The Mystery of Dreams
(Abstract of the Talk held by the Author at the Free Association “Convivium” in Fiuggi, the 6th December 2011)
During his existence, the human being passes more than 20 years sleeping and 4 years dreaming. This, if we intend as dreaming the REM phase (rapid eye movement, which characterises one of the most active stages of the dream-sleep state) but later we will see how things are slightly different. We pass, therefore, at least a third of our lives sleeping and most of the time we do not retain any memory of our nocturnal periplus. Probably, thanks to this massive repression the oneiric activity has been relegated for thousands of years to the irrational and animistic kingdom.
The historical merit of having assigned in a definitive manner a psychological meaning to the dream can be attributed to Freud and his studies. The psychoanalytic studies tell us that the Id animates desires which find their hallucinatory realisation in dreams. But these desires, sentiments and thoughts are anguishing for the conscious Ego. Even so, our sleep is not perturbed by this because the so-called Censorship which camouflages, masks and elaborates the latent messages of the unconscious, intervenes on them transforming them into manifest images, tolerable by the consciousness (manifest content of the dream) in the rapid passage between sleep and wake. It is for this simple reason that our dreams often seem to us abstruse and incomprehensible.
The psychoanalytic definition of Dreams which the novice psychoanalyst learns since the dawning of his professional formation is therefore the following: “The dream is the camouflaged fulfilment of an unconscious desire of infantile origin”.
In this definition is the entire psychoanalysis, its epistemology, its clinical effectiveness and its vision of the human being. Let’s examine this microscopically.
For a long time it was believed that the fulfilment of infantile desires contained in dreams, only happened through hallucinations but especially the studies of the micropsychoanalytic schooling have demonstrated that things go well further than what was hypothesised.
We go as far as to say that life is an acted-out dream and as always, it is the borderline cases which reveal the basic mechanisms of the human psychism.
An emblematic case regarding this is that of a borderline patient with a paranoiac structure of the personality.
The man, who we will call Hansel, is in truth, a young giant man who, in the last ten years, has travelled back and forth between various psychiatric institutes in his region of residence, treated with massive doses of antipsychotic drugs and with a substantial cycle of electroshock-therapy. A borderline case, as is usually defined by colleagues . As “extrema ratio” (last remedy) he decided to undergo an intensive psychoanalysis which would finally permit him to live, enormously redimensioning the heavy pharmacological therapy, a fact which punctually happened.
Hansel resided in a different city from myself and, after having travelled for months in order to have his sessions, he accepted to stay in my home town for a month.
This situation often produces the following effects: it unbinds the patient from the family container and enucleates him from the social role that persecutes and protects him at the same time. Therefore, the subject loses the possibility to continue wearing his Mask and displaces the paranoiac persecution into the transferral situation, something which on one hand, increases the tension within the analytic situation but on the other hand, allows the observation in ‘real time’, of the delusion reference formation (the original characteristic of the relation with the analyst makes the relationship less manipulable).
On the other hand, the loss of the fictitious-Ego, in other terms of the social Mask, uncovers the delusion that can emerge in an unequivocal manner.
After several days, the analysed had begun to build a complicated delusion of reference in which, a Secret Organisation, headed by, ‘what a coincidence’ … myself, manipulated people’s lives.
One night Hansel dreamt that he visited a cemetery. The very next day, as soon as he awoke and still unaware of the dream, the memory of which emerged only later that afternoon, he got into his car, went onto the motorway and drove for about 600 km to visit the defunct father, of an ex-girlfriend who he hadn’t seen or heard for over ten years, at the cemetery.
A few days later, back in the session, it was enough to recount, in detail, the whole event and to see the evident connections, for him to become aware, for the first time in his life, of how the delusion defence was activated in his mind. During the session he said: “The reason for the delusions is this: if I can’t analyse my dreams and dismantle them properly, these will take hold of my mind and my life”.
The obvious connection between a not dreamed-off dream and a delusion (We utilise the difficult term “dreamed-off”) was however, already evident in Freud’s research.
Already in “The Interpretation of Dreams” the Master clarifies: “… to the rapid change of the representations in the dream, corresponds the flight of ideas in the psychosis. In both cases any measure of time is lacking. The oneiric splitting of the personality which divides, for instance in the dream, one’s own knowledge between two different people, one of whom is unknown and corrects the Ego, is indeed equivalent to the well known splitting of the hallucinatory paranoia; even he who dreams hears his own thoughts exposed by unknown voices. An analogy even exists for the delirious fixed ideas: the pathologic dreams which repeat themselves in a stereotypic way (rêve obsédant). It is not rare that once healed from a delusion, the patients say that the whole period of the illness seemed to be a dream to them, which often was not unpleasant and in fact they tell how, sometimes while they were still ill, they had had the impression of only being imprisoned by a dream, as often happens in real dreams”.
But let us return to the definition:
“…camouflaged fulfilment of an unconscious desire of infantile origin”.
This affirmation tells us that in spite of our intelligent human pride, our culture, our spacecrafts projected into the space, our life is little more than an hallucination, a perennial attempt of adjustment of a tension which originates from our intra-uterine life and the first post-natal years, never completely appeased, which continuously tries to be put into act once again, as a theatrical performance in which we are actors and spectators at the same time.
Nicola Peluffo reminds us that during this tumultuous period of transformations specific to the infancy , “representational and affective sets”, (which Peluffo denominates “Primary Characters”) and which often fill the adults’ dreams, by means of an oneiric activity not sufficiently metabolised, dictate the waking behaviour (remember the case of Hansel which I have described?) : in other terms they constitute a kind of aberrant software which under the pressure of stressful situations or by effect of the well known compulsion to repeat, can “infect” people’s existential vicissitudes, pushing them towards a behaviour that to outside onlookers can be totally incomprehensible.
But the function of dreams does not stop here. To comprehend its intimate essence we must try to understand when and how it manifested itself in the living matter. It is certainly not an easy enterprise but making some observations we could make some legitimate and suggestive hypotheses. There are animals which dream and others which do not. The homeotherms (in other terms, the animals which are able to control and maintain their own body temperature constant) dream. The homeothermanimals are birds, mammals and therefore also the human beings. What is the reason for this difference?
So as in the last twenty years we assist a radical change of paradigm in the genomic field, with the demolition of the dogma according to which genes constitute the only foundation for hereditary and the whole human project, through the discovery of the so-called epigenetic mechanisms responsible for the modulation under the pressure of the environmental experiences of the genetic program, so as in the psychic field the dream could be the principal mechanism for the reprogramming of the mental patterns.
In effect, a significant transition between the final days of the neurogenesis (in other words of the construction of our nervous system in the uterus) and the appearance of the paradoxical sleep, exists. In fact, during the first post-natal days the waking state is interrupted by another state, lacking evident periodicity named “seismic sleep”, characterised by a perpetual activation of the motor neurones, with the absence of typical electrophysiological signs of paradoxical sleep. Michel Jouvet, the greatest living “oneirologist” affirms: “The foetal movements are, without doubt, the motor expression of the synapses formation, genetically preformed, during the maturation of the CNS. [it is as if the foetus is training itself] We know, in effect, that the environment can modify the anatomical and functional organisation of the brain… It seems difficult, therefore, to understand how a definitive genetic programming, established at the end of maturation, can be efficient in organising the future innate behaviour in spite of plastic synaptic modifications caused by the environment. … For this reason the concept of a genetic programming, recurring and periodic, would seem more satisfactory”.
A sort of software update, so to speak in lame terms! Jouvet thinks that a psychic mechanism must necessarily exist parallel to that of the epigenetic plasticity one for the biological field, which permits to integrate the notions learnt from the environment with those genetically programmed, a safeguard mechanism of the psychic, personal and genealogical individuality.
Let’s follow the events, which are activated in our psychosomatic apparatus every night.
1. The active brain “works” in an anaerobic manner and it becomes tired: hence the sleep is activated in order to make up energy.
2. After 90 minutes extremely sensitive sensors inform the brain that the energy is re-established: the dream takes place, which consumes energy, and the cycle re-begins.
Sleep is necessary in order to dream.
So, why don’t heterothermic creatures, even though consuming energy in their waking state, dream? Because their nervous cells continue to divide themselves indefinitely, whilst the human ones, after the first three months of life, stop multiplying themselves. They must hence acquire plasticity in another way.
There is another fact of great interest: the more immature a mammal or a bird is at birth, the greater the quantity of seismic sleep will be manifested (it would seem to be a mechanism for regaining energy). In the same way, the more a newborn mammal is immature (and its thermoregulation is fragile), the more its quantity of paradoxical sleep increases. It is in the moment in which the maturation and the genetic programming of the Nervous System ends that the dream reaches its acme.
While in the case of heterothermic creatures the neurogenesis lasts for the whole life (therefore the conservation of the psychism is controlled by the DNA), this disappears in the homeothermic creatures. My personal idea is that animals, freeing themselves from heterothermic slavery which compounded them to a necessarily restricted territory, had the necessity of memorising the return itinerary to their native territory: according to Jouvetdream was invented by birds, perhaps contemporarily with the homeothermy. There is nothing to stop us from formulating the hypothesis, I add, that birds began to memorise the maps of their own itineraries, in that neuropsychic activity to which the name “dream” was later given. It is also probable that even in the human being a similar phenomenon happened, in other words, that the REM sleep was an acquirement of the primal tribes who were dedicated to nomadism.
We could, therefore, hypothesise that the seismic sleep realises the psychic computerisation, in the same way that the DNA realises that of the soma.
The human psychic can be simplified as a structure with a cybernetic functioning: its survival through time, in the absence of a permanent neurogenesis, must be assured by a dispositive or system of perennial memory which allows it to recover the integrity of its functions even after a destructuring impact of internal and external traumatic events.
At the end of the neurogenesis which takes place in the uterus, there is a seismic sleep explosion, a true generalised storm of neuro-psychic activity, which would have the function of computerising the somato-psychic entity being formed: all our species’ experiences would be shifted to the cellular level (Zangrilli).
Once the seismic sleep, at the end of the neurogenesis, has “installed the operative software system”, it will be progressively replaced, within a few months, by the rhythmic alternating of NREM sleep and REM sleep and it will be the latter which sustains the role of high velocity memory that will have the function of clarifying the situation, informing the superior psychic functions of what, at an unconscious level, needs to be satisfied, indicating at the same time the most suitable attempts that the phylogenetic, genealogical and ontogenetic story of the individual has selected to lower the psychic tension and re-establish the homeostasis.
The Dream is the most efficacious physiological mechanism of tension disposal. When the traumatic accumulation is overabundant, the dream physiology is no longer sufficient to achieve the tensional discharge and the pathological symptom emerges. I will omit a well known material which is that of the importance of dreams as an instrument of analytic study: the books of high level regarding this issue are now hundreds. But I will tell you that often the dream in psychoanalysis signals a progress, an epochal change in the life of the patient. Here, for example, the emblematic dream of a young woman who underwent psychoanalysis for more serious reasons, had among other things problems of notable sexual inhibition. The conflict was reinforced by the interaction with a partner who, as often happens, had not yet resolved the Oedipus oscillation and therefore often presented himself in an unconsciously feminine manner.
Here is the dream:
“I found myself under a short blond man [with the stigmas of her partner] I had an enormous desire to have sex but I couldn’t manage to. I lay beneath him, then with my right hand, without realising what I was doing, I put up my hand and pulled it down and I realised that I had peeled off a transparent film with the clear image of my father printed on the sheet. After having taken it off and throwing it away I was free: “Now I can” I shouted in my dream! And since that day” – adds the young woman – “my sexuality has completely changed”.
The patient became conscious of the incestuous investment placed on her partner, one of the most common reasons for sexual difficulty: it is obvious that one cannot have sex with their father.
I would like to give another brief description of one other fascinating function of dreams, that of creativity. The inventions which manifested themselves in dreams are numerous.
László József Bíró, the inventor of the biro pen who dreamt the solution in exactly the same manner as the one which was then created, knew something about this: the day’s residue, in other terms, the material of the wake state that usually activates dreams, consisted in the observation of some children who played with marbles. In dreams one continues to think and search.
And what should we say about Kékulé’s dream, the great German chemist, who was the first to hypothesise the cyclic structure of benzene? Here is his account
“…I was sitting writing on my textbook, but the work did not progress; my thoughts were elsewhere. I turned my chair to the fire and dozed. Again the atoms were gambolling before my eyes. This time the smaller groups kept modestly in the background. My mental eye, rendered more acute by the repeated visions of the kind, could now distinguish larger structures of manifold conformation; long rows sometimes more closely fitted together all twining and twisting in a snake-like motion. But look! What was that? One of the snakes had seized hold of its own tail, and the form whirled mockingly before my eyes. As if by a flash of lightning I awoke; and this time also I spent the rest of the night in working out the consequences of the hypothesis”.
Some historians contest this reconstruction affirming that tens of years before, Kékulé had seen the studies of the French chemist Auguste Laurent who had proposed a similar solution. Even if this could have been proved we can say that Kekulé’s Ego probably rejected the solution as rationally inadmissible and it nested in his unconscious for years and finally manifested itself in his mind through a dream.
And what about the stupendous dream of the great musician Giuseppe Tartini (I thank the versatile engineer-musician Alberto Scerrati for the information) which led to the creation of the famous Violin Sonata in G minor “Devil’s Trill Sonata”?
Tartini allegedly told the French astronomer Jérôme Lalande that he dreamed that The Devil appeared to him and asked to be his servant. At the end of their lessons Tartini handed the devil his violin to test his skill – the devil immediately began to play with such virtuosity that Tartini felt his breath taken away. When the composer awoke he immediately jotted down the sonata, desperately trying to recapture what he had heard in the dream. Despite the sonata being successful with his audiences, Tartini complained that the piece was still far from what he had heard in his dream. What he had written was, in his own words: “… so inferior to what I had heard, that if I could have subsisted on other means, I would have broken my violin and abandoned music forever.”
Dreams are even at the service of the modern musicians. The melody of the masterpiece ‘Yesterday’, by the Beatles, was brought about precisely by a dream which came to the author Paul McCartney in his girlfriend’s house, Jane Asher, in Winpole Street in London. As soon as he awoke, McCartney ran to the piano and played the melody exactly as he had dreamt it. McCartney’s only worry was that of having unconsciously plagiarised somebody else’s work: he thought he had casually heard the piece and that he had subliminally retained it. Paul affirmed: “For almost a month I went around asking people in the music sector if they had ever heard it before. In the end it was like taking a lost object to the Police. I thought that if nobody claimed it after a couple of weeks I would have been able to keep it”. Which is what actually happened.
Even the very famous novel “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” by R. L. Stevenson is an oneiric invention. In Bournemouth, in the autumn of 1885, Stevenson lay sick in his bed afflicted by serious pulmonary pathologies but he continued to write. An anguishing dream which was interrupted by his wife, showed him what would become one of the principal scenes of his masterpiece: the vision of Doctor Jekyll at the window, his disappearance as if he is sucked inside (perhaps an oneiric reflex of his own transformation).
Now let’s move on to the last aspect, neglecting, to be brief, many others: the particularly fascinating one of the binomial dream-telepathy.
I believe that anyone who has enough experience in analytical work has no difficulty in ascertaining that the extrasensory perception of psychic contents is a frequent phenomenon. Often, the associations of a patient, frequently after a period of closure, begin once again from the analyst’s ideational contents without him transmitting at all and in any way, by words or gestures, the information to the patient. To illustrate my idea I will simply report the last experiences that I have gathered in order of time.
The day before the session which I am going to describe I had gone to meet a dear friend of mine at a local station. While we were waiting for the train arrival we had been struck by the beauty of an antique gazebo in wrought iron, completely covered with a wonderful woodbine which shaded an antique stone bench. A scene of true poetry if compared to the cold and impersonal fittings of some modern railway stations.
The next day, through inscrutable associative courses, the memory of that scene came back to my mind during the session. These are, at a distance of a few seconds, the associations of the woman in analysis: “I have seen a flash image, which has nothing to do with the things I’m saying, of a type of wicker bench with some women sitting on it. One fair haired woman, almost white, with red lips. She seems a woman of the 19th century and it is as if they were sitting in a small railway station.”
Regarding this, I will say that the manifestation of telepathic phenomena in session is proportional to the observance of the two specular rules of free associations for the patient and fluctuation of attention for the analyst. As everyone who is interested in psychoanalysis well knows, while patients undertake in talking about anything they think or feel, through free associations and without submitting them to any criticism, the analyst practices a particular quality of listening, called fluctuation of attention, which consists in making abstraction from everything that he thinks or feels and in following the analytical material without privileging anything.
Precisely in the work “Psychoanalysis and telepathy” Freud makes an indirect reference to such a technique when he tries to explain how a transmission of information, from a client to a presumed diviner who uses the usual techniques of astrological divination, can have occurred: “The astrological work of the diviner would consist, in this case, in an activity intended to divert her own psychic strengths and keep them busy with something harmless, so that she may become receptive and permeable to the effects of other people’s thoughts, and therefore she may turn into a real ‘medium’.”
One day, another patient brought to the session a dream whose final part was the following scene: “A man comes and tells us that in his garden, bordering our house, a tree, perhaps a willow, is dying, and he wants to know if we are to blame”. As often happens, the session took a turn, therefore, not permitting a systematic dream interpretation. But in the following session, the patient who was clearly struck, told me that he had received a phone call from a cousin of his, who lived more than a thousand kilometres away and from whom he had not heard anything for months: his cousin had phoned him, the day after the session of the dream mentioned above, to complain about the felling of a tree, situated on the border between the vacation houses of the two cousins, decided by the patient’s sister without his knowledge. It is clear that the dream had transmitted to the patient’s psychism a piece of information about an objective event that was happening or had just happened at a distance.
Now, I would like to introduce you to a detailed report of an experience (although I would have many more) that acquires a fundamental importance, since the transmission of information has synchronously involved more members of the same family who resided hundreds of kilometres away from each other. And the medium is always the dream.
Here is the exposition of the case:
the person in question is a patient that we would define normal (that is free from pathogenic nuclei), an absolutely reliable source and with a university scientific culture. He is undertaking booster sessions at a distance of years from the end of his personal analysis.
In the period preceding the telepathic experience the man had spent several restless nights, bound by the feeling of perception, in the room where he slept, of the presence of something that he could not identify. The rational systematisation given to the perception was that “he felt” the dead of his family trying to warn him of an imminent danger. On arrival at my study, seeing a lorry tank full of fuel, the patient quickened his pace, caught by an unusual fear that the fuel could explode. During the session he had reported that he was invaded by powerful and unequivocal feelings of impending danger connected with a strong explosion or a fire, however a situation of dangerous impact, and by the feeling that the life of his father, who lived more than a thousand kilometres away, was in danger. Particularly, he had perceived at different times the visual image of a globe of light, or fire, or energy impending over the scene. I’d like to make it clear that the man had not heard from his father for over one month, meticulously following the analytical instructions (which sometimes become necessary) to interrupt for a short period, the telephone or letter contacts with relatives.
At the same time the patient’s wife had felt some strange anguishing sensations that something was going to happen to her elderly grandmother. She truly feared that her grandmother was in impending danger of death; the lady phoned some relatives who reassured her, but even so, she continued to be troubled by sorrowful sensations of danger. The next day the patient spent a night of great suffering, passed sleepless by the onset of a very painful affection: an intolerable pain, affecting the entire right side of his body, from the shoulder to the tip of his toe, so sharp that he expressed the fear of having a heart attack and dying.
The same night his wife has an anxious dream of which she only remembers a strong and unpleasant feeling: an extraneous hand laid on her shoulder which suddenly falls away. After the sleepless night, clearly tried, the patient goes to buy some aspirins although the pain has almost disappeared inexplicably. Immediately outside the drugstore, his wife, usually free from bouts of absent-mindedness, drops the car keys.
Now I have to give further details even though they will seem extravagant: the patient tells me that the car keys, contained in a red leather key ring, are literally sucked into a gully-hole.
The situation is so unusual that the man thinks that “someone” wants to warn him that there is a danger connected with the car. However, after much effort, he succeeds in recovering the key ring that, being totally covered in slime, is then washed. Evidently being dyed, the key ring starts dripping drops completely similar in colour to blood: the leather key ring is pouring blood.
The next day, the patient’s father is victim of a car accident where he suffers a large lacerated and contused wound to the cranial vault which will need the application of sixty-five stitches, and several wounds especially widespread in the right side of his body. The only detail that the elderly gentleman remembers before the impact is the vision of a globe of light that he relates to a phenomenon of dazzle. In the confused memories of the immediate post-trauma he only remembers expressing several times, to his rescuers, the fear that the car caught fire because of the loss of fuel. Inveterate smoker, he had given up smoking a week before the accident. The same night the sister of the patient’s father has an anxious dream where she feels a hand, separated from its body, laid on her right shoulder, which guides her; as you can see, a manifest content almost super imposable to the one of the patient’s wife, who is more than a thousand kilometres away. The awakening, for both, is associated to the painful detachment of the hand contact.
No-one better than I, coming from the university studies of medicine, founded on a rigid mechanistic rationalism, can understand the automatic scepticism that arises in becoming acquainted with such events: yet I repeat that the cases I have described to you are only the most sensational and they come from sources of which I can have no doubt.
If originally my intention was that of stating the knowledge of microphysics which allow the comfort of admitting the existence of the transmission of information at a distance, the reiterated reading of Freud’s works, which I periodically conduct, has allowed me to remain in a more classical field, perhaps a more simple one. Because the deep sharing of some of the basics of Psychoanalysis is enough to accept the existence of such a phenomenology and to consider it worth being subject of research and experimentation. Which are the Freudian concepts that allow us to accept the existence of the telepathic phenomena? First of all the definition of primary process given by the Master. Secondly the efficient mechanism of the unconscious defined as identification.
To save time we will deal with the primary process.
Freud writes: “The processes in the unconscious or in the Id obey different laws than the processes in the preconscious Ego. We call these laws, as a whole, primary process, in contrast with the secondary process, which regulates the courses in the preconscious, in the Ego”.
And more: “We have learnt how the unconscious psychic processes are in themselves “out of time”. This means, firstly, that they are not chronologically ordered, that time doesn’t alter them and that the concept of time can’t be applied to them”.
The Freudian unconscious is by definition a-spatial and atemporal: this is the reason why, for example, in an individual’s mind perceptions and self-sentiments, absolutely incompatible from the point of view of the secondary process, can live together: just to give a simple example, the same person can live himself as provided with phallus and have at the same time significant psychic experiences of castration. The absence of logical and space-time operators explains the apparent absurdity of dreams and their surreal aspect. In a dream, the places, epochs, shapes, usages, often the language too, mix in a chaotic medley in which the opposites coexist, the indeterminate and the concrete, contradictions and impossibilities. Now, we all know that the dream is the privileged psychic activity for the study of the unconscious. More precise information is necessary here: the unconscious is unknowable by definition: it is placed in another reality level to our psychomaterial world after the overcoming of the distorting sieve of censorships
Freud in “A Short Account Of Psycho-Analysis” affirms, among other things: “1) The memory of the dream is much wider than the memory of the waking state. The dream brings memories forgotten by the dreamer, which were inaccessible to him in the waking state. [Remember Kékulé’s Dream?] 2) The dream makes an unlimited use of linguistic symbols whose meaning is mostly unknown to the dreamer. But we can confirm their meaning with our experience – and in the end –… the dream brings to light – pay close attention here – contents that cannot derive either from the mature life or from the dreamer’s forgotten childhood. One is forced to consider them as a part of the archaic inheritance that the child, influenced by the ancestors’ experience, brings with him in the world before any experience”.As you can see it is a boundless opening to the endless capacities of dreams: the study of dreams directly connects us with the infinity of the unconscious and the infinity of the void. It lets us understand the primary process, the free energy that moves and condenses without limits, the absence of space, time and logic, the coexistence of the opposites, the complexity of instantaneousness. Therefore, this means that the dream itself is infinite, that its study is infinite, as well as the study of the unconscious and the one of the universe.
In a creative way, dreams put into act the theatre of our lives every night: using images without time, they assure the conservation and the continuity of our history, the sources of our individuality, the path which guides us from the past to the future. With the intense efficacy of the great Poet Fernando Pessoa we will conclude saying:
are always what they are.
They are the side of us from which we are born
and in which we are always natural and ourselves
Written by: Quirino Zangrilli © Copyright
Translated by Linda De Nardo
Computerisation of the psychic
The dream as a computerisation mechanism of the psychic. Dream and creativity. Dream and Telepathy
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