Philosophy of Dreams and Sleeping - Matskut

Markku Roinila
Dear participants,
 We are going to discuss what
dreams are, how contemporary
psychology explains them, what are
the philosophical questions
concerning dreams, how
philosophers in the past have
discussed these questions and
finally, how contemporary
philosophy can provide an
alternative to the physiological
approach to dreaming.
 The lectures will take place on
Wednesdays 10-12 U40 lh 12 and
Thursdays 10-12 U40 lh 8.
The locations may change due to
the number of participants. I’ll
keep you posted.
Preliminary program
30. 10. Introduction to dreams, practicalities
31. 10. Physiological matters; history of dream sciences and contemporary dream science;
Reading Malcolm: “Temporal Location and Duration of Dreams”, in Dreaming, pp. 70-82
6. 11. Philosophy and dreams; dreams of philosophers: Reading Leibniz’s Philosophical Dream
7. 11. Philosophical questions of dreams and sleeping
13. 11. Ancient views on dreaming; Reading ?
14. 11. Cont.; medieval philosophy of dreaming
20. 11. Descartes and Hobbes on dreaming; Reading Descartes, 6th Meditation
21. 11. Some other Early modern views (Spinoza, Leibniz, Locke); Reading Leibniz:
Fragment on dreams
27. 11. 18th and 19th century philosophy of dreaming (Kant, Voltaire, Bergson etc.)
28. 11. Contemporary philosophical views on dreaming (Wittgenstein, Malcolm and his
critics); Reading Malcolm: “Judgements in sleep”, in Dreaming, pp. 35-44
4. 12. Cont. (Flanagan, Dennett, Revonsuo, Sutton, Phenomenology etc.); Reading ?
5. 12. Cont.
11. 12. General discussion: Dream Science & The future of philosophy of dreams; Reading
John Sutton: Dreaming (
12. 12. Course examination
Study points
 As you can see, I’ve added some reading to some dates (more to
come). I thought to ask you to read one short paper each week
which we can discuss. In addition, there is a compulsory reading
for the whole course which is Norman Malcom: Dreaming, a short
collection of papers on dreaming. Some of the weekly readings are
from that book.
 To gain 3 study points you should attend lectures, read the texts
and discuss them and read Malcolm’s book.
 The course examination is 12. 12. If you cannot make it, it is
possible to participate general examination of the Faculty in
 Alternatively, you can write an essay of ten pages concerning the
philosophy of dreams (a theme discussed in the lecture course) to
gain the study points.
Reading material
 As there are only two copies of Malcolm’s book available in libraries, I will
upload it to Moodle where you can also find other material to the course and
slides I have used. In addition, there is news and hopefully discussion of dreams
and sleeping.
I would like to ask you to enroll yourself to the course.
The address for the Moodle course area is
Alternatively, you can go to and find the course
under category Arts>Dreaming (or
One you do the self-enrolment, the key to the course is “Dreaming”.
For information, see
In case you cannot enroll yourself or you have any other problems or questions
concerning the course, please write to mroinila (at)
I have added a bibliography on dreaming to Moodle.
What is a dream?
“Dreams are successions of images, ideas, emotions,
and sensations that occur involuntarily in the mind
during certain stages of sleep.” (The American
Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth
Edition. 2000).
 David Foulkes: “Dreaming is the awareness of being in
an imagined world in which things happen.”
 “Mental activity occurring in sleep characterized
by vivid sensorimotor imagery that is experienced as
waking reality despite such distinctive cognitive
features as impossibility or improbability of time,
place, person and actions; emotions, especially fear,
elation, and anger predominate over sadness, shame
and guilt and sometimes reach sufficient strength to
cause awakening; memory for even very vivid
dreams is evanescent and tends to fade quickly
upon awakening unless special steps are taken to
retain it.” (J. Allan Hobson)
 “I am accustomed to sleep and in my dreams to
imagine the same things that lunatics imagine when
awake.” (René Descartes)
Some characteristics of dreams
 They are different from waking experience, have a logic of their
 If we are awake, we usually remember fairly accurately places,
times and people. In dreams it is typical that we accept things
which would seem peculiar to us in our waking state.
 For example, the time goes very slowly or very quickly in dreams,
the people we know look different from what they are, the places
can be familiar but strange and there may be connexion of things
which usually are not in one place at the same time. Things merge
into each other in a way which nver happens when we are awake.
 A more scientific list: loss of awareness of self, loss of orientational
stability, loss of directed thought, reduction in logical reasoning,
poor memory within and after the dream.
Questions about dreams
Hobson: Dreaming. A Very Short Introduction.
1) Why is dreaming so rarely self-reflective, when waking
consciousness is so often the opposite?
2) Why is almost all dreaming forgotten?
3) Why are dreams so bizarre?
All of these question can, and have, been treated by both
psychologists (old and contemporary) and philosophers
(especially question no. 2 & 3). In this course I will discuss both
approaches with emphasis on philosophy.
Hall analysis of dream content
Calvin Hall and Van De Castle published The Content Analysis of Dreams in 1966 in which they outlined a
coding system to study 1,000 dream reports from college students. It was found that people all over
the world dream of mostly the same things. The following characteristics can be distinguished:
Visuals The visual nature of dreams is generally highly phantasmagoric; that is, different locations
and objects continuously blend into each other. The visuals (including locations, characters/people,
objects/artifacts) are generally reflective of a person's memories and experiences, but often take on
highly exaggerated and bizarre forms. People who are blind from birth do not have visual dreams.
Their dream contents are related to other senses like auditory, touch, smell and taste, whichever are
present since birth.
 Emotions The most common emotion experienced in dreams is anxiety. Other emotions include
abandonment, anger, fear, joy, and happiness. Negative emotions are much more common than
positive ones.
 Sexual themes The Hall data analysis shows that sexual dreams occur no more than 10% of the time
and are more prevalent in young to mid-teens. Another study showed that 8% of men's and
women's dreams have sexual content. In some cases, sexual dreams may result in orgasms or
nocturnal emissions. These are colloquially known as wet dreams.
 Color vs. black and white A small minority of people say that they dream only in black and white. A
2008 study by a researcher at the University of Dundee found that people who were only exposed
to black and white television and film in childhood reported dreaming in black and white about
25% of the time.
Different kind of dreams
There are several kinds of dreams.
For example:
All except lucid dreaming is
independent from the control of
the dreamer.
Dreams vs. delusions & hallucinations
 Essential condition to dreaming is that
one is sleeping. Although there may be
bizarre or strange dreams, they are not
delusions or hallucinations because
they disappear once we are awake.
Thus one cannot cause one’s dreams –
they are involuntary except lucid
dreaming when we are aware that we
are dreaming.
 However, delusions or hallucinations
can reminds us of dreams as they are
similarly illlogical and seem to be
independent of reality.
 A light version of this is daydreaming
which is visionary fantasy, especially
one of happy, pleasant thoughts, hopes
or ambitions, experienced while
Some facts
 The scientific study of
dreams is called
 It is likely that all mammals
 Dreams can last from a few
seconds up to 20 minutes.
 An average person has 3-5
dreams per night – some
can have 7 dreams during
one night.
Other dream-related phenomena
 Incorporation of reality A sound heard (for example, phone
ringing) when sleeping can become a part of a dream – the brains
incorporates it the stimulus to the dream in order to continue the
sleeping state. The same happens if we wet the bet and we dream
of urination. This can be developed, however. We can be trained to
be awaken if we are in danger or hear a baby crying. This also
happens when the events during the day or even a week before can
become part of the dream.
 Predictive dreams It is common that people feel that they can
predict future events in dreams. This is usually explained by
selective and distorted memory. When in an experiment men
were asked to write down their dreams, it became clear that they
did not predict future at all.
Other dream-related phenomena
 Lucid dreaming is the conscious perception of one's state while
dreaming. In this state the dreamer may often (but not always) have
some degree of control over their own actions within the dream or even
the characters and the environment of the dream. Dream control has
been reported to improve with practiced deliberate lucid dreaming, but
the ability to control aspects of the dream is not necessary for a dream
to qualify as "lucid" — a lucid dream is any dream during which the
dreamer knows they are dreaming.The occurrence of lucid dreaming has
been scientifically verified.
 Lucid dreaming is hold important among Tibetan Buddhist monks who
use it for visiting places, communicationg with Yidam or enlightened
being, flying etc.
 DAMT or Dreams of absent-minded transgression. These are dreams
wherein the dreamer absentmindedly performs an action that he or she
has been trying to stop. For example, quitting smokers have dreams of
lightning a cigarette.
Some early history of the dreams
 As dreams are part of the life of everybody,
they have interested men from the very
beginning. Most of the history men have been
interested in the interpretation of dreams.
 There are evidence of Sumerians in
Mesopotamia recording of dreams from 3100
BC. These show that Gods and kings paid close
attention to dreams.
 Mesopotamians belived that the soul, or part
of it, moves out from the body of the sleeping
person and visits the places and persons the
dreamer sees in their sleep. Sometimes the
God of dreams is said to carry the dreamer.
This picture is familiar from films as we will
see later.
 Babylonians and assurians thought that good
dreams are sent by Gods and bad dreams by
demons. Dreams are thought to be omens and
Early History of Dreams
 Egyptians wrote down their dreams to papyrus and thought people with
vivid dreams special and significant persons. Dreams were thought to be
as kind of oracles, bringing messages from Gods. Dreams were a source
of divine revelation and for this reason egyptians tried to induce dreams
by sleeping on special dream beds in sanctuaries. When a person was
having troubles in their life and wanted help from their god, they would
sleep in a temple, when they would wake the next morning a priest,
which was then called a Master of the Secret Things, would be consulted
for the interpretations of that night's dreams.
 In Chinese culture, as in Babylonia, men were thought to leave their
body when dreaming
 Indian classic text Upanishads (900-500 BC) emphasizes two meaning
on dreams. The first is that dreams are merely expressions of inner
desires. The second is the belief of the soul leaving the body and being
guided until awakened.
Early History of Dreams
 In Greek culture conception of dreams
was similar to the Egyptians – they tried
to induce dreams which were seen as
messages from Gods.
 Dreams also aided in their practice of
medicine, sending sick people to
particular temples in those places where
the "gods of the body" had their
shrines. The ailing Greeks would visit
these temples, perform various religious
rites, sleep, and hope to have a dream
that assured a return to good health.
 The God of dreams was Morpheus who
sent warnings and prophecies to those
who slept at shrines and temples.
 In very early Greek thought the Gods
were thought to visit the sleepers,
entering through keyhole.
Early History of Dreams
 Antiphon wrote the first
book on dreams in the 5th
century BC. He argued that
the soul leaves the sleeping
 Hippocrates thought that
during the day the soul
receives images; during the
night, it produces images.
Early History of Dreams
 In Judaism dreams are discussed in Talmud and they were thought to be
part of the experience of the world which can be interpreted. Dreams
were connected heavily to the religion: dreams were thought to be the
voice of God. Good dreams come from God and bad dreams from evil
spirits. Similarly to Egyptians and Greeks, men tried to induce
revelatory dreams.
 Christians followed the Hebrews: dreams are a supernatural element
because the Old Testament has many stories of dreams with divine
 In Islam dreams play an important part in the history of Islam.
Interpretating dreams is the only way Muslims can receive revelations
from God after the death of the last Prophet Muhammed. Mohammed
himself “received" much of the text of the Koran from a dream he had,
as well as interpreting dreams of his disciples.
Early History of Dreams
 In America some tribes and Mexican
civilizations believed that dreams are a
way of visiting and having a contact
with their ancestors. They used rites of
passage, fasting and praying to incude
such dreams and shared them with the
other tribe after waking up.
 Meanwhile in Europe, in Middle Ages
dreams were seen as evil, and the
images as temptations from the devil.
Many believed that during sleep, the
devil could fill the human mind with
corrupting and harmful thought.
Luther continued this tradition.
However, some catholics such as St.
Augustine argued that the direction of
their lives was affected by dreams.
Dreams in 19th century
 In the beginning of 19th century along with the romantic movement dreams became fashionable.
Comte’s positivism also encouraged the study of dreams.
Robert Cross Smith was one of the first to start this "dream craze" under the pen name
"Raphael“. He published a popular book called The Royal Book of Dreams.
French doctor Alfred Maury studied over 3,000 different dreams. He believed that external
stimuli is the catalyst to all of our dreams.
Soon this theory was overcome by Freud who called dreams as “royal road to the unconscious”.
His theory was that although dreams may be prompted by external stimuli, wish-fulfillment was
the root behind most of our dreams. Freud's idea was that our dreams were reflection of our
deepest desires, especially sexual ones, going back to our childhood. To Freud, no dream was of
entertainment value, they all held important meanings.
Jung disagreed on the theory that erotic content was the basis behind most of our dreams. Jung
believed that dreams reminded us of our wishes, which enables us to realize the things we
unconsciously yearn for, and helps us to fulfill our own wishes.These dreams were messages,
Jung believed, from ourselves to ourselves and that we should pay attention to them for our
own benefit. Thus from the idea that dreams are God’s messages they turn to internal messages.
Dreams present the dreamer with revelations that can uncover and help to resolve emotional or
religious problems or fears. Of special interest are recurring dreams.
Representation of dreams
 Dream documentation has
been and still is an
important activity of
 Dreams have also been
inspiration for artistic
work. I will return to the
interpretation of dreams
later – now let us discuss a
little of representations of
dreams in various art
Myths & dreams
 In Greek mythology the God of
dreams is Hypnos, later Hermes
was the one who brought dreams.
Hypnos is presented as a benevolent
 In Roman mythology Morpheus is a
God of dreams who appears in
Ovid's Metamorphoses, book XI.
Morpheus has the ability to take any
human form and appear in dreams.
His true semblance is that of a
winged daemon, imagery shared
with many of his siblings. Starting
in the medieval period, the name
Morpheus began to stand generally
for the god of dreams or of sleep.
”The God, uneasy 'till he slept again,
Resolv'd at once to rid himself of pain;
And, tho' against his custom, call'd aloud,
Exciting Morpheus from the sleepy crowd:
Morpheus, of all his numerous train, express'd
The shape of man, and imitated best;
The walk, the words, the gesture could supply,
The habit mimick, and the mein bely;
Plays well, but all his action is confin'd,
Extending not beyond our human kind.
Another, birds, and beasts, and dragons apes,
And dreadful images, and monster shapes:
This demon, Icelos, in Heav'n's high hall
The Gods have nam'd; but men Phobetor call.
A third is Phantasus, whose actions roul
On meaner thoughts, and things devoid of soul;
Earth, fruits, and flow'rs he represents in dreams,
And solid rocks unmov'd, and running streams.
These three to kings, and chiefs their scenes display,
The rest before th' ignoble commons play.
Of these the chosen Morpheus is dispatch'd;
Which done, the lazy monarch, over-watch'd,
Down from his propping elbow drops his head,
Dissolv'd in sleep, and shrinks within his bed.”
- Ovid: Metamorphoses, book XI
Dreams in litterature
 Homer, in his Iliad, describes a scene wherein Agamemnon receives instructions from
the messenger of Zeus in a dream.
 Genesis – dream places (Gen 20:3 writes, “God came to Abimelech in a dream by
night”); divine messages (Through a dream, Jacob first received the divine covenant and
promises directly from God about him and his offspring (Gen 28:13-15)); revelation
(God reveals God’s will to Abimelech, Jacob, and Laban through dreams (Gen 20:3-7,
28:12-15, 31:11-16, 31:24); God’s intervention into the world (The dream of
Abimelech and Laban (Gen 20:3-7, 31:22-29) clearly show God’s proactive action and
protection through dreams for God’s people) etc.
 Nebuchadnezzer, the King of Babylon who died in 562 BC, had an interesting dream
reported in the Book of Daniel. It was in this dream that he dreamed of a beautiful tree
with green foliage that the birds nested in and beasts took shelter underneath. But one
day a messenger from Heaven ordered the tree to be cut down and the King to be
chained to the stump. The King was left alone to feed on the grass as a beast
would. Nebuchadnezzer summoned Daniel, an expert on dreams, who told him that the
tree represented the King's power and glory. When it was cut down he became nothing
but a beast, living off the grass. Daniel explained that this dream was to teach him to
acknowledge the heavenly power above him in the same way as he was above the beasts
in the field. The dream was, as it turned out, thought to be prophetic.
Dreams in litterature
In Medieval times dream frame was
frequently used in allegories to justify the
narrative – one of the most famous of these
is the Vision concerning Piers Plowman. The
sama idea had been used already by Cicero
In this litterary device a dream or vision is
recounted as having revealed knowledge or a
truth not available to the dreamer or
visionary in a normal waking state.
In both its ancient and medieval form, the
dream vision is often felt to be of divine
origin. The genre reemerges in the era of
Romanticism, when dreams were regarded
as creative gateways to imaginative
possibilities beyond rational calculation.
This genre typically follows a structure
whereby a narrator recounts his experience
of falling asleep, dreaming, and waking, and
the story is often an allegory.
The dream-vision convention was widely
used in European literature from late Latin
times until the 15th century.
Dreams in litterature
 Lewis Carroll: Alice in Wonderland
and Through the Looking-Glass
 Remarkable in these is that the
logic of the story is dream-like with
transitions and flexible causality.
”But I don’t want to go among mad
people," Alice remarked.
"Oh, you can’t help that," said the
Cat: "we’re all mad here. I’m mad.
You’re mad."
"How do you know I’m mad?" said
"You must be," said the Cat, or you
wouldn’t have come here.”
― Lewis Carroll, Alice inWonderland
Dreams in litterature
 In modern science
fiction/phantasy litterature
dreams have been a popular
 H. P. Lovecraft: Dream Cycle
and The Neverending Story
include places like the desert
of lost dreams, the sea of
 Philip K. Dick: The Three
Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch;
 Ursula K. Le Guin: The Lathe
of Heaven
Dreams in litterature
 Jorge Luis Borges: The Circular Ruins
 Shakespeare: A Midsummer Night’s dream // characters change
to other and even into animals.
Shakespeare: Macbeth (sleepwalking); Richard III (anxiety dream)
Homer: Iliad
In classic Russian novels there are vivid descriptions of nightmares:
As dreaming returned, for example, in Tolstoy's War and Peace and
Anna Karenina as well as Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment and
The Brothers Karamazov.
Other novels: Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain, August
Strindberg's A Dream Play and The Ghost Sonata, Franz Kafka's
The Trial and The Castle, and James Joyce's Ulysses and Finnegan's
Dreams in music
Many classical composers have reported having inspired by dreams. For example, On February 17, 1854,
a choir of angels sang to Robert Schumann as he slept. In the middle of the night he woke from the dream
and rushed to his desk to write down what he had heard. The angels’ ethereal music would become the basis
of his Ghost Variations, a work which seems to wander between waking and dreaming states. Other
composers include Anton Bruckner, Wagner and Stravinsky (Rite of Spring).
 In later 60’s psychedelic rock dreams were a common theme. The music was dream-like, reflecting not only
dreams, but also psychedelic drugs. For example,
 Bob Dylan introduced a surrealist/psychedelic style of lyrics in various dream-named songs where the logic
is dream-like, for example in his Bob Dylan’s #115th Dream includes lines like this:
I went into a restaurant
Lookin’ for the cook
I told them I was the editor
Of a famous etiquette book
The waitress he was handsome
He wore a powder blue cape
I ordered some suzette, I said
“Could you please make that crepe”
Just then the whole kitchen exploded
From boilin’ fat
Food was flying everywhere
And I left without my hat
Pictorial representations
 In art dreams have been a
popular theme.
 The bizarre qualities have
been popular and especially
nightmares have inspired
many artists
 Sometimes the
catholic/lutheran doctrine of
dreams as the work of the
devil are related to paintings
of nightmares, especially in
the work of Goya and
Hieronymus Bosch
Some examples
Goya: The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters
Dalí: Dream caused by the flight of a
bee around a pomegranate a second
before awakening
Some examples
Picasso: La rêve
Bosch: The garden of earthy delights
Dream sequences in films
 In films, dreams are often presented in
the Freudian sense, as expressions of
the dreamers deepest wishes, fears or
desires. Hitchcock’s films are good
examples of this.
 Alfred Hitchcock: Spellbound (dream
sequence designed by Salvador Dali):
 Alfred Hitchcock: Vertigo:
Dream sequences in films
 Sometimes dreams in films are just wild
ride of imagination with some occurring
themes (such as sexual wishes).
 For example, Fellini: 8½
Dream Sequences in films
Anxiety and stress can also be represented in
films. In Keaton’s film lucid dreaming is
represented. In horror movies the content of
nightmares is presented as part of the film
without us knowing whether it is a dream or
not. The attack of dark forces can be dreamlike. Compare Carrie, Friday the 13th and An
American Werewolf in London.
Trumbo: Johnny Got His Gun
Buster Keaton: Sherlock Jr.
More dreams in films
Kurosawa: Dreams
David Lynch: most of his films
Kubrick: Shining
Nolan: Inception
Disney: Fantasia
Gondry: Eternal sunshine of a spotless mind
Tarkovsky: Stalker
Fellini: City of women, Casanova …
Andy Warhol: Sleep
Joel and Ethan Coen: The Big Lebowski
Huston: Freud
Wachowski bros: Matrix
Bergman: Smulltronstället
Weir: The Last Wave
Several films of Jean Cocteau
Dwarfs & dreams
More examples of dreams in popular
 Cartoons: Neil Gaiman: Sandman
 Dreams can be part of video games. Mario & Luigi: Dream Team (Nintendo)
follows an adventure through Luigi’s dreams.
 Music videos:Foo Fighters: Everlong
(; Björk:
Hyperballad (Michel Gondry)
(; Metallica: Enter
Sandman (; Chemical
Brothers: Let forever be
 Nightmares are especially popular in music videos. For example, Michael
Jackson: Thriller (;
Venom:Nightmare (; Alice
Cooper: Welcome to My Nightmare

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