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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 interesting 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.

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