Freudian dream theory today
Mark Solms on dreaming in the neuropsychological age.
In 1953 a physiological state known as ‘REM sleep’ was discovered by Aserinsky and Kleitman (1953). This is a paradoxical state in which one is simultaneously highly aroused and yet fast asleep. It occurs approximately every 90 minutes throughout the sleep cycle, with monotonous regularity. In 1957 Dement and Kleitman announced that dream reports were obtained from approximately 80 per cent of awakenings from this state. By contrast, only 10 per cent of awakenings from non-REM sleep elicited equivalent reports. This was the basis for the conclusion that REM sleep is the physiological equivalent of dreaming. The brain mechanisms of REM sleep were laid bare in a succession of experiments performed mainly by Jouvet and Hobson: REM is switched on and off by a simple oscillatory mechanism located in a lowly part of the brainstem. This part of the brain has very little to do with mental life (its only mental function is to regulate levels of wakefulness); it couldn’t perform the complex mental juggling involved in dream-work. Accordingly, by the mid-1970s, Freud’s theory of dreams as complex mental creations (see box) was considered disproved.
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