199 Dreams of Donald Trump

199 Dreams of Donald Trump by Kelly BulkeleyA new collection of dreams about the new US President sheds light on his psychological impact in the minds of those who support him and those who oppose him.

These dreams were gathered via a website I manage, idreamoftrump.net, which has been active since early 2016.  A total of 143 came from people living in the U.S., and 56 came from people living in countries outside the U.S.  In terms of gender, 124 reports come from females and 75 from males.  I asked a question about how the individual would describe his or her political ideology, and 43 said they were progressive, 44 liberal, 50 moderate, 8 libertarian, 37 conservative, and 9 very conservative.  

This is certainly not a representative sample of people from the U.S. or the human population, so I want to be cautious in drawing conclusions from the data.  This sample represents a self-selected group of people who woke up remembering a dream of Donald Trump, found my site online, and shared the dream with me (for which I am very grateful!).  The results of analyzing these dreams can illuminate several possible dimensions of meaning which are interesting and important, though not definitively proven or established using current research methods.  What I’m going to lay out is more than mere speculation, but well short of settled knowledge.

199 Dreams of Donald Trump by Kelly BulkeleyThe good news, from a research perspective, is that this set of 199 dreams turns out to be remarkably consistent with the content patterns of average or typical dreams.  In my 2016 book Big Dreams I describe the “SDDb baselines,” a set of more than 5,000 dream reports I gathered from normal, healthy people to create a portrait of the baseline frequencies of average dreaming.  I analyzed the 199 Trump dreams using the same word search template I used with the SDDb baselines (which includes classes for Perception, Emotion, Cognition, Movement, Characters, Social Interactions, Culture, and Elements), and I found the results match up very closely with the frequencies of the baselines.

What this means is that the Trump dreams are not radically different from ordinary dreams.  The same general currents that shape regular dreaming also shape the dreams in which Trump appears as a character.

199 Dreams of Donald Trump by Kelly BulkeleyThis also means the few differences I did find are worth special attention.  The close parallels between the Trump dreams and the SDDb baselines on so many categories of content casts into sharp relief the areas where the Trump dreams had unusual variations from the baselines.

The Trump dreams had a very high frequency of references to male characters, which makes sense given that the Trump is present in all of them.  But these 199 dreams also have an unusually low frequency of references to female characters, which is more striking.  Compared to the baselines, the dreams of Trump also have remarkably high frequencies of references to the act of speaking, to the perceptual sense of touch, and to the cultural domain of money and work.  

For the males, their dreams of Trump had unusually high friendliness, low physical aggression, and low references to weapons.  For the females, their dreams of Trump had unusually high physical aggression and sexuality.

To summarize these findings, it seems that when Trump appears as a character in people’s dreams, he does not disrupt the whole process; people continue dreaming more or less the way they typically do.  But he does have a tangible and measurable impact on certain aspects of those dreams.  A dream about Donald Trump typically involves fewer women and more talking, touching, and references to money and work.  Men seem to become pacified around Trump in their dreams, while women seem to become more instinctually primed.  

199 Dreams of Donald Trump by Kelly BulkeleyI can provide the spreadsheet with the detailed results to anyone who requests it, and I will go into more detail about these and other politically-related dreams at the upcoming conference of the International Association for the Study of Dreams, to be held June 20-24 in Anaheim, California.  I am giving a presentation on dreams in relation to current U.S. politics, and the analysis of this set of 199 Trump dreams will be featured in the presentation.  

The dream reports are currently available in the SDDb for further study and exploration.  I have selected twenty-three reports to include in this post, all of which came post-election, as a way of illustrating the personal experiences behind the statistical comparisons I’ve been discussing so far.  Each report includes the age, gender, country/state of residence, and political ideology of the dreamer, along with their SDDb participant ID codes.  The dreamer’s associations to the dream follow the report, responding to my question about what they thought the dream might mean, and whether it altered their view of the new president.  I made up the titles with an eye towards highlighting what I think are the most interesting themes.

 

He Put a Ring on My Finger

A female, 32, from Iowa, moderate – Td107

I dreampt I was in his house, a really large one. There were threats that he was going to be assassinated all around and I was crying. He was acting like everything was okay and he had a lot of security. Everyone was dressed casual, and I think his family was there too. Suddenly the dream shifted and everyone was saying he was dead. I couldn’t stop crying, and as I was about to go he stood in front of me and told me I was worried for nothing, he was smiling and totally confident. This part is weird and embarrassing. …He then proposed to me and put a ring on my finger! I grabbed him and was sobbing into his chest while he was rubbing my back. I have NO idea why I dreampt it lol. That’s what prompted me to search if anyone else has dreams of him. 🙂

Idk, I voted for him..and I think he’s great! It doesn’t change my opinion of him at all, it made me feel a little closer to him perhaps…which is weird to say.

 

I Could Mess With Trump If I Wanted to

A female, 14, from Louisiana, liberal – Td123

I was is a car, one with black leather material. The car has three rows of seats and Donald Trump and my brother resided in the middle set and I sat in the back row. I sat behind Trump and he reclined is chair to touch my knees. I give him a dirty look and received the same back but he soon put his chair back. Then, not immediately after, almost like some time had past, Trump asked me to get something from the seat next to me that was him and he reclined his chair and I gave his item to him and the very slightest bit of our fingers brushed past each other and I was disgusted so much that I quivered. My brother gave me a dirty look and Trump put his seat back on. I realized that I could mess with Trump if I wanted to and texted my friend and asked “Should I shout I’M GAY!” And my dream ended at that.

Perhaps the dream means how I feel scared about what could happen to my friends that are not all white men.

 

He Gives Me a Necklace to Wear for Our Wedding

A female, 63, from New York, progressive – Td124

I’m getting married! I am preparing for my upcoming wedding. My fiance, Donald Trump, has given me a necklace to wear for our wedding. The necklace has a large oval moonstone set into a square platinum setting surrounded by diamonds, on a small link platinum chain. I am not sure I want to wear this necklace. I have another necklace given to me by my last partner, John. It is a gorgeous platinum necklace set with baguette (rectangular shape) emeralds, and diamond pave (tiny diamonds). It is a series of ¼” links and has an elaborate clasp as a focal point; it’s more dimensional with the same design. While deciding which necklace I will wear my ex-husband, Peter shows up. We go to the local nursery with a container with two plants in it; we own together. One of the plants has died. The man at the nursery says the problem is the two plants need different environments – one needs sun and lots of water, the other less water, and no bright sunlight.

While writing the dream down, I had a big ah-ha about why my ex-husband and I did not get along. This dream made me take a look at my disowned shadow showing up as Trump. I’m still processing it. The jewelry to me represents some accomplishments in my life which point to speaking up (necklace around throat). Integrating Donald will probably help that too, but at this moment I have a difficult time with admitting I am that too, but dreams don’t lie. LOL!

 

I Note That He Is Circumcised

A female, 69, from Colorado, liberal – Td125

I’m in a bathtub with Donald Trump. He tells me to wash my hair. Melania sits on the toilet with the cover down and tries to make nice. He’s not being sexual with me. Maybe I’m not attractive enough for him to notice. I tell Melania he’s my father. I know no good will come of this. I note that he is circumcised because I know people will ask. Why won’t he let me take a shower? I need to rinse my hair. There’s not much water. Should I pull the white shower curtain? I decide not to. It’s no use. He cannot win, I think to myself, trying to make it so.

Trump has invaded my private space, yet is not as aggressive or fearful as he seems in waking life . I don’t want him there but he’s more of a bumbler than a threat.

 

Working Very Closely With Him

A female, 53, from Mississippi, conservative – Td127

It was very good dream.Donald hired me to work very closely with him full time and most of what my job consisted of was entertainment. It seemed like many people were flocking around him at something like a resort/? Donald seemed to be so appreciative of my opinion 24/7. It was a very vivid dream and people were a little jealous of me and/or confused about the situation.

Yes my dream did change my perspective of Donald in a better way. He seems very kind and giving.

 

A Soft Kiss on the Lips

A male, 67, from Virginia, progressive – Td133

I am a trump supporter.. maybe more didnt want the alternative the night before the election he came to me in a dream and kissed me on the lips…his lips were very soft. i felt very close to him. I’m not overtly attracted to him in a sexual way

it engendered a feeling of paternal trust

 

I Am His Disgruntled Spouse

A female, 50, from Georgia, liberal – Td141

I dreamt I was in the White House as First Lady and he was my husband. Even in my dream I was disgusted by his presence and felt compelled to do everything in my power to keep him from becoming our President. I was a disgruntled spouse who was complaining about everything he was doing. Every time I looked at him I loathed being with him! We were getting ready to go to a show and he kept trying to convince me it was going to be ok? ?Strangely I had the upper hand and he was pretty much agreeing to everything I said and actually trying to be extra nice to me. Very vivid in my mind-Everything was pale pink like the drapes, and layers underneath were white with hints of old shimmering. Even the furniture was upholstered in sand pink and gold thread, the wood works had gold shimmery accents to it! He wore a black suit, with a white shirt and red tie. I was dressed in a white suit with gold shimmer..

I was just so disturbed by it it mortified me that we were even in the same dream! He seemed absolutely puzzled about his every move, almost apologetic about everything he said and I had a dog that was sleeping in my bed and I remember being very mean and saying I’ll just take the dog with me you can stay here in the White House and be president. It was a room with large glass panels all over and I felt like I had no privacy and then I pushed him out and locked the doors. He said, “at least give me the dog! Please be ready, I’ll see you down stairs.”

 

I’m His Girlfriend and Melania Is Super Jealous

A female, 26, from Nebraska, libertarian – Td155

I’ve been having basically the same dreams about Donald since before he was even president. It’s always where I’m like his girlfriend lol. Melania is always super jealous of me and everyone don’t get why he chose me. But I’m always super for it! He’s always very nice and treats me like a princess. It isn’t so real and I can like feel him lol there’s so many details I can’t even tell them all. It’s like it’s real life. Always me and him together like in a relationship. Very good dreams

Well. I have always been a fan of trump. Like his number on every fan lol. And his sons wife followed me on Instagram and we’ve talked online about her horse and dogs. And she personally thanked me for going up to vote for him. I love that family

 

He Accepts Me As I Am

A female, 54, from California, conservative – Td176

I was supposed to be at a formal presentation but, I was dressed in shorts and a tank top. I was standing in front of a beautiful building but, was anxious about going in due to my attire. As I stood there, President Trump comes over like we’ve known each other forever, takes my hand ever so gently and he sort of waves his individual fingers against mine. He then looked right at me and said “Don’t worry about how you are dressed, you have the same right to be here as everyone else.” That’s it. It made me feel good. Accepted.

I have been scared to death about the direction of this beautiful country. Too many agendas will only lead to chaos. I feel like the dream Trump was telling me that things will be OK and that all people eventually will be treated with courtesy and respect.

 

I’m His Child, and Powerless to Stop His Plans

A female, 49, from West Virginia, liberal – Td180

I was at a cocktail party at a swanky mansion, and Trump walked in, and had a different wife, blonde, and a different child, I guess that was me, although I felt like myself. He wanted u us to go see his property down by the river, so we got in the car and the blonde drive us around till we came upon a big Greek revival type building, sort of looked like mausoleum actually, and he said it was an apartment building he had bought and did I like it? I said yes, it was beautiful, and then several young women came bounding out, wearing bikinis and talking about what they had made for dinner. We almost hit the off kilter gate backing out of the driveway. Then I woke up. Earlier in the dream, I was being chased in my car by one of his security officers, and I sped up to get away and lost control of my car and went down a wooded cliff in the dark and thought I was going to die. I landed safely in a bunch of bushes, at the house that became the other dream.

I felt powerless to stop his plans, like a robot, or a slave. Even acting like I was a relative or a child made me feel annoyed because I am my own person wanting nothing to do with him. I don’t agree with him at all in real life but in my dreams he was like you will do it my way and be impressed or I will chase chase you off a cliff.

 

A Neighbor in NYC

A male, 50, from New York, progressive – Td158

I was walking down an avenue in Midtown Manhattan and I saw Trump walking alone. He didn’t have any protection or staff flanking him. He was wearing black sweat pants and a sweatshirt and he looked a bit forlorn. As he passed me I said, “Good afternoon, Mr. President.” He didn’t react. I think someone behind me said hello to him as well. I remember thinking why isn’t he wearing his usual suit? In real life, I have seen him in my neighborhood twice before. His daughter lives around the corner from me on 59th and Park and I have seen her frequently over the years since she was a youngster.

The dream did not increase any negative feelings re trump

 

An Honored Guest in the Great White Plaza

A male, 35, from Colorado, conservative – Td153

There I was with my good friend Eric. We were way up high on some kind of structure and seemed to be boarding a ride or a craft of some kind. Eric was steering the craft at first to show me how to do it. Then it was my turn. I took over the craft and started to bring it down to the ground below. It seemed like some kind of helicopter but very small as it only fit me and Eric side by side. When we landed I jumped off and Eric stayed on taking the craft back up. The moment I turn around I notice that I am now in an all white setting. The walls were white with columns leading to curved arches and they stretched around an enormous square plaza that had what looked like a white woven carpet for a floor. I then noticed that I was being guided around this area by Donald Trump, who seemed to be treating me as an honored guest. He showed me around and introduced me to people. We seemed to be talking candidly but I cannot recall what about. After we left the great white plaza Donald guided me through what seemed to be a naval vessel. We kept going up until we reached a compartment that appeared to be multi-functional. Donald left me at a table with close to a dozen people, all who had communication devices in their ears. They were testing these devices and one of the devices had a distorted sound. Everyone there seemed to know me as they looked to me to figure out what was wrong with the device. I spoke into the microphone and made a few comments and then woke up.

I am not sure what the dream means, but after waking from it I certainly felts interested in the meaning. The feeling I had while in the dream was excitement and admiration as it seemed that I was being treated with great honor and respect in what seemed like a setting full of very important people.

 

Something 14.5 Inches Exactly

A female, 29, from US, moderate – Td188

I wasn’t going to share this but here it goes… I was at some political/social event and happened to meet President Trump. He said that he wanted to show me something that was 14.5 inches exactly. He then began pulling down his pants and said, “See, I told you it’s huge.” In reality it (his penis) was not. This is making me want to throw up typing this and I do not know why I had this dream. In reality I would never want to see that! LOL However, I specifically remember seeing the number 14.5, so that could mean something. I don’t recall ever seeing anything that connects to the number 14.5 in relation to Trump or in my life.

I think this dream is hinting at exaggeration of some kind. Maybe making something out to be bigger than it actually is or expecting too much of a certain situation. I’m not really sure what triggered me to have this dream.

 

I Cannot Bring Myself to Say the Words

A female, 55, from California, moderate – Td194

In my dream, my 7/8th grade students are to be heading out on a field trip. I am standing in the parking lot waiting for the drivers to file out. Donald Trump has his driver-side door open standing between it and the car gesticulating to the bystanders. I want him to get in the car and drive my students to the destination. However, I cannot bring myself to say the words, “President Trump” in order to get his attention and tell him to get in the car and drive it. Instead, I call out, “The car needs to be moving; we need to get to our destination.” Nothing happens. Trump keeps talking and waving his hands and is standing wedged between the open black car door. I try again. I yell out, “Get in the car and get it moving; the students need to get to their field trip.” He doesn’t stop talking. I turn to someone standing next to me and I ask them, “Could you walk over to him and tell him he needs to drive the car – I can’t get his attention, and I just can’t bear to call out the name ‘President Trump.'” I woke up and my dream was so real I am still bothered by it.

As far as what triggered it, well I have been watching lots of youtube videos regarding Trump, so that could have triggered it.

 

A Game of Him Trying to “Win” Me Over

A female, 22, from Georgia, moderate – Td195

He was coming to an event and he was driving through a body of water. The water would part and people would walk through then a wave would come and then it would part and his limo drove through. We were in a huge colosseum listening to him talk. Then there was an after party and he came up to me wanting my number- I am not a Trump fan and I expressed that. It then turned into a game of him trying to “win” me over. My old boyfriend was there, he is a Trump supporter, and Trump told him he wasn’t interested in talking. This went on the entire night until I left the party.

I have no idea what triggered the dream. I did not run into my ex and I try to avoid Trump news.

 

Married to the President with a Baby Carrot Penis

A female, 54, from Florida, moderate – Td197

I dreamt I was married to Donald Trump and he wore pajamas that look like his regular clothes and his penis was a baby carrot. He also sent me to Victoria’s Secret to buy my inauguration dress with a black American Express card that said president of the United States of America. I told him Victoria secret didn’t carry plus size clothes and he said they do now. I went to Victoria’s Secret and they do not carry plus size clothes and they said they would get them I had my own American Express card that said Mrs. president of the United States of America and paid for peoples dinner at the mall where the Victoria’s Secret’s was with my black American Express card. I also dreamt of the inauguration in the White House inside was kind of tacky and dirty. The funniest part was Barbara Bush was sleeping in a cot in the hallway and blue pajamas with her pearls on her neck. And as I walk down the hallway all the other first ladies are sleeping on cots in the hallway

I’m pretty sure that I manifested trumps hatred of fat women and the tackiness of his wife’s clothing. I’m also pretty sure that the baby carrot penis had to do with eating some before bed and having a diverticulitis attack in real life. It’s also the first time I have proof that o dream in color! The carrot was orange

 

From participants living in countries outside the US:

Everyone Is Blindly Praising Him

A male, 17, from Denmark – Td140

I dreamt that I was in a high school class and donald trump was also attending this class, it was an older version of him and he had a lot more wrinkles and his skin was more orange, he seemed like he was disgusted of everyone in that class and started criticizing us and telling us what to do but indeed everyone was blind about it and started praising him and saying the famous sentence: make America great again. AWKWARD

I think it really reflects the reality of things, in a more concrete way and that a lot of people are blind about the bad deeds of Donald trump.

 

Trapped at School by a Gunman

A female, 18, from Canada, liberal – Td184

I was watching a movie in what seemed like an elementary school classroom. It was brightly lit, and someone was handing out fruit leather to us in our desks. When I left the classroom, I found myself in a stairwell as all the doors mechanically snapped shut. I somehow knew that there was a man with a gun in the building, and that I was trapped in that particular flight of stairs. I also knew that Melania Trump was a few flights above me, also locked in. Somehow I sensed that the gunman was Trump, but he didn’t know that Melania was trapped in the stairwell along with the rest of us. I should mention that the stairwells were sparsely populated, with only about 3 people locked in each flight of stairs. I woke up before anything more could happen.

I am firmly liberal (democratic to Americans), and staunchly oppose Trump’s policies. Since he has been inaugurated I have felt extremely uneasy, and it grows with each day. It’s possible that this dream was an expression of that anxiety, or perhaps it foreshadows the destruction of the school system under Trump? Haha not sure.

 

Does He Have Manipulative Superpowers?

A male, 31, from Malta, progressive – Td172

Donald Trump was my Flatmate, which in my dream was more of a background information, because the dream setting was some private party of his somewhere else. Everything was super luxurious, sunny, nice snacks, and he was really nice to me, showing me around and being attentive. In my dream I knew that I actually am against Donald Trump, but for some reason meeting him in person I actually liked him. I was wondering if he had manipulative superpowers of some sort, because it didn’t make any sense that I got along with him so well. I met his family, all were very nice too. I kept my resentments against them hidden and took part in conversations. I had the feeling I saw the human sides in them, everyone thinking they are actually doing the right thing, being good people, but getting it all wrong because they live in this super rich bubble, disconnected from the real world. Later more people joined the party, even an old friend of mine. We got a bit drunk and at one point I told him that Trump is actually sharing a flat with me at the moment and we both laughed at the absurdity of it.

I was surprised to see how quickly I somehow changed side, just by being invited to a party of his, apparently lulled in by the luxury of it all (I actually don’t even like luxury very much). There was this nagging feeling in the back of my head that it is wrong to be nice to them, but it felt extremely difficult to take a position in that setting (or even remember what my position really was).

 

Sleeping With Him

Female, 15, from Ireland, moderate – Td131

I had to sleep with Donald trump. There were no beds left to sleep in so i had to sleep with Donald.

Maybe because i thought about donald trump a lot and I’m still okay with Donald.

 

He Was Very Sweet

A female, 21, from the Philippines, moderate – Td112

It was a very long dream, and Donald Trump was only a part of it. I remember he was courting me, he was very sweet to me, and wanted to have an affair with me. I knew we had so much age gap, and that I am not suited to be his wife, so I just laughed but I was flattered that he was being that way to me. I dont want to have an affair with him though. Lol

I dont know what it means, and I didnt even think of him the night before. But that dream made me ponder that he has a soft but impulsive side to him.

 

Trapped in a Marriage With a Narcissist

A female, 26, from New Zealand, liberal – Td181

I was married to Trump and we were at some kind of social gathering. I was sitting next to an old school friend, talking to her, when I heard a verbal attack outside and saw that a group of African people were fighting with Trump. They appeared to be insulted by what he was saying and then they left and Trump came back inside. He sat down next to me and I asked him whether it had been taken out of context or had he said something insulting? He answered that it had been insulting but that he didn’t care. I was mortified that I could be married to someone like this and I angrily expressed my feelings, and then I said something like “Donnie, Sean, whatever your name is!” (Sean is the name of my partner – who is nothing like Trump!) – I then left and spoke to my old school friend and described how trapped I felt. It then changed to another aspect of this gathering… Melania Trump was there and she was ordering me drinks, and then she was standing on the bar table and dancing. I remember eating lots of cake.

Thoughts of narcissism may have triggered it – my mother in law is a narcissist (has tried to ruin my relationship with her son) and I’m reading a book titled ‘the narcissist next door’ published in 2014, it talks about Trump in its beginning pages (before he became president!) and describing him as a kind of poster boy narcissist (which I think he is) and he is using fear to divide and conquer. It’s very sad.

 

His Head Looks Like Crumbly Rubber With a Bad Toupee

A male, 63, from Thailand, moderate – Td151

I’m on Trump Island. It’s supposed to be a big luxury celebrity deal, a kind of trip to fantasy island, but it’s just a rough, flat, windswept space surrounded by gray sea with some decrepit buildings on it. People in long overcoats are moving around with no sense of direction, and there’s a feeling of something going on, something important but unclear. Trump is in a kind of lounger next to me, and he’s really anxious and upset that it isn’t going well. He’s on the verge of tears. His head looks like it’s made of crumbly rubber, with a bad toupee, but I know it’s really him. He’s started clinging to me, and crying. I’m embarrassed to be there, but I try to comfort him. Later I’m crying out “Donny! Donny!” because they’re asking me for a ticket I don’t have.

The dream means I’m seeing too damn much Trump on the internet. I’ve never dreamt about a world leader before. I still hate the fucker. Slightly more, if anything, for wasting my valuable dream time.

 

Note: this essay first appeared in the Huffington Post on April 26, 2017.

 

Recent Interviews About “Big Dreams”

Recent Interviews About "Big Dreams" by Kelly BulkeleyIn the past couple of weeks I have spoken several times with journalists about Big Dreams: The Science of Dreaming and the Origins of Religion.  It’s a daunting experience to have smart people read what you’ve written and ask sharp questions about how you put together your argument… and all the more intimidating with a tape recorder running.  But I think the basic ideas from the book come through pretty well in these pieces.

The Huffington Post had an article in its Sleep + Wellness section on March 17 by Carolyn Gregoire (@carolyn_greg) titled “How Dreams Shaped the Evolution of Spirituality and Religion.

New York Magazine had an article in its online “Science of Us” section on March 25 by Mona Chalabi (@MonaChalabi) titled “I Keep Having Literal Nightmares About Trump. Am I Normal?”  This interview focused on research I’ve done on dreams and politics, but it also drew on ideas from Big Dreams.

Time Magazine had an article in its “Quick Take” section on March  that I wrote (with excellent editorial help) titled “The Surprising Link Between Dreams and Faith.”  Here’s a pdf version of it: Time_Quick Take (1)

The Atlantic Magazine had an article in its online site on April 5 by Julie Beck (@julieebeck) titled “What Can Our Craziest Dreams Teach Us?

 

 

 

Beyond the Eclipse of Research on Big Dreams

Beyond the Eclipse of Research on Big Dreams by Kelly BulkeleyOn Friday, February 19, I will visit with C.G. Jung Society of Atlanta and give a talk on “Big dreams: Religion, science, and Jung’s theory of highly memorable dreams,” followed by a workshop on Saturday titled “Dreaming as Theater of the Psyche.” I wrote the following essay for the Society newsletter as a prelude to the talk and workshop.  Anyone who lives in the Atlanta area is welcome to join us!

“Big dreams,” as originally conceptualized by C.G. Jung, are rare, extremely vivid, and highly memorable dreams that people experience as being dramatically different from the relatively mundane and forgettable contents of “little dreams.” To appreciate the importance of this distinction between big and little dreams, one has to accept the basic premise that dreams in general have some degree of meaning. Unfortunately many psychologists in the years after Jung lost confidence in that premise, due to scientific developments that seemed to cast doubt on the whole enterprise of dream research. During the latter half of the 20th century few investigators devoted much time or energy to studying the more unusual and intensified forms of oneiric experience Jung characterized as “big” dreams. Now, however, thanks to the 21st century technological developments in cognitive science and data analysis, a better case can be made for the psychological significance and therapeutic value of dreaming in general, and highly memorable and impactful big dreams in particular. The time is ripe for a new approach to the kinds of dreams Jung referred to as the “richest jewels in the treasure-house of psychic experience.”

Jung’s mentor in the study of dreams, Sigmund Freud, was not especially interested in distinguishing between different types of dreams, big, little, or otherwise. Freud’s main goal was to illuminate the unconscious roots of a dream in the childhood wishes, fears, and fantasies of the dreamer.   In his view the dream itself is irrelevant and can be ignored once the underlying wish has been identified. Indeed, because Freud’s theory posited that dreaming serves to protect sleep against disturbing eruptions from the unconscious, a big dream could be seen as a total failure of the basic function of dreaming. In his therapeutic work Freud did focus on strong emotions, unusual images, and character metamorphoses in his clients’ dream reports, all of which are frequent markers of big dreams, so he had some practical familiarity with the value of intensified dreaming. But he never took the next step of examining the distinctive qualities of these dreams and reflecting on what they mean for our psychological understanding of the human mind. That step was left for Freud’s erstwhile friend and follower, Jung.

Jung actually took two important steps that helped open the way for further investigation in this realm. In addition to naming the fundamental difference between average dreams and highly intensified big dreaming, Jung also recognized the importance of studying dreams in a series, across a period of time. He found in his clinical work that looking at a series of dreams, not just single dreams in isolation, enabled a better perspective on the psychological dynamics of the person’s life than could be gained from any one dream alone. Not only was this an invaluable insight for therapeutic purposes, but it also provided a way of clarifying the big dreams concept. To say precisely what makes a dream unusual and extraordinary, it helps to know what counts as the usual and ordinary patterns of dreaming. Studying a series of dreams can identify those general patterns so it becomes easier to determine with more specificity what makes big dreams so big.

Both Freud and Jung developed their ideas about dreams from the same sources of knowledge: their personal experiences, their clinical practices with mentally ill patients, their deep readings of classical philosophy and theology, and their early inklings of the significance of Darwinian evolution for theories of human nature. In therapeutic terms, Freudian and Jungian approaches to dream interpretation worked: they enabled clients to express emotionally important concerns and difficult feelings, and they gave therapists a new window into their clients’ unconscious conflicts. The practical value of including dreams in psychotherapy has never been seriously questioned by those with actual experience in the process, and recent works by Clara Hill and Milton Kramer show how vibrant this area of study remains.

However, as time went on mainstream psychologists found it increasingly difficult to support the theoretical claims of the early pioneers of dream study. Two blows in particular prompted great skepticism towards Freudian and Jungian approaches, leading to a general eclipse of interest in dreams of any type or variety through the better part of the 20th century. The first blow was the discovery of two fundamentally different kinds of sleep, known as Rapid Eye Movement (REM) and Non-Rapid Eye Movement (NREM) sleep by American researchers, and referred to as Paradoxical Sleep (PS) and Slow Wave Sleep (SWS) by French researchers. Both sets of terms refer to regular cycles of variation in the levels of activation throughout the brain during an ordinary night’s sleep. Researchers soon found that dream recall was closely associated with the most intense phases of activation during the sleep cycle, which suggested that dreams were caused by automatic processes of the neural system in sleep (this isn’t actually true, but it seemed so for many years). These findings made it much harder to argue that a psychological approach could reach the “deepest” levels of a dream’s meaning, since neuroscience had apparently shown that the deepest cause of a dream is a purely physiological process in the brain during sleep.

The second blow came from systematic studies of dream content, like those of Calvin Hall and Robert Van de Castle starting in the 1950’s. These researchers accepted the idea that dreams contain some degree of psychological meaning, but they wanted to use quantitative methods to identify where those meanings might be found. The major discovery from this line of research was the simple continuity of dream content with waking life concerns. People tend to dream about the chief concerns of their regular daily lives. Most dreams, according to these findings, involve rather ordinary and mundane content: being in familiar places, with familiar people, doing familiar things. Contrary to their popular portrayal as bizarre and outlandish nonsense, dreams tend to portray fairly straightforward accounts of people’s feelings about their most important relationships, activities, and concerns in waking life.

The statistical research on dream content highlighted a genuine weakness in Freudian and Jungian dream theories, namely a narrow basis of evidence in terms of having access to broad, diverse sources of empirical evidence about dreaming. The research on REM sleep highlighted another weakness of Freudian and Jungian theories: losing connection with the best scientific understandings of the interaction between mind and brain, psyche and soma. Together, these two weaknesses undermined the credibility of Freud’s theory of dreams as wish-fulfillments aimed at protecting sleep and Jung’s theory of dreams as compensations for the excesses of consciousness. Neither theory could account for the neurological sources of dreams or for their mundane, generally trivial content. Jung’s interest in big dreams appeared especially questionable in this light, as it seemed to lead in exactly the opposite direction from where the best scientific evidence was pointing.

Throughout this time, clinicians and therapists kept doing their good and valuable work with dreams, but “eclectically,” with little theoretical guidance or grounding in empirical research. Few mental health professionals have received any training or instruction whatsoever in how to work with clients’ dreams. A few years ago when co-writing a book about dream education, Dreaming in the Classroom with Phil King and Bernard Welt, we were surprised and saddened to find so few schools of professional psychology offering any classes or course modules on the subject of dreams.

Several intrepid investigators have in recent years pursued detailed studies of the phenomenology of big dreams. Harry Hunt, Roger Knudson, Don Kuiken, Mark Solms, Tracey Kahan, Jayne Gackenbach, Ryan Hurd, and others have contributed to a better understanding of what Hunt called “the multiplicity of dreams,” but the overall tenor of 20th century psychology took a decidedly negative turn toward the study of dreams, and therapists today are still paying the price.

Fortunately there are increasing signs of another major shift in dream research that bodes well for greater attention to big dreams in coming years. These signs of change emerge from the same two sources of scientific research that seemed so discouraging for the study of dreams in previous decades. The neuroscience of sleep has now advanced to a point of recognizing the truly remarkable complexity and sophistication of the brain’s activities during sleep. Far from a mental desert devoid of conscious activity, sleep in fact involves a wide variety of cognitive processes operating in ways that are different from, but not necessarily inferior to, those in the waking state. At various points during REM or Paradoxical Sleep, the brain’s overall electrical activation (as measured by EEG devices) equals or even exceeds the levels seen in the brain during waking. These and other findings make it clear that the sleeping brain is more than capable of generating the kinds of emotionally charged, visually intense, cognitively complex experiences that Jung characterized as big dreams.

Just as importantly, the systematic study of dream content has expanded to include more than just “most recent dreams” gathered from college students. Careful analysis of various kinds of dreams, including nightmares, lucid dreams, childhood dreams, death-related dreams, and other kinds of highly intensified dreaming, have shown that there are distinctive patterns of form and content that correlate to a remarkable degree with the latest neuroscientific findings about the brain’s activities during sleep. The ability to identify these kinds of correlations has been improved by database technologies that allow researchers to quickly and reliably analyze large collections of dream reports, compare their word usage frequencies with other collections of dreams, and highlight significant patterns of similarity and difference. The Dreambank (dreambank.net) website of G. William Domhoff and Adam Schneider, along with my Sleep and Dream Database (sleepanddreamdatabase.org), are two resources for exploring the use of these technologies and experimenting with different kinds of dreams and different applications.

Jung’s approach to the study of dream series can be deepened with these new tools for identifying recurrent patterns and tracking changes over time. This has exciting potentials not only for therapeutic practice but also for theoretical insight into the nature and functions of big dreams. The more we learn about the meaningful dimensions of a series of dreams, the better we will be able to appreciate the singular dream experiences that stand out from the ordinary flow of dreaming, the experiences that Jung felt were unique openings into the most profound reaches of the psyche. The brain-mind science of the 21st century might finally be ready to verify Jung’s early insights about big dreams and develop them in creative new directions.

 

Prophetic Rodents: Neuroscientists Find Hints That Rats Dream of the Future

Prophetic Rodents: Neuroscientists Find Hints That Rats Dream of the Future by Kelly BulkeleyNew findings from brain researchers at University College London in the U.K. suggest that sleeping rats have the capacity to imagine a place they have never been in waking. This intriguing study does more than support the idea that many animals do indeed dream, in modes appropriate to the neural capacities and environmental experiences of their species. Beyond that, the study shows that rat dreams may have one of the key features of human dreaming, namely the ability to simulate future scenarios and prepare for anticipated efforts to achieve our goals.

Titled “Hippocampal place cells construct reward related sequences through unexplored space” and published in eLife on June 26, the researchers built on previous work showing the importance of the hippocampus in remembering places and forming mental maps of where we have been. The hippocampus is also important for imagination, forethought, and planning future goals. Crucially for this study, the hippocampus is active in waking and sleeping, and researchers have long known that the same hippocampal “place neurons” triggered into firing by a waking-life experience of a particular place will also fire during sleep. The challenge of this study was to find out if hippocampal neurons associated with a place will fire in sleep before any waking experience of the creature actually being in that place. In other words, will the sleeping brain anticipate a desired action? Will it dream of the future?

The experiment involved training rats (with electrodes implanted in their brains) to run through a maze where they could see, but not reach, another chamber where food was visibly located. The rats could also see but not reach an additional chamber with no food. During rest periods, the researchers recorded the rats’ hippocampal activity. Then the researchers let the rats run through the maze with no blockages, so they could reach the new chambers. It turned out the rats’ hippocampal activity when they first entered the new chamber with food was a close match with their hippocampal activity in sleep—the same place neurons that first fired in sleep later fired in waking life, too. The rats seemed to dream of going into that chamber before they actually did so.

The same effect was not found in relation to the chamber with no food. The preceding rest period did not include any hippocampal activity related to the rats’ later experiences in that place. This finding led the researchers to stress the significance of desire and intrinsic motivation in triggering this “preplay” effect.

The ultimate conclusion of the study was that “goal-biased preplay may support preparation for future experiences in novel environments.” These results give us a better understanding of how preplay, or imagination in a more general sense, can “simulate future experiences in environments yet to be actively explored,” in humans and in other species.

The limits of this research are considerable. Only four rats were used as participants; the periods of “rest” were not clearly sleep stages of any specific kind; and the published results depended on an extremely technical analysis that could allow for many hidden errors. These limits should add a note of caution when assessing the possible implications of the research.

That being said, the findings of this study have a clear affinity with theories of dream function that emphasize the values of the anticipatory simulations frequently occurring in dreaming experience. C.G. Jung spoke of “the prospective function” of dreams, Montague Ullman said dreaming worked to maintain an optimal state of “vigilance,” Frederick Snyder viewed sleep and dreaming as a “sentinel” system to prepare for environmental danger, Rosalind Cartwright argued that dreams serve as “rehearsals” for future actions, and Jeremy Taylor has focused on recurrent nightmares as warnings of psycho-spiritual danger in the dreamer’s waking life. Antti Revonsuo and Katja Valli have been developing the “Threat Simulation Theory” as a way of connecting typical patterns in dream content with brain functioning and the evolutionary challenges of our species. In my 2016 book Big Dreams: The Science of Dreaming and the Origins of Religion, I will talk at length about the capacity for creative forethought and visionary insight in dreaming.

All of which is to say, dream researchers from other areas have been working with similar ideas for years, and these new findings from the University College London team are a welcome addition to the accumulating evidence in favor of dreams having some kind of preparatory function that helps to orient the individual toward successful adaptation in the waking world.

Dream Incubation: An Interview with Arianna Huffington

Dream Incubation: An Interview with Arianna Huffington by Kelly BulkeleyThe Huffington Post recently published an interview I did with Arianna Huffington about dream incubation.  She has a long-standing interest in sleep and dreams, along with spiritual curiosity and an appreciation for scientific research–a perfect audience for what I’ve been working on over the past couple of years.  What I told her about dream incubation comes from chapter 15 of the book Big Dreams: The Science of Dreaming and the Origins of Religion (Oxford U. Press), due out in early 2016.  That’s the next-to-last chapter of the book, which starts with a section on the evolution of sleep, laying a scientific foundation for understanding how dreams have emerged in the human species.  The second section looks at empirical patterns in ordinary dream recall and content, drawing on research from the Sleep and Dream Database (SDDb).  The third section focuses on “big dreams,” i.e. rare but extremely vivid and memorable dreams that make a long-lasting impression on waking awareness.  I discuss scientific research on four prototypes of big dreaming that recur especially frequently, throughout history and in cultures all around the world: aggressive, sexual, gravitational, and mystical.  Finally, in the fourth section, I use this information about big dreams to shed new light on several kinds of religious experience found in many different traditions: demonic seduction, prophetic vision, ritual healing, and contemplative practice.  Dream incubation appears in the chapter on ritual healing, with lots of discussion of the Roman orator Aelius Aristides in the 2nd century CE, who wrote about his dream incubation experiences at a temple of the ancient Greek healing god Asclepius.

Children’s Dreams: A Word Search Analysis (part 1)

Children's Dreams: A Word Search Analysis (part 1) by Kelly BulkeleyI’ve just begun a new project using word search methods to study dream reports from children and adolescents.  I thought that showing in real time the steps of my analytic process might help other people learn how to apply these methods to their own dream studies.

Any research project starts with a question.  In this case my question was about “big dreams” in childhood (the subject of a book-in-progress).  I wanted to know more about recurrent patterns in the dreams that children and adolescents remember most vividly.  Other researchers like David Foulkes have studied normal, average dream patterns in children, but my question focused on the distinctive features of highly memorable dreams in the early stages of life

Earlier this spring I contacted Harris Interactive, an opinion research company, regarding their “YouthQuery” survey, which enables a researcher to ask a single question and receive online answers from @1000 American children ages 8-18, along with a few other demographic data points.  (The cost of this survey, while considerable, was no more than I’ve paid research assistants to help with other projects in the past.)

There are pros and cons to online surveys.  On the downside, it’s impossible to validate a person’s answers, and it favors participants who are educated and affluent enough to use computers.  On the upside, participants can give their answers in a private setting in their own words, which is extra valuable for a word search approach.

I try not to let excessive angst about methodology slow me down.  Every study has its limits.  Once you’ve identified them, you move on and do the work.  I’m more interested in discovering what a method can do rather than dwelling on what it can’t do.

The Harris people and I decided to word the survey question as follows:

“We are interested in hearing about a dream that you had and remember a lot about.  Please try to tell us everything you remember about the dream, including where you were, who else was there, what happened, how you felt, what you were thinking during the dream and how it ended.  Please also tell us about how old you were when you had the dream.”

The other questions asked in the standard YouthQuery survey regarded age, gender, race/ethnicity, current grade in school, school location (urban, suburban, rural), and school type (public, private, parochial).

Harris conducted the survey in early April, and then I uploaded the info (thanks to Kurt Bollacker) into the sleep and dream database (SDDB).  The dream reports and answers to the other questions can be seen at:

Making this information publicly available enables others to check my work and test my claims, always a good thing in empirical research.  More importantly, it allows other researchers to explore facets of the data beyond what I or any single analyst can pursue.

Dream researchers have operated for too long with isolated sources of data that never receive more than one investigator’s systematic attention.  Digital databases can help our field move forward into a more dynamic and collaborative future.

Next: testing my first predictions