Freud and Dreams


Dreams have been objects of boundless fascination and
mystery for humankind since the beginning of time. These
nocturnal vivid images seem to arise from some source other
than our ordinary conscious mind. They contain a mixture of
elements from our own personal identity which we recognize
as familiar along with a quality of `otherness' in the
dream images that carries a sense of the strange and eerie.
The bizarre and nonsensical characters and plots in dreams
point to deeper meanings and contain rational and
insightful comments on our waking situations and emotional
The ancients thought that dreams were messages from the
The cornerstone of Sigmund Freud's infamous psychoanalysis
is the interpretation of dreams. Freud called
dream-interpretation the "via reggia," or the "royal road"
to the unconscious, and it is his theory of dreams that has
best stood the test of time over a period of more than
seventy years (Many of Freud's other theories have been
disputed in recent years). 

Freud reportedly admired Aristotle's assertion that
dreaming is the activity of the mind during sleep (Fine,
1973). It was perhaps the use of the term activity that
Freud most appreciated in this brief definition for, as his
understanding of the dynamics of dreaming increased, so did
the impression of ceaseless mental activity differing in
quality from that of ordinary waking life (Fine, 1973). In
fact, the quality of mental activity during sleep differed
so radically from what we take to be the essence of mental
functioning that Freud coined the term "Kingdom of the
Illogical" to describe that realm of the human psyche. This
technique of dream-interpretation allowed him to penetrate
(Fine, 1973). 

We dream every single night whether it stays with us or
not. It is a time when "our minds bring together material
which is kept apart during out waking hours" (Anonymous,
1991). As Erik Craig said while we dream we entertain a
wider range of human possibilities then when awake; the
"open house" of dreaming is less guarded (Craig, 1992).
Superficially, we are all convinced that we know just what
a "dream" is. But the most cursory investigation into the
dream's essence suggests that after describing it as a
mental something which we have while sleeping," and
perhaps, in accord with experiments currently being carried
out in connection with the physiological accompaniments of
dreaming, such as Rapid-Eye Movements (REM), the various
stages and depths of dream activity as reflected in
changing rates of our vital signs (pulse-rate, heart-beat,
brain-waves), and the time of the night when various kinds
of dreams occur, we come up against what the philosopher
Immanuel Kant called the "Ding-An-Sich"
('thing-in-itself'), and find ourselves unable to penetrate
further into the hidden nature of this universal human
experience (Fromm, 1980).
It has been objected on more than one occasion that we in
fact have no knowledge of the dreams that we set out to
interpret, or, speaking more correctly, that we have no
guarantee that we know them as they actually occurred. In
the first place, what we remember of a dream and what we
exercise our interpretative arts upon has been mutilated by
the untrustworthiness of our memory, which seems incapable
of retaining a dream and may have lost precisely the most
important parts of its content. It quite frequently happens
that when we seek to turn our attention to one of our
dreams, we find ourselves regretting the fact that we can
remember nothing but a single fragment, which itself has
much uncertainty. Secondly, there is every reason to
suspect that our memory of dreams is not only fragmentary
but inaccurate and falsified. On the one hand it may be
doubted whether what we dreamt was really as hazy as our
recollection of it, and on the other hand it may also be
doubted whether in attempting to reproduce it we do not
fill in what was never there, or what was forgotten (Freud,

Dream accounts are public verbalization and as public
performances, dream accounts resemble the anecdotes people
use to give meaning to their experience, to entertain
friends and to give or get a form of satisfaction (
Erdelyi, 35 ). 

In order to verbalize the memory of a dream that there are
at least three steps one must take. First putting a
recollected dream into words requires labeling categories,
and labeling categories involves interpretation. Next since
the dream is multimodal, putting them into words requires
the collapsing of visual and auditory imagery into words.
Finally since dreams are dramatizations narrating a dream
is what linguist call a performance or demonstration and
the rule, " What you see is what you get ", cannot apply,
since only one party can see. (Dentan, PH.D, 1988) 

In the case of dream accounts, it is the context, which is
vital. After all, since meaning is context, they are by
definition meaningless. David Foulke, who wrote the book
Dreaming: A Cognitive Psychoanalysis Analysis, correctly
states " that dreams don't mean anything ". But people make
meaning, " as bees make honey compulsively and
continuously, until it satisfies their dreams and their
lives ". ( Dentan PH.D, 1988 )In analyzing the dreams of
Freud's patients he would sometimes use a certain test. If
the first account of the patient's dream were too hard to
follow he would ask them to repeat it. In by doing so the
patient rarely uses the same words. But the parts of the
dream, which he describes in different terms, are by fact,
the weak spots in the dream. By Freud asking to repeat the
dream the patient realizes that he will go to great lengths
to interpret it. Under the pressure of the resistance he
hastily covers the weak spots in the dream's disguise by
replacing any expression that threaten to betray its
meaning by other less revealing ones (Freud, pg.515 ). 

It will no doubt surprise anyone to be told that dreams are
nothing other than fulfillment's of wishes. According to
Aristotle's accurate definition," a dream is thinking that
persists in the state of sleep." Since than our daytime
thinking produces psychical acts, such as, judgement,
denials, expectations, intentions and so on. The theory of
dreams being wish fulfillment has been divided into two
groups. Some dreams appear openly as wish fulfillment, and
others in which the wish fulfillment was unrecognizable and
often disguised. Others disagree and feel that dreams are
nothing more than random memories that the mind sifts
through (Globus, 1991). 

The next question is where the wishes that come true in
dreams originate? It is the contrast between the
consciously perceived life of daytime and a psychical
activity, which has remained unconscious and only becomes
aware at night. There is a distinguishing origin for such a
wish. 1) It may have been aroused during the day and for
external reasons may not have been satisfied. Therefore it
is left over for the night. 2) It may have arisen during
the day but been repudiated, in that case what is left over
is a wish that has not been dealt with but has been
suppressed. 3) It may have no connection with daytime life
and be one of those wishes, which only emerges from the
suppressed part of the mind and becomes active at night. 4)
It may be a current wishful impulse that only arise during
the night such as sexual needs or those stimulated by
thirst. The place of origin of a dream-wish probably has no
influence on its capacity for instigating dreams (Freud,
pg. 550-551).
Freud states that a child's dreams prove beyond a doubt
that a wish that has not been dealt with during the day can
act as a dream-instigator. But it must not be forgotten
that it is a child's wish. ( Stanely R. Palombo, M.D., 1986

Freud thinks it is highly doubtful that in the case of an
adult a wish that has not been fulfilled during the day
would be strong enough to produce a dream. There may be
people who retain an infantile type of mental process
longer than others may. But in general Freud feels a wish
left over unfulfilled from the previous day is insufficient
to produce a dream in the case of an adult. He admits that
a wishful impulse originating in the conscious will
contribute to the instigating of a dream, but it will
probably not do more than that. 

My supposition is that a conscious wish can only become a
dream-instigator if it succeeds in awakening an unconscious
wish with the same tenor and in obtaining reinforcement
from it. ( Freud, 552-553 ) 

Freud explains his theory in an analogy: 
A daytime thought may very well play the part of the
entrepreneur for a dream, but the entrepreneur, who, as
people say, has the idea and the initiative to carry it
out, can do nothing without capital. He needs a capitalist
who can afford the outlay for the dream, and the capitalist
who provides the psychical outlay for the dream is
invariably and indisputably, whatever may be the thoughts
of he previous day, a wish from the unconscious. (Freud pg.

Sometimes the capitalist is himself the entrepreneur, and
indeed in the case of the dreams, an unconscious wish is
stirred up by daytime activity and proceeds to construct a
dream. ( Palombo, M.D, 1986 ) The view that dreams carry on
the occupations and interests of waking life has been
confirmed by the discovery of the concealed dream-thoughts.
These are only concerned with what seems important to us
and interests us greatly. Dreams are never occupied with
minor details. But the contrary view has also been
accepted, that dreams pick up things left over from the
previous day. Thus it was concluded that two fundamentally
different kinds of psychical processes are concerned in the
formation of dreams. One of these produces perfectly
rational thoughts, of no less than normal thinking, while
the other treats these thoughts in a manner, which is
bewildering and irrational. Referring to Freud's quote
stated in the beginning, by analyzing dreams one can take a
step forward in our understanding of the composition of
that most mysterious of all instruments. Only a small step
forward will enable us to proceed further with its
analysis. (Freud, pg. 589 & 608 ) 

The unconscious is the true psychical reality, in its
innermost nature it is as much unknown to us as the reality
of the external world, and it is as incompletely presented,
as is the communications of our sense organ. There is of
course no question that dreams give us knowledge for the
future. But it would be truer to say instead that they give
us knowledge of the past. For dreams are derived from the
past in every sense. Nevertheless the ancient belief that
dreams foretell the future is not false. (Freud, pg. 662)
By picturing our wishes as fulfilled, dreams are after all
leading us into the future. But the future, which the
dreamer pictures as the present, has been molded by his
indestructible wish into a perfect likeness of the past. (
Palombo, M.D, 1986 )Although there has been some
descriptive study of the incidence and character of feeling
in REM dreaming, there has been no investigation of the
appropriateness of dream feelings to accompany dream
imagery. It has been suggested that, the generation of
affect in dreaming may not be as reliable as the generation
of other forms of dream imagery. Dream affect generally
seems to be consistent with the larger narrative context of
the dreams. (David Foulkes & Brenda Sullivan, 1988)
Research by Cohen and Wolfe has shown that a simple
distraction in the morning had a strong negative effect on
dream recall. The study concerned a variable relatively
neglected in dream research, the level of interest the
subjects have about their dreams. One finding was that
interest in dreams appeared to vary with sex: woman
reported that they more frequently speculated their dreams
and discussed them with other people than did men. These
differences could reflect a greater tendency for woman to
pay more attention to their emotional life and inner self.
(Paul R. Robbins & Roland H. Tanck, 1988)) One assumes
naturally that the past events incorporated in his
patient's dream imagery may be defensive substitutions for
other more objectionable events of the past. Through its
relation to the dream, the screen memory, like the day
residue, provides access to the associative structures of
memory in, which are embedded the wishes and events, whose
repression lies at the core of the neurotic process. (
Palombo M.D, 1986 )
But dreams do not consist solely of illusions, If for
instance, one is afraid of robbers in a dream, the robbers,
it is true, are imaginary- but fear is real. ( Freud, pg.
74 ) 

Affects in dreams cannot be judged in the same way as the
remainder of their content, and we are faced by the problem
of what part of the psychical processes occurring in dreams
is to be regarded as real. That is to say, as a claim to be
classed among the psychical processes of waking life.
(Freud, pg. 74 ) The theory of the hidden meaning of dreams
might have come to a conclusion merely by following
linguistic usage. It is true that common language sometimes
speaks of dreams with contempt. But, on the whole, ordinary
usage treats dreams above all as the " blessed fulfillers
of wishes ". If ever we find our expectations surpassed by
the event, we exclaim, " I should never have imagined such
a thing even in my wildest dreams "! ( Freud pg. 132-133 ) 

Anonymous. Journal of the Association for the study of
Dream. Vol.1 (1) 23 25, Mar. 1991
Craig, Eric (1992) Article presented to the Association for
the Study of Dreams. Charlottesvile, Va.
Dentan, Robert Knox, " Butterflies and Bug Hunters :
Reality and Dreams, Dreams and Reality," Psychiatric
Journal at the University of Ottawah, Jun. 1988, Vol.13(2)
pp. 51-59.
Foulkes, David and Sullivan, Brenda, " Appropriateness of
Dream Feelings to Dreamed Situations," Cognition an
Emotion, Mar. 1988, Vol.2(1) pp. 29-39. 

Freud, Sigmund, " The Interpretation of Dreams, " Basic
Books A Division of Harper Publishers, year unknown.
Globus, M.D., Gordon G. Journal of the Association for the
study of Dream. Vol.1 (1) 27 . 40, Mar. 1991
Palombo, Stanley R. M.D, " Day Residue and Screen Memory in
Freud's Dream of the Botanical Monograph," Journal of the
American Psychoanalytic Association, May, 1996, pp.

Robbins, Paul R. and Tanck, H. Roland, " Interest in Dreams
and Dream Recall," Perceptual and Motor Skills,Feb. , 1988,
Vol.66 (1) pp. 291-294.


Quotes: Search by Author