June 22, 2005

Vibrant, Trembling, Shaky and Stirring

For the record, I'm finding Freud's theories about the means of representation in dreams to be somewhat shaky.

Let me frame what I'm talking about. In The Interpretation of Dreams, Freud lists and describes the kinds of methods dreams use when they are representing ideas. He claims that, when they describe ideas, dreams do not have the same tools at hand as, say, language does. For example, dreams don't have the word "or": they cannot easily present two ideas as alternatives of one another.

I'm okay with this part.

So, in the case of "or"--that is, when a dream has to represent an alternative--it will resort to simply juxtaposing the two alternatives. Tea and coffee are shown beside one another, or one after the other. But in language, it can be made clear that it's tea "or" coffee, not both; in the dream, the meaning remains ambiguous.

I'm still okay with this part.

So some of the meaning in dreams comes out ambiguous. Not all the time: it happens that dreams are very good at representing other concepts. To give an example of something that dreams find easy to represent, they find "because" easy: it's just a small dream followed by a big dream. The small, peripheral dream is the cause; the big, main dream is the consequence.

But perhaps you might start to note where I feel this theory is weak. The problem is that it is up to the dream interpreter to correctly judge what all the elements of the dream mean. And it seems to me that there may easily be confusion between what a dream meant by a certain method of representation.

Let me compare for example how a dream represents two different structures. I've just described how it represents a "because". And I've said that Freud said that dreams, faced with an "or", give up and juxtapose the tea and coffee.

So: how does the interpreter know, really, if the tea and coffee were a juxtaposition, or if they were a small dream followed by a big dream? Could the meaning be, instead, "coffee because tea"?

Let's not forget nebeneinander/nacheinander: there's a difference between a juxtaposition in space (one object beside another), and a juxtaposition in time (one object after another). Perhaps (I forget), Freud claims that dreams can use this distinction to distinguish between these two structures. That's fine. But it's not enough.

My problem is that there are a whole slew of ideas and structures that dreams need to represent. I'm not against the theory that dreams have a system to map evey type of structure to a type of dream, like language. That's a thrilling idea, because it means we could try to learn the language of dreams. However, the handful of mappings that Freud names seem already to overlap each other to the extent that it would seem impossible to untangle their meanings.

What I would really like to do is make a chart of all the structures in dreams mapped to structures of ideas. And I'd like to see if Freud's propositions are solid.

I imagine, however, that this has already been done by someone. Moreover, with the respect Freud seems to get nowadays, it's probably been used to label him asa a total psycho.

I just can't help noticing that he's the only one who seems to have made a western-scientific attempt at explaining why a dream does P, and not Q.

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