What I Learned at the 2012 IASD Conference

What I Learned at the 2012 IASD Conference by Kelly BulkeleyHere are excerpts from notes I took during the recent conference of the International Association for the Study of Dreams, held in Berkeley, California, June 22-26.  In parentheses I’ve put the names of the people who were presenting or commenting at the time.

 

Jung’s focus on the number 4 is “dangerous” and promises a “seductive wholeness.”  (John Beebe)

 

In electrophysiological terms, as measured by the EEG, lucid dreaming can be described as meditation in sleep. (Jim Pagel)

 

A challenge for lucid dreamers: How to distinguish a failed lucidity technique from a sage warning from the unconscious. (Jeremy Taylor)

 

The pioneering French filmmaker George Meliere drew upon the fantastically creative, compelling illusions of dream experience to create a tradition of visionary cinema that we see today in “The Matrix” and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.” (Bernard Welt)

 

In a sample of 170 German school children, those who talk with their parents, siblings, and friends about dreams tend to have higher dream recall, suggesting a positive relationship between dream socialization and recall. (Michael Schredl)

 

People who are high dream recallers seem to have more activity in the brain’s tempero-parietal junction and medial prefrontal cortex, in both waking and sleep conditions.  These brain areas have been associated in waking with mental imagery and mind attributions (theory of mind), respectively. (Jean-Baptiste Eichenlaub, et al.)

 

Sleep laboratory researchers are perfecting a method of awakening a person several times during the night at precise moments in the sleep cycle in order to induce an experience of sleep paralysis. (Elizaveta Solomonova)

 

Neuroscientists are experimenting with the use of transcranial direct current stimulation to directly affect the brain activity underlying dream experiences.  (Katja Valli)

 

Reflective awareness in dreaming can give humans an adaptive edge because in dreams we have the ability to anticipate, explore, and practice possible selves and possible worlds.  This ability can be cultivated through disciplined intentional mental practice.  We can change our brain anatomy simply by using our imaginations.  (Tracey Kahan, quoting Norman Doidge in the last sentence)

 

The “Inception” app is “worth a free download.” (David Kahn)

 

The mantra of the quantified self: If you track it, it improves. (Ryan Hurd)

 

In dream education with adolescents and young adults, the most relevant aspect of dreaming to their waking lives may be relational skills and emotional intelligence, helping them better navigate the complex currents of friendship, romance, and family life. (Phil King and Bernard Welt)

 

Word Searching as a Tool in the Study of Dreams, or, Dream Research in the Era of Big Data

Word Searching as a Tool in the Study of Dreams, or, Dream Research in the Era of Big Data by Kelly BulkeleyI’m giving a presentation with that title on Saturday, June 23, at the annual conference of the International Association for the Study of Dreams, held in Berkeley, California.  The presentation is part of a panel session, “What’s New in the Scientific Study of Dreams.”  I’m giving an overview of the word searching method I’ve been developing over the past several years, with a special focus on four “blind analysis” studies I’ve performed with the help of Bill Domhoff.  A youtube video preview of the presentation can be found here.

Here’s how I define blind analysis in the paper:

A blind analysis involves an exclusive focus on word usage frequencies, bracketing out the narrative reports and personal details of the dreamer’s life and making inferences based solely on statistical patterns in word usage—not reading the dreams at all, and basing one’s analysis strictly on numerical data.  The aim is to assess the patterns of dream content with the fewest possible preconceptions, as objectively as possible, before reading through the narratives and learning about the individual’s waking activities and concerns.

More Black & White vs. Color in Dreams

More Black & White vs. Color in Dreams by Kelly BulkeleyMary Walsh, a psychotherapist and grad student at the GTU, offered an intriguing idea about color variations in dreams: “I wonder if the change in our waking experience of color impacts our dream experience. Photopic vision functions only in good illumination which we have more of for longer periods of time nowadays. Scotopic, or night vision, I think, provides the ability to distinguish between black and white. Could the fact that we see more color for more hours each day and use our photopic vision more cause us to dream in color more often? Maybe dreams have changed.”

I think Mary’s right that more attention to the neurophysiology of vision and the cultural/technological changes of modernity will be helpful in making better sense of this question.

Also, Bob Van de Castle reminded me that his 1994 book Our Dreaming Mind has a good discussion of color dreams (pp. 253-256 and 298).  After reviewing several experimental studies, Van de Castle concludes that “color appears in dreams with much greater frequency than is generally acknowledged.  The saturation or intensity of color in dreams seems to vary along a continuum.” (p. 255)

Bob Hoss is another IASD member who has done especially detailed investigations of color in dreams.

I’ve just read Eric Schwitzgebel’s longer paper, “Why did we think we dreamed in black and white?” in 2002, and I’m grateful for his extensive research on this topic.  He admits that he has larger philosophical fish to fry–he says “I write in service of the broader thesis that people generally have only poor knowledge of their own conscious lives, contrary to what many philosophers have supposed.” (p. 649), an argument he elaborates in his recent book Perplexities of Consciousness (2011).  I don’t think I’d want to argue with him about that general idea.  And I agree that “our knowledge of the phenomenology of dreaming is much shakier than we ordinarily take it to be” (p. 649).

But I suspect Schwitzgebel views this as an insoluble problem because of the fundamental limits of introspection and conscious self-knowledge.  I see it as a problem that can be solved by better empirical research that builds our knowledge of dream phenomenology on  firmer foundations.

Looking at some of the initial data I’ve drawn from the SDDb, it seems clear that most people dream fairly often, but by no means always, of colors and black and white.

Here’s a link to an SDDb search for reports of 25+ words with references to achromatic colors.  472 reports show up, out of 5193 reports of that length.  White appears most often, black next, gray third.

And here’s a link to an SDDb search for reports of 25+ words with references to chromatic colors.  476 reports show up, out of 5193 reports of that length.  Red appears most often, followed by blue, green, yellow, orange, and purple.

In studies of people who have kept long-term dream journals, I’ve found lots of variation in this area.  Some people have more chromatic color references in their dreams, and other people have more achromatic references.  Some people have very high overall frequencies (e.g., Merri, whose dream series of 315 dreams is available on the Dreambank, has by my count 44.4% of her dreams with at least one chromatic reference and 40% with at least one achromatic reference) and others quite low (Paul, whose series of 136 dreams is available on the SDDb, has 0% chromatic and 1.47% achromatic references).

I don’t know of any theoretical perspective that can encompass all this data.  Isn’t it paradoxical to think about the colors we see when we’re asleep and our eyes are closed?  Perhaps we need a new paradigm entirely to make adequate sense of the visual qualities of dreaming experience.

But I still hold to my “Dorothy Hypothesis”: This whole question in mid-20th century psychology of whether we dream in color or black & white was generated by the 1939 release of The Wizard of Oz, with its dramatic contrast between the drab black & white (sepia, really) of Kansas and the gaudy, transcendent technicolor of Oz.

 

Note: Schwitzgebel’s article appeared in Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 33 (2002), 649-660.

Dreaming of Nature and the Nature of Dreams

Dreaming of Nature and the Nature of Dreams by Kelly BulkeleyThe First Australian Regional Conference of the International Association for the Study of Dreams starts on April 19, and I have prepared a video talk for the conference titled “Dreaming of Nature and the Nature of Dreams.”  The talk can be found on Youtube, and the statistical data I reference can be found in Google docs.  More info about the IASD and the Australia conference is here.

I start the talk by briefly mentioning some of my early writings about the interplay of dreaming and nature: a 1991 article “Quest for Transformational Experience: Dreams and Environmental Ethics,” my doctoral dissertation/1994 book The Wilderness of Dreams and its notion of “root metaphors,” Herbert Schroeder’s chapter on dreams and natural resource management in my edited 1996 book Among All These Dreamers, the study of politically conservative and liberal people’s dreams and views of the environment in 2008’s American Dreamers, and Dreaming in the World’s Religions, also in 2008, with several stories of the inspirational roles that dreaming play in the nature awareness of indigenous cultures in the Americas, Africa, and Oceania.

The main focus of the talk is the findings I’ve made about the statistical frequency of nature references in dream content, using the word search methods of the Sleep and Dream Database (SDDb).  For this presentation I created a baseline sample of 2087 dream reports of more than 50 words but less than 300 words in length, from a total of 1232 females and 855 males.  The sample includes children, college students, and adults.  All are American and all are educated and/or computer literate.

Using tools on the SDDb that anyone can access, I studied these 2087 dream reports for references to the following categories of nature content: Weather, fire, air, water, earth, flying, falling, and animals.  (Can you guess which of the four classic elements (fire, air, water, earth) appears most often in dreams?  Can you guess which animals appear most frequently?) After laying out my findings I discuss the technological and political issues involved in bringing the insights of dreaming to bear on waking world environmental problems.

About halfway through the talk, our cat Strauss makes an appearance over my right shoulder.  It was a sunny day by Portland, Oregon standards, and the local birds were very active outside my window.  It was hard not to look at what he was looking at!

 

Dreaming of Nature and the Nature of Dreaming

Dreaming of Nature and the Nature of Dreaming by Kelly BulkeleyNext week there will be a conference in Australia titled “Dreams and Imagination: Healing Pathways,” April 19-22 in Sydney.  I was hoping to attend in person, but instead I’m offering a presentation for the conference via youtube video.  I’ll post the address when it’s ready next week.  Here’s a short description I provided for Susan Benson, organizer of the conference:

“Dreaming is an expression of human nature, and of humans-in-nature.  Dreams reflect the deepest instinctual energies of the unconscious psyche and the greatest physical powers that shape our embodied reality.  They teach us about the inner world and the outer world.  This presentation will explore the many dimensions of nature that open up in our dream experiences.  Combining religious and cultural history with new developments in cognitive science and database technology, I will discuss recurrent themes in people’s dreams about animals, the four elements, weather, and gravity.”

Dreams That Matter: Egyptian Landscapes of the Imagination

Dreams That Matter: Egyptian Landscapes of the Imagination by Kelly BulkeleyI’ve just read an excellent new book, Dreams That Matter: Egyptian Landscapes of the Imagination, by Amira Mittermaier (University of California Press, 2011).  The following two paragraphs are from a review that will appear in the next issue of the IASD magazine Dream Time.

 

Important new books on dreams and Islam have been coming out faster than this reviewer can keep up with them. In the last issue of Dream Time I wrote about Iain Edgar’s The Dream in Islam: From Qur’anic Tradition to Jihadist Inspiration. In this issue I review Dreams That Matter: Egyptian Landscapes of the Imagination by Amira Mittermaier, an Assistant Professor of Religion at the University of Toronto. Mittermaier’s work won the American Academy of Religion’s 2011 book award for Excellence in the Study of Religion in the Analytic-Descriptive Category. Based on her dissertation fieldwork, the book explores the lively yet hotly contested terrain of dreaming in contemporary Egypt. Whereas Edgar’s work takes a broad historical view of dreaming in Islam and then focuses on a particular type of dream experience (jihadist inspiration dreams), Mittermaier’s approach is to delve deeply into the ethnographic details of particular people’s lives in Egyptian culture and then open the discussion to broader issues and debates in Islamic teachings about dreams, revelation, and the imagination.

Mittermaier brings a unique personal background to her research topic. She was raised in Bavaria by a German father who was a neurologist and by an Egyptian mother who was a Jungian psychotherapist. Her upbringing gave her a deep familiarity with the ideas of Freud and Jung—and a conviction that the individual-centered theories of psychoanalysis were missing something important about the transpersonal dimensions of dreaming: “Intrigued by this apparent tension between Elsewhere-oriented and psychoanalytic dream models, I wanted to explore what it means for dreamers in the world today to be extended outward as opposed to inward.” (14)

I’ll post the rest of the review once the Dream Time issue appears, some time in the next few weeks.