The Interpretation of Dreams

Sat, Feb 6, 2010

Social Issues


Sigmund Freud has always been one of the most controversial thinkers in history due to his theories based on psychoanalysis and sexuality. The book ‘The Interpretation of Dreams’ is one work which contributes to this image: this text is vehemently criticized and at the same time one of the most celebrated books written by Freud. Sigmund Freud took pride in meddling with the natural thinking process of his readers. We all have dreams and interpret in it in our own ways, but Freud came up with a methodology to crack the meaning of the dreams. The book was published in 1899, but Freud requested the publisher to print the publishing date as 1900, in order to create the impression that his thoughts were developed in the 20th century. Freud was disapproved by his colleagues and the book seemed to be an eccentric piece, only for a handful of readers. The book sold merely 350 copies in its first 6 years.

Freud says that the animal self which resides in the core of our psyche is Id, while the later developments are ego and superego which arrive from the need to survive in the social framework. The Ego is the rational self; the Superego tells us what is right and wrong. The Id and superego are in conflict with each other.

Falling asleep at once involves the loss of our power of giving intentional guidance to the sequence of our ideas. This is one of the reasons that dreams are not in our control. Most of the time, when we wake up from our dreams, we tend to forget what happened in it. However, during the few instances wherein we seem to recollect our dreams, what is found worth remembering is usually the most important as well as the most indifferent and insignificant aspect of our waking life. The external sensory stimuli and the internal sensory excitations play a considerate role in forming the dreams that we frequently have. If during the sleep the organ is in the state of active disturbance or excitation, the dream will produce images related to the performance of the function which is discharged by the organ concerned. Many of us must be acquainted with a frequent dream of flying; the cause for it is the rising and sinking of the lobes of the lungs at times when cutaneous sensations in the thorax have ceased to be conscious.

The reason we forget dreams is similar of why we forget while we are awake. We forget countless sensations and perceptions. The same mechanism applies in dreams too. We forget the dream or a part of the dream because it does not comprise of stronger images to be remembered.

Dreams are necessary because they help the mind build up the broken blocks and perceptions and exhaust them. A person who is deprived of the capacity of dreaming will become mentally deranged, because a great mass of incomplete, un-worked thoughts and superficial impressions would accumulate in his/her brain and would be bound by their bulk to creep into the thoughts assimilated in her memory as completed wholes. In short, dreams are a safety valve for the overburdened brain. They heal and relieve.

One of the basic arguments elaborated by Freud is that dreams are fulfillment of wishes. This is the lynchpin of the dream interpretation methods of Freud. One group of dreams which may be described as typical are those containing the death of some loved relative. The dream can be interpreted as the desire of the dreamer about relative staying away from the dreamer. Hostile feelings towards brothers and sisters must be far more frequent in childhood than the unseeing eye of the adult observer can perceive. These wishes get magnified in the unconscious form to form the death dreams.

On comparison of dream thoughts with dream content, it is observed that condensation of thoughts has been carried out on a large scale. The displacement of thoughts in dreams is also a factor that makes dream content seem no longer in coherence with the dream thoughts and the dream gives no more than a distortion of the dream wish which exists in the unconscious.

Freud appreciates the criticism by readers that the methods of interpretation may seem absurd and several ambiguities rise during the interpretation of dreams which need to be sorted out carefully by studying the history and past experiences of the dreamer.

In the Indian context, I would say that Freud’s opinions challenge the superstitious base of our Indian society in which dreams are looked as a harbinger of the future or some divine realization; a realization of facts which otherwise wouldn’t have been easy to realize in the waking life. Freud discusses a short real story of a king in medieval Europe who killed one of his subjects who dreamt of killing the king. This was one of many such decisions and opinions which were influenced by dreams. Freud opines that the impulses and thoughts which force their way through to the consciousness are killed by the real forces of mental life before they are converted into deeds. These forces are dominated by morality of the person.

There are several psychologists who have been criticized but we prefer not to talk about them because they did not help shape the society. Freud, however, even though criticized largely, has taught us to pay attention to feelings and actions that we once thought were meaningless, thus provoking a confrontation with our more primitive self.

Reference(s): Discovery 100 greatest books – documentary

Kunal Ashok Medhe

MBA Batch of 2011,

IIT Kanpur

10 Responses to “The Interpretation of Dreams”

  1. Rohan Says:

    This article did feature on Discovery I am not sure though ..
    But kunal don’t u think u have used a very sophisticated language where as a movie director gave this thing a indian name “Chemical Locha”

    What ya say?

  2. Kunal Medhe Says:

    @ Rohan

    hello Rohan,
    There’s some correction required in the first line of your comment.The documentary of the book is featured on Discovery , not the article :D
    The chemical lochaa that you talked about from the movie was about hallucination. I am strictly talking about the dreams and their interpretations. I haven’t touched the topic of day dreams. Freud in his book has predominantly talked about the dreams occurred during sleep.

    Kunal A Medhe

  3. Gamesh Riol Says:

    Hi. Why does Freud opines that the impulses and thoughts which force their way through to the consciousness are actually not important?

  4. Mayank Jain Says:

    Can I just say what a relief to find someone who actually knows what theyre talking about on the internet. You definitely know how to bring an issue to light and make it important. More people need to read this and understand this side of the story. I cant believe youre not more popular because you definitely have the gift Sarkari Naukri .

  5. Coaching Bojan Says:

    Freud is the “founding father” of our modern psychology. He had an incredible intuition and many of his concepts are still present in the science. In some cases he was just plain wrong, but he introduced a new thinking paradigm which changed everything in psychology.

  6. Buster Reuland Says:

    Freud definetly helped turn psychology into what it is today. He may not have been right in many cases, but who’s right all the time? I doubt that psychology would be nearly as popular today with out. Although he was a bit crazy himself!

  7. Laure Says:

    I am doing research on sleep paralysis. Do you know if Freud wrote about that ? Sleep paralysis occurs either when falling asleep, or when awakening. It is particularly frightening to the individual because of the vividness of such hallucinations. Do you think this has something to do with dreams ?

  8. Jeff Reuter Says:

    I’ll have to agree with you. He set a milestone in psychology, and made it available to more people than ever before. He might have been a bit off in some areas, but nobody is perfect.

  9. Sophia Says:

    I’m agree with you and I would say that Freud is still very central in the modern psychology although he’s very often criticized today.. I recommend to read his biography written by the famous Stefan Zweig who have known him very well.

  10. Francesca Cerulo Says:

    … Brings back memories of freshman year in college. I rather enjoyed my Intro to Psych class. I found it interesting that he instructed his publisher not to go to presses until 1900. Neat. Cheers.

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