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As for Hartmann, on the second day of the ASD conference, at a workshop on "Dreams and Explanatory Metaphor," he is challenged by several other researchers who question the value of focusing on this one aspect of dreaming at the exclusion of everything else. "Even if you find a metaphor," asks Mark Blagrove, a lecturer in cognitive psychology at the University of Wales, "how do you know it's true? Sometimes, metaphors can be deceptive. It happens when we're awake, so why not during sleep?" Blagrove's point is mitigated slightly by psychologist and former ASD president Johanna King: "Dreams lie all the time," she says. "That's one of the wonderful things about them. But they never lie about the emotional situation of the dreamer." Still, King believes, what gets lost in the discussion of metaphor is the idea of the dream as a real experience, not merely a reflection of the dreamer's waking life. As an example, she cites a patient who, after enduring "a disruptive and damaged relationship with his father," had a dream that recast the bond as positive -- a circumstance King calls "developmentally corrective" and, as such, valuable in and of itself. "I agree that dreams contextualize emotion," she admits, "but I'm not always so sure that most dreaming is metaphorical. Sometimes, the dream is just about the dream. If you overplay metaphor, you do a little damage to the dream, and the ability to use the dream." Even my childhood dream of dying, which, Hartmann assures me in a subsequent phone call, is in many ways a classic metaphor of the child's anxiety about a world over which he or she has no control, shifts in the second part from the archetypal to the personal, becoming an expression less of anything universal than of my own individual fears.
AMONG THOSE WHO DOUBT THE EFFICACY OF METAPHOR, none is as adamant on the subject as G. William Domhoff, professor of psychology and sociology at UC Santa Cruz and a leading proponent of the Content Analysis method of dream research. Brash, bald and bullet-headed -- he looks like Erich von Stroheim in Sunset Boulevard-- Domhoff is a self-appointed bullshit detector in a field where, he believes, most people can't help themselves from getting carried away. "The problem with clinical theories of dreaming," he says, "is that they're anecdotal. They're also retrospective, in that the clinician knows the patient, and understands something of his or her emotional state." Such intimacy, Domhoff says, compromises one's ability to look at the dreams objectively. "The only way to avoid that," he explains, "is to do blind analysis -- in which you know nothing about the dreamer, just the dream."
Of course, even today, when technology can measure almost everything, there is no more precise way to record a dream than the traditional dream report, a firsthand account, written by the dreamer, re-creating the experience of the dream. If you're looking for a simple, er, metaphor to illustrate the process, it's like looking at a map and trying to visualize within its two dimensions all the loamy richness of the world. Still, despite this rather significant limitation, Domhoff believes that most dreams contain motifs that, like the lines of a road or a river, can be represented and read. The key is to have a "coding system," much as a map would have a legend, which is where Content Analysis comes in. Originally developed at Cleveland's Case Western Reserve University by psychologist Calvin S. Hall (with whom Domhoff studied in the late 1950s and early 1960s), Content Analysis relies on what's known as the Hall/Van de Castle system, which classifies dreams according to a dozen clearly defined categories, including setting, social interaction, the presence of other characters, emotion, themes of success or failure, and engagement with the past. The important idea here isn't whether these elements mean anything in themselves, but the way they function as an environment through which the dreamer moves, like the protagonist of a story or play. "Our approach to dreams is very different â from the usual ones," Domhoff declares on his DreamBank Web site (www.dreambank.net). "It does not draw on case histories, free associations, amplifications, symbolic interpretations, or any other material from outside the dream reports themselves. This is not the fluffy dream-interpretation stuff you see in supermarket tabloids and on daytime talk shows. We do not interpret dreams, we analyze them."
What Content Analysis requires is a depth of inquiry. "For our system," Domhoff says, "we need 100 to 125 dreams at least. We can't say anything with less than that." On the DreamBank site, he has cataloged more than 6,000 dreams from 23 different series, recorded in dream diaries and laboratory studies (including the original reports on which Hall and Robert Van de Castle based their system) and often extending over decades of an individual's life. In that sense, Domhoff's work has more than a little to do with cultural anthropology; among the trends he's uncovered is a wide range of "cross-cultural similarities in dreaming" -- dreams of birth, of death, of anxiety, of flying -- which come up regardless of whether the dreamer is from an industrialized or a preliterate society. Rather than a validation of Jungian theory (which, along with Freud's ideas on dreaming, he disdains as "clinically insupportable"), he sees this as proof of our "shared humanity." More to the point is Domhoff's thesis that, considered over time, dreams can operate much like therapy, which is why, just as a therapist would never hazard an opinion based on one 50-minute session (or even 10), he is relatively uninterested in single dreams, seeing them as useless for decoding emotional states. When I mention my childhood nightmares, for instance, he refuses even to conjecture about their meaning, growing testy when I press the point. About all he'll tell me is that these dreams, like every dream, are expressions of an emotion, a preoccupation, and, as such, are "continuous with waking life."
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