Wednesday, November 5, 2008

live the dream, dream the life

A Dream of a Thousand Cats

“Is the wise man who dreams to be a butterfly or is it the butterfly that dreams to be a wise man who dreams to dream about being a butterfly?"[1] The world of dreams has always been presented to man as a reality parallel to the universe observed through the senses. And, very early, somebody deduced that the universe would have to be a dream of God. E the Dream acquired proper life, for the joy of the great Dreamer, then starting to be shaped by minor dreamers, the men of spirit or creative creatures.

Don Miguel Ruiz (2005) says that we dream all the time (we are exactly dreaming: I am writing and you are reading this text). When we are awake, our dream has a percipient framing, reality, but our thoughts and feelings, the whole system of beliefs of our society, are part of the oneiric activity, in a collective form.

Thus, for Ruiz, there is a collective dream – “dream of hell” or “dream of the planet'” - and our personal dreams. In our family, school and society upbringing, our personal dreams “are domesticated through fear”; therefore we become slave of other people's expectations and of our own demands. Fear not only of being punished or killed, but mainly of being rejected, of not being loved. There is a strange “love-me-love-me-not” in the social self-domestication dream produced by human society.

Two important conclusions can be extracted from the teachings of Miguel Ruiz: it is necessary to retake our capacity of dreaming, freeing our personal dream away from the collective dream of fear of exclusion; and it is also necessary, together with other dreamers, to understand and transform this social dream of planetary destruction, so that the future generations can live in harmony with Earth.

The Personal Dream

In Babylon, in China, in the Indian Vedas, in the aboriginal traditions of Americas, Africa and the Oceania, and in every religions that one have notice about, the dreams play a fundamental role. The dreams are the base of every human system of belief. Josef Campbell said that the “myths are shared dreams, dreams are private myths”. However, actually, the people possess myths and the dreams possess people. The dreams are personal.

Most of the time, the personal dreams are interpreted as ciphered messages of gods, of the ancestors or malignant beings. E the Talmud says that “a dream that is not interpreted is like a letter that is not opened”. The Greeks (Hippocrates and Aristotle) gave a special importance to the diagnosis of illnesses through the dream. Artemidoro de Daldis, in century II A.D., distinguished the common dream, referred in the biographical past; from the premonitory dream of ‘virtuous souls', referred in the future.

In modern times, for scientific objectivety, the dream, the most subjective of the human activities, remained meaningless and senseless until Sigmund Freud proclaimed that “the dream is the (symbolic) realization of a (censured) desire”. Or, more necessarily: the dream to Freud is a conglomerate of psychic formations shaped by the former biographical history of the individual, with multiple meanings, which function is to protect against suffering and to satisfy the desires restrained by the censoring.

In the Interpretation of the Dreams (1990), Freud launched the basis of modern hermeneutic science when distinguishing, in the deciphering of the oneiric phenomena, the manifest content, latent or occult. For him, every dream would be `the symbolic accomplishment of an inhibited desire', but not always the expression of this desire is clear and unequivocal, in contrast, there would be psychological mechanisms responsible for the symbolic disguise of the suppressed impulses. Freud would call these mechanisms: condensation, displacement, process of secondary elaboration, symbolism and dramatization.

Condensation is understood as the process according to which a manifest content present more than one latent content on a simplified form. On its turn, displacement is defined as the process in which the affective baggage is detached from its normal object to fix itself in an accessory object. Lacan, when taking the structuralized unconscious as a language and the dream as a discourse to be deciphered, recognized Freud’s mechanisms of condensation and displacement in terms of ‘metonymy’ and ‘metaphor’, imported from the structuralist linguistics. The secondary elaboration is disclosed as the process by which, as the vigil approaches, the oneiric production is reorganized by a rational logic. Thus, we remember the dreams backwards, erasing its details and paradoxes. The dramatization consists in the process through which the conceptual contents are substituted by visual images. The symbolization is distinguished from the dramatization for two characteristics. First, while dramatization always comes from the abstract towards the concrete, the symbol goes from concrete to concrete, from an image to other without concepts. Second, the relation of the meaning with the signal is strictly personal in the dramatization; whereas in the symbol, it is universal. Thus, in a certain way, dramatization and symbolism would be analogous collective mechanisms to the individual processes of condensation and displacement. For Freud, the process of symbolization would yet be explained through the censorship and through the four movements of defense of the ego before the crudity of its instincts and objectionable desires: identification, projection, introjection and sublimation.

It is necessary to point out that the notion of sublimation in the interpretation of dreams will be the central point of the divergences between Freud and Jung, once that the disciple disagreed that the symbolic sphere was only a result of the determinist and compulsory character of the unconscient biographically suppressed. Jung saw in the dreams of his clients mythological elements organized in a prospective way (and, in many times, premonitory) thus coming to the conclusion that the unconscious is not only a mere instance of repetition of the individual past, but still it holds its psychic transcendence and more complex phenomena, of collective and transpersonal character.

For Jung, the oneiric images are offered as a narrative where the protagonist is the own narrator: the dreamer. On the personal point of view, there is a compensatory psychic function between the relations of the axis Ego-Self and Collective Conscience- Individual Unconsciousness. The dream is always presented as mediation and compensation between these four extremities. But there is also a transcendent function: For one that pays attention to his own dreams get on a process of development (the individuation) in which his conscience is reconnected to the ethical and aesthetic values of the archetypical matrix.

Thus, the dream, more than an involuntary expression of a passed problem, it is considered a response elaborated by the unconscious, a prospective reorganization, a solution directed toward the future. (HALL, 1985)

Still, in the scope of the psychoanalysis, other approaches had been recently developed as the one of Tales Ab'Saber (2006). In it, the ‘work of dream’ becomes a method of development ‘in pair’, as much as in the analytical transference inspired in Bion (the analyst dreams the dream of the analyzed, and him, on his turn, takes it as a object of dreaming) as in the activity of mediation subject-object (in the equalization between dreaming and playing, between the oneiric and the ludic- as observed by Winnicott).

But it was in the field of the neurosciences that the study of the personal dreams has prospered the most. In 1952, Leitman and Aserinsky (2003) established, through electroencephalogram, the physiological cycle of sleep, composed by at least three stages with different neurophysiologic properties: hipnagogic stage (the beginning of the sleep where the thoughts consist of fragmented images and small scenes), the stage of slow waves (in which the cerebral waves of the neo-cortex present low frequencies and great amplitude) and the stage of REM (rapid eye movement).

During the phase of REM sleep or deep sleep, the brain presents a functioning similar to the state of vigil in moments of higher activity (confrontation with danger, fight for survival, imminent sexual contact) - what leaded the scientists to conclude that the dreams happened exclusively in this period.

During two decades, REM sleep was a physiological synonymous of the dream and the idea of Freud, that the dreams are produced by mental processes, were compatible with the scientific knowledge of the cerebral functioning. This up to 1977, when Hobson and Mc Carley (1988) had discovered the model of activation-synthesis and reciprocity interaction. To them, the brain binds meaningless impulses and feelings to sensorial impressions and memories, producing a coherent narrative out of random. Simple oscillatory movements for which the conscience is turned on and off in intervals of 90 minutes through the interaction of reciprocal chemical substances, that nothing have to do with mental processes. That is, Hobson and Mc Carley proved that REM sleep is not the physiological equivalent for the dream. On the other hand, the scientists had reduced the oneiric activity to a mere subjective epiphenomenon of the sleep, with no importance, a meaningless frivolity of our mind.

In the 90’s, Mark Solms (1997), through his studies with dopamine, rehabilitated REM sleep as dream and made Freud compatible with the neuroscience again. After that, Jonathan Winson (1985), studying the role of the rhythm ‘Teta’ of cerebral waves, endorsed the idea that the dreams have subjective meaning, even being able to reflect a mechanism of processing memories inherited from inferior species. And, currently, there is great controversy between the neuroscientists: a part considers the dream a resultant of merely physiological processes, while others believe that it is also caused by mental processes, following Freud´s logic.

Studying the propagation, creation and simulation of memories and making an ample bibliographical revision and a current synthesis of the neuro-scientific research about dreams and sleep, Sidarta Ribeiro and Miguel Nicolelis (2004) defend not only the rehabilitation of Freud’s ideas, but also Jung’s ideas. The dream has an important role in the consolidation of many kinds of memory, playing a basic role in the learning process. Observing how the gene zif 268, associated to learning, is selectively activated during REM sleep, the scientists had come to the conclusion that REM sleep is creative. Although the reinforcement and the reorganization of memories are cognitive functions of dreaming, there is still a simulation of possible futures. The dreams are hyper-associative sequences of fragmented memories, which simulate past events and future expectations in a way to generate solutions for the cognitive challenges faced by the dreamer.

This approach also will be developed by Atlan, that sees the dream as a code for information storage in our memory, not only of the biographical suppressions, but, overall, of possibilities for self-organization process. The dream, then, would be also a form to select alternatives and to orient decisions (1992, P. 126) Dreaming to organize memories and to learn, or dreaming to forget? For Crick (1995) REM sleep is a process of contrary learning or unlearning, a self-cleaning program that discards the unnecessary information.

In the researches of Ribeiro and Nicolelis, however, it makes no difference if the cup is half full or half empty: the REM sleep makes us forget as much as it organizes our memories, being capable to simulate future situations based on the processing of information from the past. Whe are then back to the same the point where Artemidoro, Freud & Jung had arrived: there are dreams referred in the past (the slow wave sleep) and there are dreams referred in the simulation of future (REM sleep). However, the researches of Ribeiro and Nicolelis about the dream had opened a sufficiently ample horizon of studies and currently there are many researches in progress: the filo-genetic development of the REM dream in relation to the evolution of the species (RIBEIRO, 2004); the ontogenetic development of REM dream in relation to the human infantile growth and the plasticity of the brain (FRANK, 2004); the study of nightmares and after-traumatic disturbance (PERES; MERCHANT; NASELLO, 2005); among others.[2]

The Collective Dream

For Ivan Bystrina (1995), there are three interrelated levels of message codification: the primary or hypo-linguistic code, in which the vital processes are operations of informational exchange that operate through simple signals and are organized from the experience; the secondary or linguistic code, an institutional system of collective cognition; and the tertiary or hyper-linguistic code or second reality, constructed to perpetuate messages to the future generations. And the second reality formed by our deep dreams and desires have its origin in four possible sources: the dream, the mental illnesses, the mystic ecstasy and the games.

In this optic, the second reality is the symbolic universe. If we were to write a history of this collective dreaming, the first step would be the dream of the Cave of Plato: "Chained with their backs turned against the light in an underground jail, the prisoners can only see, out of the men, animals and figures that pass in the exterior, their projected shades in the back of the Cave. When one of the prisoners manages to get free and return to the exterior world, he is blinded by the Sun light and only after a while manages to adapt himself to the new reality. He notices, then, that the world in which he lived was unreal and unconscious, made out of shades and reflexes of things. However, the prisoner would risk his life if, returning to the interior of the cave, he tried to reveal to his old fellows the unreality of the world where they were. Probably, they would kill him". And the dream of the Cave divided the world into two realities: one sensible and illusory and other; distant, truthful and intelligible.

Saint Augustin, another master in the art of dreaming, in his Confessions, made of the interior of the cave the memory of the things of men, and the exterior world as the memory of the things of God. Jesus substituted Socrates as the redeemer and the unifying of the two worlds. And more: for the creator of the doctrine of the original sin, there is a City of God parallel to the City of Men (as Plato´s sensible and intelligible realities); Augustin placed the platonic utopia of a perfect society as a historical goal for mankind, idea that was adopted by many thinkers after him: After being banish from the garden of Eden, man dissociated the universe, Christ reopened the passage between the worlds and the return to the New Jerusalem will be the reunification of the cities. And the dream of the Holy City in the End of Times gave a meaning to history and a destination to humanity. We live in a universe divided between what we feel and what we think, but we are walking towards the eschatological unification.

Several other minor dreams can be unfold from this magisterial dream: the dream of the conspiracy in a world governed by evil, the dream of the return of the Messiah and Rousseau with the dream of democracy.

But, a certain day, in the beginning of the17th Century, the French philosopher René Descartes dreamed that the Universe was a gigantic clock and that God was a watchmaker, refusing the scholastic explanations that were the human virtues that determined the events and that the divine forces acted directly over human destiny. And the dream of the universe-machine still today frames our dream and the way we understand reality. Contemporary authors criticize the Cartesian thought on its rationalist aspect (the method of the systematic doubt, the dissociation of time and space in the Cartesian axles, the idea of geometric plan dissociated from real space), but are unaware that the proposition enunciated by Descartes is an act of power intended in dreaming. Fritjoff Capra, for example, would like to break with the mechanist paradigm in which the world is a machine to define the universe as a complex biological system, but still live and think under a machine-universe.

During modernity (this objective and ‘thinged’ image that we make of ourselves), we were prisoners of our own illusion, forced to survive in a violent and meaningless world, throwed in a cold and heartless universe, we are no more, to the eyes of objective science, than small balls of meat around a ball of rock that is around a great ball of fire. But, I am not a meat ball, the Earth is not a rock ball and the Sun is not a fire ball. On the other hand, we cannot retrocede either, considering the stars to be gods and reallocating the observer in the center of the universe, as it was done before the objective science and the advent of the modern world.

It is necessary to realize that universe is vibrational, constituted of energy and relations between different states of being. There is not a single objective universe, but many virtual universes (microcosmic, astrophysical, sub-atomic, etc). And, although contemporary science (the quantum mechanics, for example) has no objects, we still live in a world of things and not in the world of the relations between energies. That is: the universe is no longer a clock but a computer, and God, is its programmer! By the way, the movie Matrix combines the dreams of the cave, of the utopia and of the mechanical universe, fantasizing to dream a way out of our world, but it keeps it in the plan of imagination. True dreaming implies creating a way never before imaginable; opening new perspectives, and not simply weaving fantasies with myths crystallized by the traditions.

But, there is an individual exit of this ‘thinged’ and mechanical universe where we are dived in dreaming itself. As it is now a common place to say: “a dream that one dreams alone is only a dream; but a dream that is dreamt collectively becomes reality”. By the way, there are many stories and tales on this thematic, of which “A Dream of a Thousand Cats”, of Neil Gaiman (2006) stands out. In this story a cat dreams that its species had already dominated the planet, however, once that the felines no longer dream, it species passed to be dominated by the collective dream of humankind. In the day when a thousand cats dream, however, the feline dream will win again and men would come back to its original condition.

A dream similar to the one of Ribeiro and Nicolelis, defenders of the audacious hypothesis of the social generalization of the lucid dreams as an evolutive jump of great proportion for human conscience. If we develop the capacity to dream conscientiously, we would glimpse a universe of unimaginable possibilities for current humanity. Perhaps when a thousand human beings dream lucidly, then the human collective dream about the planet would also change, becoming conscientious of itself and its role in the universe.

[1]Thoughts attributed to Chuang Tzu. VI century b.C.
[2] More on lucid dreams at


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