Philosophy and Psychology of Dreams

By Pierre Khazen 16/11/05 


Dreams to Plato

Plato thinks that dreams come from the individual to express his hidden desires, fears etc. Dreams reflect Psychological processes in which a person goes through while sleeping. This is very close to what Freud thinks about dreams which leads us to think whether he actually cited it from him.

Interestingly, Plato specifies which kind of desires we dream. He teaches that in dreams we lose our gentler part of soul and logic is withdrawn. The beast of us takes control to satisfy our instincts. It will isolate any kind of shame or reason and it will not restrict any kind of thing to its maximum limit. In every one of us there are desires which are revealed in our  dreams, horrible in their essence.             



Dreams to Aristotle

Aristotle (pupil of Plato) tried to specify dreams as connected to Physiology according to his account of it. Aristotle denied the thought that dreams are visits from God, arguing that stupid people and animals dream. He states that sleep is crucial to keep our common sense (as an organ) restored. Aristotle attributes sleep to evaporation of food and liquid to pass to our head. Dreams are reflected on raging waves and when they are great, nothing can stop them. Dreamers are less critical about their dreams and more sensitive to stimuli. He clarifies how we are more sensitive when we sleep. In the day time, we face stimuli which we do not notice if they were light because of the strong waking impulses but when we sleep, any small stimuli seems powerful and the opposite happens.

Aristotle thinks that it is a good method to diagnose diseases as diseases start small when they visit our body and they are clearer when we sleep because we are more sensitive at night rather than day time.

Aristotle was asked what he thought about prophesies so he noted the need to distinguish between dreams and prophesies saying that dreams are signs of events which occurred. He goes back to the Physiological aspect of it saying that dreams may reflect what is going in our body. He rejected the idea that dreams could mirror prophesy.

Aristotle writes his thesis on dreams by using common sense where he analyses and classifies dreams. One class of dreams is dreams which are affected by past events and have not future importance. The second is dreams which tell about the future and they are divided to three categories:

                     Direct prophecies

                     Previsions of future events

                     Symbolic dreams that need to be interpretated in order to be figured out.          

The difficulty in dreams is how to interpret them. If dreams have meanings, then how come we can not see their importance at once, the way we see importance of things when we are awake.                                                      



The Psychoanalytic Approach

Dreams to Sigmund Freud

Freud’s most basic idea about dreams is that dreams are infantile wish fulfilment. His writings about The Interpretation of Dreams in 1900 tell about his belief that dreams all seek to fulfil one wish which converted to others and that is the wish to sleep. We dream inorder not to wake up because we want to sleep.

But Freud’s Theory of Dreams is different completely. Freud believes that dreams are connected to typial characteristics of neuroses so he relates symbolism of dreams to neurosis forms. On a Physiological level, Freud explains why dreams are connected to wishes and experience: he makes significant difference between two mental processes. Primary and Secondary. Primary is the unconscious and the secondary is the conscious. Freud says that the primary process controls dream life while at the same time, the Ego in the process of dreaming is almost none moveable. He mentions that if there was no Ego, then we would not be able to dream.

Freud was trying to find out why dreams are not logical when they imply to our deep nature of the individual. This led him to differentiate between Manifest and Latent contents of dreams. Freud asks also, if we are able to explain why a thought of something wished is reflected in a visionary form. He argues that a thought in dreams is transferred to an image and speech in a direct manner.

In dreams, the excitation moves in a retrogressive direction. Instead of moving towards the motor end of the dream, it moves backward to the sensory end and in final stages, it gets to the perceptual system. It is opposite to what happens in waking life where the direction is progressive in physical terms. In dreams, the direction is regressive. This regression gives us the opportunity to exploit dreams to uncover content of our unconsciousness. In such process, fabric of our dream-thoughts is being converted to its raw material.

It is right to say that when we are sleeping, our physiological state changes and so our excitations to lead to regressions as mentioned before but, in some cases this may occur also in waking state such in patients who suffer from hallucinations, for example in Hysteria. In such case, waking regressions that is of thoughts are converted to images which are connected to oppressed and unconscious memories. Freud believes that in dreams we may be able to retrace our experience as infants. Dreaming is a revival of our childhood, impulsive instincts, methods of expression which were available to us at that time. This would reveal the development of ourselves and circumstances which dominated us.  

Freudian Symbols refer to dreams as symbolic accounts of unconscious mental activity with great importance. To him, symbolism in the Theory of Dreams is translation in which allows us to interpret the dream, some times without the need to ask the dreamer. If we are familiar with dream-symbols, the dreamer’s personality, the conditions he lives, and the impressions he faced prior to the dream then we will be able to interpret it immediately. Freud Says that this symbolic relation is a comparison though it is a limited one. We can not compare every object or process in a dream as a symbol of it and at the same time, a dream does not symbolize every element of it but certain ones. The idea of a symbol can not be decided completely because it could be a replacement, a representation or a hint. It is a number of symbols that we use to compare but at the same time we may ask: if the dreamer uses them in his dream then how come he does not know their meanings? as mentioned before, the number of things which are symbolic in a dream is not big:

                     The Human Body As a Whole



                     Brothers and Sisters




A house represents the human body as a whole. Houses with smooth walls are men and houses with projections and balconies are women. Some times you see yourself climbing a house or holding to it. 

Parents are represented as Emperor and Empress or King and Queen or other respectful personalities.

So they represent in this case the good male and female. In case they treat their children brothers and sisters less gently, the parents are represented as small animals and vermin. Birth is represented almost all the time as something to do with water. One is either falls into the water or gets out of it. Dying is replaced in dreams by departure, being dead by unknown and timid hints. So we can see here, the unclear boarders between symbolic and allusive representation.

Freud talks now about the sexual symbolism and its significance saying that male genitals are represented in dreams in various ways called symbolic where the common element between them in comparison is obvious which is the similar shape of objects such unbrellas, posts, trees, weapons etc. Among the less easily understandable male sexual symbols are certain reptiles, fishes, and snake. It is certainly not easy to understand why hats and over coats or cloaks symbolize the same but it is not questionable of their importance.  

Female Genitals, which are less likely to be symbolized by them, are ships, cupboards, stoves, rooms. Rooms overlap in a certain amount house symbolism so it is more likely to represent them. Apples, peaches, and other fruits symbolize breasts.

Jewels and treasure are used in dreams to reflect someone who is loved.

After all, Freud says that dream symbolism should not be taken for granted and that such thing is not that simple especially when we try to practise it on both sexes.

I suppose that after this interesting debate, we can assume that Psychology could never be  accurate and there will always be a place to question it. And I suppose that Freud’s thinking is not completely original as if we were to review history of Philosophy and Psychology then we could see that older generations of Philosophers and Psychologists have written similar theories such Plato, Aristotle, Albertus Magnus (thirteenth century), Thomas Hobbes (1651), but it seems that Freud developed them to a more advanced level. Nothing comes from nothing.             

This article is dedicated to all those who dream of a different Lebanon.