Dreams: Problems in Definition
Dreams: Problems in Definition
Attempts to understand dreams have been made since man began to dream, which stems back to the dawn of his cognizance. Philosophers and scientists alike have tried to unlock the secrets and meanings contained in these elusive—at least in their inability to be "captured" and defined—conscious, yet sleeping, experiences. One of the fundamental obstacles that lies in the path of understanding dreams is the difficulty of defining the dream itself.
Most people become aware of dreams by taking note of the process within their individual selves. This presents the problem that is inherent to many psychological discoveries arrived at through introspection: Is the state found within oneself the same state found within everyone? This, therefore, raises the question of whether the term "dreaming" has the same meaning for everyone. Since this question is impossible to answer for certain, at least empirically, the concept of dreaming must be derived from and defined by the description of dreams upon waking. This presents interesting problems concerning the validity of memory as a testament to the fact that a dream did, in fact, occur.
Memory of a past event implies an awareness of the event at the time it occurred. This poses a question as to how a dream can be remembered even though during its occurrence the "dreamer" is unaware of the fact that he is dreaming. Because of this problem, the assumption that the criterion for judging dreams lies in the testimony upon waking from the dream, and not on the actual behavior of the dreamer, must be made. Therefore, the testimony, or "telling," of the dream becomes essential in its definition and existence, since without this activity there would be no way to compare or analyze the contents of the dream at all. One philosopher proposed that "'we don't dream, but only remember that we have dreamt.'" This statement illustrates the difficulty in distinguishing between dreams and the waking conviction of having dreamt. Again, an assumption must be made: the conviction of having dreamt is not the dream itself, but rather intricately related to the dream in that, without the conviction, there would be no way of ascertaining the dreams existence.
Through examining the assumptions made about dreaming, and the possible flaws in these assumptions, one begins to see the difficulty in defining a dreams and dreaming. The understanding and perception of dreams is dependent upon the conviction of having dreamt upon waking, and therefore predicated on the validity of memory. Despite these theoretical obstacles, however, research into dreams—when, how and why—continues, and new theories in response to these questions are constantly being developed.
Foulkes, David. Dreaming: A Cognitive-Psychological Analysis. Hillsdale, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1985.
Hunt, Harry T.. The Multiplicity of Dreams. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989.
Malcolm, Norman. Dreaming. New York: Humanities Press, 1962.