New Issue of the Journal DREAMING

New Issue of the Journal DREAMING by Kelly BulkeleyThe latest issue of Dreaming: Journal of the Association for the Study of Dreams (volume 20, number 4; December 2010) came out recently with several excellent articles.  G. Halliday of Mohican Juvenile Correctional Facility in Perrysville, Ohio, reconsiders the psychoanalyst Wilhelm Stekel’s dream theory in “Reflections on the Meanings of Dreams Prompted by Reading Stekel.”  Don Kuiken, Michelle Chudleigh, and Devon Racher look at the connections between dreaming and EMDR (eye movement desensitization reprocessing) in “Bilateral Eye Movements, Attentional Flexibility and Metaphor Comprehension: The Sustrate of REM Dreaming?”  Michael Schredl of the Central Institute of Mental Health in Mannheim, Germany reports on a study of demographics and interest in dreams in “Reading Books about Dream Interpretation: Gender Differences.”   Calvin Kai-Ching Yu of Hong Kong Shue Yan University continues his investigations of patterns in dream content in “Recurrence of Typical Dreams and the Instinctual and Delusional Predispositions of Dreams.”  Mark Blagrove, Emma Bell, and Amy Wilkinson of Swansea University in Wales, U.K., add new data to the study of lucid dreaming and its psychophysiological correlates in “Association of Lucid Dreaming Frequency with Stroop Task Performance.”  The issue’s final article comes from anthropologist Raymond L.M. Lee of University of Malaya, who considers dreaming as a means of “reenchanting” secular modernity in “Forgotten Fantasies? Modernity, Reenchantment, and Dream Consciousness.” 

The creative diversity of contemporary dream research is well represented by these articles.

Proud to Be a Primate

Proud to Be a Primate by Kelly Bulkeley“Our goodness is as deep as our darkness”—that was Kimberley Patton’s gloss on the findings of Franz de Waal, a primatologist who spoke on Saturday at the American Academy of Religion conference in Atlanta.  De Waal’s new book, Age of Empathy (2010), shows that cooperation, reciprocity, and conflict-resolution are just as natural in primates as are aggression and competition.  Contrary to the Social Darwinist assumption that nature is bloody “red in tooth and claw,” de Waal’s research proves that non-human animals have all the basic building blocks of morality.  This means that human morality is not just a matter of controlling our violent, selfish instincts, but rather enhancing and refining our other instincts for empathy, compassion, and sociability.

 Also commenting on de Waal’s research was Armin Geertz, who highlighted the core idea of evolutionary biology that “all life is continuous.”  What seems unique about humans is actually an extension of abilities and behaviors we find in other animals.  Looking ahead to the future of primate research, de Waal said, “the trend is toward the continuity of humans and animals.”

 Is this true of religion? When elephants mourn their dead, chimpanzees dance in rainstorms, and wolves howl at the moon, are we seeing the building blocks of spirituality? Can animals have mystical experiences?   De Waal said it was difficult as a biologist to address such questions, but he did not rule out the possibility of affirmative answers. 

 Score a point for scientific open-mindedness.  

 What about dreaming? Both Patton and Geertz, professors of religious studies, mentioned dreaming as a universal human experience that factors into all religious traditions.  De Waal did not talk about dreams directly, but the cognitive abilities he has identified in non-human primates (empathy, imagination, pretend play, etc.), combined with the similarities in brain functioning across all primate species, strongly suggest that humans are not the only dreamers in nature.

 In his earlier book Chimpanzee Politics (1998) de Waal talked about the dreams of people who study primates:

 “That chimpanzees are experienced in the first place as personalities is evident from the dreams of those of us who work with them.  We dream about these apes as individuals, in the same way that other people dream about their fellow human beings as individuals.  If a student were to say that he or she had dreamed of an ape I would be no less surprised than if someone claimed to have dreamed of a human.

 “I clearly remember the first dream I had about the chimpanzees.  In it my preoccupation with the distance between them and me was apparent.  During this dream the large door to their quarters was opened for me from the inside.  The apes were pushing each other aside in order to get a good look at me.  Yeroen, the oldest male, stepped forward and shook my hand.  Rather impatiently he listened to my request to come in.  He refused point blank.  That was out of the question, he said, and besides, their society would not suit me: it was much too harsh for a human being.” (41)

Detecting Meaning in Dream Reports: An Extension of a Word Search Approach

Detecting Meaning in Dream Reports: An Extension of a Word Search Approach by Kelly BulkeleyA new article I co-authored with Bill Domhoff is appearing in the latest issue of the APA journal Dreaming (vol. 20, no. 2, pp. 77-95).  The abstract is below.

What amazed me about this project was how easy it was to make accurate inferences about the waking life of our participant, “Van,” without ever reading his dream narratives–just by looking at the statistical frequencies with which he used certain words in reporting his dreams.

Our findings are additional evidence in favor of the idea that dreaming has meaningful psychological structure, and against the idea that dreaming is merely random nonsense from the brain during sleep.

ABSTRACT:

Building on previous investigations of waking-dreaming continuities using word search technology (Domhoff and Schneider 2008, Bulkeley 2009a, 2009b), this article demonstrates that a blind analysis of a dream series using only word search methods can accurately predict many important aspects of the individual’s waking life, including personality attributes, relationships, activities, and cultural preferences.  Results from a study of the “Van” dream series (N=192) show that blind inferences drawn from a word frequency analysis were almost entirely accurate according to the dreamer.  After presenting these findings we discuss several remaining shortcomings and suggest ways of improving the method for use by other researchers involved in the search for a more systematic understanding of meaning in dreams.

Bulkeley, Kelly. 2009a. The Religious Content of Dreams: New Scientific Foundations. Pastoral Psychology 58 (2):93-101.

———. 2009b. Seeking Patterns in Dream Content: A Systematic Approach to Word Searches. Consciousness and Cognition 18:905-916.

Domhoff, G. William, and Adam Schneider. 2008. Studying dream content using the archive and search engine on DreamBank.net. Consciousness and Cognition 17:1238-1247.