really liked Jonah’s post at The Frontal Cortex,
Smelling and Memory. But I have to take issue with
his treatment of the use of dream interpretation in Freudian
I know this is a nit-picky point, and is completely tangential to the
point of his post. But this close to Piday, we need to be
thinking about things like tangents.
It is true that psychoanalysts refer to dreams as “the royal road to
the unconscious.” It is true that the interpretation of
dreams can be an important part of psychoanalysis.
However, I would argue that the origin of dreams is irrelevant to their
application in psychoanalysis.
dreams are just random neuronal activity. Maybe they serve a
specific function that is not related to whatever neurosis the person
may have. None of that matters. What matters is
this: is there therapeutic value in the interpretation of dreams?
In psychoanalysis, analysands (patients) are encouraged to report their
dreams, with as much detail as possible about anything potentially
symbolic. Then they are to engage in free association in
response to the symbols.
People can debate this all day long, but my impression is this: it is
the process of engaging in free association, in response to symbols
that the analysand chooses as significant, that is therapeutic.
There is nothing particularly important about the symbols
themselves. The benefit is derived entirely from the process.
I am hopeful that it is obvious, that what I’ve said about the process
of interpreting dreams is a gross oversimplification.
People could write books about what therapists consider the
process. Note that in the context of psychoanalytic theory,
the term interpretation and process
have very specific technical meanings. Just as the word force
has a general meaning in everyday discussion, and a specific meaning in
physics. Understanding the everyday usage tells you little about the
technical meaning of the term.
So scientists of various stripes may dismiss the content of dreams as
unimportant. Or they may find that the content serves a
specific purpose with respect to the consolidation of memory.
Or it might serve as a mechanism to manage stress.
Or any of a number of things. But none of that has
anything to do with the therapeutic value, or lack of value, in the
interpretation of dreams.