Dreams, that is, thoughts and illusions and mental phenomena of

various kinds that occur during sleep, have always been interesting to

the psychologist, and have usually been related to physicians by

patients either because they were thought to have a significance

related to disease, or because something in them disturbed the

patient's mind. This is almost as true in the modern time as it was

long ago. It is curiously
nteresting to note that the very latest

development of psychotherapy includes the use of hints obtained from

dreams in order to determine the origin of psycho-neurotic conditions

and certain of the minor psychic disturbances, and also as a

foundation for treatment. The oldest stories of therapeutics that we

have are those of patients waited on by the priest physicians of the

olden times in the temples, who were supposed to be greatly helped by

information obtained from the patient's dreams. It is interesting to

read such recent studies as that of "Incubation in the Old Temples,"

by Miss Ingersoll, with the thought in mind that we are once more

analyzing dreams in order to accomplish a similar purpose.

Dreams are so often a source of disturbance of mind for patients, lead

to such disturbed sleep, or even so affect the bodily health that it

is important for anyone who wants to influence patients through their

minds to know the significance attributed to dreams by the most recent

studies of them. This is all the more important because dreams are

such a universal phenomenon. From our earliest years we dream. The

night terrors of children are probably due to dreams and show that

even as early as the age of three we dream vividly. Doubtless some of

the terrifying dreams of childhood are similar to those that we

experience later. Dreams of falling, dreams of being cold, of being

out of breath, with vivid repetitions of exciting scenes through which

they have gone during the day, or which they have seen in picture or

been told in story, form the substance of these dreams. Children are

likely to be much disturbed by them. They wake in a terror of anxiety,

in cold sweat, and crying bitterly because of their dream visions.

Older people are not so much disturbed at the moment, but often brood

over dreams and may be seriously affected by them.

It is difficult, however, to persuade many people that their dreams

have no special significance, either of present or of future evil, and

to many the fact that they dream much becomes a suggestion of

wakefulness that disturbs sleep and makes them quite unequal to the

next day's work, because they have the feeling that, as they have been

dreaming all night, they must be quite tired. Tiredness in nervous

people is often a matter of the mental state rather than of physical

exhaustion or genuine mental weariness. The actual place of dreams in

psychology, then, becomes an important consideration in


Our real advances in the knowledge of the significance of dreams have

come from the study of the dreams that are common to most people.

These show us exactly how and why dreams occur and just what their

meaning is. Probably the most familiar dream common to all the human

race is that of falling from a height. Everyone has been wakened with

a startled sense of intense relief that the sensation of falling was

illusory. The waking came just before the bottom was reached. There is

a tradition that if one ever did strike the bottom in one's dream it

would be the end and that death would result as surely as if the fall

were real. So far we have had no one come back to tell us of that, and

the tradition is reasonably safe from direct contradiction. It serves

without any reason, however, to disturb timorous people and make them

dread to fall asleep again. Often this dream-falling so seriously

affects sensitive individuals that they do not get to sleep for an

hour or more and occasionally those with an inclination to insomnia

may even suffer for the rest of the night from the effect of it. It is

important to explain, then, what we know about the causation of the

dream. In nearly all cases the subject on waking finds himself on his

back, and then the inclination is at once to turn over to the side

with a sigh of relief. Commonly the dream occurs rather early in the

night, when a rather heavy meal has been taken shortly before

retiring. The weight in the stomach, particularly if considerable

liquid has been taken, seems to press upon the abdominal aorta and

interferes, to some extent at least, with the circulation to the legs.

This deprives little nerves at the periphery of the body of some of

their nutrition and causes a tingling feeling in them. This is quite

different from pressure on nerves, which gives the sensation

termed "being asleep" to a limb. This tingling feeling resembles that

which we experience when going down rapidly in an elevator. It is the

falling sensation. This sensation tries to force its way into the

consciousness and in this process does not completely wake

consciousness up, but brings about an association of ideas connected

with falling--hence the dream of being on a height and of falling

therefrom out of which we wake so startled. The whole process instead

of being injurious is really conservative. It is important that the

aorta should not be pressed upon and this is the mode by which

awakening is brought about and the position shifted so that further

interference is stopped, though we ourselves are quite unconscious of

the real purpose that has been accomplished. An explanation of this

kind usually makes people who suffer from such dreams and have been

disturbed by them much more tolerant of the phenomenon and more ready

to go to sleep again, since evidently nature can be trusted to care

for them even during sleep.

After the sensation of falling probably the commonest dream that

humanity has, at least in the civilized state, is that of being out in

some public place without sufficient clothing. Usually we wake just to

find that some portion of our anatomy has been exposed to the air and

that it is cold. It is this sensation gradually forcing its way into

consciousness that has gathered around it a group of ideas that form

our dream.

Among men, a familiar dream is that of running for a car, or away from

something, or to catch someone, and finding that it is almost

impossible to move. We are so out of breath that we are scarcely able

to drag one foot after another and, indeed, sometimes we seem to be

actually rooted to the spot. We cannot move at all. When we wake after

this dream we find that, because of a cold in the head, our nose is

stopped up by the secretion and that our mouths are shut and

consequently we were getting no air. When that sensation tries to

break into the consciousness there gather around it certain familiar

ideas usually associated with being out of breath and hence we have

the dream of trying to run without being able to move.

Frequency of Dreams.--Nervous people often complain that they dream

all night or else very frequently, and that as a consequence their

sleep is not restful. It is probable that there are always ideas in

the mind and that literally we dream without ceasing. These ideas,

however, do not get into our consciousness except just during the

process of waking. All those who have investigated the subject of

dreams are practically agreed on this. In subsequent paragraphs we

quote a number of good observers on this subject. Certainly this is

what we should expect from what we all know about day-dreaming. We can

never catch ourselves during the day without finding some thought

wandering through our minds. If we want to understand dreaming during

sleep this day dreaming is instructive. We jump from one idea to

another, apparently without a connection; yet there is always some

connecting link. We have just read in the paper of someone in Cairo,

and we think of old Egypt, and then of old Babylonia, and the Code of

Hammurrabi, and the laws of the Medes and the Persians, and Xenophon

and our school days, and of an old schoolmaster now a missionary in

Japan, and of Japanese art and of an American artist much influenced

by it, and of one of his great windows in a church in New York and of

social work in connection with that church, and of settlement

houses and then Hull House, Chicago, and then of the Adamses in

Massachusetts, and so on.

Thus, also, do our minds go flitting round apparently during the

night. We remember only such things as are brought into our

consciousness directly and emphatically during the process of

wakening. During our day dreaming we recall only those things which

for some reason led us to think consciously about them and then follow

out our thoughts to definite conclusions. It is an interesting study

to follow back our day dreams through their wanderings to the origin.

As a rule, however, we lose track of the connections and after a time

remember only some of the wonderful transformations and

transmigrations of thought; and so it is in our dreams.

With regard to the frequency of dreaming. Sir Arthur Mitchell in his

book "Dreaming, Laughing, and Blushing" (London, 1905), insists on the

great probability of the constancy of our dreaming during sleep. He


It seems to me that there is no such thing as dreamless sleep.

During the whole continuance of sleep, the mind, I believe, is

occupied with a certain kind of thinking which works round what I

have called hallucinations. I do not expect to be able to prove the

correctness of this opinion as to the persistence of dreams all

through sleep, but I think that it can easily be shown to be

possibly correct. I go further, and say that many things show that

it is probably correct. I may not be able to prove absolutely its

correctness, but it is proper to bear in mind that it is quite as

difficult to prove absolutely that it is not correct. My difficulty

is frankly avowed. Many things, however, are taught in biology as

being certainly true. In regard to which a like avowal could be made

but is not made. There is what has been called a "conjectural


We do not and we cannot remember much of what we have been thinking

about while we are awake. This is unquestionably true in a large

sense. But, nevertheless, we do not doubt that we have been thinking

continuously. We do not suppose that at any time all thinking had

ceased, though we may be completely unable to recall what it was


He shows further that many writers on dreams and careful students of

the subject in the past have come to the same conclusion. Robert Dale

Owen, for instance, deliberately endeavored to find out whether he had

always been dreaming just before he awoke. After months of observation

he records that in every instance he was conscious of having dreamed.

Hazlitt, a century ago, tried the same thing for a prolonged period

and notes that whenever he was waked, and immediately recollected

himself as to possible dreaming, he was always aware that he had been

dreaming. Sir Arthur Mitchell himself has tried this same experiment

on himself and for a considerable time has scarcely ever failed to put

to himself this question about dreaming when he awoke and always got a

satisfying affirmative answer. Personally, for several years, I have

been interested enough in this subject to recur frequently to it

immediately on awaking and I cannot say that I have ever, under those

circumstances, failed to find that there had been some vague dream

fancies at least running through my mind before I was fully awake.

This opinion as to the constancy of dreaming during sleep has many

authorities in its support. Sir Arthur Mitchell has quoted a number,

some of them distinguished physicians, who add the weight of their

testimony to this view:

It is not a new thing to hold that there is no sleep without

dreaming--in other words, that dreaming goes on unceasingly all

through sleep. I have stated my own opinion strongly, but the

same opinion has been nearly as strongly expressed by others. Sir

Benjamin Brodie, for instance, may be said to express it when he

writes, "I believe that I seldom if ever sleep without dreaming."

Sir Henry Holland expresses it still more plainly when he says: "No

moment of sleep is without some condition of dreaming." Goodwin says

much the same thing when he asserts that "sleep is not a suspension

of thought"--in other words, that dreaming is sleep-thinking. Dr.

John Reid still more clearly holds the opinion, though he does not

furnish me with a short apt quotation. Hazlitt, too, may be taken as

holding that there is no such thing as dreamless sleep.

Descartes and his followers may, perhaps, be regarded as holding that

the mind is unceasingly at work in sleep--even in the "profoundest

sleep," though "the memory retains it not," and Isaac Watts says that

"the soul never intermits its activity," and that we may "know of

sleeping thoughts at the moment they arise, and not retain them the

next moment."

Hippocrates, Leibnitz, and Abercrombie have also been quoted as

holding that there is no dreamless sleep, and so far as they express

themselves on the subject they appear to do so.

A strong weight of opinion in all ages favors the view that during

sleep dream-thoughts are constantly running through our mind, though

we recollect only those which are impressed upon us at the moment of

awaking. We do not even recall those unless, for some reason, we have

paid special attention to them. That is just exactly what is true of

day dreaming. After it is over we have no idea at all of the thoughts

that occupied our minds for hours, though we are all aware that at any

given moment, if we turned our consciousness inwards we found that

there was something that we were thinking about.

Short Duration of Dreams.--This view of the constant occurrence of

dreams during sleep is confirmed by other things that we have come to

know as to dreams and dream states. Probably the most interesting of

these is with regard to the length of dreams. As our memory of dreams

is only such as we have from the thoughts of sleep getting into our

consciousness just at the moment of awaking, dreams are never as long

as they sometimes seem to be. As a matter of fact, they occupy but a

few moments, though in that time a long story may seem to unroll

itself. Probably nothing gives more assurance to people who are

persuaded that they are losing much rest because of their dreams than

this explanation of the brevity of the phenomena. Nervous people wake

frequently. Whenever they wake they find themselves dreaming. As a

consequence, they acquire the persuasion that they have been dreaming

"all the night long," and it is not hard for them to suggest to

themselves in the early morning that they are not rested. Nervous

people seldom feel rested in the early morning, it is their worst

time, and with the occurrence of dreams as a suggested reason for

this, they exaggerate the feeling of tiredness with which they get up.

A frank discussion of this question of the duration of dreams is often

the best possible therapeutic auxiliary for such cases. It gives them

a new series of suggestions and, above all, relieves them of

unfavorable suggestions.

Prof. Maury of the University of Paris tells a striking story of a

very brief dream of his own which shows how short may be the time

occupied by what seems surely a long dream. He had been reading before

going to bed a very striking book on the Reign of Terror. He dreamt

that he himself was arrested during the Terror, taken to prison, that

his name was called on the list of the condemned, that he was carried

to the guillotine, fastened to the board, pushed beneath the

knife and that he woke just as the knife struck his neck. Of course he

awoke with the usual sense of thankfulness and relief that comes at

such times. When he awoke he found that a light curtain rod had fallen

from the bed above him and had struck just across his neck. His dream

evidently had all come to him during the extremely short time

necessary for him to become fully awake after the rod had hit him. His

mind was occupying itself with the history that he had read before

going to bed. When the rod struck him the long story of his arrest and

imprisonment, the journey to the place of the guillotine and the

preparations for execution, all came to him as a series of rapid ideas

during his coming to consciousness.

It is probable that most of our dreams are not much longer than this.

One of my earliest recollections is of an old gentleman coming into

the country school during my first year as a pupil and telling us the

story of a dream of his of the night before quite as brief as that of

Professor Maury. He had fallen asleep after dinner in his chair and,

having a cold that stopped up his nose and his mouth being shut, he

had the usual dream of being out of breath from running. It took him

back to the story of the massacre of Wyoming, near the scene of which

the school was situated. He dreamt that for hours he had been running

away from the Indians and seemed at last utterly unable to escape them

because he was out of breath. He made such efforts in his chair that

his wife awakened him and then he found that he had been asleep

altogether only a very few minutes.

Significance of Dreams.--Many people are quite sure that their dreams

have a definite significance quite apart from any mere wandering of

the mind or the suggestion of half-waking and the ideas that gather

round sensations not fully in the consciousness. A number of people,

for instance, have dreams of events that are happening at a distance

at the moment that they dream. The Psychic Research Society of England

has gathered a number of these and it is indeed difficult to

understand many of them. There seems no doubt, however, that in many

cases there is an illusion of memory, by which, after an event, dreams

that might be taken to refer in some vague way to the happening, are

clothed with a wealth of detail which appears to make them wonderful

premonitory representations of future events or repetitions of

simultaneous events. One of the most familiar of this form of dreams

is what has been called a phantasm of the dying. People dying at a

distance seem to have some wonderful power of making themselves appear

to very near friends, especially brothers and sisters, and, above all,

twins, and to friends with whom they have been very intimately

associated. Occasionally such phantasms are seen during waking hours,

or what are supposed to be waking hours, though it must not be

forgotten that dreams may come very easily and almost unconsciously in

short naps, but much more frequently in what are known to be dreams.

Nearly always these partake of the nature of the ordinary dream, as

can be seen by a careful analysis of their conditions, and are mere

coincidences occupying a very brief space of time. A typical example

of this is to be found in one of the stories told by Camille

Flammarion, the French astronomer, in his book "The Unknown." A young

man who had fallen in love with a young woman was deeply grieved to be

parted from her by the injunction of parents. Separated by a long

distance, they kept up a clandestine correspondence for more

than a year. For a considerable period, however, he had not heard from

her, and he was beginning to be anxious lest anything had happened to

her. One night she appeared to him in a dream in his room in white

garments with a pale face and, placing her cold hand in his, she bade

him good-bye. He awoke with a start. He found it difficult to sleep

and was very anxious about her. The next day he learned that she had

died the night before and concluded that his dream was a last message

from her. The end of the story, however, as it is told, spoils this

nice sentimental conclusion. When he awoke he found he had in his hand

a glass of ice water which had been standing on the table beside him.

The grasping of this had awakened him. During the awakening process

the thoughts of her in his mind gathered round the cold sensation in

his hand and gave him the dream of her and the last farewell.

There are many instances in which dreams of future events seem to come

true. Indeed, so many of these stories have been told that it is hard

to persuade some people that dreams have no meaning and can have no

meaning. By this we mean that they can by no possibility represent

prophetic foresight. What patients need to be made to understand is

that dreams represent only straggling sensations trying to get into

our consciousness, just barely succeeding, and then arousing trains of

ideas unconnected in themselves, but which we connect afterwards when

we recollect our dreams. This whole subject has been studied so

thoroughly in Maury's work on "Le Sommeil et les Reves" about the

middle of the last century and Freud "Ueber den Traum" and Sante de

Sanctis' "I Sogni" Turin, 1899, at the end of the century, that

there can be no further doubts about the matter for those who are open

to conviction. Most people, however, want to believe that their dreams

mean something. They like to think that they are in some way picked

out from the multitude and that their dreaming has a significance more

than is accorded to other people. It is, indeed, this

self-centeredness that makes for the belief in premonitions and

prophetic dreams and, as in all cases, these feelings work out their

own revenge.

If they will listen to reason, however, most people may be rather

readily convinced that their dreams cannot have any serious

significance. In the chapter on Premonitions we have already called

attention to the situation that exists with regard to the possibility

of future events giving information of themselves in advance of their

happening. Simultaneous events may perhaps in some way give warnings.

The possibility of action on the mind at a distance, especially where

minds are involved, has been discussed and admitted. The cases in

which it is supposed to have happened are, to my mind, all dubious and

are mere coincidences. For future events, however, there is no

possible physical explanation. When we turn to explanations in the

borderland between spirit and matter we find nothing satisfactory. The

future event exists nowhere. No spirit even knows it; it is dependent

on human free will. To the Creator it is known only as a contingent

possibility dependent on free will. The information does not come from

Him, for then there would be more design in these incidents. Such

dreams would effect some serious purpose, while usually they have but

minor significance in the stories as told and they often concern only

the most trivial things.

What is thus true of premonitions can readily be applied to dreams.

There is no reasonable source of information with regard to

future events. What, then, are we to say of the dreams that come true?

There is no doubt that dreaming is extremely common. Probably, as was

said, we never sleep without dreams. There are a billion dreams at

least, probably many billions of dreams every night, then, in this

little world of ours. When these are startling they cling to us. It

would be surprising if some of them did not come true. Indeed, it is

inevitable, according to the theory of probabilities, that some of

them will connect themselves directly with future events. We have a

few thousands of such startling coincidences in the history of the

race. Out of these have been made all the data supposed to underlie

the teaching that dreams have a prophetic significance. It is much

easier to understand with regard to dreams than even with regard to

telepathy coincidence explains all the supposedly wonderful warnings

of events that actually happen after we have had apparently

premonitory dreams.

An interesting example of a premonition that did not come true, the

subject of which was sure that it was a waking premonition and not a

dream, though it seems more likely that it was as suggested by the

narrator a sleep vision, is told by Sir Arthur Mitchell in his

"Dreaming, Laughing, Blushing" (London, 1905). A number of scientists

who discussed the story declared that if it had only come true it

would have been one of the most startling manifestations of

premonition and of the clairvoyant power of dreams, or at least of

their telepathic significance, that we have ever had. It involved so

many distinguished scientists that there could have been no doubt

about it. It was so detailed and those details were known to so many

authorities in science, that it would have carried great weight and it

would have been extremely difficult to have people accept it as a

mere coincidence. It is easy to see now after the event that, if it

had been fulfilled, it would have been, in spite of its startlingness,

a mere coincidence. Since it was not fulfilled, however, it represents

one of the best evidences that we have for the insignificance of

premonitory or telepathic dreams.

Sir William T. Gairdner, K. C. B., whose interesting typhus delirium

experience appears in the paper by Professor Coates on "Sleep,

Dreams and Delirium" (Glas. Med. Jour., Vol. xxxviii, 1892, pp.

241-261), has written to me about his dreams generally, and he

concludes his letter with the narrative of a dream, which, as he

correctly says, "if it had only fulfilled itself, might have become

famous." He prefaces the narrative by this statement: "In all my

individual experience, now extending over more than the usual term

of life, I have never met with anything suggestive in the remotest

degree of telepathy or second sight, or of dream prophecies or any

other fact bearing on the marvellous." He then goes on to tell the

dream to which I have referred. "In crossing the Atlantic In 1891,"

he says, "in delightful weather and perfect bodily health, and

without a shade of anxiety on my mind so far as I was aware (in

waking consciousness), I was suddenly aroused in the very early

morning, say, three or four a. m., out of a perfectly sound, and, as

I should call it, dreamless sleep, by the apparition of a telegram

written on the usual paper, and presumably from home, in these

words: 'Miss Dorothea died at ----,' all the rest being blurred and

indistinct, but these words having a startling distinctness and a

vivid sense of reality. I was not, I think, in the least degree

alarmed at first, and certainly had no superstition about it on

discovering that it was only a dream; but, failing to get any more

sleep, I rose early, took my bath as usual, and went on deck, where

I had to repeat the story of my dream to each one of some three or

four companions who were on board, of whom I will only mention Sir.

John Batty Tuke, Professor Young of Owens College, and Professor

Cunningham, then of Trinity College, Dublin. Any of these

gentlemen will confirm my saying that I attached no special

importance to this dream in the way of a scare or a superstition,

but in this way it got abroad to a certain extent within a small

circle on board in such a way as would have ensured it a widespread

fame had it only come true. In discussing the matter at breakfast I

remarked (alluding to telepathy) that the telegram was clearly,

judging from its terms, not from my wife or any member of my

immediate family, and could only have been despatched by a servant

or some one with whom I could not be supposed to be in telepathic

rapport. From this point of view it clearly refuted itself, and yet

the effect upon my mind was such that, upon arriving at New York, I

at once despatched a telegram announcing my arrival and making

inquiry, the reply to which showed that the family were pursuing a

quite undisturbed course at St. Andrews."

Sir William describes himself as aroused out of sound sleep by the

apparition of a telegram, but I think this only means that he became

suddenly awake on seeing the telegram during sleep. He does not say

whether he knew in his dream that he was a passenger on a great ship

on the mid-ocean, but he says that the telegram was written on the

usual paper by which I take it that he means the paper used here on


If it happened that the death of Miss Dorothea took place about the

time of the appearance of the telegram to so distinguished a man as

Sir William in his sleep, I scarcely think there would be any more

startling record of a so-called telepathic message. But most happily

the death did not take place, so that the story of the dream will be

forgotten. Tens of thousands of similar dream stories have that


Children's Dreams.--There is an old tradition that to tell our dreams

causes them to come back, or at least to recur in some other form.

This tradition is so old and so universal that probably there is more

in it than might at first be thought. This emphasizing of certain

forms of unconscious cerebration probably encourages their repetition,

or, at least, the repetition of further processes of the same kind.

There seems to be no doubt, too, that the reading of certain kinds of

imaginative writing and the looking at exciting pictures sometimes

leads to dreams about them. Certainly children should not be told

terrifying stories and the more nervous they are and the more affected

they are by such stories, which to some people make renewed

temptations to tell them, the more should they be avoided.

Any physician who has had much experience with city children,

especially in New York City, is likely to know how exciting, tragic

and, above all, melodramatic scenes serve as the basis for disturbing

dreams and night terrors. They will not, of course, in vigorous,

healthy and strong-minded children, but these are the ones who are

most prone to play out of doors and so are likely to be less bothered.

Just the nervous, old-fashioned, delicate children who prefer the

theater to sports of other kinds, are likely to be most affected in

this unfortunate way. The scenes become so real to children that they

impress them very deeply and are readily rehearsed in the unconscious

cerebration of sleep. Many a child sees in its dreams someone, often a

near relative, fastened on the carriage of a sawmill and inevitably

approaching a buzz-saw, or fastened inextricably to the rails while an

express train thunders down on them. That they should wake up with a

start and a scream of terror and lose most of their night's sleep and

disturb that of others, is not surprising. It is well known how

witnessing actual danger, as of an automobile accident, or a railroad

wreck, disturbs a child's imagination for long after; and its theater

experiences are almost as actual as the reality.

Many of the colored supplements of Sunday newspapers seem to be

particularly undesirable literature for children in this respect,

though, of course, there are many other reasons why children should

not be encouraged to look at them. It is not unusual for the

newspapers to give lurid pictures of wonderful dreams or things that

happen in dreams. This is undoubtedly a suggestion that acts in

causing nearly all children, but especially those of nervous

organization, to dream much more than would ordinarily be the case. It

recalls the old warning about telling dreams. These sets of pictures

certainly serve to develop the imagination of the child along

undesirable lines. Possibly some of them which emphasize the fact that

after eating certain very undesirable foods, dreams are much more

likely to come than at other times may not be without their

prophylactic sanitary value, but this is a doubtful advantage compared

to the psychic harm that they bring. I am not of those who would limit

the fairy stories and other pleasant essays in imagination which

delight children so much and form a desirable part of their education,

but artistic effort that is terrifying or deterrent, whether with pen

or brush, should be kept away from them until after their mental

control is well established. Children will probably dream anyhow, and,

therefore, should have a pleasant fund of imaginative material as a

basis for their dreams.