Electric Dreams

Maslow’s Map A New System of Dream Classification

Chapter 1: Maslow the Man

Linda Lane Magallón 

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Magallón, Linda Lane (2002 Jan). Maslow’s Map A New System of Dream Classification. Chapter 1 Electric Dreams 9(1).


Maslow’s Map
A New System of Dream Classification
©1999 Linda Lane Magallón

Chapter 1: Maslow the Man

Back of the Job–The Dreamer
Who’s making the dream come true.
Berton Braley

There are several dreamwork techniques that purport to interpret a dream without knowing anything about the dreamer. To me, this is nuts. It's like trying to figure out what a person is like by dissecting his brain. Or by wrapping his head in the tapestries of ancient history. A dream is not a thing, it's the creative product of an organic being who lives in a particular environment, a nest, if you will. I contend that you can't fully appreciate the dream egg unless you know something about the context in which it appears. It makes a difference whether the parents of the embryo are bird or snake, whether the nest is located on the ground or in the tree tops.

So, before I present Abraham Maslow's scale of health, I'd like to tell you something about the man behind the theory of human potential.


Abraham Maslow was an April Fool baby. Born 1908 in Brooklyn, NY, he was the first of 7 children. Maslow considered his childhood terrible and unhappy. His parent divorced when he was in college. After graduating from high school, Maslow started law school because his father wanted him to become a lawyer. One day a class was discussing how people should behave towards one another, from a legal point of view. The discussion offended Maslow so much that he walked out, leaving his books behind. He marched straight home and announced to the family that he was quitting law school. When his father asked him what he *did* want to study, Maslow replied, "Everything!"

Which, it seems, is exactly what he did. His checkered college experience included study at several institutions and courses in agriculture, humanities, social sciences and the sciences. At the University of Wisconsin, he discovered behaviorist psychology and that set his career path. That same year, he went home for Christmas and married his first cousin Bertha, over almost everyone's objections. Eventually, they had two healthy daughters, Ann and Ellen.

Maslow completed education through his doctorate at Wisconsin. He was of Jewish heritage, which made it very difficult to get a job. He applied for a dozen teaching positions throughout the country with no success despite stellar credentials and letters of recommendation. Desperate, the young husband enrolled in med school and taught Introductory Psychology under a teaching fellowship. But he hated learning the parts of the body by rote and he found it hard to dissociate from the pain and distress of his patients in the medical clinic. Instead, his heart was in experimental research. So most of his life he did that and teach at the college level.

Eventually Maslow became chair of the Department of Psychology at Brandeis University and was elected President of the American Psychological Association (1967-68). He was a founder of both Humanistic Psychology and Transpersonal Psychology.

Maslow suffered from an undiagnosed life-long physical weakness (he got a "D" in ROTC). At one point he had to take a sabbatical and work for his family, who owned a cooperage in Pleasanton, CA. (A cooperage makes the barrels for wine). This is where he got first hand experience in business management. During his last years he had a fellowship for research here in the Bay Area from the SAGA Corporation. (SAGA is a food service company that manages college cafeterias). Maslow died at home in Menlo Park on June 8, 1970 at age 62 from massive heart failure while jogging in the California sun.


Maslow wasn't a militant, but his essential humanistic values showed up early. During college, he walked off a summer job, with the entire staff this time, because the boss was a liar and a rip-off artist.

At the time he studied psychology, the emphasis was on hard science. Maslow took courses in physiology, chemistry, physics, statistics, zoology and animal behavior. In the lab he learned to perform animal dissections and he did a good job of it. He observed the behavior of apes and monkeys...not in deepest Africa, I doubt he could have survived the physical rigor required...but at the best local substitute, the Bronx Zoo. These innovative and well-respected studies in animal sex and dominance brought him to the attention of the scientific community and led him to human research on the same subjects.

But the birth of his first child changed him. "I'd say that anyone who had a baby couldn't be a Behaviorist," he mused. "I looked at this tiny, mysterious thing and felt...stunned by the mystery and by the sense of not really being in control." Maslow realized that human beings couldn't be studied as scientists study chemical reactions, stars and galaxies. The study of people required a study of values.

Maslow was advocating quality over quantity, a very original perspective for the time. His proposed master thesis had been on the psychology of music, a subject he loved. But it was rejected as being too "soft-minded." Instead he had to do traditional research, ringing bells and flashing cards in front of students to test their memory and learning. Later, when he could, he shifted to case studies.

Whereas Freud had relied on case histories of a small sample of affluent Viennese women psychiatric patients, Maslow first interviewed mid-class college educated men and women. Like Freud, like Jung, he preferred the women! In fact, since his study of female sexuality and dominance, he had been an advocate of the rights of women to assert themselves in many areas of life, including the intellectual. He thought raising children well came from emotional maturity, not just from maternal instinct.

Maslow created the Social Personality Inventory. Stanford published it and it became widely used in psychological research. But Maslow became very aware of its limitations when he did fieldwork with the Blackfoot Indians in Canada. He concluded that his list of personality traits "was ridiculously useless when used to measure secure people."

Compared to the Blackfoot, Americans were very insecure, a finding recently corroborated by Patricia Garfield when she compared the dreams of American children with East Indian children. In her study, the older American children reported almost no purely pleasant dreams, whereas the Indian children did not stop having them as they grew up. She wondered, what happened to the Americans? And she affirmed, as I do, that something could be done about it.

Maslow's second research tool, a test of whether people actually were secure or insecure, did work across cultures. He became convinced that an insecure person, no matter what the tradition, would tend to show the same general characteristics of insecurity, such as the need to be empowered and a feeling of uncertainty about the feelings of the people around him. Note that this second approach relies less on outer behavior and more on inner perception and feelings, just the sort of things that are reflected by dreams.

Because of his cross-cultural research, which extended well beyond the Blackfoot, Maslow became friendly with anthropologists Ruth Benedict, Gregory Bateson and Margaret Mead. Actually, his colleague and friendship network reads like a "Who's Who" of the greatest thinkers of the time. Erich Fromm, Carl Rogers, Victor Frankl, Rollo May, Ashley Montagu, Lewis Mumford, Paul Tillich, Willis Harman, Arnold Mitchell, Robert Hartman, S. I Hayakawa. Although he dearly treasured his privacy, clearly Maslow was not an recluse. He lived in society, not just in his head.

His relationship with Esalen's Michael Murphy was like father and son. Political activist Abbie Hoffman was his student. His daughter Ellen went to work for Timothy Leary as an assistant in psychedelic research. She also joined the Freedom Riders to fight for black voter registration in the Deep South. He made friends with Betty Friedan, whose devoted nearly a chapter to Maslow's humanistic approach as an alternative to Freud's demeaning view of women in her book "The Feminine Mystique."

Maslow had studied under Max Wertheimer and Kurt Koffka, two of the co-founders of Gestalt psychology. It was Wertheimer who argued that people learn through insight, the "aha!" experience, so favored as a measure of completion by dreamworkers today. Wertheimer also described what Maslow would later come to call "peak experiences." These are moments when the individual feels at his very best: moments of great awe, happiness, rapture, bliss or ecstasy.

Maslow also knew and studied with psychoanalyst Alfred Adler. In contrast to Freud's gloom about the human condition, Adler taught that social institutions could be reformed and revitalized for human betterment. Maslow took this lesson to heart.

But Maslow based his view most heavily on Karen Horney's neo-Freudian outlook. Human beings have basic needs that must be fulfilled in order to be healthy. He argued that early deprivation and frustration of any basic need almost inevitably damages or emotionally cripples adult life.

He drew an analogy to vitamins. "At its core," he said, "a deficiency disease (arises from) being deprived of certain satisfactions which I call needs in the same sense that water and animo acids and calcium are needs, namely that their absence produces illness." Whereas psychotherapy may help satisfy current and future needs, it can't restore what was lost. It can't bring back the missed opportunity to experience a normal life during that early period.


At one point Maslow identified with the child in the *Emperor's New Clothes.* It was the child in that folk tale who alerted people to the fact that they were living a delusion. "Never underestimate the power of a single individual to affect the world," he said. "Remember, one candle in a cave lights everything."

Maslow had a pretty big candle. His most popular book, *Towards a Psychology of Being,* was passed from hand to hand. From his work, many people were led to careers in psychiatry. But Maslow said that the theory "needs a life situation of the total human being" to confirm it.

Actually, it was the industrial situation. The job situation, rather than the laboratory or the couch, served as verification and validation of his theory. Maslow was sought after by corporations and government agencies interested in fostering creativity in their employees, especially in such fields as engineering and research and development.

Besides business management and marketing, his theory of motivation has impacted nursing and health care, marriage counseling and education, psychotherapy and theology. People in general have begun to form a more positive view of human motivation and potential.

Maslow The Counselor

Despite his serious dedication to the cause of human actualization, Maslow wasn't a cold intellect. He had a sense of humor and he could poke fun at himself. Because of his essential warmth, Maslow made a good counselor to college students. The students didn't have the time to devote to in-depth analysis, but there was no proven alternative. So Maslow had to rely on reading, on conversations with his analyst-friends and on his intuition to develop his own techniques. Instead of lengthy Freudian free association, he used an approach he called "lifting the lid off the repression."

Maslow described to the students many case studies in order to establish the naturalness of their thoughts, feelings and behavior. Through his comments, he created an environment of acceptance and reassurance. He pointed out that it takes courage to recognize and deal with one's troublesome impulses and feelings.

But, true to his profession, he didn't just provide a safe place to talk. Maslow gave out homework. He often gave students an outline to use so that they could write out their problems, then bring the installment to him once a week for his analysis and suggestions. "I also ask them...to keep a dream diary," he said.

Furthermore, Maslow urged students to go beyond reflection to action. He suggested creative activities like art or music that could be uplifting or calming: whatever was warranted.

Maslow was keenly aware that the source of much conflict came from selecting a vocation that was a mismatch with personality. Or a course of study that repressed talent, calling and potential development. In part, he developed his theory of self-actualization from these encounters with the students.

Maslow The Teacher

As a teacher, Maslow was innovative. He invited students to his home to discuss psychological issues. Because he believed that the best way to make psychological theory come alive was to relate it to our own experiences, he had each student write in advance something autobiographical, something about their sexual history or dreams, and be prepared to share those comments with the group. He believed that honest self-disclosure does much to remove anxiety and awkwardness about such topics. (Sounds to me like he'd make a good community dreamworker).

Maslow's Own Dreams

Did Maslow pay attention to his own dreams? Yes. For one thing, he went through psychoanalysis. Then there was the episode at Brandeis. Maslow co-taught there with historian Frank Manuel. Maslow respected Manuel enormously, but the team-teaching heightened the differences in their temperament and outlook. Finally, Manuel left for New York University and Maslow was crushed. He reported that he had frequent dreams of rejection for months after the bad news.

Maslow and ESP

Did Maslow pay attention to ESP? Yes. At Cornell he and his college buddies conducted an ESP experiment in which he was the receiver. Much later in life Maslow wrote a letter to famous parapsychologist J. B. Rhine suggesting that, rather than to attempt fostering psychic communication between people who were virtual strangers, it might be more advantageous to hold a telepathic experiment between people who knew each other well.

Maslow and Groups

Yes, Maslow was not a hermit. He said that we should avoid making the "stupid mistake of defining self as nothing but our reflections in an awful lot of mirrors." For Maslow, the determinants of behavior were both interpersonal and intrapersonal. Both private and social.

At Lake Arrowhead he observed T-groups (therapy groups/encounter groups) experiencing from within and without. He concluded that feedback from others leads to the experience of inner happenings in a form less chaotic or frightening than a private experience might be.

Then he experimented in groups with interview and feedback techniques. Each group member was a listener to one other member and a speaker to yet another. Each played the part of patient and therapist. Like peer dreamwork groups. Or the exercises I did in business management courses. Intimacy, exposure, listening, expression were part of the mix of what he came to call "personal development groups." He especially emphasized less structured communications. He said, "...we need to be more poetic, more mythical, more metaphoric, more archaic in the Jungian sense."

Maslow At Esalen

I've already mentioned that Maslow studied under 2 co-founders of Gestalt psychology and he incorporated some of that theory into his own. I've already told you that he treated Michael Murphy of Esalen like a son. He presented many times at Esalen, the prime haven of encounter group therapy. He was pro-group therapy and pro-Gestalt. I mention this again so you can appreciate the context in which this next incident occurred.

One day Maslow came to Esalen to discuss peak experiences. He thought that by bringing together a group of congenial people personally familiar with such experiences and his own psychological theory, he could help build a meaningful, shared language of transcendence. Rather like the lucid dreamers hashing out the definition of lucid dreaming in their group meetings. At the time Gestalt therapist Fritz Perls resided at Esalen, so reluctantly, Murphy invited him, too. Talk about a recipe for disaster. Perls once called Maslow a "sugar-coated Nazi."

After presenting his theory and its implications, Maslow started his discussion of language with a simple example. "Take 'duty,' he began, "Now, how would you define duty in a non-traditional way, a psychological meaning that conveys self-actualization or health?" Silence. Then one person suggested that duty can be thought of as fulfilling one's personal destiny, one's innate potential; that is, the duty to yourself to be the best or truest you can be. "Right," replied Maslow, "that's a good example."

"This is just like school," Perls exclaimed in a loud, sarcastic voice. "Here is the teacher, and there is the pupil, giving the right answer." Maslow ignored the jab and those Perls would level that evening and the next day. By nature, Maslow avoided confrontation as much as possible. Nor did Murphy want to challenge Perls, nor did anyone else. But that didn't stop Fritz Perls.

Next night, the atmosphere grew more and more strained as Maslow doggedly continued his effort to develop transcendent language. Suddenly, Perls dropped to the floor and began to make whining, infant-like sounds. Before the astonished gathering, he slowly wrapped himself around Maslow's knees. Maslow stared down in disbelief. Tersely, he told Murphy, "This begins to look like sickness."

The gathering broke up in confusion. Seething with unexpressed feelings, Maslow stayed up into the late hours of the night. Writing down his angry thoughts calmed him and eventually he fell asleep. Next day, he delivered an impassioned speech in which he pointed out some of the problems at Esalen....like putting up with delinquent behavior in the name of spontaneity.

This did not earn him any new friends. Some of those in attendance found Maslow's passionate speech well-intentioned but annoying and paternalistic. Others, like Murphy, respected Maslow for accurately diagnosing Esalen's chief weakness: its lack of intellectual vitality. "Why is there no library at Esalen?" Maslow had asked.

Perhaps his method was a mismatch with the touchy-feelie Esalen crowd, but personally, I appreciate how Maslow instinctively zeroed in on the crux of a recurring problem in psychology. Imbalance. Polarization and dichotomy. The scientists versus the mystics. Right brain against left brain. Feeling and thinking as enemies instead of collaborators in self-actualization.


*Garfield, P. *Your Child’s Dreams* (New York: Ballentine Books, 1984).
*Hoffman, E. *The Right to be Human* (Los Angeles, CA: Jeremy P. Tarcher, 1988).
*Maslow, A. H. *The Farther Reaches of Human Nature* (New York: Penguin Books, 1976).
*Maslow, A. H. *Future Visions: The unpublished papers of Abraham Maslow/editor, Edward Hoffman* (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 1996).
*Maslow, A. H. *Motivation and Personality* (New York: Harper & Row, 1970).
*Maslow, A. H. *Towards a Psychology of Being,* (New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1968).
*Maslow, A. H. with D. C. Stephens and G. Heil. *Maslow on Management* (New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1998).
*Stephens, A. *Private Myths: Dreams and Dreaming* (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995).