Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Butterflies of Our Minds

Last night, I dreamt I was writing a blog. Aside from giving me an idea for writing this blog, does that mean anything? Dreams have long intrigued people. They have been used for psychic prognostication, psychological analysis or just good breakfast conversation.

Why do we dream?

No one knows, for sure, why we dream, but there are many theories.
  • Sigmund Freud thought that dreams carried our hidden desires. (You remember him; the guy who thought that anything that was wider than it was long was a phallic symbol?)
  • Carl Jung believed that dreams had meaning, although not always of desire, and that these dreams could be interpreted through symbols. (He also lived in the same house with his wife and his mistress; fun times!)
  • Edgar Cayce said that dreams are our body’s means of building up mental, spiritual and physical well-being. He thought dreams sped up a person’s ability to realize their potential. (He went to sleep to give people psychic advice)
  • Dr. Christopher Evans theorized that dreaming is our body’s way of storing the vast array of information gained during the day. (Got nothing on this guy; can't even find his bio)
  • Francis Crick (the Nobel prize winner who discovered DNA) and Graeme Mitchinson (the only man on this list still alive) believed that this information is being dumped rather than stored
How has dreaming been viewed historically?
  • The earliest reference to the significance of dreams was found in the ancient epic story of Gilgamesh, King of Urk, recovered from the ancient library of Ninevah in Assyria. Assyria was a country that existed from around 2200 BC to 608 BC between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers in what is now present-day northern Iraq. Gilgamesh is thought to date from Sumerian poems from the Third Dynasty of Ur (2150 BC to 2000 BC). The Assyrians created special collections of dream interpretations. One of those collections was The Assyrian Dream Book, found by archaeologists on a set of clay cuneiform tablets
“Gilgamesh dreamt that an axe fell from the sky. The people gathered around it in admiration and worship. Gilgamesh threw the axe in front of his mother and then he embraced it like a wife. His mother, Ninsun, interpreted the dream. She said that someone powerful would soon appear. Gilgamesh would struggle with him and try to overpower him, but he would not succeed. Eventually they would become close friends and accomplish great things. She added, ‘That you embraced him like a wife means he will never forsake you. Thus your dream is solved.’"case closed: Epic of Gilgamesh
  • In ancient Egypt, priests acted as dream interpreters. Hieroglyphics depicting dreams and their interpretations have been found and translated. Egypt may have been where the process of "dream incubation" began. When people had troubles and wanted help from a god, they would sleep in a temple. The next morning, a priest, called a Master of Secret Things (awesome title!), would interpret their dreams in an attempt to offer some insights on their problems. (So when Meatloaf sang "Let me sleep on it," he was partaking in a time-honored tradition)
  • The ancient Greeks also used Asclepieions (healing temples) to heal the sick. They believed dream incubation could effect cures within the confines of the temple
  • The Oneirocritica, or The Interpretation of Dreams, was a five-volume book written by Artemidorus of Daldis who lived in Greece about 140 AD. The first three volumes were an encyclopedia for dream interpretation and the last two chapters were written exclusively for his son who followed him in the family dream-interpretation business. Although Artemidorus believed that dreams could predict the future, he also held some more contemporary approaches to dreams. He thought that the meaning of dream images could be decoded. For instance, Alexander, while warring against the Tyrians, dreamt that a satyr was dancing on his shield. (How often have we all had that one?) This dream was interpreted as: satyr = sa tyros ("Tyre will be thine"), predicting that Alexander would be triumphant. (Did any soothsayers ever dare to interpret failure?)
  • Tabir, the Muslim science of dream interpretation, coalesced from the ninth to the 13th centuries. This body of knowledge integrated Islamic faith with the classical heritage of the Greeks and Romans, according to Kelly Bulkeley, PhD, in her essay, “Reflections on the Dream Traditions of Islam.” Ibn Sirin (654 AD to 728 AD) wrote a well-known book on dreams. The work is divided into 25 sections on dream interpretation, from the etiquette of interpreting dreams to the interpretation of reciting certain Surahs (chapters) of the Qur'an in one's dream. Unlike Western dream interpretation, Ibn Sirin taught that a dream’s meaning could not be determined without reference to the personality characteristics of the dreamer. There was no "one size fits all" interpretation for any particular dream symbol; the meaning depended on the personality and life circumstances of the dreamer. According to Kelly, in the Muslim culture, dreams, and the ability to interpret them, are still an important sign of God’s favor. Through dreams, God sends commandments, inspires accomplishment and provides divine knowledge 
  • A standard traditional Chinese book on dream-interpretation is the Lofty Principles of Dream Interpretation compiled in the 16th century by Chen Shiyuan. The Chinese were concerned with the implications of dreams for their welfare in this life and the hereafter, according to Richard Strassberg, who translated and wrote the introduction of Wandering Spirits, a translation of Chen Shiyuan’s book. Dreams represented "spirit wandering," which included nighttime interactions with deities, demons and ghosts. Dream interpretation combined shamanic, Confucian, Taoist and Buddhist principles; literary allusions; and common sense. In addition to dream interpretation, Chinese thinkers also raised profound ideas such as the question of how we know we are dreaming and how we know we are awake
"Once Chuang Chou dreamed that he was a butterfly. He fluttered about happily, quite pleased with the state he was in, and knew nothing about Chuang Chou. Presently he awoke and found that he was very much Chuang Chou again. Now, did Chou dream that he was a butterfly or was the butterfly now dreaming that he was Chou?"—written in the Chuang-tzu
  • Saint Jerome, a medieval church scholar from Slovenia, became secretary to Pope Damasus around 380 AD. From there he went to Palestine and devoted himself to study and writing. He is credited with shaping the Latin version of the Bible (called the Vulgate) from Hebrew and Greek texts. Unfortunately, Saint Jerome mistranslated the Hebrew word for witchcraft, anan, as "observing dreams" when commissioned to translate the Bible by Pope Damasus. “Anan” appears ten times in the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament), but Jerome translates it as "observing dreams" only three times, in such statements as, "you shall not practice augury nor observe dreams," which more accurately reads, "you shall not practice augury or witchcraft." As a result, dream interpretation was banned, limiting European scholarship on the topic for nearly a millennium. (One could argue that translation is mightier than the sword)
  • Alfred Maury, a French doctor, pioneered modern dream interpretation. He studied over 3,000 different dreams and believed all dreams were caused by external stimuli. This viewpoint was inspired by a dream experience he had. He dreamt that he had been condemned to the guillotine. As it fell, he woke up to find the top of his bed had fallen and hit him in the spine at the exact time the guillotine would have struck him. This theory of the unconscious developed into the modern attitude toward dream interpretation
  • Probably the most well-known of the modern dream philosophers was Sigmund Freud. His theory was that although dreams may be prompted by external stimuli, wish-fulfillment was the root behind most of our dreams, and that usually involved sex. (Only a man could develop this theory
  • Carl Jung, a student of Freud for some time, disagreed on the theory that erotic content was the basis behind most of our dreams. Jung believed that dreams reminded us of our wishes, which enabled us to realize the things we unconsciously yearn for, and helps us to fulfill our own wishes. (Like living with two women?) These dreams were messages, Jung believed, from ourselves to ourselves and that we should pay attention to them for our own benefit
Depending upon your cultural and religious background, you may consider dreams prophetic, psychological, philosophical or just nonsensical brain noise. However, regardless of what you believe, one thing cannot be refuted. My dream last night, of writing a blog, undeniably came true.

1 comment:

  1. Dreams are really internet, i wish that my dream become truth some day, but i guess that is not gonna happen ever because is a little amazing, but well i believe that dreams can be interpretable as warnings about something.