I do not believe that I am now dreaming, but I cannot prove that I am Not." Philosopher Bertrand Russell 1872-1970


Are dreams relevant? The scientific community does not seem to think so. If it can not be proven by the scientific method, it does not exist. It must not exist then. Freud (1963) wondered about this too when he asks what the true source of the contempt in which dreams are held in scientific circles. He believed that dreams were to guard sleep. A large portion of humanity spends a considerable amount of time dreaming, therefore spending a large proportion of their life in that state. They can not prove that people dream about being with their old friends, getting high on drugs and alcohol and partying; however, if one were lying in a sleep lab, the technicians could tell that he or she was in REM sleep--they just could not prove what the dream was about.

A dream, according to Freud, is "the manner in which the mind reacts to stimuli that impinge upon it in the state of sleep." Visual images are how we predominately experience dreams, through feelings and thoughts. Physical urges are also in progress.

If a man dreams that a beautiful naked woman is fondling him, he can have a physical experience--a messy one at that. If this hypothetical man has a full bladder and dreamed of standing in front of a urinal, he might make another mess. This often happens after a night of heavy drinking and possibly the crashing end of two or three days of methamphetamine use. As stated by Ewen (1988) Freud believed that "the most important part of personality, the unconscious, is also the most inaccessible. During sleep, however, the ego relaxes its defenses and allows repressed material to emerge; and libidinal impulses and cathexes that were frustrated during waking hours find gratification in the form of dreams."

This brings us to Freud's theory of wish fulfilment. He says that what instigates a dream is a wish, and the fulfilment of that wish is the content of the dream--a chief characteristic of dreams. Freud concluded that our nighttime fantasies provide a "royal road to the unconscious." In dreams, said Freud, we are able to gratify forbidden or unrealistic wishes and desires that have been forced into the unconscious part of the mind. He said if we did not dream, energy invested in these wishes and desires would build up to intolerable levels, threatening our very sanity (Wade & Tavris, 1998). If one is dreaming about partying with old friends, using drugs and alcohol, exhibiting promiscuous behavior with old girlfriends, then I have to give serious consideration to Freud's wish fulfilment theory.

However, maybe this is a defense mechanism that keeps people from acting out this behavior in waking life. Freud agrees "that the dream does not simply reproduce this stimulus, but removes it, gets rid of it, deals with it, by means of a kind of experience." The question is: why do the drug and alcohol dreams recur periodically, in various formats? Possibly the dreams have to recur as an ongoing therapeutic mechanism to keep it from happening in waking life. Whatever the reasons, these dreams often give emotional shock when recovering addicts or alcoholics awake. "Oh shit. I have blown ten years of sobriety!" Before the dreamer is fully awake, he or she is in a panic that they have returned to drinking and using, then reality sinks in and they realize they was in a dream state.


There is a mountain of literature written about Freud and another mountain written by Jung. Depending on what volume of the collected works is being considered, you are likely to find a contradiction in a later volume. That is because he was continually growing and changing his theories. This is a good thing, for we cannot become stagnant, especially with something as perplexing as dreams.

Whereas Freud believed that dream symbols disguise unpleasant truths in order to preserve sleep, Jung regards the manifest content as the true dream. The language of dreams is confusing because it reflects the illogical nature of the unconscious. Freud's facade distorts the inside, whereas Jung's facade describes the inside.

Freud thought he had the dreamworld figured out. According to Jung (1960) "much may be said for Freud's view as a scientific explanation of dream psychology." However, Jung disputed its completeness. He "thought that only a combination of points of view--which has not yet been achieved in a scientifically satisfactory manner still needs to be overcome."

A major difference between Freud and Jung is that Freud's view is based on the personal unconscious; whereas Jung comes from both the personal and the collective unconscious. This is where the two theorists parted ways. Their friendship ended over this divide. Freud did not accept Jung's theory of the collective unconscious. Dreams about family, friends and daily life come from the personal unconscious. The collective unconscious, on the other hand, triggers archetypal dreams of a fascinating nature. Jung breaks these into two groups: little dreams and big dreams. The little dream comes from the personal unconscious and the big dream comes from the collective unconscious.

Jung accepted wish fulfilment, but he felt the dream served many other purposes. "Our formula merely says that the dream is a symbolical representation of an unconscious content. It leaves the question open whether these contents are always wish- fulfilments." Dreams may express fear's, mirroring actual situations in the dreamer's life, they could anticipate the future or provide a warning, or search for ethical direction. Jung even considered the dream as a possible result of telepathy, which could explain his theory of synchronicity.

Whereas Freud might postulate a drug/alcohol dream as a wish fulfilment, Jung might have said the dream was expressing a fear. I believe both are certainly relevant considerations. In either case I can see how both theories are compensatory, aiming to restore a state of psychological balance. If addicts and/or alcoholics did not have those dreams periodically, it might be much more difficult for them to sustain sobriety. The self- reflection of the dream and its therapeutic insight can be quite healing.

Jung came "to the conclusion that Freud's view that dreams have an essentially wish-fulfilling and sleep-preserving function is too narrow, though the basic thought of a compensatory biological function is certainly correct."

The compensatory biological function would be hard to deny. The above example about a dreamer that was standing in front of a urinal and then urinating in bed, is substantiated here. So is the messy result of a wet dream. Fortunately (or unfortunately) most older males do not have those types of dreams any longer. However, for many, the sweet bird of youth was fraught with them. Jung goes a little further with symbolization. Agreeing that some dream symbols have sexual connotations, he says there are other possibilities. Inserting a key in a lock might symbolize sexual intercourse, or it could describe the hopeful opening of new possibilities in one's life. Hence, dreams are not as simplistic as Freud postulates. For Jung, Beebe (1993) explains, "dreams have something to say: they make a point. A Jungian dream interpretation is incomplete if it can not find this point."

Jung addresses the nature of psychic reality "just as the body reacts purposively to injuries or infections or any abnormal conditions, so the psychic functions react to unnatural or dangerous disturbances with purposive defense-mechanisms. Among these we include the dream, since it furnished the unconscious material constellated in a given conscious situation and supplies it to consciousness in symbolical form." Freud would agree, at least from a historical standpoint. He did not believe dreams had a prophetic element. He did say that you cannot dream about anything that you have not experienced, most likely coming from the previous day.


Underworld, according to Hillman, is the mythological style of describing a psychological cosmos. In other words the underworld is psyche. Hillman quotes Robert Lowie as stating that "the psyche is the entity that functions after death or in dreams or trances." Therefore, the dream is psyche doing soul work. Hillman's motto is "stick to the image." He says that "because the dream speaks in images, or even is images--which is what the Homeric oneiros meant--because dreaming is imaging, our instrument for undistorted listening to the imagination and can be answered only by the imagination.

Dream interpreters usually want to relate the dream to waking life. Hillman wants to de-center--away from us. He wants to dehumanize.

"How long we go on dreaming those old family scenes?" Asks Hillman. Most people do dream about family members periodically- -some more, some less. Hillman disputes the contention that these are unresolved psychic issues. He says they are emotional substances going through the work of soul-making. Here is the contrast between Case History and Soul History.

The "Hillman Revelation" is that his ideas are against the traditional interpretation of dreams. Whereas Freud looks to the past and Jung looks to the future, Hillman places us where we are. Whereas Freud and Jung interpret the dream, Hillman engages the dream. In contrast to Freud and Jung's dream theories concerning dream persons, Hillman claims that "the persons I engage within dreams are neither representations of their living selves nor parts of me. They are shadow images that fill archetypal roles: they are personae, masks, in the hollow of which is a numen."

The Real World:

Having lived most of my life as an atheist and a skeptic, it is truly a wonder that I have been able to accept and study the tenets of Depth psychology, especially Dreamwork. Whether it is the residue from past beliefs or my educational indoctrination of the scientific method, I still am reluctant to give credence to dream interpretation as an effective therapeutic tool. In fact, as much as Freud's "wish fulfilment" and Jung's "anticipating the future" are attractive to me, I still have an arduous time accepting them. However, James Hillman suggests we be with the dreams, not make predictions of them. I agree. I agree that dreaming does have its own autonomy.

It is comforting when I dream of my parents. It feels like I am with them, even when I awake. However, my parents are dead. I do not believe I will ever be with them again. I can be withthe images and enjoy them though, and it is still comforting. Of course some dreams can not be enjoyed; in fact, they can be quite disturbing. Fortunately, I do not wake up anymore wondering why I had a dream, whether it is one of family interaction or a nightmare. It is like going to a movie. Unless I have seen previews and know something about it, I go in not knowing whether it is going to be good or bad. I find dreams and movies synonymous in that respect.

I dreamed that I was incarcerated on the Las Vegas Strip. I had wandered off too far when it was time to return to the confines. I managed to get back in without being detected, and having done that I thought "Hey, it would be easy to escape from here." I awoke and the dream stayed with me for a while. Having done so much reading on Jung, I immediately considered my escape from the prison as symbolic to escaping from Pacifica--the school I was going to at the time. Thinking that the dream was warning me not to continue--that I was not doing the right thing, I spent the rest of the day wondering if dream interpretation is all that it is cracked up to be. I do not believe it is, and I came to the conclusion that I am not Carl Gustav Jung, incarnate--I just don't have any business attempting dream interpretation, even if I did believe in it.

I propose writing down dreams periodically, especially the ones that really grab your attention. Study them by remembering how you felt during the dream and how you feel when you awake, and write that down too. It is my philosophy that if this is done over a considerable time, there will be psychological reward of serenity and contentedness. I do not think it matters whether one is living a legal, honest, spiritual or religious life or not. I think dreams can benefit people who kill people for a living. I think dreams can benefit people who pull armed robberies for a living. I think dreams can benefit people who rape or molest children. I think dreams can benefit people that act out any depraved behavior there is. It might be possible that many things can be resolved by contemplating and studying dreams--not interpreting them. Maybe not. Maybe it is none of our business what our dreams mean. Maybe they are not our dreams. I could go on with maybes indefinitely, and so can everybody in the mental health field, including philosophers, but I seriously doubt the psyche is ever going to be penetrated to the point of knowing what they mean or what they are for.

There is a saying around 12-step programs: Keep it simple. I'm convinced that every person who has delved into the world of dreams professionally have figured out what they wanted to know, but they screwed it up when they complicated it so much that people who read their books did not have a clue what they are writing about. Who knows, maybe I will write a book on dreams and complicate it so much that only scholars can decipher it. I doubt it. If I write one, I promise to keep it simple.


Ewen, Robert B. (1988). Theories of Personality. Hillsdale, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers. p. 47.

Freud, S. (1963). In J. Strachey (Ed and Trans.) The standard edition of the complete psychological works of Sigmund Freud (Vol 15, pp. 83-239). London: Hogarth Press. (Original work published 1916. pp. 83, 89, 129.

Hillman, James. (1979). The Dream and the Underworld. New York: Harper & Row Publishers. p. 2, 46, 55.

Jung, C.G. (1974). Dreams and psychic energy. In Dreams (pp. 23-83). Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. pp. 33, 38, 39, 49.

Wade, Carole & Tavris, Carol. (1998). Psychology. New York: Longman. p. 177.

Author's Bio: 

After 40 arrests, five formal probations, four country jail sentences, and a prison term (as a result of chemical dependency), I turned my life around. I was released from prison in Dec 1989, and have been clean and sober since. I started at Barstow College in Feb 1990. Received my AA degree in '92 from Barstow College in Barstow, CA; BA in '94 from Chapman University in Orange CA; MHS in 98 from National University in San Diego CA, and finished with a Ph.D. from Pacifica Graduate Institute in Santa Barbara, CA in Feb 2004. I have taught as an adjunct instructor for Park University and Barstow College. I can be contacted through my website www.ScumbagSewerRats.com or directly to my email account ScumbagSewerRats@verizon.net