Robert Hoss, M.S., is author of Dream Language: Self-Understanding
Through Imagery and Color, Executive Officer and Past President of the
International Association for the Study of Dreams, and faculty
member of the Haden Institute for Dream Leadership Training and adjunct
faculty of Scottsdale College. A scientist, and former researcher in the
field of light energy, he was a pioneer with multiple patents and was
Corporate Vice President at both American Express and IBM. He now devotes
his science and management skills to dream studies, for which he has been a
frequent guest on radio and TV, and an internationally acclaimed lecturer
and instructor for 30 years. He has established the DreamScience Foundation
for providing seed grants for dream research. His unique, simple but
powerful Image Activation dreamwork approach is based on his training in
Gestalt therapy and background in Jungian studies, the neurobiology of
dreaming, plus his pioneering research on the significance of color in
EDreams: How did the book get the title Dream Language instead of something
related to dream color?
RJH: Color is only a part of the dream language, a language of association
and metaphor which expresses our inner story as we deal with unresolved
emotional issues of the day. The unique state of the dreaming brain creates
a “language” that is in many ways more complete and representative than our
waking language. As the full title indicates, imagery and color are both
components of dream language.
EDreams: So what exactly is dream language and how is it different than
RJH: To use the metaphor of the Right (imagistic) Brain vs Left
(discursive) Brain, waking language has a focus on the left-brain naming and
words, while dreaming language has the emphasis on association, imagery,
emotion and holistic processing, more right-brain like processing . In
waking life we speak with words that identify things with names (example: "I
am going skiing!"). If we listen to what is going on inside our minds,
behind that statement, we realize that we are recalling past visual memories
of skiing, feeling the excitement, and visualizing our anticipation. This
inner part of our speech is like dream language - all the associations,
memories, emotions and visualizations - but without the words.
EDreams: How does this language come about in a dream?
RJH: This "language" comes from the unique state of the dreaming brain.
Much of the rational cerebral cortex, the speech centers and episodic memory
is inactive - while much of the midbrain and associative cortex is active,
particularly the limbic system. The limbic system is involved in emotional
processing, and many researchers now believe that processing of unresolved
emotions of the day is a function of the dream state. Dream imagery and
associations may be stimulated by the limbic system and particularly the
amygdala and hippocampus which are active in dreaming and link sensory data
and imagery with emotion and memories respectively. With the cerebellum and
sensory associative cortexes active these associations can take on a wealth
of dream sensations beyond imagery and color, including motion, sound and
EDreams: If dreams are processing emotion, then do powerful images in a
dream indicate that the dreamer is processing strong feelings from waking
RJH: Right. According to a number of researchers dreams are stimulated by
emotion, and deal with emotional processing of events of the day. Ernest
Hartmann, indicates that the “central image” of the dream reflects the
emotions of the dreamer and the intensity of that image reflects the
intensity of the emotions.
EDreams: Why doesn't the dreaming brain simply represent the emotion in the
same context it is found in waking life? Why doesn't the divorced woman just
dream about her husband?
RJH: One theory is that flow between connections responsible for episodic
memory (daily events) is reversed during dreaming, such that only the
emotional memories associated with the event are accessible during the
dream. Thus as we process these emotions, the associated imagery and dream
sensations form a dream story that represents our feelings about the event
but don't necessarily represent the event itself.
EDreams: How does this help us understand the language of dreams?
RJH: If we see a door in a dream and wonder why they dreamed of a door,
that is our Left-Brain thinking. But our Right-Brain sees the image from the
point of view of an associated function or emotion. One dreamer might see
their door as an opening to a new place and another might see their door as
a means for keeping things out. These associations are driven by the
emotional state of each dreamer. The one who associates it with an new
passage may be at a point of new discovery in their lives; and the other who
sees it as a way to keep things out, may be in need of safety or isolation
in their life. Each dream image has a deeply personal association which is
why dream dictionaries (which attribute the author's associations to the
dream image) don't work and are largely invalid.
EDreams: How can we understand a dream image?
RJH: Dream images are personal associations and can be decoded in a number
of ways. First we can look at the metaphors in the narrative we use to
describe the dream – ask do any of the phrases you have used sound like they
also describe something in our waking lives.
EH Dreams: How is your dreamwork approach different than others?
RJH: There are many useful and effective dreamworking techniques, all
providing different results and views on the dream and the dreamer. My
approach is designed to answer two questions:
1) What does that thing in the dream mean to me?
2) how can I use it to change my life?
The procedure I
use is based on a short scripted Gestalt based process by which the dreamer
"becomes" an important dream image and speaks as that image, answering 6
questions that target specific emotional states (conflicts, fears and
desires). This virtually always results in statements that are obvious
metaphors for emotional events in the dreamer's life. Within a minute or
two the dreamer can understand "what does that thing in the dream mean to
me". Next I look for the Jungian patterns to determine if there are clues
that the dream might contain a compensating message for misconceptions that
have left the dreamer stuck. If these are not obvious then I ask the
dreamer to spontaneously imagine a new dream ending, in an attempt to create
a new metaphor that may relate to a possible solution for their waking life
situation. We check it out to make sure it is practical and healthy and
then determine next steps to implement the solution.
EDreams: This seems like a very simple view, could it be so
RJH: Since the book was based on a course I have taught over many years, I
do try to make understanding the very complex processes that go into
dreaming clear and easy to grasp in Dream Language. Dream Language begins
with a grounding in the latest research and psychological theories related
to dreams, and converts these basic facts about dreams and dreaming to a
simple set of tools that the reader can apply to their own dreamwork. Most
things in nature are simple when we understand their true nature, and so it
is with dreams. If we simply "become" the dream image and let it speak, it
EDreams: How does your research in color in dreams fit into Dream Language?
RJH: I engaged in a decade long investigation into the significance of color
in dreams. What I found is that colors in dreams are symbols just as any
other dream image, and that color expresses emotion just as other dream
imagery contains personal emotional memories. What was exciting for me to
discover is that it is that dream color associations are similar to the
waking human emotional and physiological response to color. The human
system responds to particular colors with particular feelings, attitudes and
instinctual associations. In waking life, red stimulates us, for example,
while blue calms and soothes. This is a nervous system and brain response
that happens at an unconscious, autonomic level, not a cultural learned
response. These emotional responses are represented by the color in our
dreams. Although learned associations with color can and do enter our
dreams, for the most part color associations are deeper and related to
feeling not cognitive process.
EDreams: How then does dream color effect the meaning of a dream image?
RJH: Just as images combine in dreams to form bizarre but emotionally
meaningful combinations, color combines with imagery to add an additional
EDreams: What colors do we typically dream of?
RJH: I performed a content analysis on about 24,000 dreams from two
databases and determined that the most often reported colors in dreams are
black and white in near equal proportion. The second most often reported
colors are a nearly equal grouping of red, yellow, blue and green – what
have been called the "psychological primaries". Since the eye-brain system
processes color based on presence and absence of these 6 colors, it is
uncertain whether there is a physical reason for this or whether it has some
psychological significance, or both. Carl Jung discussed the psychological
significance of the pairing of black and white as related to the integration
of the conscious and unconscious. He also attributed the presence of the
"psychological primaries" in a dream as related to a creation of a state of
EDreams: Can we then interpret color in our dreams independently of culture
and personal psychology?
RJH: I generally like to begin with the deeper subliminal emotional response
to color since feeling has more presence in dreams than cognitive
associations. Each dreamer is going to have learned and cultural responses
as well or may have a cultural attitude that modulates the meaning for that
dreamer. Red might excite the emotions in all humans, but this excitement
may be seen as unwanted in one culture and desired in other.
EDreams: Can you give an example of how color might change or modify the
meaning of a dream?
RJH: A woman might be wearing a red hat in a dream, and she might associate
the color red with her "desire to live life to its fullest". Here the red
adds a feeling of vibrancy to the imagery of a woman in a hat that would not
have otherwise been there. If the hat were gray, it might indicate she is
shielding or avoidance of any emotional stimulation for example.
EDreams: You gathered together in Dream Language the responses and
associations various researchers have discovered with color - but you didn't
stop with just noting color associations, you went on in your research. Do
dream colors tell us more than about the meaning of the dream?
RJH: I believe they do, and the preliminary research we did with a number
of subjects and roughly 8,000 dream samples, indicates that we can
recognize emotional events in a persons life from the color in their dreams
recorded over a period of time. Looking at a lifetime of color dream
records we can find correlation between the frequency of the dream colors
they have reported and personality characteristics.
EDreams: How do you balance these two notions, that there are common
autonomic responses to color and yet personally individual reactions to
RJH: Luscher made a distinction between the "objective" response to color
(our autonomic biological response) and the "functional" response (our
attitudes and personal emotional associations). I use this difference in
the Color Questionnaire that I structured for research and dreamwork.
Whereas the Color Questionnaire is a table of statements or emotional themes
known to relate to our autonomic response to color, it is used in a way that
is intended to trigger our personal associations.
EDreams: So you let people know the difference between dream dictionaries
and good dreamwork?
RJH: Right, the color charts are not the meaning of color. They are not to
be used like a dream dictionary. They were designed to trigger personal
emotional associations around a base of known autonomic associations. Solid
dreamwork involves understanding your personal emotional associations with
the dream in context with your waking life, and allowing the dream to reveal
underlying conflicts and beliefs in a safe manner. I include various
approaches and suggested procedures for both individual and group dreamwork
in Dream Language.
EDreams: Would you like to say anything in conclusion about dream studies
RJH: I think it is very exciting to realize that understanding dreams can
be quite simple and need not be the bizarre unrelated stories we may have
struggled with. It is also exciting to know they have meaning for us that
can help us progress and transform if we know how to speak the language. I
am glad to have been able to contribute to this research and show how dream
colors as well as dream imagery combine to reveal and transform our lives.
We don't want us to miss the message just because we don't know the
You can visit Robert's website at www.dreamscience.org or see him at the
next annual conference of the International Association for the Study of
Dreams, June 20-24th, 2006 in Bridgewater State College, Bridgewater MA.