One day I discovered to my amazement that the popular view groundedin superstition, and not the medical one, comes nearer to the truthabout dreams. I arrived at new conclusions about dreams by the use of anew method of psychological investigation, one which had rendered megood service in the investigation of phobias, obsessions, illusions, andthe like, and which, under the name "psycho-analysis," had foundacceptance by a whole school of investigators. The manifold analogies ofdream life with the most diverse conditions of psychical disease in thewaking state have been rightly insisted upon by a number of medicalobservers. It seemed, therefore, , hopeful to apply to theinterpretation of dreams methods of investigation which had been testedin psychopathological processes. Obsessions and those peculiarsensations of haunting dread remain as strange to normal consciousnessas do dreams to our waking consciousness; theirorigin is as unknown to consciousness as is that of dreams. It waspractical ends that impelled us, in these diseases, to fathom theirorigin and formation. Experience had shown us that a cure and aconsequent mastery of the obsessing ideas did result when once thosethoughts, the connecting links between the morbid ideas and the rest ofthe psychical content, were revealed which were heretofore veiled fromconsciousness. The procedure I employed for the interpretation of dreamsthus arose from psychotherapy.
But slightly affected by scientific opinion and untroubled as to theorigin of dreams, the popular view holds firmly to the belief thatdreams really have got a meaning, in some way they do foretell thefuture, whilst the meaning can be unravelled insome way or other from its oft bizarre and enigmatical content. Thereading of dreams consists in replacing the events of the dream, so faras remembered, by other events. This is done either scene by scene,, or the dream as a whole is replaced bysomething else of which it was a . Serious-minded persons laughat these efforts—"Dreams are but sea-foam!"
This procedure is readily described, although its practice demandsinstruction and experience. Suppose the patient is suffering fromintense morbid dread. He is requested to direct his attention to theidea in question, without, however, as he has so frequently done,meditating upon it. Every impression about it, without any exception,which occurs to him should be imparted to the doctor. The statementwhich will be perhaps then made, that he cannot concentrate hisattention upon anything at all, is to be countered by assuring him mostpositively that such a blank state of mind is utterly impossible. As amatter of fact, a great number of impressions will soon occur, withwhich others will associate themselves. These will be invariablyaccompanied by the expression of the observer'sopinion that they have no meaning or are unimportant. It will be at oncenoticed that it is this self-criticism which prevented the patient fromimparting the ideas, which had indeed already excluded them fromconsciousness. If the patient can be induced to abandon thisself-criticism and to pursue the trains of thought which are yielded byconcentrating the attention, most significant matter will be obtained,matter which will be presently seen to be clearly linked to the morbididea in question. Its connection with other ideas will be manifest, andlater on will permit the replacement of the morbid idea by a fresh one,which is perfectly adapted to psychical continuity.
Besides those who sneer at dream study, because they have neverlooked into the subject, there are those who do not dare to face thefacts revealed by dream study. Dreams tell us many an unpleasantbiological truth about ourselves and only very free minds can thrive onsuch a diet. Self-deception is a plant which withers fast in thepellucid atmosphere of dream investigation.
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In striking contradiction with this the majority of medical writershardly admit that the dream is a psychical phenomenon at all. Accordingto them dreams are provoked and initiated exclusively by stimuliproceeding from the senses or the body, which either reach the sleeperfrom without or are accidental disturbances of his internal organs. Thedream has no greater claim to meaning and importance than the soundcalled forth by the ten fingers of a person quite unacquainted withmusic running his fingers over the keys of an instrument. The dream isto be regarded, says Binz, "as a physical process always useless,frequently morbid." All the peculiarities of dream life are explicableas the incoherent effort, due to some physiological stimulus, of certainorgans, or of the cortical elements of a brain otherwise asleep.
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This is not the place to examine thoroughly the hypothesis upon whichthis experiment rests, or the deductions which follow from itsinvariable success. It must suffice to state that we obtain matterenough for the resolution of every morbid idea if we especially directour attention to the associations —those which are otherwise put aside by the critic asworthless refuse. If the procedure is exercised on oneself, the bestplan of helping the experiment is to write down at once all one's firstindistinct fancies.