DISCOVERING HOW WE CREATE AND CONTROL OUR DREAMS
by Jay Vogelsong and Janice Brooks
Paper presented at the Association for the Study of Dreams conference in Washington, DC, July 7, 2000.   2000 Jay Vogelsong and Janice Brooks.
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You may see why such a view could, in fact, unify diverse perspectives on dreaming.  It redirects the theoretical focus away from specific types of cues and suggestion factors and towards the mechanism by which those factors are transformed into dream imagery.  This mechanism is the synthesis of input from various sources into convincing perceptual experiences.

Many of the bizarre aspects of dreams, and even the apparent lack of control in certain ordinary dreams, may be caused by the mismatch of perceptual skills learned in waking with the unique characteristics of the dreaming environment.  In dreams, there is no steady source of sensory input, so instability and digressions reign.   Plus nothing in the dream is real, so things simply do not always behave as they "should" -- that is, as they do in waking.  This is why our expectations sometimes fail to pan out.  Dream content can become dominated by our struggle to get things to behave in a way which agrees with our waking expectations.  Many of the malfunctioning objects that so commonly turn up in dreams, such as telephones that will not dial properly, most likely have this origin.

In waking life it is our habit to look more closely at an ambiguous image in order to comprehend it.  When confronted with a dream image which doesn't look quite right, we naturally focus on the strange details, thus creating, thanks to the interaction of attention and instability, an image which looks even stranger.  A spot on the floor may turn out to be a weird bug, and before you know it there are weirder and weirder bugs everywhere you look.  Conversely, if a dream image reminds us of a familiar person, object or place, it might eventually transform into a closer approximation if we mentally treat is as such.

Looping effects in dreams also seem to come down to the misapplication of waking skills.  We may try to run away from a dream threat, for example, a strategy that might work out well enough in waking. But since the events in dreams are maintained by our own awareness rather than having an objective existence, our dream enemies are still in hot pursuit whenever we look back.  Similarly, we may feel lost in a dream, and again because our awareness sustains the scenario, we never do find our way.   With lucidity, we learn that by simply redirecting our attention we can solve such problems quite handily.  Ignore a dream enemy, and it will disappear; expect a desired scene to be around the next corner, and you may very well find it.

Some common dream problems seem to be related to the cuing habit itself.  Almost everyone has had school dreams in which they fail to  remember their test material, locker combination, or class schedule.  A simple explanation for this is that there really is no test material, combination or schedule to remember.  We have simply reflexively cued off the dream scene as if it were real, assuming that if we are there we must belong there and that therefore we must have forgotten or never learned the information in question.  This basic perceptual mistake of cuing off imaginary material as if it were real forms the very core of the dreaming process according to the suggestion theory.

The interpretability of dreams is somewhat compromised by this perspective, for at least two reasons.  First, since a diversity of cues may suggest dream scenarios, the meaningfulness of a given dream depends on the importance of the specific cues involved.  A dream scenario may be sparked by a creative inspiration or by someone honking a car horn on the street outside.  Second, our waking personalities are not necessarily well-represented in dreaming, since we lose touch with so many of our own grounding memories.  We may play diverse parts in our dreams not because such role-playing compensates us for the narrowness of our daily experiences, but because we lose track of who we are while dreaming.  Similarly, we may act impulsively in dreams not necessarily because of suppressed wishes, but simply because we lack the mental ability to think clearly about what we are doing and why.

Dreaming seems to be more perceptually driven than personality-driven, and may therefore have limited applicability to our waking lives.   Additionally, if the specific content of dreaming is not predetermined but subject to change from moment to moment thanks to the operation of competing suggestion factors, there can be no predetermined purpose for specific content, and no intentional "meaning" can be assumed.    However, if dreaming is not a unique process, but rather the product of ordinary perceptual mechanisms at work under unusual conditions, there is no need for such a purpose in any case.  This does not mean that dreams must remain without function, as their application to a wide variety of human interests attests.  It simply means that the insights so often assumed of dreams should be more carefully considered and applied.

This perspective on the process of dream creation has so many implications that Janice and I have written a book on the subject, titled The Conscious Exploration of Dreaming.   This book is presently only available for downloading from an online publisher, but it will soon be available in paperback through bookstores that handle special orders.  So those of you who are interested should be sure to pick up a copy of this flyer, describing how to order the book.

Now, are there any questions?
Note: Janice's and Jay's book is now available in paperback as well as in .pdf format.  If you are interested, you can read more about it and how to order it here:
The Conscious Exploration of Dreaming
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