By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
I COME AWAY FROM MY CONVERSATION WITH Aizenstat feeling like I've awakened from a vivid sleep. The sensation is eerily similar -- a kind of dislocation, what you might call a suspension of disbelief. Animals dreaming? Okay, I've seen it. Trees or oceans? I can get behind that, too. Walls, buildings, bricks and mortar, the inanimate substance of the manmade world? It's hard to swallow back a certain skepticism at such a notion, but how else do you explain the lawyer's dream? Perhaps the only honest answer is to admit that we can't, which leaves the field unfathomably open, limitless but for the interpretive lengths to which we are willing to go. As for me, I've always believed in what the physicist David Bohm calls an "implicate order" to the universe -- an underpinning logic, a level of connection beneath the surface of the world. I can't say whether dreams provide us access to this subscape or if they're just a lavish form of mental fireworks, yet I find it comforting that the most astute researchers inhabit the same uncharted territory as the rest of us, relying on hunches and conjecture, looking for what amount to signs. Even Hobson and McCarley, the Activation-Synthesis gurus, have had to reassess their theory in the last year or so, as recent brain-mapping experiments have provided the first clinical evidence for dreaming as a psychological regulation system, a development that Rosalind Cartwright hopes will impel a whole new generation of researchers to re-immerse themselves in dreams. Beyond that, though, the subject remains elusive, leading us in circles before finally returning us to ourselves.
Dreams operate in much the same fashion, allowing our wildest ideas to come off as plausible, or at least worth giving a deeper look. In 1996, one theorist sought to study the influence of weather on dreaming, mapping thousands of dreams by geographic area (the results were inconclusive); the same year, David Alan Black, a communications professor at Seton Hall University, launched the Dream Narrative Experiment (http://orpheus.shu.edu/
dream), a Web site listing 237 "dream sets," each of which features one phony and three real dreams, and asks visitors to differentiate between them, if they can. The focus in both cases is on sociology more than dream research -- "I've been curious," Black writes, "to know the answer to a simple question: Can people tell the difference between a real dream, and a 'dream' that someone has made up?" Yet even Black's "simple question" is far more complicated than it appears. Over a dozen attempts, I identified the fake dream only once, and if that's well below the average (of more than 4,000 people who have participated in the experiment, about a third correctly spotted the invented dreams, which, Black notes, is "higher than the random distribution of 25 percent"), there's still a wide enough margin of error to make us wonder if we can ever truly pinpoint what makes a dream a dream.
As Ernest Hartmann admits in Dreams and Nightmares, "Despite many years of working clinically with my patients' dreams and helping patients understand themselves, and despite years of research examining the biology of sleep and dreaming, I still know little about the basic nature of dreams -- the 'what' -- or the possible functions of dreaming -- the 'why.'" And for all of my own immersion into dream research, I feel pretty much the same. I still don't know, for instance, what my childhood nightmare is about. It could be an expression of fear, or a sign to pay attention, to (literally or otherwise) see myself. Or perhaps it's some kind of hidden message, spanning decades, and not really a nightmare at all. But regardless of meaning, it continues to move me, which tells me that when it comes to dreams, and, for that matter, dreamwork, it is the questions, and not the answers, that resound.