Electric Dreams

 John W. Herbert: DreamSharing in Cyberspace

Interview by

Victoria Quinton

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 Quinton, Victoria (1996 September). John W. Herbert: DreamSharing in Cyberspace. Interview. Electric Dreams 3(8). Retrieved July 26, 2000 from Electric Dreams on the World Wide Web: http://www.dreamgate.com/electric-dreams

Editor's note: John's work spawned the original form of the DreamWheel Dream groups we run at Electric Dreams and influenced other dream online dream work including the new DreamWheel on DreamLink and the bulletin board dreamwork by Jayne Gackenbach in her online dream class. For a sample of a group: http://users.aol.com/john0417/dmgp/dg16.html

John's research is the first that I know of on dreamsharing in Cyberspace. The project was done in 1991 through the Saybrook Institute and Stanley Krippner. Now he has made his research public at his web site: http://users.aol.com/john0417/HuSci/Greet.html

The paper, "Human Science Research Methods in Studying Dreamwork: Qualitative and Quantitative Analysis of Face-to-Face and Computer Networks In Dream Work Groups" examines the difference between online and offline dream groups. A must read for all online dream researchers and dream sharing historians.
-Richard Wilkerson


Interview via a series of email, September, 1996

Victoria Quinton (VQ): What were your first expectations of Cyberspace when you first entered it as a dream-sharing venue?

John Herbert (JH): I don't really know that I had any *specific* expectations. Let's go way back in time.

I went back to school and am enrolled at Saybrook Institute in San Francisco, an accredited institution "without walls." At our required residency periods, I started attending Stan Krippner's daily breakfast dream meetings, and I took to the "if it were my dream" process like a duck takes to water. I started by leading a few groups under Stan's supervision, studied with Monte Ullman, and continued by conducting local dream groups on a regular basis and working with county jail inmates. As I became more involved with dream groups using this process, I became more impressed by the universality of the process - "it worked."

The other element, an interest in computers, had been developed in earlier years. In the late 60's I had enrolled at San Francisco State Univ. in a Master's program in psychology. I missed being able to get into SFSU for a particular term by just a few days, and found myself looking for something to do in academia while waiting for the next term to begin. I started working for Dr. Joe Kamiya at Langley Porter Institute and started "programming" because he had no one else to do it.

I didn't have, at that time, a shred of an idea of how a computer worked or what programming was. I got permission to use the computer in the middle of the night, so used to do all my 'work" from about 11 PM till 4 AM in morning. I must have learned, because I ended up working at Langley-Porter that summer as a programmer, writing code for collecting and processing data from medical research projects. I went on to write my own program for my Master's Thesis (A Study of EEG Changes During Zen Meditation). This was the beginning of my interest in computers.

While at Saybrook, I had been witnessing the early growth of the commercial organizations such as Compuserve, Delphi, Genie, AOL, Peacenet, or Prodigy, and also of the Internet. I began to look at the expanded communication abilities of the electronic world, and was convinced that this would be a viable means of communication, and would be of increasing importance as time went on. Quite a few of the boards had postings about dreams, but none were attempting to work with them in any serious manner. (Not quite true - there were many "Let's try to meet in some specific location in our dreams tonight, or let's try to dream about this specific plot tonight).

Realizing that face-to-face dream groups had geographical and time constraints, I began to wonder if this group dream-work process could be conducted using an electronic medium.

As part of my studies at Saybrook, I proposed conducting an independent study to assess this possibility. I therefore obtained permission to tape record one of our breakfast meetings, which became the basis for comparing responses from the face-to-face (FTF) meeting with those obtained from a group of participants gathered by posting a research request on alt.dreams on the Internet. (This study is now available for viewing at http://users.aol.com/John0417/HuSci/Greet.html)

Until that time, anytime I proposed doing group dreamwork using any method other than in an FTF environment, I was constantly questioned about the loss of the necessary "personal interaction" that was perceived to be a necessary requirement for sharing. The outcome of my initial study, however, convinced me that it would be possible to conduct good (and possibly superior) group dream work using computer mediated communication.

As a researcher, however, I believe that expectations of the researcher can sometimes modify results obtained from a study. I tried to be as objective as possible, and I think that my study could be replicated and essentially the same results obtained. What I am perhaps trying to say is that my "expectations" were of a more philosophical nature - that using computers for communication would be of increasing importance in the future combined with a personal bias that the "if it were my dream" basis of sharing provided an exceedingly powerful way for both the dreamer to understand his or her dream metaphor and for participants to learn more about how the dream metaphors can reflect one's personal issues.

VQ: Do you still feel that you have a place in Cyberspace, albeit different to 1991?

JH: Absolutely!

A touch more of history may help. Following my initial Internet study, I started looking at the dreamworking possibilities on various commercial services, such as Genie, Delphi, Compuserve, the Well, and AOL. As a Seniornet member (a subset of AOL), I started my BBS activity and gradually developed protocols for working with both a bulletin board format and also with an e-mail format.

All the dream groups that I have done have essentially had the format of the dreamer presenting a dream, a segment for questions about content, the dreamer's answers (I have mixed feelings about how to conduct these last two segments - it could be a study in itself, because there are mixed blessings about allowing questions that ask the dreamer about his or her life at this point of the process), the sharing phase, feedback from the dreamer (dreamer's option) and continuing further discussions. I believe there is still a place for these types of groups, probably most effectively conducted by e-mail. If you wish to see an example of a full AOL dream group process, look in on

I am sure you know that there are somewhat similar groups ongoing right now, such as the dream wheels, ed-core, etc.

For the last few months, however, I have also been a fairly regular member invited onstage by Jeremy Taylor during his weekday "Dream Show" that is held in the Cafe Chat Room of the HUB, which takes place on AOL 9 AM Eastern weekdays. There are about 3 of us that are invited when we are available, but I have been a most regular and frequent guest.

For me, this is a totally different way of working with dreams. Instead of working with one long complex dream, in a process that usually takes over a week, we are commenting on perhaps 6 to 8 short dreams or even fragments of an image, during the hour (still using the it were my dream approach). It had been a tremendous opportunity for me, and I have learned a great deal. It has broadened my awareness of the need for different forms of doing dreamwork.

The Internet provides us with a great way to communicate, using both e-mail and browser access. As different methods of working with dreams are developed (I learned of several new ways during the recent ASD conference in Berkeley), I am sure that more and more individual and group dreamsharing will take place and there will be formats to suit many different preferences.

I do not know what forms my eventual Internet participation will take, but with my two basic underlying interests of dreamwork and computers, I can't even think of a future without some ongoing activity in cyberspace - after all, it is a primary means of communication, and honestly shared communication is the underlying mechanism that makes group dream work possible.

VQ: Do you feel the same sense of community in personal meetings as in cyberspace meetings?

JH: I would offer a qualified yes to your answer.

In FTF meetings, there must be a certain commonality of interest, otherwise the meeting would not take place. This sense of bonding, however, springs from different sources. At Saybrook, for example, the breakfast tables about bonded together because the participants are not only interested in sharing their dreams but also because a very close student bond exists, so those groups have, in my experience, a *very very* strong sense of community.

In working within the penal system, I did not find this sense of community in reference to dreamwork. Yes, they were all in the clink at the same time, but they were all deeply concerned with their own problems and I did not "feel" the same sense of community among the inmates. Of course, one has to remember there is not much ability to "share" when in jail.

I think there are always possible problems in conducting FTF dreamwork in a community. One problem is that in a small town, often people know other people's business, and there may be inherent hesitancy in self-exposure. Other group meetings are excellent, such as a woman leading a group discussing women's issues, where the issues are of direct interest to the group members individually and as a group.

When dream groups are advertised to a wider range of participants, however, and the assembled are there to do the group dreamwork, there is a sense that the community is there for that purpose, and the purpose is usually honored.

Remember, however, that what is very natural for you and me (working with computers), is not always easy for many people and there may be a hesitancy in using this medium. I found many technical problems cropping up in attempting to learn how to do responsible dreamwork online, but I do feel there can be a strong sense of community.

Regards, John

JH: Victoria, how would *you* compare FTF to online dreamsharing?

VQ: Well, my experience of dream-sharing has been via the Internet, without the initial grass roots "personal" meetings.

JH: Two questions I have are how did you develop you interest in working with dreams and how did you first find your connections to the Electric Dreams community?

VQ: Well, I have had a "covert" interest in dreams since childhood, and always looked forward to them, because of the way they seemed both to "integrate" waking life with alternative outcomes and the way it seemed safer to try different things in dreams that I didn't do in waking life - such as flying, talking to animals, befriending dragons, giants and other characters, and being able to play with various of my dolls as animate peers in dreams.

As I grew up, I was drawn to books about dreams every so often and kept an occasional diary, mainly of those dreams that cried out to be remembered.

In the early 1990's I read a few books by Jung and Jungians and did a weekend workshop on "Jung and Your Inner Journey". I am still friendly with many of my "inner characters", though, of course they have varied interests.

Admittedly, my "inner work" has been sporadic, though always in the "backyard of my daily mind"and when, in late 1995, my husband introduced me to the Internet, one of the first searches I did was on dreams.

That led me to Dream Links:


where I explored and filled out a questionnaire, as a result of which I signed up to Richard Wilkerson's Dream Class. He signed the participants on to Electric Dreams. I saw a request for a volunteer Q&A editor, volunteered and became a staff member.

Victoria 8*)



Interview conducted by Victoria Quinton
mermaid 8*)


[ now http://www.alphalink.com.au/~mermaid/ ]