Well, yes, but have you thought about it this way?
In spite of his interest in everything to do with lucid dreaming, Daniel Love doesn’t seem to think much of dream interpretation. I found this rather puzzling in someone who’s closely involved with his dream life and has surely had plenty of opportunities to weigh the claims of various interpreters for himself. Perhaps it’s only through lack of interest in dream interpretation – but then why mention it at all?
So what’s his case against it? Well, it isn’t really his purpose to make a case against it in “Are You Dreaming?” which is, as mentioned previously, a guidebook on lucid dreaming. This is probably why the case isn’t a very good one.
In the first place, he claims that dream interpretation is not so much about dreams as it is “a review and analysis of events after the fact.” Actually, I largely agree with this: when you look at dreams from the perspective of waking life, it’s understanding your waking self and the events of waking life that concern you. Waking life is where your center of gravity is, so to speak.
Analysis isn’t a word I would have chosen myself— it often turns out that way for me, but I’m an analytic person, and my interest in dreams is theoretical as well as practical. If I could choose a term from scratch, with no regard for what’s come before, I’d probably call it explication. The word seems to imply a more holistic process than ‘interpretation’ does, as well as staying closer to the source material—here, the dream. But interpretation is fine, too.
Many techniques of dream interpretation can be productively applied to waking life (or, for that matter, borrowed from literary analysis). But waking life is so familiar to us, so taken for granted, that it’s much more difficult to achieve the same level of insight. Simply to see ourselves in new guises—in the context of a dream-narrative, or an exotic metaphor—can provide a fresh insight into our habitual thought, habitual conflicts, and the other patterns that characterize our lives and personalities. In extreme cases, it can even serve to break such patterns.
Like many lucidity induction techniques, dream interpretation involves developing awareness in your waking life. It makes you aware of where you are and what you feel and whether there are possibilities you haven’t considered. I also agree with Daniel Love when he writes that dream interpretation does not make you an expert on dreaming. Rather, it makes you an expert on you. I would be the first to admit that there are other ways of getting to know yourself, but this one is a natural for people who are already involved with dreams.
Actually, this is the only argument Daniel Love offers. What follows is just an expression of his opinion, a rather uncharitable analogy in which he compares interpreting dreams with interpreting food. Which isn’t to say it’s an analogy completely without promise, mind you.* But his treatment of it is problematic.
Here is the way I understand it—and I’ll try to put it as simply as I can. Dreams don’t exist the way a cup of coffee exists. Meaning doesn’t exist the way a cup of coffee exists. I find the experience of drinking coffee meaningful.** It is no less meaningful if others don’t, but if they do, it can provide the grounds—no pun intended—for a meaningful shared experience.
Sometimes, I experience my dreams as being meaningful in a similar way as I do coffee. I like dreaming about beautiful places simply because of the quality of the experience. I like dreaming about places I used to live and about my old friends because it assures me that although they’re no longer a part of my life, they’re still a part of me. No one would ever go to the trouble of learning how to lucid dream if they didn’t experience dreams as meaningful in this way.
But there is another way in which a dream is meaningful, which can be compared to the way that thoughts are meaningful. Thoughts have history, thoughts have context***, thoughts often have a motivation behind them. If a thought seems meaningless, it’s probably because you’re considering it as if it were isolated from these. The same goes for dreams. A large part of dream interpretation is simply recovering the dream’s history, context and motivation– and a large part of the dream’s history, context and motivation is your waking life.
It’s this kind of meaning that it surprises me to find Daniel Love rejecting. He states in chapter 4, in the section on dreamsigns, that dreams are the result of our “thoughts, expectations and mood.” These are all things that I’d certainly hope we would experience as meaningful while awake, and it would be odd to suppose that they decrease in importance for us when we’re isolated from external stimuli.
This is a kind of meaning that every system of dream interpretation I have ever encountered is concerned with. It’s not esoteric, it’s not incompatible with the scientific humanism that characterizes Are You Dreaming? It’s just part of human experience. (Of which esoterica also make up a portion—but let’s not get into that now.)
I wonder now whether there hasn’t been a split developing among dreamers—whether it’s growing more common for people to be interested in interpretation, or in lucid dreaming, but not both. Or, more likely, that interest in lucid dreaming has been mushrooming among folks who haven’t yet devoted much attention to what else is being done with dreams.
It’s a little worrying, seeing as dream studies already suffers from fragmentation. By and large, therapists and other dream-workers don’t compare notes with scientists, who don’t compare notes with those whose focus is primarily spiritual or religious. My own outsider’s impression is that, therapists aside, there’s very little serious interaction going on even within groups. Worse yet, this is so much taken for granted that nobody notices how selective they are in applying their scrutiny.
Daniel Love has stated that he wants to help build a sense of community among lucid dreamers. One doesn’t have to look far for convincing reasons that this sense of community doesn’t yet exist. Dreaming is something that every human being does—but it’s something that every human being does alone. At least, that’s what almost every member of such a proposed community would believe, and so the paradox of a community of dreamers is not one that can be easily got around.
On the other hand, despite its cultural status as a niche interest, dreaming itself is not a niche anything. The problem isn’t that there aren’t enough interested people to form a community, or that its divisiveness encourages the splintering of groups, but that dreaming is too vast a subject to provide the foundation for a specialized branch of inquiry, much less a hobby.
Psychologist Harry Hunt states that “dream psychology, in its haste for its own Darwin, has bypassed the necessary foundations of a Linneaus.” In my opinion, dream psychology doesn’t need a Linneaus half so much as it needs a Jane Goodall. But why stop there? Let’s have a Shakespeare of dreams, a Tesla of dreams, a Magellan, a Mozart. What point is there in scientific folks studying dreams if we don’t do something worth studying with them?
With all that in mind, establishing a community of lucid dreamers almost seems too modest a goal. But it’s as good a place to start as any.
*Actually, there is such a thing as food interpretation, developed by none other than Roland Barthes. “For what is food?… It is also, and at the same time, a system of communication, a body of images, a protocol of usages, situations and behaviors.” Or, if you prefer, “Sugar is a time, a category of the world.” Make of it what you will.
**After writing this and searching my archives, I was astonished to find that I never drink coffee in dreams. I sometimes buy it, or think about having some, but the closest instance I could find to actually drinking coffee was a synaesthetic experience in which a piece of music triggers the taste of it. I guess coffee must belong exclusively to the world of wakefulness.****
***So does coffee—and yes, it does add to the meaningfulness of the experience. If you’ve ever had a meal made entirely with things you’ve grown and prepared yourself, you’ll know what I mean.
****Apologies for the involuted footnotes. But a further development has required the addition of an…
The place is a little hole-in-the-wall cafe, a small room with a couple tables and a counter wedged between two doorways. From where I’m seated, I can see through one into a larger room where a stage and some chairs are set up. I don’t ask myself whether this is a dream because I know it is.
Prague, my brain tells me– which is something I probably wouldn’t be able to infer from using my senses. The streets outside seemed familiar the way dream-Prague usually does, in spite of not matching up with the Prague that exists. Oddly, though, it seems to be consistent over time, to the point where some of these unaccountably familiar places actually do become familiar – the opera house by the harbor, the back streets full of little cafes like this one- as if they weren’t distortions of a city, but a parallel city existing in its own right. Here in my dreams, at least, Bohemia does have a coastline.
Somebody brings me my coffee. It doesn’t look quite as I expected it to – for one, I’m fairly sure I ordered a macchiato, and this seems to be an espresso. And instead of a cup, the coffee is pooled at the bottom of a wide ceramic dish shaped like a leaf.
I drink it – and it’s good coffee. And oddly enough, when I finally wake up, I feel much better-rested than usual.