Climate Change Nightmares: A Sign of Things to Come

Climate Change Nightmares: A Sign of Things to Come by Kelly BulkeleyThe front page of today’s New York Times newspaper includes an article about the impact of climate change on a remote village in Alaska.  The article, by Erica Goode, is titled “Climate Change Pushes Towns in Alaska to Wrenching Choice,” and it begins with a dream:

In the dream, a storm came and Betsy Bekoalok watched the river rise on one side of the village and the ocean on the other, the water swallowing up the brightly colored houses, the fishing boats and the four-wheelers, the school and the clinic.

She dived into the floodwaters, frantically searching for her son. Bodies drifted past her in the half-darkness. When she finally found the boy, he, too, was lifeless.

“I picked him up and brought him back from the ocean’s bottom,” Ms. Bekoalok remembered.

Ms. Bekoalok lives in Shaktoolik, north of Anchorage in a coastal region directly threatened by rising seas and worsening storms caused by climate change.  The article goes on to describe the daunting challenges facing the residents of Shaktoolik as they contemplate a terrible choice between moving the town to a safer place or staying put and building stronger defenses against the ocean.  The latter option would be folly, but the former choice is prohibitively expensive and would probably destroy the community just the same.

The dream shared by Ms. Bekoalok clearly expresses a reality-based anxiety about the dangers posed by climate change.  Dreams of water are fairly common; people typically dream of water more than of any other element (fire, earth, air).  But dreams of threatening water, such as floods or waves, are less common, and such dreams often include a heightened vividness and intensity that makes them unusually memorable.  Combine that with a theme of danger to one’s child (a classic parental nightmare), and the result is a hyper-realistic simulation of a dire threat looming in the dreamer’s future waking life.

The broader resonance of the dream, and the reason why it’s a powerful way to start the story, derives from its roots in the evolved nature of the dreaming imagination.  All humans have an innate propensity for nightmares that anticipate various threats to survival.  Nightmares are most common during childhood, an especially vulnerable time of life, and they tend to diminish in adulthood.  But whenever a serious danger arises (such as a work crisis, relationship break-up, illness, death, or a change in political regimes), frightening dreams often result.  When we hear a nightmare like Ms. Bakoalok’s, we can immediately empathize with her concerns because we know from personal experience what it’s like to fear something so much it gives us bad dreams.

Nightmares usually do more than simply mirror a person’s waking life concerns.  Most frightening dreams also include glimpses of possibility and alternative approaches to the threats and conflicts in waking life.  The creative, problem-solving capacities of the human mind are enormous, and dreaming is one of the main venues for those capacities to express themselves, providing a remarkable source of novel insights, useful innovations, and out-of-the-box thinking.

As climate change continues to unfold, more and more people are likely to have nightmares like Ms. Bekoalok’s.

 

 

Dreams of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump

 

Dreams of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump by Kelly BulkeleyIn several studies over the past 24 years I have explored the various connections between dreaming and electoral politics. One of the recurrent findings has been that political events and activities, like Presidential elections, can impact the content of people’s dreams. Some politicians appear with unusual frequency in people’s dreams, which has led to the hypothesis that dream appearances are an index of political charisma: The more a politician appears in people’s dreams, the more likely the politician has made a personal and emotional connection with those individuals. (An important note, especially in the 2016 US Presidential campaign: Charisma can have a positive or negative valence, acting as a force of attraction or repulsion.)

This post represents a progress report on a longer-term project that will finish at the end of the year. The main findings presented here illuminate the impact of the US election on the content of people’s dreams. Contrary to many Western psychologists who focus exclusively on the personal significance of dreaming, the examples here suggest that some dreams also have collective levels of significance. Such dreams are not only about the individual dreamer. They also relate to concerns shared by other people in the community. Political dreams are a dramatic example of the broader dimensions of cultural meaning that can be found in dreams.

These reports come from three different sources: 1) personal contacts, 2) websites I manage devoted to dreams of Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton, and 3) the 2016 Demographic Survey I administered in May of this year.

Each source has its methodological advantages and disadvantages. The personal contacts allow for more detail and follow-up conversations, but they are limited by my sphere of contacts. The websites can gather detailed reports with follow-up possibilities, but with uncertain provenance; I cannot assess the reliability of the sources. The demographic survey provides a broad spectrum of participants from a reliable source, but the reports tend to be short on detail, with no chance for follow-up.

(Some of the early reports I received from personal contacts were described in the post of July 3, 2016.)

All of the data I gather during this election cycle will eventually be available in the Sleep and Dream Database.

The reports presented below have been grouped into six thematic categories: Friendliness with a Candidate, Anticipations, Political Disagreements, Opposition to Trump, Openness to Trump, and Work & Place. Each of these categories sheds new light on an important aspect of the interaction between dreaming and politics.

With any of these dreams, further interpretation would undoubtedly reveal deeper meanings that might have nothing to do with politics. For this presentation, the goal is simply to highlight the various ways in which political phenomena impact the content and emotional tone of people’s dreams.

 

Friendliness with the Candidate

A consistent theme in political dreams is a friendly interaction with a candidate or politician whom the dreamer favors in waking life. At one level, such dreams express the individual’s political support in metaphorical terms of friendliness, intimacy, and sharing personal spaces. Such dreams can be regarded as evidence that a politician has forged a meaningful connection with that individual.

26 male, liberal

I recently had a dream that I was friends with Hillary Clinton and at an event, giving a speech to introduce her.

41 male, very conservative

I dreamed Ted Cruz came to my house

60 male, moderate

Being at a party with Donald Trump

20 male, very liberal

Yes, Bernie Sanders was in my kitchen and I was very excited.

21 female, very liberal

I went to a gathering of Bernie Sanders supporters and my favorite teacher was there.

37 female, liberal

I had a dream the other night that I met Hillary, and she wanted to give me a hug. I was so thrilled. Then we hugged and it was super awkward.

26 male, liberal

I had a dream before Clinton announced her campaign in which I asked her if she would run; she smiled and said yes.

69 female, moderate, MD

We were at a public event taking place out doors with many people. Hillary was sitting next to me and we were talking together as if we were good friends who had known each other a long time. I asked her about her plans for universal healthcare once she is in office. However, we were interrupted and I did not get an answer. The dream is strange because I am not a Democrat. [Comments: “I have no idea why I would have dreamed about Hillary Clinton, other than I am considering voting for her because I am not fond of my party’s proposed candidates.”]

 

Anticipations

Several politically-related dreams look ahead to possible outcomes of future political events like elections. Often these dreams have the quality of a wish-fulfillment. They express what the dreamer hopes and wishes will happen in the future.

68 female, liberal

I dreamed I was watching TV to see the results of the POTUS election. It said Bernie won, and I ran into my front yard, hollering with joy. It was nice.

23 male, very conservative

Marco Rubio won several states and took the lead. I was very excited and happy.

42 female, not sure

I had a dream that the presidential candidate who won was announced on TV. When I went in the living room, I saw a picture of John Kasich on the TV.

20 female, very liberal

I had a dream very recently that they announced who the presidential candidates were going to be, and I remember very distinctly being disappointed learning that Donald Trump received 3/4 of the vote, while being pleasantly surprised upon learning that Barack Obama was running for another four years.

 

Political Disagreements

Some dreams create a symbolic arena for debating political issues. In sociological terms, politics provides a public venue for working out arguments between different groups, and this makes it fertile territory for dreams about social conflicts at many different levels, from the individual’s family to the whole human species.

24 male, conservative

Argued with family in favor of Donald Trump. They were mad, but possibly swayed to support him.

23 male, moderate

I once had a dream that I was voting for the Republican nominee. I voted for Jeb Bush, and the rest of my family voted for Cruz and Trump. Disturbing.

22 male, moderate

I was being instructed by John Kasich in a college lecture and he reprimanded me. I went to Hillary Clinton and she acted as a counselor for me and prevented punishment.

62 female, moderate

I dreamt that Hillary had a major medical issue after securing the nomination. This caused the Democrats to act much like Ted Cruz and instead of going with Bernie Sanders – who would be the nominee- they tried to subvert the rules. This caused both parties to ask for a do-over. The Supreme Court ruled against them – Bernie lost.

 

Opposition to Trump

Several dreams I gathered expressed strong anti-Trump sentiments, which seemed mostly consistent with the dreamers’ waking life views of the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. The preponderance of anti-Trump dreams reflects the limits of my (mostly liberal) social circle, but it also reflects the high level of antipathy his campaign has generated among many Americans.

44 male, liberal

That gross Donald Trump wanted to sleep with my in my bed and I was like absolutely not. This was just last night.

35 female, very conservative

I have dreamed that Donald Trump was being generally unfriendly.

65 male, moderate

Donald Trump and I were having a conversation while walking through downtown – my wife is chasing us with a camera yelling “I didn’t get a picture.” I told him to ignore her she would cut off the top of our heads and he just chuckled and we went on discussing the issues and why I was against him. I was upset because he wouldn’t let me finish a sentence.

22 female, very liberal

I had a dream that Donald Trump was suing me for being a “slut” and I tried to fight him in court, but he won because I he had more money than me. I had to go to jail for years and was really distraught.

55 female, liberal

Just a couple of weeks ago, I had a weird dream about Donald Trump. Basically, I was telling him what I jerk I thought he was and why I disagreed with everything he stands for.

47 female, liberal, NY

I dreamt that I was dating Donald Trump. I guess it was at the point of the dating process where you proceed to sex, cause that is what the Donald was wanting. There was an anxiety building up in me, teetering towards panic as I realized I did absolutely not want to have sex with him but felt pressured to do so. He was coming at me with only a white dress shirt, unbuttoned on. I looked down and saw that he had a small, red, stubby little penis. His hands were little baby hands, reaching for me. I told him that I recently had surgery (which presently is actually true), and that I physically was unable to have sex, presently. He backed down, unable to reasonably pressure me, but I could tell he was frustrated, angry and annoyed about it. Later we were supposed to travel somewhere together, but I somehow was able to arrange that I would be going by myself. I was grappling with how I got myself into this situation, that I was actually dating Trump and how I could possibly tell my brother, without being mortified, cause I knew he would find that idea horrific. As did I. All I was thinking, how can I get out of this?! The thought of having sex with Trump made me sick to my stomach. [Comments: “It’s obvious to me. The thought of him is repugnant. It perfectly exemplifies how I feel about him as a woman. It also demonstrates his male ego, arrogance and rage. He brings up fear. It’s confirmed my feelings about him on a more primal level. I also have been almost obsessively following all news about him. I find it to be fascinating as a character study and a study of the American political landscape of this time in history. However I was horrified at having had this dream.”]

18 male, liberal, CA

I was at an outdoor rally, but Trump was in the center of the crowd. His presence there did irritate me, but then he continued to talk. At one point I boiled over with rage so I grabbed Trump in a chokehold and dragged towards the trash can. It was a rusted, old, metal trash can. I start to beat Trump with the trash can, slamming his head against it. He continues to talk during the whole beating, about his childhood, why he’s going to “Make America Great Again,” and his “small loan of a million dollars.” He eventually stopped talking with blood dribbling out of his ear. The trash can was bent out of shape. Then I woke up. [Comments: “I very much do not like Trump, but last night, my girlfriend’s boss was talking to her about Conservative fiscal policy and why she should be a Republican. This made me annoyed.”]

 

Open to Trump

People from across the political spectrum have experienced dreams in which they discover that Trump has previously unappreciated virtues and positive qualities. Even if the dreamers still hold an overall negative view of him, their dreams open up a new perspective on his character and candidacy. This might indicate an unconscious attraction to Trump’s candidacy, and/or a compensation for the intensity of the dreamer’s negative feelings toward Trump in waking life.

71 female, very conservative

The last dream was about Donald Trump. He was interacting with me on a private basis and he was the kindest, caring person.

19 male, very conservative

I dreamed that my band director got fired and was replaced by Donald Trump. He could conduct surprisingly well, thankfully.

29 female, very conservative

I dreamt that I was watching an old interview with Donald Trump in which he resembled George W. Bush and was much more genial and sensible than the raving megalomaniac he now is. The interview was part of a documentary that described how he used to be and I felt sympathy toward him for having been nice once.

54 male, moderate

I recently had a dream where I was watching a movie where Donald Trump was an actor playing one of the major characters, and I was thinking he wasn’t that bad in the movie, but I still despise him as a person.

33 female, liberal, NY

I had a dream that I was dating Donald Trump. I was very embarrassed about it, But I explained it by saying that his parents treated him very poorly and that’s why he acted out for attention. [Comments: “I’m very worried about the state of our country when his hateful rhetoric appeals to so many people, so he’s been on my mind. I think that he acts like a toddler who throws a tantrum when he doesn’t get his way and my dream self was much more tolerant of that than I normally. But America should be very embarrassed.”]

34 female, progressive, NY

Trump and I were hanging out on a college dorm floor, just shooting the shit, chatting about life, etc., and I was thinking to myself, “why does this guy get such a bad rap/put on such a show? He’s a really cool dude… and, like, gets it…” (!!!!!!!!!!) [Comments: “It’s obviously his campaign team infiltrating my dreams through some sort of advanced technology/dream therapy, but it won’t sway me!”]

57 female, progressive, CA

I was sailing in high seas with my son (a sweet, gentle kid who is the opposite of Trump) when suddenly he turned into Donald Trump, and suddenly we were pulling the boat ashore. No more sailing. We went into a casual beachfront restaurant and got two seats at a table under an umbrella. Someone brought lunch. I got to choose my side dish but the entree was already chosen. We both had water, but he wanted an alcoholic drink. He couldn’t get the waiter’s attention. He finally went into the bar and came out with a half gallon carton of chocolate milk. (Bartender’s idea of a joke?) He poured one for himself then started going around to the other diners with the milk. He was his “on stage” attention-seeking self with them, whereas with me he had been surprisingly pleasant and low-key. When he came back to the table, he was naked. (!!) He sat in a “manspread” kind of way so his junk was just hanging out. He seemed to be wearing some sort of weird sparkly thong; I could see a gold chain glittering in his pubic hair. I felt slightly alarmed but more just curious, what did it mean that he was naked? Were we going to have sex? The dream ended. [Comments: “I’ve been surprised by some of his endorsements, but I figure he must be more charismatic in person than he is on stage. Maybe this dream was exploring that possibility. But even in my dream he acted like a narcissist (just had to get the other diners’ attention) and an entitled jerk (coming back to our table with no pants). As for the genitals, maybe because of that reference to his penis size in the debate?”]

18 female, conservative NY

I was his secretary or something and was in his office and in his lap and we started making out and I was kissing his neck and he was kissing mine and I never gasped so sharply in a dream and we were getting undressed until finally I was in my bra and tights and I was all ready and then he was like we can’t do this, you’re barely dressed! And I was like yeah, isn’t that the whole point? And he was like, no go put on a decent nightgown right now! And his wife was there and I was just really confused. (Comment: “I think this dream came from memories of reading the Donald Trump Fan fiction my friend told me about.”)

 

Work & Place

These two respondents indicated their high frequency of politically-related dreams stemmed from the significant role of politics in their waking-life work and place of residence. This is further evidence that the continuity hypothesis encompasses waking life concerns about politics.

30 male, conservative

I have lived in Washington DC for ten years. Many of my dreams somehow involve politics or politicians.

63 male, N/A

My job involves politics so I dream about it all the time.

 

Comments, reflections, and interpretations are most welcome!

####

 

Related Writings

Dream Recall and Political Ideology: Results of a Demographic Survey. Dreaming 22(1): 1-9.

American Dreamers: What Dreams Tell Us About the Political Psychology of Conservatives, Liberals, and Everyone Else. Boston: Beacon Press.

  1. The Impact of September 11 on Dreaming. (Co-authored with Tracey L. Kahan.) Consciousness and Cognition 17:1248-1256.
  1. Dreams Shed Light on Obama’s Values. San Francisco Chronicle (August 17).
  1. Sleep and Dream Patterns of Political Liberals and Conservatives. Dreaming 16(3): 223-235.
  1. Dreaming of War in Iraq: A Preliminary Report. Sleep and Hypnosis 6(1): 19-28.
  1. Dream Content and Political Ideology. Dreaming 12(2): 61-78.
  1. It’s All Just a Bad Dream. San Francisco Chronicle (December 6): A27.
  1. “Political Dreaming: Dreams of the 1992 Presidential Election,” in Visions of the Night: Dreams, Religion, and Psychology. Albany: State University of New York Press, 179-194.
  1. Dreaming in a Totalitarian Society: A Reading of Charlotte Beradt’s The Third Reich of Dreams. Dreaming 4(2): 115-126.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dreams of the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election

Dreams of the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election by Kelly BulkeleyPsychologists from Sigmund Freud onwards have usually treated dreams as purely egotistical and self-centered, with no relevance outside the personal wishes of the dreamer. Every four years I try to prove that assumption wrong.

In response to my quadrennial request about election-related dreams, several colleagues sent me reports of dreams they have experienced relating to the 2016 campaign for U.S. President. These dreams offer intriguing insights into the impact of the political race on people’s nocturnal imaginations.

(The main work I’ve written on this topic is American Dreamers (2008)).

Four of the dreams involve the leading contender for the Republican nomination, Donald Trump. Three involve the leading Democrat, Hillary Clinton, and one is a “non-partisan” election dream. Bernie Sanders appears in one of the Clinton dreams.

It’s too early to make any definitive assessments or interpretations of the patterns in these dreams. What I can do now is identify possible themes and motifs, and then watch to see if they recur in later dreams.

The Trump dreams below reflect a sense of deep skepticism about his candidacy. They highlight his inability to lead, his hostility to women’s reproductive rights, his macho aggressiveness, and his frightening ability to seduce people’s minds. The dreams reflect and amplify the dreamers’ waking life opposition to Trump’s campaign, casting in vividly emotional and creatively imagistic terms their feelings about him and his policies.

The three Clinton dreams all come from the same dreamer, so they reflect her particular experiences of the political campaign. She describes herself as a Clinton supporter who’s open to much of what Bernie Sanders has been saying in his campaign. This comes out in her dream of both Clinton and Sanders, which anticipated the surprisingly close race for the Democratic nomination.

The last dream is a brief vision of politics beyond politicians.

I will soon post a larger collection of political dreams gathered from surveys and questionnaires, which come from a wider variety of people than those presented in this post, but with less personal background information.

This dream came to “Mary,” on August 16, 2015

“I dream that I am at some sort of business function in a large room with a dance floor. I see former co-workers. In walks Donald Trump. He grabs a microphone and asks if I would come to the dance floor to teach him the Argentine Tango. He is off-beat and awkward, tripping me up with tangled footwork. I suggest that we try a simple four-count box step. Nope. He can’t do that either. I stop the dance. ‘I can’t teach you to lead!’ I leave the dance floor.”

Initial comments from the dreamer: This dream woke me up laughing because even within the dream I understood the metaphor. I rarely throw my opinions about politics, but the message seems pretty clear: Donald Trump Can’t Lead. Let that be my 2016 presidential prediction.

In answer to my follow-up questions, the dreamer said she was not a tango dancer in waking life, so it’s a purely metaphorical reference to that specific style of dance, which famously requires close cooperation between the partners (“it takes two to tango”).   The business setting with this particular group of co-workers made the dreamer think of a time in her life when she was not getting along with her colleagues, everyone’s productivity suffered, “and the job environment would up going sour in the end.” This detail adds to the negative atmosphere of the dream, underscoring the theme of failing to work effectively with others.

The following four dreams came to the same individual, “Samantha,” over a period of about a year. She gave each dream a title, along with some responses to my questions at the end.

4-10-16 (night/morning of 4/10-11)

Who’s the Real Hillary Clinton?

I’m observing Hillary Clinton and, at times, her staff but seem to be mostly in Hillary’s mind, going through her day on the campaign, and simultaneously reviewing how I feel about her, getting to know more about her past history and policy stances and decisions, as I watch her work tirelessly, putting in a really long day. Variously, it’s her staffers who are doing this, working devotedly for Hillary, mostly one man and one woman. I realize with some dismay that Hillary has voted for or supported issues I disagree with, that she has been too quick to go to war in the past. I think I ask her, or perhaps I imagine asking her, “What situation if any would prompt you to go to war today? “ I’m deeply concerned about this and her answer will influence my support. She answers, or perhaps I imagine she tells me, that nothing short of defending our country right here would be grounds for war. This is the answer I can live with – self defense only from an actual dire and immediate threat. I learn about and mull over three specific areas – though I could only recall two on waking, war and finances. I find I’m at odds with Hillary’s past decisions on these so I want to be more informed on where she is with these issues today – but I also see her putting in the time, really working hard for the sake of others and not herself. I see the very human side of her, too, see her finally call it a day at the end of a really long day and retreat into her private space.  She’s on the road, staying in a hotel somewhere but she carries a worn black case with her from place to place.  I’m surprised when she opens the case up that it holds two rows of vinyls, worn looking records, some with album covers, some just old, scratched vinyls, including a 45 of mostly 70’s era music. The 45 is a recording of Three Dog Night’s “Joy to the World”. (I recognized most of the artists in the dream but could only recall Three Dog Night on waking.) This is how Hillary unwinds, listening to music that reflects her life, her past, and what makes her feel happy. I’m pleased by this – it’s so human and something I would do myself. She carries this case with her from hotel to hotel and knows that at the end of her day, it’s waiting for her. I also get glimpses of her staffers this way, so weary, having worked incredibly hard but catching their moments at the end of the day. I just take all of this in, thinking about it, pondering who Hillary really is and how I feel about her.

Note:  There may certainly be personal resonance and guidance for me in this dream, but it felt distinctly political, as if I was given a chance to see deeply into these issues and consider them. For the record, I’m a very left, very liberal Democrat and do care about the issues. I’m supporting Hillary but ideologically am very much aligned with Bernie Sanders and support the movement he’s started – and would support him if he won the nomination.  This dream did prompt me to dig deeper into each candidate’s position on key policies.

*When I looked up this dream to share it with you, I found two other short dreams I’d recorded – another Hillary dream and one of Trump that seems now to have been pre-cog of his later comments regarding women and abortion.

3-5-16 (night/morning of 3/5-6)

They Got McKinley Instead

Hillary Clinton and three others are standing outside together somewhere and there’s an assassination attempt that fails. Somehow, there’s a lighthearted feeling to this – like it wasn’t really a serious situation. Someone announces they got McKinley instead.

3-16-16 (night/morning of 3/16-17)

You Know How Trump Will React!

Memory of this is sketchy. I recall one clear scene in which someone is trying to convince another person not to do or reveal something to Trump. The secret has to do with pregnancy. I see and hear a woman say to the other person, “You know what he’ll do, don’t you, what he’ll say?” She stuffs a pillow under her shirt to make herself look pregnant. “If you tell him, you know how he’ll react.”  She’s very determined to persuade the other person not to set herself up to get browbeaten by this man. There was another scene in which a purplish red color was very dominant and something to do with a meal but I’ve lost the details.

Notes:  The 3-5 dream felt as if it dealt with character assassination, an election staple. The Trump dream does seem pre-cog of Trump’s later comments regarding abortion – and doesn’t reflect any known situation in my own life.

1-16-16 (night/morning of 1/16-17)

Election Results Suspense

I’m watching election results. Two side by large, digital counters are flashing the numbers for Bernie Sanders on the left and Hillary Clinton on the right. They’re neck and neck. The numbers get up to the 25 and 26 thousands or millions. I’m anxious because Hillary’s lead is getting slimmer. It’s not enough. The last tally goes up and someone blocks my view just as the last numbers click into place which is very frustrating. I recall thinking there’s still hope as these are exit poll numbers and the actual vote often varies from the exit poll numbers but this is worrisome. Sanders could actually win the election. I can’t believe someone – or something – blocked my view at the last second. EOD

Note:  This dream was a few weeks before the primaries began and this is more or less how things have played out – surprisingly, I think as I don’t feel even Senator Sanders thought he would do so well.

I sent Samantha some additional questions, and this was her reply:

“To answer your questions, I do have good recall and have been working with my dreams for years. I would say it’s not unusual for me to dream of presidents or key world figures past or present (the Dalai Lama, Gandhi) but it’s somewhat unusual for me to dream of candidates, though the current presidential candidates are very much in the news. I’ve had a long series of President Obama (and Michelle) dreams but have always felt a personal connection to him. I did a quick search and found that I had one dream of Hillary Clinton in 2008, right around the Democratic convention when she lost the nomination. Interestingly, it was a dream about resilience, hanging tough and getting another chance – exactly what’s happened for her. I’ve definitely had dreams of Presidents Lincoln, Kennedy, Clinton, Bush and Carter in the past.

“Yes, that’s the correct McKinley reference [to the 25th U.S. President William McKinley, who was assassinated in 1901]. I was a little surprised by that one myself – but I grew up with a dad who was a history teacher and loved to quiz me on history and current events.

“In the Trump dream, I definitely felt Trump would deride the pregnant woman for being pregnant in a personal and derogatory way, as if being pregnant was wrong in some way, perhaps shameful or ill-timed or simply undesirable. When I found the dream to send to you, Trump’s comments regarding punishing women who have abortions (which he hadn’t yet made when i had the dream) immediately came to mind. That would certainly not be my personal opinion and it was an uncomfortable feeling in the dream – so yes, about women’s bodies or their choices regarding their bodies, just generally disapproving and/or disrespectful. I looked back at the dream and saw that I noted my “feeling on waking” was dismay.”

This report comes from “Sarah” on March 30, 2016. She titled it “Snake in the Pool.”
In a campus-like setting, frat-boys increasingly intrude upon women.  Some of them, with huge testicles, jump naked into a women’s pool and swim circling about in a pack.  They don’t notice the coppery poisonous snake that has joined them swimming in the water.  In fact, one guy absentmindedly pushes it out of the way without actually looking at it and recognizing it for what it is. Their elder, The Lord of Misrule, arrives: it turns out that he’s Donald Trump.  He wears a royal purple satin robe with metallic golden trim, but gaping wide open in front, exposing his nakedness and his big belly.  An entourage of fatuous rich and powerful men accompany him.  They seem completely brainwashed: they have dull eyes and their mouths hang open. Despite their robes of office they look so imbecilic that it’s scary.  (I feel both fear FOR them in their impaired state, and fear OF them because they’re in no condition to wield the power that they have.) The entourage fills up bleachers beside the pool, taking the lower, easiest to reach, front-row seats.  I warn some of the other original women about the snake.  On my advice we move to the very top of the bleachers, above the men.  That poison snake won’t be the only one; I expect a swarm.  I know, however, that this variety can’t climb very far, though the lower bleachers that the men occupy are well within their range.  I hold no hope for the “leaders”, for they have let themselves become too impaired to defend themselves.

Below are my follow-up questions, and Sarah’s responses:

Do you often dream of people from public life like politicians, or is this a rare event?

I sometimes dream of public figures, more often fictional people, but the outside world, one way or another, does tend to impact my dreams.

How does the dream relate to your waking views of politics generally, and Trump in particular?  The dream seems to express a skeptical wariness towards Trump and the other guys.  Am I right about that?

That’s pretty true, yes.

Is the “Lord of Misrule” a specific character from a story, or is it something new in this dream?

It’s an historical role, actually.  On April Fool’s Day.  Someone foolish or of low standing is declared the Lord of Misrule, and put in charge of drunken revelry for one or a few days, variously in Christmas-time, April Fool’s Day, or Saturnalia.  Here’s a link on it:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lord_of_Misrule. I should also mention that, after wondering if the dream might predict something politically, I realized that the women moved to higher ground that the men were too stupified to attain and thus escaped being poisoned–which might indicate that Trump would win the nomination, but Clinton win the presidency.  Which saddens me, because I’m a Bernie Sanders Supporter. Oh, and one other thing–I just learned that in the oldest versions of the Lord of Misrule, he dies after his brief reign, sacrificed to Saturn.

This dream came to “Betty” on March 31, 2016.

I’m walking down the hallway of a hospital ward (I believe) observing Donald Trump walking side-by-side with Louis CK. Donald and CK are concrete and viscerally tangible, but I’m ghost-like. It’s as though we’re back in time. Donald has his arm around CK and double-speaks to him–seemingly kindly–fatherly, yet patronizingly–as though he’s a much better person and has so much more to offer. Now that Donald has used psychological manipulation to lower CK’s confidence and perhaps esteem, he offers, what I presume to be a large bribe. CK looks into me (I’m kind of a camera, I suppose) in defeat as though to say “well what can I do? He owns this place.” My heart breaks because CK is one of “us.” One of the good guys. Trump is everywhere, on all sides–left and right. He’s got everyone wrapped around his finger, including CK, in whom I had entrusted my hopes. Disappointed, I go back to my room.

The dream goes on to a scene in a hospital, which directly related to the serious waking-life health concerns of Betty’s mother and grandmother. The first half of the dream reminded her of the character played by Louis CK in the movie “Trumbo,” which Betty enjoyed a great deal. Her actual name (not the pseudonym Betty) is similar to his, which she felt might indicate a kind of symbolic identification with Louis CK. This made her worry the dream reflected something about her own vulnerability to the persuasive appeal of the Trump campaign. She said, “I’m being seduced by the media as well, I think….”

Lastly, this dream came from “Sophia,” dated April 25, 2016.

Dream about the election.  The candidate I like thinks about people to be served, not problems to be solved.  EOD.

In response to my questions about the candidate, Sophia said, “It seemed like there was a person but it was more an impression than a clear memory of someone.  The clear dream memory was the idea and words, the concept.  I wonder if the message from the dream indicates that it’s not the personality that’s important but the ideals.” I asked how the dream related to her thoughts about current politics, and she replied, “Yes, the viewpoint in the dream is consistent with my waking views.” Her professional life involves teaching and leading workshops, and she said a motivating ideal in her work is the question of “What do the people need?”  If a politician could make that ideal the center of a campaign, he or she would have Sophia’s vote.

 

Donald Trump: The Sleep Deprivation Hypothesis

Donald Trump: The Sleep Deprivation Hypothesis by Kelly BulkeleyIt seems that every pundit on the planet has taken a shot at explaining the phenomenal rise and mercurial character of Donald Trump, currently the leading contender to become the Republican nominee for US President. A recent op-ed piece by Timothy Egan in the New York Times, “A Unified Theory of Trump,” suggested a novel and I believe entirely plausible explanation for Trump’s behavior as a candidate: he is chronically sleep deprived.

Egan pointed to Trump’s comments last November in which he boasted about his disinterest in sleep. As reported by Nara Schoenberg in the Chicago Tribune, Trump told a crowd in Springfield, Illinois that “I’m not a big sleeper, I like three hours, four hours, I toss, I turn, I beep-de-beep, I want to find out what’s going on.” A few days later Trump told Henry Blodget in an interview for Business Insider that he can get by on as little as one hour of sleep. Here is an excerpt from the interview; the sleep discussion comes at the very beginning:

HENRY BLODGET, CEO AND EDITOR-IN-CHIEF OF BUSINESS INSIDER: You have an incredible work ethic, which is clearly part of your success. You’re tweeting at 3 o’clock in the morning, you’re up all night.

DONALD TRUMP: It’s part of my campaign. [Conservative radio host] Mark Levin said to me last night, I had a dinner-show at 8:30. He says, “I saw you on ‘Morning Joe’ at 7, I saw you in the debate. Where do you get the energy?” he said. I said, “Mark, you know what, I got one hour of sleep last night. Because I flew from Milwaukee at 2:30 in the morning. You know, by the time you’re finished up with all the stuff and the interviews.” It was a successful debate, so I stayed around.

I then flew, I went to New Hampshire. I went to a hotel, I stayed for one hour, because I got there at 5. And by the time I got there, I had to get up to get out at 6:30 something. So I slept for one hour over there.

He said, “Where do you get the energy?”

HB: So where do you get it? Where does it come from?

DT: Genetically. My father was very energetic, my mother was very energetic. He lived to a very old age and so did my mother. I believe that I just have it from my father, from my parents. They had wonderful energy.

In her Huffington Post commentary, “Can Sleep Deprivation Explain Donald Trump’s Behavior?” Krithika Varagur noted that in his 2004 book Trump: Think Like a Billionaire, he “claimed to sleep only from 1:00 a.m. to 5:00 a.m., in order to gain a competitive advantage in his dealings. He advised readers, ‘Don’t sleep any more than you have to. … No matter how brilliant you are, there’s not enough time in the day.’”

I won’t speculate about Trump’s genetics, but I agree with Schoenberg, Egan, and Varagur that his behavioral patterns are characteristic of someone with chronic sleep deprivation, the symptoms of which include emotional imbalance, sudden mood swings, cognitive deficits, poor judgment, memory loss, irritability in social situations, increased appetites, loss of creativity, the tendency to continue with an error despite contrary evidence, and an inability to recognize and adjust to new conditions. Most of these symptoms do seem applicable to Trump. As Egan put it,

“His judgment is off, and almost always ill informed. He has trouble processing basic information. He imagines things. He shows a lack of concentration… in addition, Trump is given to inchoate bursts of anger and profanity. He creates feuds. In his speeches, he picks up on the angry voice in the mob and then amplifies it.”

But if this theory about Trump is true, then his political success seems even more bizarre than ever. How can someone who flaunts his psychological dysfunction be winning the fervent support of a large portion of the American electorate?

The answer may be embedded in the question. Trump’s supporters themselves may have a tendency to chronic sleep deprivation.

The behavioral signs are consistent with this idea. People who support Trump are remarkably unyielding in their attachment to him; nothing anyone says will change their minds. As Trump himself commented in January, “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.” His supporters seem to include many people who are angry, suspicious of reason, socially irritable, and uncreative in the sense of seeking a return to an earlier, simpler time, when America used to be great.

Stronger evidence comes from demographic studies of sleep. Trump’s supporters tend to be people at the lower end of the income scale, less educated, and, in their own words, feeling besieged by outside forces threatening to overwhelm the country. Empirical research has shown that people in precisely those demographic conditions are more prone to suffer insomnia and problems sleeping. For example, Sara Arber at the University of Surrey has shown correlations in the British population between poor sleep and low socio-economic status. Here is how I describe her findings in chapter 4 of my book Big Dreams:

“Research by Sara Arber and her colleagues at the Center for the Sociology of Sleep at the University of Surrey has found clear connections between socioeconomic status and sleep quality. In a study based on interviews with 8,578 British men and women between the ages of 16 and 74, Arber and her colleagues identified several social and economic factors associated with increased sleep problems: unemployment, low household income, low educational achievement, and living in rented or public housing. Women had worse sleep problems than men, and divorced or widowed people had worse sleep problems than married people. Overall, their study found that disadvantages in social and economic life were strongly correlated with poor quality sleep. Noting the negative health consequences of sleep deprivation, Arber and her colleagues suggested that “disrupted sleep may potentially be one of the mechanisms through which low socioeconomic status leads to increased morbidity and mortality.”

The last point bears emphasis. Poor socioeconomic conditions can lead to poor sleep, which in turn can lead to increased health problems and a shorter lifespan. Sleep seems to be a pressure point where adverse social forces can directly and negatively impact a person’s physiological health.

My research with the Sleep and Dream Database has also found that people at the low end of the economic scale tend to have more insomnia and trouble sleeping. In a 2007 survey I found, consistent with Arber et al.’s research, that people with higher education and higher annual income tended to have less insomnia than people with lower education and lower annual income. A 2010 survey found the same pattern: people without college degrees had somewhat worse insomnia than people with a college degree. On the personal finances question, people with the lowest annual income reported having worse insomnia than did the people with the highest annual incomes. (I discuss these surveys at greater length in chapter 4 of Big Dreams.)

Most Americans are sleep deprived not by choice or genetics, but because of the relentless stress and pressure of modern life. For those Americans at the lower end of the economic scale, with fewer opportunities and more anxieties about the worsening condition of the country, it becomes difficult to preserve normal, healthy patterns of sleep.

And then Donald Trump comes along and says sleep deprivation is nonsense, that’s just what losers think when they see a high-energy individual with a strong work ethic. Trump shows people how to re-brand their loss of sleep as a badge of honor, reconceive their misfortune as a virtuous strength, and transform their diminished inner life into an outward projection of aggressive confidence. It seems to work for him, and the implicit promise of his campaign is that it will work for his supporters, too.

 

References:

Arber, Sara, Marcos Bote, and Robert Meadows. “Gender and socio-economic patterning of self-reported sleep problems in Britain,” Social Science & Medicine 68 (2009): 281-289.

Arber, Sara, Robert Meadows, and S. Venn. “Sleep and Society,” in The Oxford Handbook of Sleep and Sleep Disorders (Charles Morin and Colin Espie, ed.s). New York: Oxford University Press, 2012, 223-247.

 

Note: this essay first appeared in the Huffington Post on March 9, 2016.

What Kinds of Technology Do People Dream About Most Frequently?

What Kinds of Technology Do People Dream About Most Frequently? by Kelly BulkeleyThe past one hundred years of human history have been dramatically transformed by the invention of several new technologies, each of which has impacted people’s lives in profound and complicated ways.

In light of empirical research showing strong continuities between waking and dreaming, we can hypothesize that modern technologies have also made a tangible impact on the content of people’s dreams.

And indeed, there is evidence in support of that idea. By analyzing a collection of more than 16,000 dream reports available for study on the Sleep and Dream Database (SDDb), it becomes possible to examine which kinds of technology have most influenced people’s dreams in terms of their frequency of appearance.

The results suggest the newest technologies are not necessarily the most important ones in the world of dreams.

To explore this question I looked at all the dream reports on the SDDb of 25 words or more in length for Females (N=10,168) and Males (N=6,590), and selected the “Technology and Science” category from the 2.0 word search template.

This is a quick and dirty approach, but it has the virtue of providing an easy and relatively straightforward means of getting an evidence-based response to the question.

The results for the Females were 990 dream reports with at least one reference to a word in the “Technology and Science” category, approximately 10% of the total number of dreams. The figures for the Males were 602 and 9%.

Looking in more detail at which terms appeared most frequently (these include singular and plural uses of the term), the results for the Females were these:

Phone, 3.55%

Movie, 3.18%

Video, 1.26%

Computer, 1.2%

Machine, .91%

Radio, .65%

Camera, .62%

Television, .26%

And for the Males:

Phone, 2.69%

Movie, 2.47%

Video, 1.27%

Computer, 1.03%

Machine, 1.02%

Radio, .47%

Camera, .49%

Television, .36%

I did a parallel search with the same two sets using the SDDb 2.0 word search template category for Transportation. These results—24% of the dream reports for both Females and Males had at least one reference to a Transportation word—are much higher than the Technology and Science frequencies.

Looking more closely at specific forms of transportation appearing in people’s dreams, these were the results for the Females:

Car, 9.12%

Boat, 1.92%

Bus, 1.81%

Airplane, 1.49%

Truck, 1.26%

Elevator, 1.16%

Bicycle, .86%

And for the Males:

Car, 8.18%

Boat, 2.12%

Bus, 1.65%

Bicycle, 1.56%

Airplane, 1.46%

Truck, 1.37%

Elevator, .67%

The first thing to note is the remarkable gender balance. On almost all the categories and word clusters, the Female and Male frequencies are extremely close. (The main exceptions are slightly more Bicycle references for the Males, and slightly more Phone, Movie, Car, and Elevator references for the Females.) This consistency across so many terms suggests that modern technologies have impacted men and women about equally.

Secondly, the analysis indicates that the most frequently appearing modern invention in dreams is the automobile. It seems that technologies of transportation have had more of an impact on people’s dreams than have technologies of communications and entertainment.  Add in trucks and buses to cars, and the predominance of the internal combustion engine in dreaming becomes even greater.

Why might this be? I’m not sure, but I wonder if technologies of transportation have more of a visceral impact on people’s lives. Telephones, movies, videos, and computers can be fascinating and absorbing, but they do not directly affect a person’s body with the kind of sensory intensity that people feel during a car ride.

Whatever the explanation, the results of this brief study indicate that the most frequently appearing type of modern technology in dreams is one that was invented more than one hundred years ago. Newer technologies like computers and videos have not (yet) made as big an impression on the dreaming imagination.

Maybe future developments in virtual reality will enable a more powerful stimulation of people’s physiological responses, prompting a rise in VR-related dreams. But that remains a far-off possibility.

Until then, cars remain for most people the dream technology of choice.

 

Note: here are the word strings for the specific technology and transportation searches:

Phone: phone phones telephone telephones iphone iphones. Video: video videos. Computer: computer computers. Machine: machine machines machinery. Radio: radio radios. Camera: camera cameras. Television: television televisions tv tvs.

Car: car cars auto autos automobile automobiles. Boat: boat boats ship ships. Bus: bus buses. Bicycle: bicycle bicycles bike bikes. Airplane: airplane airplanes plane planes. Truck: truck trucks. Elevator: elevator elevators.

Ben Carson’s Illuminating Dream

Ben Carson's Illuminating Dream by Kelly BulkeleyBen Carson, the retired neurosurgeon and leading Republican contender for the Presidency, says that his life was changed by a shadowy figure who appeared in a dream and gave him special advice at a time of crisis. Not since Barack Obama’s 2004 memoir Dreams From My Father has a presidential candidate shared such valuable insight into his personal dreaming experience.

Carson’s 2009 autobiography Gifted Hands describes a pivotal moment during college when he was threatened with paralyzing doubt about his ability to reach the ambitious goal he had set himself, to become a doctor. Having escaped a dysfunctional family and a poor, crime-ridden neighborhood, Carson was a freshman at Yale University in the pre-med program. He felt overwhelmed by the difficulty of his classes and the competitive pressures from all the other super-bright, hyper-achieving students. Chemistry became a serious problem, and as the end of first semester approached Carson realized he was very likely to fail the class. That would knock him out of the pre-med program and ruin his plans for the future. The day before the exam he wandered about campus in deep despair, consumed by guilt and anxiety. Finally, he says, he prayed:

“My mind reached toward God—a desperate yearning, begging, clinging to Him. ‘Either help me understand what kind of work I ought to do, or else perform some kind of miracle and help me to pass this exam.’” (72)

Once he placed the matter in God’s hands, Carson says he “felt at peace” (72). He commenced to study as hard as he could in the few hours remaining before the test—“I scribbled formulas on paper, forcing myself to memorize what had no meaning to me.” (73) When midnight came, Carson “flopped into my bed and whispered in the darkness, ‘God, I’m sorry. Please forgive me for failing You and for failing myself.’ Then I slept.” (73)

And then comes the dream that changed his life:

“While I slept I had a strange dream, and, when I awakened in the morning, it remained as vivid as if it had actually happened. In the dream I was sitting in the chemistry lecture hall, the only person there. The door opened, and a nebulous figure walked into the room, stopped at the board, and started working out chemistry problems. I took notes of everything he wrote.” (73)

When he woke up, Carson quickly wrote down all the problems he could remember, even though the final few faded away before he could record them. He looked up the problems in his textbook, figuring that his mind “was still trying to work out unresolved problems during my sleep.” (74)

But what happened next made him question the prosaic explanations of psychology. He went to the chemistry lecture hall, took his seat, and waited with 600 other students for the teacher to pass out the exam booklet.

“At last, heart pounding, I opened the booklet and read the first problem. In that instant, I could almost hear the discordant melody that played on TV with The Twilight Zone. In fact, I felt I had entered that never-never land. Hurriedly, I skimmed through the booklet, laughing silently, confirming what I suddenly knew. The exam problems were identical to those written by the shadowy dream figure in my sleep.” (74)

Without pausing to reflect on the strangeness of what was happening, he set to work on the exam, going as fast as he could so he would not forget the information he had received in his dream. “God, You pulled off a miracle,” he said as finished the test and left the lecture hall.

Once again he wandered the campus, this time in wonder and elation, urgently trying to make sense of things.

“I’d never had a dream like that before. Neither had anyone I’d ever known. And that experience contradicted everything I’d read about dreams in my psychological studies. The only explanation just blew me away. The one answer was humbling in its simplicity. For whatever reason, the God of the universe, the God who holds galaxies in His hands, had seen a reason to reach down to a campus room on Planet Earth and send a dream to a discouraged ghetto kid who wanted to become a doctor. I gasped at the sure knowledge of what had happened.” (75)

Carson passed the exam with a score of 97. The only problems he got wrong were the ones at the end, when his memory of the dream had begun to fade. From that point on his path toward a stellar medical career never faltered, and by the age of 33 he had become director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions.

But the significance of Carson’s miraculous dream extended far beyond helping him become a doctor. After this experience he was confident that God “had special things for me to do… I had an inner certainty that I was on the right path in my life—the path God had chosen for me. Great things were going to happen in my life, and I had to do my part by preparing myself and being ready.” (76)

What should we make of this story? First of all, we have to ask if he made the whole thing up. Aspiring politicians embellish their biographies all the time. It’s a rather neat little vignette, perfectly suited for a mass-market book. Carson had plenty to gain, and nothing to lose, by fabricating this feel-good tale of a dream of salvation.

Of course there is no direct way to validate the details of his experience. However, there are many indirect reasons, based on current scientific dream research, to indicate that what Carson described was not impossible but actually has some degree of plausibility. Setting aside his theological interpretation for a moment, we can look at the basic contours of Carson’s dream and identify several features that reflect well-known aspects of cognitive functioning during sleep.

To start, dream recall increases for many people during times of personal crisis. As clinical psychologists have long known, intensified dreams tend to emerge when a person is struggling with turbulent emotions and a fragile sense of identity. Increased dreaming is especially likely for people who perform pre-sleep prayers like Carson did the night before his dream. “Dream incubation” is the general term for rituals aimed at stimulating a revelatory dream, and religions all over the world have developed special techniques for this purpose. Modern researchers have found that if people go to sleep with an urgent question or concern in mind, they are highly likely to dream about it that night.

Indeed, those are the conditions that can generate a “big dream,” meaning a dream with unusual vividness, realism, and memorability. Carson’s experience would certainly qualify as a big dream in that sense.

Dreaming about a test or exam is among the most common types of recurrent dream. It has a history reaching back to ancient China and the dreams people many centuries ago had about passing, or failing to pass, the all-important civil service exams. People today often have exam nightmares long after they have been out of school, more evidence of the deep emotional power of these kinds of dreams.

There should be nothing surprising, then, about a college student who is very anxious about a test having a dream that relates directly to his waking concerns.

Although he later dismissed it, Carson’s initial psychological analysis of the dream has some merit. It seems likely that, after all that intense studying, he went to sleep and his unconscious mind made various connections that his conscious waking mind had not yet processed. The exam questions seemed familiar because it turned out that he actually understood the material much better than he thought he did. It would have been a much more miraculous story if he had received this dream and done well on the test without doing any studying beforehand.

In light of all this, we can recognize a plausible naturalistic core to Carson’s experience. We still cannot say with certainty that he really had this exact dream, but everything he described has a realistic basis in current scientific knowledge about sleep and dreaming.

Carson felt, however, that a naturalistic explanation of his dream was not enough. He adopted a theological interpretation that cast himself as a quasi-biblical figure of divinely sanctioned destiny. Strangely, he never said anything more about the “nebulous figure” who revealed the chemistry problems, and in most Christian contexts this would be a huge red flag. Any number of demonic temptations can enter people’s minds through dreams, and a “shadowy” character like the one in Carson’s dream would automatically be a target of suspicion. But Carson never has a moment’s doubt about the reliability of his mysterious dream teacher, trusting in the ultimate goodness of his desire to become a doctor. If the dream helped him reach that goal, it must be a dream from God.

Carson’s miraculous exam dream stands in dramatic contrast to the two dreams described by Barack Obama in his first book, Dreams From My Father. Obama’s dreams revolved around struggles with his complicated family history and efforts to reconcile himself with the haunting influence of his father. Both dreams occurred during a time of major life transition (after the death of his father, and on a journey to Africa to visit his father’s village), and both dreams are suffused with dark emotions of fear, anger, and sadness. Obama’s dreams led him to a more humble self-awareness of the enduring power of his family lineage, for good and for ill. In 2008, before Obama was elected, I wrote that a close look at these dreams “suggests that Obama is perhaps more temperamentally conservative and respectful of paternal authority than most Americans assume.”

Whereas Obama’s dreams had the effect of anchoring him more deeply in the communal traditions of his ancestors, Carson’s dream, or at least his interpretation of it, had the effect of elevating himself to a position of singular cosmic importance. It would not be too strong to say that Carson feels he is on a mission from God, a mission first revealed to him in a heaven-sent dream.

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Note: This essay was first published in the Huffington Post on November 2, 2015. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kelly-bulkeley-phd/ben-carsons-illuminating-_b_8443254.html