I was not thinking at all about this topic, nor watching Mad Men, last week when I awoke with the memory of a dream in which I had had what seemed like a profound revelation. In the dream, something had occurred to me that I was sure was going to revolutionize everything: Just as society now readily accepts that second hand smoke kills people and states are passing laws to ban smoking in public places, it occurred to me that with the greater understanding of mirror neurons, just seeing someone enjoy a smoke can neurologically provoke a desire to smoke and, therefore, lead to death. I thought, in my dream, that the sight of someone smoking is paramount to the inhaling of second hand smoke, now that we understand the neurological response it evokes in us. Furthermore, it occurred to me (while dreaming), our increasing knowledge of mirror neurons can revolutionize cases against corporations and advertising, with scientific proof of unconscious manipulation that does not require study after study of the effects of advertising.
Now, I am not writing this to make a case for or against smoking. Nor is this a blog about neurology -- despite my interest in it, I am ill-equipped to say much on the topic. This is about dreaming, and the clarity of insight that can come when we are unconscious. My insight, which arrived while I was in a deep sleep and was utterly unrelated to anything I had consciously been contemplating, is actually quite sound. (Perhaps not earth shattering, but certainly it has basis in reality.) But where does such an insight come from? If I was unconscious, if my thinking mind was theoretically in off-mode, what was it that was thinking?
There are endless theories about dreams. Most individuals today still discredit the psychic activity of sleep as amalgamations of daily activity, feelings, and nonsensical images. Without even exploring the vast reaches of dream interpretation (which could certainly be applied to my dream above), one has to question how individuals can wake-up with whole poems composed, dresses designed, or ideas for a new story or book largely developed. We hear these kinds of stories all the time from artists and authors, yet few people seem to then question how these insights are possible while we are unconscious, not engaging with the reverence of psyche nor seeking to understand what is happening in the dream world. If dreams are simply daily residue or wish fulfillment, how do we awake with original insights and ideas?
As Jung wrote,
The view that dreams are merely the imaginary fulfillments of repressed wishes is hopelessly out of date. There are, it is true, dreams which manifestly represent wishes or fears, but what about all the other things? Dreams may contain ineluctable truths, philosophical pronouncements, illusions, wild fantasies, memories, plans, anticipations, irrational experiences, even telepathic visions, and heaven knows what besides. One thing we ought never to forget: almost half of our life is passed in a more or less unconscious state. The dream is specifically the utterance of the unconscious. Just as the psyche has a diurnal side which we call consciousness, so also it has a nocturnal side: the unconscious psychic activity which we apprehend as dreamlike fantasy. . . . it is highly probable that our dream psyche possesses a wealth of contents and living forms equal to or even greater than those of the conscious mind, which is characterized by concentration, limitation, and exclusion.Have you had insights while dreaming? Do share. (Or. . .are you headed out to have a smoke?)
(The Essential Jung, p. 176, from The Practical Use of Dream-Analysis).