The Psychology of Dreams-by Carl Gustav Jung
Carl Gustav Jung-1916
A dream is a psychic structure which at first sight appears to be in striking contrast with conscious thought, because judging by its form and substance, it apparently does not lie within the continuity of development of the conscious contents, it is not integral to it, but is a mere external and apparently accidental occurrence. Its mode of genesis is in itself sufficient to isolate a dream from the other contents of the conscious, for it is a survival of a peculiar psychic activity which takes place during sleep, and does not originate in the manifest and clearly logical and emotional continuity of the event experienced.
But a careful observer should have no difficulty in discovering that a dream is not entirely severed from the continuity of the conscious, for in almost every dream certain details are found which have their origin in the impressions, thoughts, or states of mind of one of the preceding days. In so far a certain continuity does exist, albeit a retrograde one. But any one keenly interested in the dream problem cannot have failed to observe that a dream has also a progressive continuity—if such an expression be permitted—since dreams occasionally exert a remarkable influence upon the conscious mental life, even of persons who cannot be considered superstitious or particularly abnormal. These occasional after-effects are usually seen in a more or less distinct change in the dreamer’s frame of mind.
It is probably in consequence of this loose connection with the other conscious contents, that the recollected dream is so extremely unstable. Many dreams baffle all attempts at reproduction, even immediately after waking, others can only be remembered with doubtful accuracy, and comparatively few can be termed really distinct and clearly reproduceable. This peculiar reaction with regard to recollection may be understood by considering the characteristics of the various elements combined in a dream. The combination of ideas in dreams is essentially phantastic, they are linked together in a sequence which, as a rule, is quite foreign to our current way of thinking, and in striking contrast to the logical sequence of ideas which we consider to be a special characteristic of conscious mental processes.
It is to this characteristic that dreams owe the common epithet of “meaningless.” Before pronouncing this verdict, we must reflect that dreams and their chain of ideas are something that we do not understand. Such a verdict would therefore be merely a projection of our non-comprehension upon its object. But that would not prevent its own peculiar meaning being inherent in a dream.
In spite of the fact that for centuries an endeavour has been made to extract a prophetic meaning from dreams, Freud’s discovery is practically the first attempt to find their real significance. His work merits the term “scientific,” because this investigator has evolved a technique which, not only he, but many other investigators also assert, achieves its object, namely, the understanding of the meaning of the dream. This meaning is not identical with the one to which the manifest dream content makes fragmentary allusion.
This is not the place for a critical discussion of Freud’s psychology of dreams. But I will try to give a brief summary of what may be regarded as more or less established facts of dream psychology to-day.
The first question we must discuss is, whence do we deduce the justification for attributing to dreams any other signification than the unsatisfying fragmentary meaning of the manifest dream content?
As regards this point a particularly weighty argument is the fact that Freud discovered the hidden meaning of dreams by empiric and not deductive methods. A further argument in favour of a possible hidden, as opposed to the manifest meaning of dreams, is obtained by comparing dream-phantasies with other phantasies (day-dreams and the like) in one and the same individual. It is not difficult to conceive that such day-phantasies have not merely a superficial, concretistical meaning, but also a deeper psychological meaning. It is solely on account of the brevity that I must impose upon myself, that I do not submit materials in proof of this. But I should like to point out that what may be said about the meaning of phantasies, is well illustrated by an old and widely diffused type of imaginative story, of which Æsop’s Fables are typical examples, wherein, for instance, the story is some objectively impossible phantasy about the deeds of a lion and an ass. The concrete superficial meaning of the fable is an impossible phantasm, but the hidden moral meaning is plainly palpable upon reflection. It is characteristic of children that they are pleased and satisfied with the exoteric meaning of the story. But by far the best argument for the existence of a hidden meaning in dreams, is provided by the conscientious application of the technical procedure to solve the manifest dream content.
This brings us to our second main point, viz.—the question of analytic procedure. Here again I desire neither to defend nor to criticise Freud’s views and discoveries, but rather to confine myself to what seem to me to be firmly established facts.
The fact that a dream is a psychic structure, does not give us the slightest ground for assuming that it obeys laws and designs other than those applicable to any other psychic structure. According to the maxim: principia explicandi praeter necessitatem non sunt multiplicanda, we have to treat dreams in analysis just as any other psychic structure, until experience teaches us some better way.
We know that every psychic construction considered from the standpoint of causality, is the resultant of previous psychic contents. Moreover, we know also that every psychic structure, considered from the standpoint of finality has its own peculiar meaning and purpose in the actual psychic process. This standard must also be applied to dreams. When, therefore, we seek a psychological explanation of a dream, we must first know what were the preceding experiences out of which it is combined. We must trace the antecedents of every point in the dream picture. For example: some one dreams “that he is walking in a street, a child is running in front of him, who is suddenly run over by a motor-car.” We will trace the antecedents of this dream-picture, with the aid of the dreamer’s recollections.
He recognises the street as one down which he had walked on the previous day. The child he acknowledges as his brother’s child, whom he had seen on the previous evening when visiting his brother. The motor accident reminds him of an accident that had actually occurred a few days before, but of which he had only read an account in a newspaper. Popular opinion is known to be satisfied with this kind of explanation. People say: “Oh, that is why I dreamt such and such a thing!”
Obviously this explanation is absolutely unsatisfactory from a scientific standpoint. The dreamer walked down many streets on the previous day, why was this particular one selected? He had read about several accidents, why did he select just this? The mere disclosure of an antecedent is by no means sufficient; for a plausible determination of the dream presentation can only be obtained from the competition of various causæ. The collection of additional material proceeds, according to the principle of recollection that has been called the Association Method. The result, as will easily be understood, is the admission of a multifarious and quite heterogeneous mass of material, having apparently nothing in common but the fact of its evident associative connection with the dream contents, otherwise it could not have been reproduced by means of this content.
How far the collection of such material should go, is an important question from the technical point of view. Since the entire psychic content of a life may be ultimately disclosed from any single starting point, theoretically the whole previous life-experience might be found in every dream. But we only need to assemble just so much material as is absolutely necessary in order to comprehend the dream’s meaning. The limitation of the material is obviously an arbitrary proceeding, according to that principle of Kant’s which defines to comprehend as “to perceive to the extent necessary for our purpose.” For instance, when undertaking a survey of the causæ of the French Revolution, we could in amassing our material include not only the history of medieval France but also that of Rome and Greece, which certainly would not be “necessary for our purpose,” for we can comprehend the historical genesis of the Revolution just as well from much more limited material.
Except for the aforesaid arbitrary limitation, the collecting of material lies outside the investigator’s discretion. The material gathered must now be sifted and examined, according to principles which are always applied to the examination of historical or any other experimental scientific material. The method is an essentially comparative one, which obviously cannot be applied automatically, but is largely dependent upon the skill and aim of the investigator.
When a pyschological fact has to be explained, it must be remembered that psychological data necessitate a twofold point of view, namely, the view point of causality and of finality. I use the word finality intentionally, in order to avoid confusion with the idea “teleology.” I use finality to denote the immanent psychological teleology. In so far as we apply the view point of causality to the material that has been associated with the dream, we reduce the manifest dream content to certain fundamental tendencies or ideas. These, as one would expect, are elementary and universal in character.
For instance, a young patient dreams as follows: I am standing in a strange garden, and pluck an apple from a tree. I look about cautiously, to make sure no one sees me.”
The associated dream material is a remembrance of having once, when a boy, plucked a couple of pears surreptitiously from another person’s garden. The feeling of having a bad conscience, which is a prominent feature in the dream, reminds him of a situation he experienced on the previous day. He met a young lady in the street—a casual acquaintance—and exchanged a few words with her. At that moment a gentleman passed whom he knew, whereupon our patient was suddenly seized with a curious feeling of embarrassment, as if he had done something wrong. He associated the apple with the scene in Paradise, together with the fact that he had never really understood why the eating of the forbidden fruit should have been fraught with such dire consequences for our first parents. This had always made him feel angry; it seemed to him an unjust act of God, for God had made men as they were, with all their curiosity and greed.
Another association was, that sometimes his father had punished him for certain things in a way that seemed to him incomprehensible. The worst punishment had been bestowed after he had secretly watched girls bathing.
That led up to the confession that he had recently begun a love affair with a housemaid, but had not yet carried it through to a conclusion. On the night before the dream he had had a rendezvous with her.
Upon reviewing this material we see that the dream contains a very transparent reference to the incident of the previous day. The connecting associative material shows that the apple episode is palpably meant for an erotic scene. For various other reasons, too, it may be considered extremely probable that this experience of the previous day is still operative even in this dream. In the dream the young man plucks the apple of Paradise, which in reality he has not yet plucked. The remainder of the material associated with the dream is concerned with another experience of the previous day, namely, with the peculiar feeling of a bad conscience, which seized the dreamer when he was talking to his casual lady acquaintance; this, again, was connected with the fall of man in Paradise, and finally with an erotic misdemeanour of his childhood, for which his father had punished him severely. All these associations are linked together by the idea of guilt. In the first place we will consider this material from Freud’s point of causality; in other words, we will “interpret” it, to use Freud’s expression. A wish has been left unfulfilled from the day before the dream. In the dream this wish is realised in the symbolical apple scene. But why is this realisation disguised and hidden under a symbolic image instead of being expressed in a distinctly sexual thought? Freud would refer to the unmistakable sense of guilt shown up by the material, and say the morality that has been inculcated in the young man from childhood is bent on repressing such wishes, and to that end brands the natural craving as immoral and reprehensible. The suppressed immoral thought can therefore only achieve expression by means of a symbol. As these thoughts are incompatible with the moral content of the conscious ego, a psychic factor adopted by Freud, called the Censor, prevents this wish from passing undisguised into consciousness.
Reviewing the dream from the standpoint of finality, which I contrast with that of Freud, does not—as I wish to establish explicitly—involve a denial of the dream’s causæ, but rather a different interpretation of the associative material collected around the dream. The material facts remain the same, but the standard by which they are measured is altered. The question may be formulated simply as follows: What is this dream’s purpose? What should it effect? These questions are not arbitrary, in as much as they may be applied to every psychic activity. Everywhere the question of the “why” and “wherefore” may be raised.
It is clear that the material added by the dream to the previous day’s erotic experience, chiefly emphasises the sense of guilt in the erotic act. The same association has already been shown to be operative in another experience of the previous day in the meeting with his casual lady acquaintance, when the feeling of a bad conscience was automatically and inexplicably aroused, as if, in that instance, too, the young man had done something wrong. This experience also plays a part in the dream, which is even intensified by the association of additional, appropriate material; the erotic experience of the day before being depicted by the story of the Fall which was followed by such a severe punishment.
I maintain that there exists in the dreamer an unconscious propensity or tendency to conceive his erotic experiences as guilt. It is most characteristic that the association with the Fall of Man should ensue, the young man having never really grasped why the punishment should have been so drastic. This association throws light upon the reasons why the dreamer did not think simply, “I am doing what is not right.” Obviously he does not know that he might condemn his own conduct as morally wrong. This is actually the case. His conscious belief is that his conduct does not matter in the least, morally, as all his friends were acting in the same way; besides, for other reasons, too, he is unable to understand why such a fuss should be made about it.
Whether this dream should be considered full, or void, of meaning depends upon a very important question, viz. whether the standpoint of morality, handed down to us through the ages by our forefathers, is held to be full or void of meaning. I do not wish to wander off into a philosophical discussion of this question, but would merely observe that mankind must obviously have had very good reasons for devising this morality, otherwise it would be truly incomprehensible why such restraints should be imposed upon one of man’s strongest cravings. If we attach due value to this fact, we are bound to pronounce this dream to be full of meaning, for it reveals to the young man the necessity of facing his erotic conduct boldly from the view point of morality. Even quite primitive races have in some respects extremely strict legislation concerning sexuality. This fact proves that sexual morality in particular is a not-to-be-despised factor in the soul’s higher functions, but deserves to be taken fully into account. In this case it should be added, that the young man—influenced by his friends’ example—somewhat thoughtlessly let himself be guided exclusively by his erotic cravings, unmindful of the fact that man is a morally responsible being and must perforce submit —voluntarily or involuntarily—to a morality that he himself has created.
In this dream we can discern a compensating function of the unconscious, consisting in the fact that those thoughts, propensities, and tendencies of a human personality which in conscious life are too seldom recognised, come spontaneously into action in the sleeping state, when to a large extent the conscious process is disconnected.
The question might certainly be raised, of what use is this to the dreamer if he does not understand the dream?
To this I must remark that to understand is not an exclusively intellectual process, for—as experience proves—man may be influenced—nay, even very effectually convinced—by innumerable things, for which he has no intellectual understanding. I will merely remind my readers of the efficacy of religious symbols.
The example given above might suggest the thought that the function of dreams should be understood as a distinctly “moral” one. Such appears to be the case in the aforementioned specimen, but if we recall the formula according to which dreams contain the subliminal materials of a given moment, we cannot speak simply of a “moral” function. For it is worthy of note that the dreams of those persons whose actions are morally unexceptionable, bring materials to light that might well be characterised as “immoral” in the current meaning of that term. Thus it is significant that St. Augustine was glad that God did not hold him responsible for his dreams. The unconscious is the unknown of a given moment, therefore it is not surprising that all those aspects that are essential for a totally different point of view, should be added by dreams to the conscious psychological situation of a given moment. It is evident that this function of dreams signifies a psychological adjustment, a compensation essential for properly balanced action. In the conscious process of reflection it is indispensable that, so far as possible, we should realise all the aspects and consequences of a problem, in order to find the right solution. This process is continued automatically in the more or less unconscious state of sleep, wherever—as our previous experience seems to show—all those other points of view occur to the dreamer (at least by way of allusion) that during the day were underestimated or even totally ignored—in other words, were comparatively unconscious.
As regards the much-discussed symbolism of dreams, the value attached to it varies according to whether the standpoint of causality or of finality is adopted. According to Freud’s causal view point it proceeds from a craving, viz. from the suppressed dream-wish. This craving is always somewhat simple and primitive, and is able to disguise itself under manifold forms. For instance, the young man in question might just as well have dreamt that he had to open a door with a key, or that he had to travel by aeroplane, or that he was kissing his mother, etc. From this standpoint all those things would have had the same meaning. In this way, the typical adherents of Freud’s school have come to the point of interpreting—to give a gross instance—almost all long objects in dreams as phallic symbols.
From the view-point of finality, the various dream pictures have each their own peculiar value. For instance, if the young man, instead of dreaming of the apple scene, had dreamt he had to open a door with a key, the altered dream picture would have furnished associative material of an essentially different character; that, again, would have resulted in the conscious situation being supplemented by associations of a totally different kind from those connected with the apple scene. From this point of view, it is the diversity of the dream’s mode of expression that is full of meaning, and not the uniformity in its significance. The causal view-point tends by its very nature towards uniformity of meaning, that is, towards a fixed significance of symbols. On the other hand, the final view-point perceives in an altered dream picture, the expression of an altered psychological situation. It recognises no fixed meaning of symbols. From this standpoint all the dream pictures are important in themselves, each one having a special significance of its own, to which it owes its inclusion in the dream. Keeping to our previous example, we see that from the standpoint of finality the symbol in this dream is approximately equivalent to a parable; it does not conceal, but it teaches. The apple scene recalls vividly the sense of guilt, at the same time disguising the real deed of our first parents.
It is obvious we reach very dissimilar interpretations of the meaning of the dream, according to the point of view adopted. The question now arises, which is the better or truer version? After all, for us therapeuts it is a practical and not a merely theoretical necessity which leads us to seek for some comprehension of the meaning of dreams. In treating our patients we must for practical reasons endeavour to lay hold of any means that will enable us to train them effectually. It should be quite evident from the foregoing example, that the material associated with the dream has opened up a question calculated to make many matters clear to the young man, which, hitherto, he has heedlessly overlooked. But by disregarding these things he was really overlooking something in himself, for he possesses a moral standard and a moral need just like any other man. By trying to live without taking this fact into consideration, his life is one-sided and incomplete, so to say inco-ordinate; which has the same consequences for the psychological life as a one-sided and incomplete diet has for the physical. In order to develop a person’s individuality and independence to the uttermost, we need to bring to fruition all those functions that have hitherto attained but little conscious development or none at all. In order to achieve this aim, we must for therapeutic reasons enter into all those unconscious aspects, of things brought forward by the dream material. This makes it abundantly clear that the viewpoint of finality is singularly important as an aid to the practical development of the individual.
The view point of causality is obviously more in accord with the scientific spirit of our time, with its strictly causalistic reasoning. Much may be said for Freud’s view as a scientific explanation of dream psychology. But I must dispute its completeness, for the psyche cannot be conceived merely from the causal aspect, but necessitates also a final view-point. Only a combination of both points of view—which has not yet been attained to the satisfaction of the scientific mind, owing to great difficulties both of a practical and theoretical nature—can give us a more complete conception of the essence of dreams.
I would like to treat briefly of some further problems of dream psychology, that border on the general discussion of dreams. Firstly, as to the classification of dreams; I do not wish to overestimate either the practical or theoretical significance of this question. I investigate yearly some 1500-2000 dreams, and this experience enables me to state that typical dreams actually do exist. But they are not very frequent, and from the view-point of finality they lose much of the importance accorded them by the fixed significance of symbols of the causal view-point. It seems to me that the typical themes of dreams are of far greater importance, for they permit of a comparison with the themes of mythology. Many of these mythological themes—in the study of which Frobenius has rendered notable service—are also found in dreams, often with precisely the same significance. Unfortunately the limited time at my disposal, does not permit me to lay detailed materials before you: this has been done elsewhere. But I desire to emphasise the fact that the comparison of the typical themes of dreams with those of mythology obviously suggests the idea (already put forward by Nietzsche) that dream thought should be conceived from a phylogenetic point of view as an older form of thought. Instead of multiplying examples in explanation of my meaning, I will briefly refer you to our specimen dream. As you remember, that dream introduced the apple scene as a typical representation of erotic guilt. The gist of its purport is: “I am doing wrong in acting like this.” But it is characteristic that a dream never expresses itself in this logically abstract way, but always in the language of parable or simile. This peculiarity is also a characteristic feature of primitive languages, whose flowery idioms always strike us. If you call to mind the writings of ancient literature —e.g. the language of simile in the Bible—you will find what nowadays is achieved by means of abstract expressions, could then only be attained by means of simile. Even such a philosopher as Plato did not disdain to express certain fundamental ideas by means of simile.
Just as the body bears traces of its phylogenetic development, so also does the human mind. There is therefore nothing surprising in the possibility of the allegories of our dreams being an archaic survival.
At the same time the theft of the apple in our example is a typical theme of dreams, often recurring with various modifications. It is also a well-known theme in mythology, and is found not only in the story of Paradise, but in numerous myths and fables of all ages and climes. It is one of those universally human similes, which can reappear in any one, at any time. Thus, dream psychology opens up a way to a general comparative psychology, from which we hope to gain the same understanding of the development and structure of the human soul, as comparative anatomy has given us concerning the human body.
- This lecture was prepared for the Berne Medical Congress, 1914, postponed on the outbreak of war.
- “The Psychology of the Unconscious” (“Wandlungen und Symbole de Libido”). Moffat, Yard & Co.
SOURCE: Collected Papers on Analytical Psychology by Carl Gustav Jung, translated by Constance Ellen Long
Chapter XII. The Psychology of Dreams
You must be logged in to post a comment.