Hi, Electric Dreamers. I am Bjo Ashwill and am
writing a monthly column on my experiences of creating a computer software
program that does very detailed analysis of dream narratives. You are welcome to
visit my web site and check out DreamSpinner, the software program I will be
In this column I shall describe, over time, how to use the computer's power
to store, group, analyze and retrieve information from our dreams.
DreamSpinner's greatest power is working with long "over time" dream
series, although it can work with individual dreams as well. How do metaphor
patterns change over time? That is the question that began my journey toward
Following is an abstract I wrote for the ASD Conference in 1997 describing
how I created categories in DreamSpinner.
"Written Dream Narrative, and conceptualizing a categorization system
for a computer."
Presented at ASD Conference in 1997
Dreams are recorded in many different ways. Paintings, dancing, collages,
poetry and of course the dream journal where a dream narrative is our attempt to
translate our wildly vivid and densely packed dreams into words. Dreams
translated into Dream Narratives is literature, or at the very least, written
language. As such, it conforms to the useful conventions and concepts used in
linguistics when studying a body of text.
Language is fluid, flexible and constantly changing. How do you pin those
words (lexical units) down? It's a bit like the chaos theory. The more you look,
the more there is to see. Now that we have computers with speed, power and large
storage capacities, we have the tools needed to explore dream narratives from
many different angles, which we could not do with hand written journals or
But how do you categorize thousands of words. There are of course as many
different ways as there are dreamers wanting to categorize. Here is how I chose
to do it for DreamSpinner.
Major premises I had when creating DreamSpinner's categories:
1. Keep the category system as flexible and open ended possible. People are
constantly making up new words and different meanings for words all ready
existing. The language is a dynamic fluid thing. There has to be room for that
fluidity in the categories.
2. The person doing the categorizing (DreamLinking) is often the dreamer
themselves. So coder consistency isn't as important.
3. Finding consistencies, patterns and repetitions of motifs is a central
task for DreamSpinner.
4. All words have relevance and information to reveal.
5. The Dream Narrative is a linguistic text.
6. You can link a word to more than one category.
I began by "melting down" my 3,000 dreams into an alphabetical list
of all the words I used. I assumed that I would have a sufficient enough
vocabulary to encompass the most frequently used words. Turns out that is
correct. Statistical prediction indicates the first 15 words on a frequency
count list will account for 25 percent of the text sample. The first one hundred
words will account for 60 percent; and the first one thousand is used in 85
percent of the sample. Checking the most frequently used words is like taking a
blood test. Is the white blood cell count up or down from the norm? This is
valuable information. However, there are many one time usage words that are
individualistically unique. Psycholinguistics and Stylolinguistics learn much
through studying the one time usage words.
So I now had a list of 10,000 words.
I had to determine what is a word. Is it the root word, or is each syntax
variation of a word a separate word. Is a different meaning of the same word a
separate word. Is a phrase a "word"? I decided to work with the
material as root words, incorporating the syntax variations under the one root
word. If the word had more than one meaning, as most did, then I would give a
separate root word connection for each different meaning. I used the Parts of
Speech categories, keeping verbs, nouns, adjectives and adverbs separated.
Hit = Take a toke off a marijuana cigarette. (Category: Street drugs, sub
category of medicine.)
Hit = Physically strike someone with your body.(Category: Motion and if
aggressive, Category: Social Interaction, then sub-category Aggressive.)
Hit = Strike a baseball with a bat. (Categories: Games, Motion, Recreation
Hit = A popular song at the "top" of the charts. (Category: Music,
(There are more, of course.)
Now I wanted to hook each root word to at least one category. DreamSpinner
itself was born of ideas inspired by Calvin S Hall's "The Meaning of
Dreams". I found Bill Domhoff's and Adam Schneider's Quantitative Analysis
of Dreams Web page and immediately began trying to match my word list from my
dreams into the categories the Hall/Van de Castle coding system had spent years
developing. I certainly couldn't come up with anything better.
I ran into a problem though. A great many of my words simply did not fit
under the Hall/Van de Castle categories. I was using every word in my dream
narrative. So I had to start inventing, melding, and stretching categories
beyond what the Hall/Van de Castle system indicated. Many of the Hall/Van de
Castle categories focused on concrete words, like names of objects and action
verbs. Many of my words were abstract, prepositional or connecting in nature. I
researched linguistic materials for category ideas and managed to get all my
root words under some category or other.
By this time DreamSpinner had progressed to the place where I could begin
linking each word in the dream to the specific root word which is then hooked to
one or more categories. Some categories weren't working. Many words had
essentially the same meaning whether used as a verb, noun or adjective. So we
elected to toss out the differentiation in Parts of Speech. Categories became
morphed, renamed, cut up into pieces, or blended together until the mix met the
actual data experience of my dreams.
In order to create the category system I now have, I researched:
1. Parts of speech.
2. Scoped out dream books for dream themes.
3. Checked out thesaurus for basic headings.
4. Looked at psychological theory for important areas of concern for humans.
5. Examined already existing categories, both in the dream and linguistic worlds
6. Used my dreams as the raw data to measure the categories with. If categories
remained empty, they were removed, if seemed to general, they were split out
7. Created categories like "Problem Solving Techniques", "Object
Relationships", "the Shadow" and "Nuances", with
sub-categories like "Male/Female Blending", "Virgin/Whore
Blending" or "Incongruities". These goes beyond the dictionary
definition of a lexical unit and puts together words not necessarily related to
each other in meaning, but related to a common theme. Chasing the possible
metaphors. For example, a pipe would be in the category of a building detail ,
under Architecture. Also under Flow, because it is a conduit for material to
move through. And under body metaphors.
This brings us to the end of the Abstract reprint. Following the references,
is the next step. Metaphors!! Are they Universal?
Domhoff, G William, Finding Meaning In Dreams: A Quantitative Approach.
Plenum Press New York 1996.
Domhoff, G. William and Schneider, Adam. Quantitative Analysis of Dreams Web
Goldberg, Lewis R. (1990). An Alternative "Description of
Personality": The Big-Five Factor Structure. Journal of Personality and
Social Psychology., 6, (pp.1216-1229)
Hall, Calvin S., The Meaning Of Dreams. McGraw-Hill Book Company, New York.
Huang, Shuan-Fan. A study of adverbs. The Hague : Mouton, 1975
Kucera, Henry and Francis, W. Nelson, Computational Analysis of Present-Day
American English. Brown University Press, Providence, RI. 1967.
Lakoff, George and Johnson, Mark. Metaphors We Live By University of Chicago,
Levin, Beth . English Verb Classes and Alternations: A Preliminary
Investigation. University of Chicago, 1993.
ARE METAPHORS UNIVERSAL, PERSONAL, OR BOTH?
Using the process I described above in the abstract, I created a giant
dictionary which is organized in a thesaurus like category system. I developed
the capability of not just searching single words (as metaphors) but related
words together. Dream Dictionaries we are used to seeing give a single word and
try to make a general statement about the possible meaning of that word. I have
expanded the concept of metaphor because I believe that metaphor is our mother
tongue. That's how we think (check out the reference to George Lakoff's books.)
Therefore, my philosophy is that ALL words used in a Dream narrative are
Water, for example is considered a universal metaphor. In my view, it is not
enough to examine the metaphor "water". The water is a specific type
of water (lake, ocean, puddle, drinking water, mud, tears) and the actions and
feelings about the water is critical to the possible personal interpretation of
what water means in MY dream. Is it tidal waves or calm water? What colors are
involved. What happens on or in or near the water? DreamSpinner, because of the
unique category system and the linking process can pull up a dream set where all
dreams have lakes in them, and only those lake dreams with agitated water is
called up. The frequency count that comes up for that dream set will tell me
hundreds of fascinating facts. Who is most frequently found in those dreams? Are
there more or less animals involved in those dreams? What is the most frequent
emotion? Armed with this information, I can formulate what the metaphor water
(in relation to lakes and agitated water) means specifically for me.
Doing my own dreams, I learned that most of my lake dreams had something
sinister and scary lurking under the surface of the lake. There is a high
incidence of strangers. The emotions are most commonly terror and fear. What a
gift that is to see that recurring pattern that I wasn't even looking for.
Now I want to be clear about my bias about metaphors NOT being universal
except in a very general sense. Because MY lake dreams indicate that pattern, it
does not mean YOUR lake dreams mean that at all. Only after collecting dreams
from many people and DreamLinking them will I have the ability to compare and
contrast and make any formal statement about "Lake" dreams, or any
other metaphors I examine.
My Website, Http://www.spinner-soft.com, is in the middle of a total
reconstruction. When the new version is up and running (soon, I hope, but
remember "Soon" in computer terms is a very flexible term.
"Soon" could be weeks to a few months.) then I will have a call for
dreams to use in the DreamLinking process to create those norming dream sets.
You will, if you wish, be able to enter your dreams and view dreams others have
entered. You can choose to allow your dream to be used in the norming process or
not. It is entirely up to you. In addition, I will be creating a Metaphor
section where we can share dreams related to specific metaphors (categories). We
will then see, right before our very eyes the unfolding of the answer to the
question "Are Metaphors Universal or personal, or both!!"
Next Month, I will be more specific about the category (metaphor) system in
DreamSpinner and use some Dream Set examples. If you have a specific metaphor
you would like to be addressed in next month's column, or up on the Website,
please email me. Dreambjo@hotmail.com. I wish you powerful, insightful dreams!