Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Dream Interpretation

Last night I dreamed that I was playing in a pick-up basketball game against a young Carol Burnett. I could rebound over her, but she was in my face and I couldn't get off a good shot. What did it mean? Did it mean anything?

There is a long tradition of trying to figure out the meaning of dreams. The question is whether such an endeavor is itself meaningful.We can think of images and events in the dream as dots and the interpretation we give of them as lines connecting them. The question then seems to have five possible answers:

(1) The dots are random and not intrinsically connected. Dreams are just a by-product of neurological happenings during sleep. The body is fixing and cleaning itself, and when this happens to certain parts of the brain, images pop up. They don't really mean anything, so trying to connect the dots is an exercise in futility.

(2) The dots are random, but there is value in the creative act of trying to connect them. Dreams don't have any implicit meaning, but the act of interpretation endows them with meaning. Like reading poetry, where we can understand ourselves better through images, the randomness of dreams allows us a novel standpoint from which to rethink our lives.

(3) The dots are not random, but the lines aren't terribly interesting. Dreams are the result of neurological processes that are influenced by the brain states immediately before sleep, so all that we get from dreams is a sense of what we were thinking about before bed in a jumbled way. I saw a bit of the West Virginia/UConn game that evening, so of course basketball appears in the dream. So what?

(4) The dots are not random and the lines will give you insight into what your mind was really doing. This is the Freudian take in which the conscious mind is only a small part of psychological activity. Dreams are one place where we can get a sense of all that is happening behind the curtain. Interpretation of dreams is a crucial way to gain insight into our true selves.

(5) The dots are not random and the lines extend beyond yourself. Dreams, on this line, are the conduit connecting your mind with something outside of it, a collective consciousness or an aspect of reality one usually does not have access to. Dreams may be foretelling future events, giving you access to the dead, or other insights beyond reason.

Which seems the most reasonable? Or is there another possibility?