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by William H. Benson

July 26, 2007

     Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, European-trained physicians, each in turn, drew a map of the human mind, and features on that map included their own inventions: psychic agencies (id, ego, superego), the death drive, the libido, extrovert versus introvert, the mechanisms of defense (repression, projection, regression, and more), and most importantly the unconscious.

     Born on July 26, 1875, Carl Jung explained the formation of the unconscious. Because there are limits to what human beings perceive happening about them, in that their senses have limits, “there are certain events of which we have not consciously taken note.” These events have happened to us, but without our conscious knowledge. We may realize of their existence through intuition, as a sort of afterthought, but most generally the unconscious wells up to our conscious, often through the form of dreams.

     Jung wrote, “The unconscious aspect of any event is revealed to us in dreams, where it appears not as a rational thought, but as a symbolic image. Psychologists first investigated the unconscious through the study of people’s dreams.”

     It is a fact that human beings, when asleep, do dream. The psychologists, trained in the schools of Freud and Jung, believe themselves best equipped to study the human phenomenon of dreaming, through supposed scientific experimentation. The patient lies on the couch and recounts his or her dreams while the psychoanalysis listens. 

     There are others—literary critics, essayists, and dramatists—who would disagree. Ludwig Wittgenstein attacked Freud’s theories and called psychoanalysis “speculation,” not even a hypothesis, only “a powerful mythology.”

     Harold Bloom, the literary critic, believes that psychoanalysis is nothing more than shamanism. “Transference to a shaman is an ancient, worldwide technique of healing. . . . Shamanism preceded psychoanalysis and will survive it; it is the purest form of dynamic psychiatry.”

     Great writers have explored the dream world, using their own resources and literary techniques. Both Mark Twain and also George Bernard Shaw, born on July 26, 1856, wrote of Joan of Arc, the teen-aged French girl who dreamed, heard voices, saw visions, and led the French people in an all-out war against the English.

     The Old Testament writer knew the importance of dreams. At harvest time, Joseph told his brothers of his dream, that their sheaves of wheat bowed down before his. They promptly sold him into slavery bound for Egypt, and there he interpreted dreams.

     One of Shakespeare’s best comedies is about a dream—A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Two girls—Helena and Hermia, and two boys—Lysander and Demetrius, wander into the moon-drenched forest outside of Athens. They are separated, they fall asleep, and they are blissfully unaware of the fairies—Oberon, Titania, Puck, Peaseblossom, Cobweb, Moth, and Mustardseed—who live in that forest and come out at night.

     The fairies sprinkle on the boys’ and girls’ eyes the juice from a flower called Love-in-idleness, which makes them fall in love with whatever they see upon awakening. There are some delightful confusions, but by the end of the play all is put right.

     A fairy alone on the stage ends the play, “If we shadows have offended, think but this, and all is mended, that you have but slumb’red here while these visions did appear. And this weak and idle theme, no more yielding but a dream.”

     Both the scientist, such as Jung, and the fiction writer, such as Shakespeare, have explored this mysterious dream world, which every human being inhabits for seven, eight, or nine hours every night, and it is there that we find our best rest. It is a world that remains for the most part unexplored, a situation that Freud and Jung instinctively understood and tried to remedy, when they equated dreams as symbols with the real world. It may be a correct hypothesis; it may only be speculation, a powerful mythology.

     A full moon will appear on Monday, July 30. Do we dare on that night, a mid-summer night, to walk into an Athenian forest? “To sleep; perchance to dream.”