Souls on Stage: Hooray for Holywood
For the skeptic and atheist, dream interpretation is one of the last bastions of the ignorant and superstitious. Scientists have tried to debunk claims that dreams are a link to a spiritual world.
One theory advanced by neuroscientists is that dreams are a form of trash removal. Various images cluttering our brains are dumped into a dream trash bin, where our mind tries to make sense of this refuse by weaving these random pieces of junk into a narrative. Finding symbolism in dreams is wishful thinking.
In the first half of the 20th century, the public was more open to a spiritual explanation of dreams. Propelled by the theories of Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud regarding the existence of a subconscious, the public was willing to accept the idea that dreams were a way for the subconscious to resolve the problems of waking life by reworking these conflicts through metaphorical narratives. Thus, a dream in which the dreamer is naked would be an allusion to the dreamer's feelings of vulnerability, or to see a spider web in a dream would be a sign that the dreamer felt trapped.
The ideas of Jung and Freud have largely fallen to the wayside in psychology and psychiatry, not because they have been clearly disproven, but because mental health practitioners have chosen medications, not analysis, as a treatment whose costs and results can be measured in “objective” terms and explained to health insurance companies.
Dream researchers seem oblivious to the possibility that dreams are warning signs for our waking lives. They will measure the frequency and length of dreams, and brain and body activity during dreaming, but are largely indifferent to the actual content of dreams.
Inconvenient truths Scientific attempts to discount or explain away the contents of dreams ignore some basic truths:
1. Dreams are not wishful thinking. Most dreams are unpleasant and force the dreamer into stories that are unwanted or frustrating. In addition, the people and creatures encountered in dreams act independently; they seldom follow the wishes of the dreamer.
2. Dreams often exceed the intelligence or imagination of the dreamer, who often is incapable of writing a story or poem that matches the inventiveness or poetic imagery of the dream.
3. Dreams contain content that is foreign to the experience of the dreamer. In one dream, for example, I encountered a dead horse in the side yard of a suburban two-story house. I had never seen such an image in my life and, in the days before the dream, I had not seen or thought of anything related to horses.
From these observations I would deduce that at least some dream content originates outside the dreamer's brain.
Theater of the soul I would suggest that this outside source is a spiritual realm and that the dream is a "skit" performed on a spiritual stage, with a script, direction and performers provided by persons "on the other side." Since imagery in the spiritual realm is completely fluid, these spirits are free to put on the "masks" of people both known and unknown to the dreamer.
The dreamer, then, is merely an actor in a play not of his own creation. In fact, the dream message in some cases may not be directed at the dreamer; it may be a performance intended to educate and/or entertain an audience of "spirits." There are at least three possible audiences for a dream:
1. The dreamer
2. Persons to whom the dreamer tells his dream
3. The "spirits" on the other side who are either actors in the dream or part of an audience watching the dream
The fact that many of the characters in my dreams are famous actors may be a sign that the spiritual world is telling me and my readers that dreams are indeed "plays" or "skits."
Dream creation in the spiritual realm suggests two other conclusions:
1. Since some of the dream content is based on our personal thoughts and experiences, there is no such thing as a "private" thought. Spirits can access any of our thoughts and memories as source material for their dream theater.
2. The spiritual writers, directors and performers in our dreams may be the spirits of people who have died and passed on to the other side. You don't get to sit on your butt in heaven. You are given a job in "Holywood."
I would offer still another hypothesis: The involuntary nature of dreams prepared the brain of primitive man for culture by training him in the "suspension of disbelief." Your ability to immerse yourself in a different reality after reading only two or three sentences in a book may be a result of how dreams train your brain to accept storytelling.
Image Hollywood Walk of Fame, "Aleja Gwiazd w Hollywood 84" by Mateusz Kudła - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via H Commons