The Interpretation of Dreams, 1900, by Sigmund Freud

Considered the father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud wrote the book The Interpretation of Dreams towards the end of the nineteenth century. Although his theory on dreams, presented extensively in this work has been the subject of relentless criticism, there is no denying the influence he had on much of the twentieth century. In the works, Freud postulates that dreams are a way through which the mind tries to stay awake after the person has gone to sleep. He goes so far as to classify the different types of dreams.

He uses a self-analysis of his own dreams in order to prove the theory he puts forward about how dream psychology works. In the work, Freud differentiates between dreams that are at the surface and unconscious level dreams. He suggests that dreams have their own language and thus need to be interpreted. He suggests that most dreams are a sort of way for the unconscious mind to express its desires. He continues to explain that even the most distorted of dreams, when carefully examined will reveal their meaning. Thus, he proposes that one way of gaining insights into a person's desires is through an analysis of their dreams, no matter how far-fetched they are.

Freud began his work by exploring past literature which had been written on this subject of the dream world. Indeed, there were many theories that had been written on the subject. However, he noted that the interest in dreams over the issue for more than a thousand years had not yielded much. Initially, early man believed that dreams were some sort of divine message form the gods. He also notes that recent scientific theory of his time indicated that dreams originated from excitation of the senses. In other words, it was a way for the sleeping mind to deal with the real world. This was done in an effort to keep the individual from waking up.

However, he was not wholly convinced about this theory of excitation of the senses. For instance, he wondered why a dream did not simply recount the event of the day in a simple manner as they had occurred. In addition, he noted that the theory of physical excitation did not always hold. In fact, the mind would sometimes block out all sensory stimuli. Besides this, he also noted that many dreams people recounted had an ethical angle to them. Consequently, he concluded there was no way dreaming could be that simplistic. His interest in dreams during his practice with mental patients. During their sessions, they would describe to him horrific nightmares. On further investigation, he noted a pattern in this dreams. Thus, he decided to investigate the matter. He noted that when treating the mind, a dream should be regarded as a symptom just like other ailments. When he finally decided to write this work, he had worked on thousands of such cases involving dream interpretation.

He postulates that when someone awakes from the dream, what he or she can recall is the manifest part of the dream. This part of the dream is quite meaningless and of little value to a psychoanalyst, according to him. He adds that one begins to scratch the surface the real meaning of what the dream are revealed. He suggested that this meaning was normally hidden because of the restrictions society places on individuals. In most cases, this deeper meaning tended to have a sexual undertone. The mind thus uses symbolism to hide the real meaning of the dream. This was out of a desire by the mind to protect its moral integrity.

In order to interpret dreams, Freud would utilize a method he termed as free association. He would request the dreamer to relive his dream. After that, the dreamer would be requested to associate various objects with realities of the real world. By so doing, the psychoanalyst could then examine any events in the dreamer's life and draw up a conclusion. He argues that a dream is very important to the continued sane existence of an individual. For instance, instead of one acting out on incestuous desires, the individual can have their odd sexual cravings fulfilled in the dream world and thus they can function normally in society. Further, a dream can help one deal with the loss of a loved, according to Freud. In addition to helping an individual deal with loss, dreams help lower aggression in society. He goes on to explain that an individual who has desire to commit revenge may find fulfillment in a dream. Thus contributing to the peaceful existence of society.

His work, at one point led him to believe that this was one of humanities three humiliations. He noted that the belief long held of humans being in total control of our actions had ow been debunked. This idea brought him into disrepute especially in the United States. The problem with Freud's theory was that there was no way of proving if a treatment had worked. Later studies in the nineteenth century even refuted the idea of dreams being linked to desire. As a result, his work became less and less appealing over time. However, recent research has revived the interest in the link between desire and dreams. For instance, researchers have noted that areas of the mind charged with desire seem overly active during sleep. This conclusion was arrived at by using an MRI scan on a sleeping person. This research does appear to validate Freud's work, albeit cautiously, so many years after it was refuted as pseudoscience.

It is important to note that this theory coincides with a deeply religious time in history. At the time, the common belief was that God or other spiritual beings inspired all dreams. As a result, his work was not given the opportunity to grow and be fully investigated. Since his time, many others have tried to come up with their own theories as to how dreams work. All of them wholly or partially based upon Freud's original work. However, there is no denying that Freud's revelation of the unconscious mind had a great influence on humanity.