Dream Life and Waking Life: Both are Creations of the Person

There is a growing appreciation for the variety of dream phenomena, such as the creativity in dreams and their sometimes transpersonal aspects. Older theories that generally ignored such facts are being replaced by newer ones that attempt to account for such phenomena. Most recently, Gordon Globus, M.D., Professor of Psychiatry and Philosophy at the University of California, Irvine, has taken a stab at integrating such perspectives as psychoanalysis, transpersonal psychology, cognitive science, and phenomenological philosophy in a pleasantly personable statement of a view of dreams that readers of Perspective can live with.

That dreams are a creative experience is one of the main factors that he wishes to explain. The author rejects the notion, in existence before Freud made it law, that dreams are merely rearrangements of past memory experiences. Instead, the author claims that dreams are created "de novo", meaning from scratch. In defending this position, he finds himself arguing that our waking life is also an experience that we create, thus placing his work close at hand to the metaphysical perspective that claims that we "create our own reality." Both realms are created "in the image" (meaning "in the imagination") of the person, in the same way God has been said to create the world. The symmetry between the creative aspect of both dream existence and waking existence, and the "divine" role given to the person, is pleasing both to the ancient Buddhist and modern spiritual metaphysician.

The question is, how does this modern, scientifically grounded theoretician justify such a metaphysical basis to dreams and waking life? He does so by reference to both the leading edge theories of perceptual psychology and certain philosophical traditions. Perceptual psychology has long abandoned the camera analogy to explain how we see things. Plato's concept of the archetype, the transpersonal, non-material "ideas" that govern the actual ideas and things that we experience, has gained new favor in modern thinking about the perceptual process. Instead of theorizing that our perceptual mechanisms "photograph" what is out there, modern work has forced the theory that we already "know" or "suppose" what it is that we are trying to perceive, and then we search and analyze data bits according to their significance and fit to what we are attempting to "perceive." Meaning and intention are more significant to perception, in modern theory, than light waves and photo-sensitivity. In other words, the creative and subjective processes in perception are given more central prominence, and the physics of perception are accorded more the status of tools than primary determinants. Similarly, the philosophy of science has been arguing that facts, as such, do not exist; rather theories — in other words, intentional approaches to creating meaning — are what determine which data bits constitute facts, and determines whether or not the data bits will even be noticed.

Perhaps such philosophical abstractions seem cloudy or irrelevant, but the mechanistic, sensory-based, objective approach to perception (whether in visual perception or scientific knowing) has been undergoing radical changes. Fans of the transpersonal dimension of life who assume that the eye sees like a camera have an unnecessarily tough time trying to justify as scientific their views on ESP. Realizing how scientific and philosophical views on perception have evolved makes ESP seem more natural than supernatural. Thus the author's work does us a great service. It provides a readable treatise on how one can argue, on the basis of both scientific and philosophical grounds, that dreams, not to mention our lives, are pregnant with meaning (sometimes transpersonal meaning), and deserve our attention.

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