Electric Dreams

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Phenomenology and Dreams

Richard Catlett Wilkerson & Harold Delius

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Wilkerson, Richard Catlett (1997 June). Dream Education Series: Existential-Phenomenology and Dreams. Electric Dreams 4(6). Retrieved July 26, 2000 from Electric Dreams on the World Wide Web: http://www.dreamgate.com/electric-dreams + Notes by Harold Delius


".... to the things themselves!"
Husserl (see note Delius1)

Ed Husserl said " Return to the things themselves" and in this statement can be unfolded much of the phenomenological and existential beginnings in dream work. This is best seen in the develop ment of Dasien-analysis as developed by Medard Boss. Here is how Boss himself separates himself from Freud and Jung:

" There are two main reasons I have chosen to make a clear distinction between the phenomenological approach to human dreaming and the interpretation based on the more traditional dream theories. First, such a separation will effectively highlight the true nature of the phenomenological approach, as it is applied in Dasein-analytic therapy. And the second, a direct confrontation of phenomenological understanding of dreaming, on the one hand, and Freudian- Jungian "dream interpretations," on the other, will confirm that the latter, do not actually interpret, i.e., make intelligible, the phenomena of the dreaming itself, consistently "reinterpret" without this "reinterpretation" having any basis in observable facts. Rarely if ever do Freud and Jung pursue the wealth of significance inherent in dream entities themselves, preferring instead to impose meaning on them form without to confirm them with prescribed theory"
Medard Boss P. 143 , _"I Dreamt last night..."_

Without going into whether or not this is a fair assessment of Freud or Jung, I'd like to say this is a fair assessment of Boss. It is the *surface* of the dream image itself that is presented to us in our waking memory that Boss find so interesting. And in his Dasein-analysis he sticks with the surface of the dream and allows the patient to unfold his or her process as it unfolds. The most famous example, and the one that is used by one of Boss' modern proponents, Erik Craig, is the dream series of an engineer. The dreams evolved over a three year period from near dreamlessness, to prisons, to mechanical dreams of turbines, cars and planes, to plants and animals to real human beings. (Craig, 1992)

How do we stick with the surface of the image without pouring out our preconceived notions and re-interpretations? Boss offers an revision of Husserl's technique of "Bracketing out" where we attend to an object, carefully noting all that comes to mind, but immediately setting it aside and returning to the object of study again and again. If Husserl is to be believed, we not only reach observations of the object outside of preconceived notions, but begin to experience the experience as well in a mystical non-psychical way.

But this goes a little beyond our purposes here. For Boss, and for many later phenomenologists, there becomes a complete unfolding of reality by attending to the surface and no need to delve below the surface with theories and speculations. If there is a mysticism we need to draw on here, its simply that there is a recognition that the sleeping self and waking self are but two parts of the same self and dreams are simply the flow of life into the night. In philosophical parlance, there is no deep object/subject split. In terms of dream work, this means that we consider the dream not as something we have or make, but a part of our existence that we live.

But let us begin with the (modified) technique of bracketing:

EXERCISE: Bracketing : Choose a dream. Enter the dream in your imagination as if you were there. Begin to describe the dream in the minutest details without going beyond what you can directly see, hear, smell, or otherwise sense. Describe any actions in the dream and any thoughts you have in the dream. As you describe the dream image, return each time to the image and experience it again. If a thought about what the dream image means comes up, simple set it aside or bracket it out and return to describing the image. Include how you experience the image, but if you fall into why you are feeling that way, set those speculations aside. Set all assumptions and guesses aside. Bracket them out and return to the image itself. Try to stay with the image for a few minutes. Follow the Gestalt maxim: "Lose you mind, come to your senses"

Example: Dream: I saw a refrigerator through the kitchen door'

"It is chalk white and disturbs me. Its about 6 feet tall and rounded like old refrigerators. I like those old General Electric refrigerators...ooops, set this train of thought aside and go back to describing the image. The hinges are chrome and the handle, the handle seems vague to me, a handle with one side open. It reminds me of -- oops, set that aside. The door opens from left to right. Its a little off the floor, maybe an inch or two. There may be some dripping water there. There is a guard on the bottom that looks rusted. I hear it humming. Hey, I'll bet this dream is about how.. oops, set this assumption aside and return to the image."

Is you mind starting to wander? Have you begun to wonder if this is going somewhere? Note where you have wandered, but return to the image. What does it sound like? Where is the refrigerator plugged in? Is the cord black, green, grey? What shade? Is there a tangle in the cord or is its straight? What did you feel when you saw the refrigerator? Where in your body did that emotion have the strongest feeling? Was it a comfortable or uncomfortable feeling? Was it a feeling getting stronger or weaker, or was it steady? Where there any smells at the time?

Make a few notes about the difference between the dream before the descriptive exercise and afterwards. How do you feel about the dream image now? Is the image more or less important, more or less meaningful?

This basic idea of bracketing out preconceived notions and focusing on the details of the dream as a valuable procedure in itself . Not only does this approach sharpen our skills in attending and recall with dreams, but allows us to become aware of the notions we and others try to impose on the meaning of dreams. One of the main underlying motives of this class is to teach ourselves to be our own authorities in the matter of our own dreams, and to allow others to do the same. My hope is that this comes about by seeing a variety of approaches and beginning to question the authority by which we and others interpret our dreams. Its not something we can just say, "Oh, ok, let's no longer impose unconscious assumptions on our dreams". Rather it is a life long process of letting go of old authorities, find and understanding new ones and forever being vigilant of our own.

That the approach has its limits need not concern us much. Like all living things, there is a limit. We may touch transcendent points were we feel clear of all theory and meta-assumptions, but as James Hillman points out, even bracketing-out of theories is itself a fantasy theory. What seems to be the value of bracketing is not that we can take this technique and reach the god-head, but rather that we can open a few windows and air out our homes. And even more, that we begin to appreciate what is already before us. In the next group, the surrealist, we begin to not only appreciate our dream images, but to find in them the most wonderful of all experiences.

Note: Delius1 from H. Delius

About "to the things themselves" - this is a slightly distorted version of the last sentence of Husserl's "Vorwort"(preface) or "Einleitung"(introduction) to "Logische Untersuchungen" (1900/01). *} There he proclaims his purely DESCRIPTIVE method - as opposed to speculative, dialiectic, constructionist, transcendental and ALL other philosophers who try to develop a THEORY about "the World", "Bewusstsein", "Being", "Knowledge"... etc.etc. Like later Wittgenstein (few people ever notice this similarity!) Husserl's attitude was strictly ANTI -THEORETICAL. Like Wittgenstein, he claims that all philosophy can ever do and achieve is "describing, description" (in PU, somewhere near # 133 *} ) - but while with Wittgenstein the object of this description was the use of words (rules, "language games"); with Husserl it was the "phenomena" = acts and structures of consciousness. These, in a loose manner of speaking, he also calles "die Sachen" (= the objects of phenomenological reflection). Husserl's actual wording was a kind of request and (philosophical) war-cry: "Und nun zu den Sachen selbst!". "Sachen" in German is a kind of weak synonyom for "Dinge" = things. But the request: "Now let us turn to the things themselves" has nothing whatever to do with the (Kantian and later) "thing in itself" (which would be a metaphysical, theoretical construct, spurned by Husserl!). The "things themselves" here simply means: the things (phenomena) as they present themselves "purely", i.e. when freed from all the theoretical accretions, prejudices, unjustified opinions we may have about them. "Zu den Sachen selbst" has indeed become a kind of slogan among the phenomenologists of the first third of this century - and in English expositions it has turned into the somewhat misleading (see above!) "To the things themselves!"


+++Boss, Medard (1977). _"I dreamt last night...":A New Approach to the Revelations of Dreaming - and its uses in Psychotherapy_. New York: Gardner Press, Inc.

--------. (1957). _The Analysis of Dreams_. Arnold J. Pomerans (trans), London: Rider & Company.

--------.(No date on this book! ). _Psychoanalysis and Daseinsanalysis_. Ludwig B. Lefebre (trans), New York: Basic Books.

+++Craig, Erik (1992). Dreams and Phemomenology Workshop. ASD Conference: Santa Fe, NM.

--------. (1987a). Dreaming, reality and allusion: An existential phenomenological inquiry. In F. van Zuuren, F. Wertz, and C. Mook (Eds.), _Advances in Qualitative Psychology: Themes and Variations _ (pp. 115-36). Berwyn, PA: Swets North America.

--------. (1987b). The realness of dreams. In Richard A. Russo (Ed.), _Dreams Are Wiser Than Men_. Berkeley: North Atlantic Books.

--------. (1988)a. Freud's Irma dream: A daseinsanalytic reading. In Erik Craig (Ed.), _Psychother apy for Freedom: The Daseinsanalytic Way in Psychology and Psychoanalysis_. Special issue of _Humainistic Psychologist,_ 16(1), 203-216.