrary, children say: ‘I’m not going to sleep yet; I’m not tired, and I want to have some more experiences.’ The biological purpose of sleep seems therefore to be rehabilitation, and its psychological characteristic suspense of interest in the world. Our relation to the world, into which we have come so unwillingly, seems to involve our not being able to tolerate it uninterruptedly. Thus from time to time we withdraw into the premundane state, into existence in the womb. At any rate, we arrange conditions for ourselves very like what they were then: warm, dark and free from stimuli. Some of us roll ourselves up into a tight package and, so as to sleep, take up a posture much as it was in the womb. The world, it seems, does not possess even those of us who are adults completely, but only up to two thirds; one third of us is still quite unborn. Every time we wake in the morning it is like a new birth. Indeed, in speaking of our state after sleep, we say that we feel as though we were newly born. (In saying this, incidentally, we are making what is probably a very false assumption about the general sensations of a new-born child, who seems likely, on the contrary, to be feeling very uncomfortable.) We speak, too, of being born as ‘first seeing the light of day’.

If this is what sleep is, dreams cannot possibly form part of its programme, but seem on the contrary to be an unwelcome addition to it. In our opinion too, a dreamless sleep is the best, the only proper one. There ought to be no mental activity in sleep; if it begins to stir, we have not succeeded in establishing the foetal state of rest: we have not been able entirely to avoid residues of mental activity. Dreaming would consist in these residues. But if so, it would really seem that there is no need for dreams to have any sense. It was different with parapraxes; they, after all, were activities during waking life. But if I am asleep and have stopped mental activity completely and have merely failed to suppress some residues of it, then there is no need whatever for these residues to have any sense. I cannot even make use of any such sense, since the rest of my mental life is asleep. So it really can only be a matter of reactions, in the nature of ‘twitchings’, of mental phenomena such as result directly from a somatic stimulus. Dreams would accordingly be residues of waking mental activity which were disturbing sleep, and we might well decide to drop the subject at once, as not being suited to psycho-analysis.

Even if dreams are superfluous, however, they do exist, and we can try to account for their existence.

Why does mental life fail to go to sleep? Probably because there is something that will not allow the mind any peace. Stimuli impinge upon it and it must react to them. A dream, then, is the manner in which the mind reacts to stimuli that impinge upon it in the state of sleep. And here we see a way of access to an understanding of dreams. We can take various dreams and try to discover what the stimulus was which was seeking to disturb sleep and to which the reaction was a dream. Our examination of the first thing common to all dreams seems to have taken us so far.

Is there anything else common to them? Yes, something unmistakable but much harder to grasp and to describe. Mental processes in sleep have a quite different character from those of waking life. We experience every sort of thing in dreams and believe in it, whereas nevertheless we experience nothing, except, perhaps, the single disturbing stimulus. We experience it predominantly in visual images; feelings may be present too, and thoughts interwoven in it as well; the other senses may also experience something, but nonetheless it is predominantly a question of images. Part of the difficulty of giving an account of dreams is due to our having to translate these images into words. ‘I could draw it’, a dreamer often says to us, ‘but I don’t know how to say it.’ This is not, however, a reduced mental activity, like that of a feeble-minded person as compared to that of a genius: it is qualitatively different, though it is hard to say where the difference lies. G. T. Fechner once voiced a suspicion that the scene of action of dreams (in the mind) is different from that of waking ideational life. Though we do not understand this and do not know what we are to make of it, it does in fact reproduce the impression of strangeness which most dreams make on us. The comparison between dream-activity and the effects of an unmusical hand on the piano does not help us here. The piano will after all respond with the same sounds, though not with tunes, to any chance pressure on its keys. Let us carefully bear this second thing common to all dreams in mind, even though we may not have understood it.

Are there any other things common to them? I cannot discover any; I can see nothing anywhere but differences, and differences in all kinds of ways: in their apparent duration, as well as in their clarity, in the amount of affect accompanying them, in the possibility of retaining them, and so on. This variety is not in fact what we might expect to find in a mere defensive reaction to a stimulus, something mechanically imposed, an empty thing, like the twitchings of St. Vitus’s dance. As regards the dimensions of dreams, some are very short and comprise only a single image or a few, a single thought, or even a single word; others are uncommonly rich in their content, present whole novels and seem to last a long time. There are dreams which are as clear as experience, so clear that quite a time after waking we do not realize that they were dreams; and there are others which are indescribably dim, shadowy and blurred. Indeed in one and the same dream excessively definite portions may alternate with others of scarcely discernible vagueness.

Dreams may be entirely sensible or at least coherent, witty even, or fantastically beautiful; others, again, are confused, feeble-minded as it were, absurd, often positively crazy. There are dreams that leave us quite cold and others in which affects of all kinds are manifest – pain to the point of tears, anxiety to the point of waking us up, astonishment, delight, and so on. Dreams are usually quickly forgotten after waking, or they may last through the day, remembered more and more dimly and incompletely till evening; others, again – for instance, childhood dreams – are so well preserved that after thirty years they remain in the memory like some fresh experience. Dreams may appear, like individuals, on a single occasion only and never again, or they may recur in the same person unchanged or with small divergences. In short, this fragment of mental activity during the night has an immense repertory at its disposal; it is capable, in fact, of all that the mind creates in daytime – yet it is never the same thing.

We might try to account for these many variations in dreams by supposing that they correspond to different intermediate stages between sleeping and waking, different degrees of in complete sleep. Yes, but if this were so, the value, content and clarity of a dream’s product – and the awareness, too, of its being a dream – would have to increase in dreams in which the mind was coming near to waking; and it would not be possible for a clear and rational fragment of dream to be immediately followed by one that was senseless and obscure and for this in turn to be followed by another good piece. The mind could certainly not alter the depth of its sleep so quickly as that. So this explanation is of no help: there can be no short cut out of the difficulty.

We will for the moment leave on one side the ‘sense’ of dreams, and try to make our way to a better understanding of them from what we have found is common to them. We inferred from the relation of dreams to the state of sleep that dreams are the reaction to a stimulus which disturbs sleep. We have learnt that this too is the single point on which exact experimental psychology is able to come to our assistance: it brings us evidence that stimuli which impinge during sleep make their appearance in dreams. Many investigations of this kind have been made, most recently those by Mourly Vold which I have already mentioned; and each of us, no doubt, has been in a position to confirm this finding from personal observation. I will select a few of the earlier experiments. Maury had some experiments performed on himself. He was given some eau-de-cologne to smell in his sleep. He dreamt he was in Cairo, in Johann Maria Farina’s shop, and some further absurd adventures followed. Or, he was pinched lighdy on the neck; he dreamt of a mustard plaster being applied to him and of a doctor who had treated him as a child. Or again, a drop of water was dropped on his forehead; he was in Italy, was sweating violently and was drinking white Orvieto wine.

The striking thing about these experimentally produced dreams will perhaps be even more plainly visible in another series of stimulus-dreams. They are three dreams reported by an intelligent observer, Hildebrandt, all of them reactions to the ringing of an alarm-clock:

‘I dreamt, then, that one spring morning I was going for a walk and was strolling through the green fields till I came to a neighbouring village, where I saw the villagers in their best clothes, with hymn-books under their arms, flocking to the church. Of course! It was Sunday, and early morning service would soon be beginning. I decided I would attend it; but first, as I was rather hot from walking, I went into the church yard which surrounded the church, to cool down. While I was reading some of the tombstones, I heard the bellringer climbing up the church tower and at the top of it I now saw the little village bell which would presently give the signal for the beginning of devotions. For quite a while it hung there motionless, then it began to swing, and suddenly its peal began to ring out clear and piercing – so clear and piercing that it put an end to my sleep. But what was ringing was the alarm-clock.

‘Here is another instance. It was a bright winter’s day and the streets were covered with deep snow. I had agreed to join a party for a sleigh-ride; but I had to wait a long time before news came that the sleigh was at the door. Now followed the preparations for getting in – the fur rug spread out, the foot muff put ready – and at last I was sitting in my seat. But even then the moment of departure was delayed till a pull at the reins gave the waiting horses the signal. Then off they started, and, with a violent shake, the sleigh bells broke into their familiar jingle – with such violence, in fact, that in a moment the cobweb of my dream was torn through. And once again it was only the shrill sound of the alarm-clock.

‘And now yet a third example. I saw a kitchenmaid, carrying several dozen plates piled on one another, walking along the passage to the dining-room. The column of china in her arms seemed to me in danger of losing its balance. “Take care,” I exclaimed, “or you’ll drop the whole load.” The inevitable rejoinder duly followed: she was quite accustomed to that kind of job, and so on. And meanwhile my anxious looks followed the advancing figure. Then – just as I expected – she stumbled at the threshold and the fragile crockery slipped and rattled and clattered in a hundred pieces on the floor. But the noise continued without ceasing, and soon it seemed no longer to be a clattering; it was turning into a ringing – and the ringing, as my waking self now became aware, was only the alarm-clock doing its duty.’

These are very nice dreams, entirely sensible and by no means as incoherent as dreams are usually apt to be. I am not objecting to them on that account. What they have in common is that in each case the situation ends in a noise, which, when the dreamer wakes up, is recognized as being made by the alarmclock. So we see here how a dream is produced; but we learn something more than this. The dream does not recognize the alarm-clock – nor does it appear in the dream – but it replaces the noise of the alarm-clock by another; it interprets the stimulus which is bringing sleep to an end, but it interprets it differently each time. Why does it do that? There is no answer to this; it seems a matter of caprice. Understanding the dream would mean being able to say why this particular noise and none other was chosen for the interpretation of the stimulus from the alarm-clock. We may make an analogous objection to Maury’s experiments: we can see quite clearly that the impinging stimulus appears in the dream; but why it should take this particular form we are not told, and it does not seem by any means to follow from the nature of the stimulus that disturbed sleep. In Maury’s experiments, too, a quantity of other dream material usually appears in addition to the direct effect of the stimulus – for instance, the ‘absurd adventures’ in the eau-decologne dream -, which cannot be accounted for.

And now consider that arousal dreams offer the best chance of establishing the influence of external sleep-disturbing stimuli. In most other cases it will become more difficult. We do not wake out of every dream, and if we remember a dream of the past night in the morning, how are we to discover a disturbing stimulus which may perhaps have made its impact on us during the night? I once succeeded in identifying a sound-stimulus of that kind retrospectively, but only, of course, owing to special circumstances. I woke up one morning in a mountain resort in the Tyrol, knowing I had had a dream that the Pope was dead. I could not explain the dream to myself; but later on my wife asked me if I had heard the fearful noise made by the pealing of bells towards morning which had broken out from all the churches and chapels. No, I had heard nothing, my sleep is more resistant than hers; but thanks to her information I understood my dream. How often may stimuli of this kind instigate dreams in a sleeper without his getting news of them afterwards?

Perhaps very often, but perhaps not. If the stimulus can no longer be pointed to, we cannot be convinced of its existence. And in any case we have changed our view of the importance of external stimuli that disturb sleep since we learnt that they can explain only a small portion of the dream and not the whole dreamreaction.

There is no need to give up this theory entirely on that account. Moreover it is capable of extension. It is obviously a matter of indifference what it is that disturbs sleep or instigates the mind to dream. If it cannot invariably be a sensory stimulus coming from outside, there may instead be what is called a somatic stimulus, arising from the internal organs. This is a very plausible notion and agrees with the most popular view of the origin of dreams: ‘dreams come from indigestion’, people often say. Here too unluckily we must often suspect that there are cases when a somatic stimulus which has impinged on a sleeper during the night is no longer manifest after waking and can therefore not be proved to have occurred. But we shall not overlook the number of clear experiences which support the origin of dreams from somatic stimuli. In general, there can be no doubt that the condition of the internal organs can influence dreams. The relation of the content of some dreams to an over full bladder or to a state of excitation of the genital organs is too plain to be mistaken. These clear cases lead to others in which the content of the dreams give rise to a justifiable suspicion that there has been an impact from somatic stimuli because there is something in the content which can be regarded as a working over, a representation or an interpretation of such stimuli.

Scherner (1861), who made researches into dreams, argued particularly strongly in favour of the derivation of dreams from organic stimuli and brought forward some good examples of it. For instance, in one dream he saw ‘two rows of pretty boys with fair hair and delicate complexions facing one another in pugnacious array, making an onset and attacking one another, and then drawing back and taking up their old position again, and then starting the whole business once more.’ His interpretation of these two rows of boys as teeth is plausible in itself and seems fully confirmed when we learn that after this scene the dreamer ‘pulled a long tooth out of his jaw.’ Similarly, the interpretation of ‘long, narrow, winding passages’ as derived from an intestinal stimulus seems valid, and confirms the assertion by Scherner that dreams seek above all to represent the organ that sends out the stimulus by objects resembling it.

Thus we must be prepared to admit that internal stimuli can play the same part in dreams as external ones. Any estimate of their importance is unfortunately open to the same objections. In a large number of cases an interpretation pointing to a somatic stimulus is uncertain or unprovable. Not all dreams, but only a certain number of them give rise to a suspicion that internal organic stimuli had a share in their origin. And lastly, internal somatic stimuli are as little able as external sensory stimuli to explain more of a dream than what corresponds in it to a direct reaction to the stimulus. Where the rest of the dream comes from remains obscure.

Let us notice, however, one peculiarity of dream-life which comes to light in this study of the effects of stimuli. Dreams do not simply reproduce the stimulus; they work it over, they make allusions to it, they include it in some context, they replace it by something else. This is a side of the dream-work which is bound to interest us since it may perhaps bring us nearer to the essence of dreams. When a person constructs something as a result of a stimulus, the stimulus need not on that account exhaust the whole of the work. Shakespeare’s Macbeth, for instance, was a pièce d’occasion composed to celebrate the accession of the king who first united the crowns of the three kingdoms. But does this immediate historical occasion cover the content of the tragedy? Does it explain its greatnesses and its enigmas? It may be that the external and internal stimuli, too, impinging on the sleeper, are only the instigators of the dream and will accordingly betray nothing to us of its essence.

The second thing that is common to dreams, their psychical peculiarity, is on the one hand hard to grasp and on the other offers us no starting-point for further enquiry. We experience things in dreams as a rule in visual forms. Can the stimuli throw any light on this? Is what we experience in fact the stimulus? But, if so, why is the experience visual, while it is only in the rarest cases that optical stimulation has instigated the dream? Or if we dream spoken words, can it be shown that during sleep a conversation, or some noise resembling one made its way into our ears? I venture to dismiss that possibility decisively.

If we can get no further with what is common to dreams, let us see whether their differences can help us. Dreams are, of course, often senseless, confused and absurd; but there are also sensible, matter-of-fact, and reasonable ones. Let us enquire whether the latter, the sensible ones, can throw any light on the senseless ones. Here is the latest reasonable dream that I have had reported to me. It was dreamt by a young man: ‘I went for a walk along the Kärntnerstrasse and met Herr X. there and joined him for a time. Then I went into a restaurant. Two ladies and a gentleman came and sat at my table. I was annoyed at this to begin with and wouldn’t look at them. Then I did look and found that they were quite nice.’ The dreamer commented on this that on the evening before the dream he had in fact walked along the Kärntnerstrasse, which is the way he usually goes, and had met Herr X. there. The other part of the dream was not a direct recollection, and only had some similarity to an experience a considerable time earlier. Or here is another matter-of-fact dream, this time a lady’s: ‘Her husband asked her: “Don’t you think we ought to have the piano tuned?” And she replied: “It’s not worth while; the hammers need reconditioning in any case.”‘ This dream repeated, without much alteration, a conversation which had taken place between her and her husband the day before the dream. What do we learn from these two reasonable dreams? Nothing except that they contain repetitions from daily life or things connected with it. That would already be something, if it could be said of dreams generally. But there is no question of that; it applies only to a minority, and in most dreams there is no sign of a connection with the day before, and no light is thrown by this on the senseless and absurd dreams. It only shows that we have come upon a new task. We not only want to know what a dream says, but, if it speaks clearly, as it does in these examples of ours, we also want to know why and for what purpose this familiar material, only recently experienced, has been repeated in the dream.

I think that, like me, you must be tired of pursuing enquiries like those we have so far been making. All one’s interest in a problem is evidently insufficient unless one knows as well of a path of approach that will lead to its solution. We have not yet found such a path. Experimental psychology has brought us nothing but some very valuable information on the significance of stimuli as instigators to dreaming. We have nothing to expect from philosophy except that it will once again haughtily point out to us the intellectual inferiority of the object of our study. Nor have we any wish to borrow anything from the occult sciences.

History and popular opinion tell us that dreams have a sense and a meaning: that they look into the future – which is hard to accept and certainly incapable of proof. So our first effort leaves us completely at a loss.

Unexpectedly, a hint reaches us from a direction in which we have not so far looked. Linguistic usage, which is no chance thing, but the precipitate of old discoveries, though, to be sure, it must not be employed incautiously – our language, then, is acquainted with things that bear the strange name of ‘day dreams’.

Day-dreams are phantasies (products of the imagination); they are very general phenomena, observable, once more, in healthy as well as in sick people, and are easily accessible to study in our own mind. The most remarkable thing about these imaginative structures is that they have been given the name of ‘daydreams’, for there is no trace in them of the two things that are common to dreams. Their relation to sleep is already contradicted by their name; and, as regards the second thing common to dreams, we do not experience or hallucinate anything in them but imagine something, we know that we are having a phantasy, we do not see but think. These day-dreams appear in the prepubertal period, often in the later part of childhood even; they persist until maturity is reached and are then either given up or maintained till the end of life. The content of these phantasies is dominated by a very transparent motive. They are scenes and events in which the subject’s egoistic needs of ambition and power or his erotic wishes and satisfaction. In young men the ambitious phantasies are the most prominent, in women, whose ambition is directed to success in love, the erotic ones. But in men, too, erotic needs are often enough present in the background: all their heroic deeds and successes seem only to aim at courting the admiration and favour of women. In other respects these day-dreams are of many different kinds and pass through changing vicissitudes. They are either, each one of them, dropped after a short time and replaced by a fresh one, or they are retained, spun out into long stories and adapted to the changes in the circumstances of the subject’s life. They go along with the times, so to speak, and receive a ‘date stamp’ which bears witness to the influence of the new situation. They are the raw material of poetic production, for the creative writer uses his day-dreams, with certain remodellings, disguises and omissions, to construct the situations which he introduces into his short stories, his novels or his plays. The hero of the day dreams is always the subject himself, either directly or by an obvious identification with someone else. It may be that day-dreams bear their name on account of having the same relation to reality – in order to indicate that their content is to be looked on as no less unreal than that of dreams. But perhaps they share this name because of some psychical characteristic of dreams which is still unknown to us, one which we are in search of. It is also possible that we are being quite wrong in trying to make use of this similarity of name as something significant. Only later will it be possible to clear this up.






  Date of Publish: 6 April 2017