| quinta-feira, 29 de outubro de 2009
BEFORE the dawn of history mankind was
engaged in the study of dreaming. The
wise man among the ancients was preeminently
the interpreter of dreams. The
ability to interpret successfully or plausibly
was the quickest road to royal favour, as
Joseph and Daniel found it to be ; failure
to give satisfaction in this respect led to
banishment from court or death.

Bertram C. S.
1L5U3,, J3.Sc., It.*.0., JT,E^,
NO doubt the fact that there is a great and growing
revulsion against the crass materialism of the
Victorian period has much to do with the vogue which
Bergson's works have obtained, but in no small respect
also do they owe their popularity to the ease and gracefulness
of their language and the persuasive manner in
which their arguments are brought forward. Of none of
his books is this more true than of the charming essay
on Dreams just published (Dreams. By Henri Bergson,
Translated, with an introduction, by Edwin E. Slosson.
London: Fisher Unwin. 1914. 2s. 6d. net).
According to the writer the dream is the image of
one's mind in a disinterested condition, not, even though
Tin Wittir '


10 L
English Edition^ 1914
(All rights reserved]
BEFORE the dawn of history mankind was
engaged in the study of dreaming. The
wise man among the ancients was preeminently
the interpreter of dreams. The
ability to interpret successfully or plausibly
was the quickest road to royal favour, as
Joseph and Daniel found it to be ; failure
to give satisfaction in this respect led to
banishment from court or death. When
a scholar laboriously translates a cuneiform
tablet dug up from a Babylonian mound
where it has lain buried for five thousand
years or more, the chances are that it will
turn out either an astrological treatise or
a dream book. If the former, we look
upon it with some indulgence ; if the
latter with pure contempt. For we know
that the study of the stars, though undertaken
for selfish reasons and pursued in
the spirit of charlatanry, led at length to
physical science, while the study of dreams
has proved as unprofitable as the dreaming
of them. Out of astrology grew
astronomy. Out of oneiromancy has
grown nothing.
That at least was substantially true up
to the beginning of the present century.
Dream books in all languages continued
to sell in cheap editions, and the interpreters
of dreams made a decent or, at
any rate, a comfortable living out of the
poorer classes. But the psychologist
rarely paid attention to dreams except
incidentally in his study of imagery, association,
and the speed of thought. But
now a change has come over the spirit
of the times. The subject of the significance
of dreams, so long ignored, has
suddenly become a matter of energetic
study and of fiery controversy the world
The cause of this revival of interest is
the new point of view brought forward
by Professor Bergson in the paper which
is here made accessible to the Englishreading
public. This is the idea that we
can explore the unconscious substratum
of our mentality, the storehouse of our
memories, by means of dreams, for these
memories are by no means inert, but have,
as it were, a life and purpose of their
own, and strive to rise into consciousness
whenever they get a chance, even into the
semi -consciousness of a dream. To use
Professor Bergson's striking metaphor, our
memories are packed away under pressure
like steam in a boiler, and the dream is
their escape valve.
That this is more than a mere metaphor
has been proved by Professor Freud and
others of the Vienna school, who cure cases
of hysteria by inducing the patient to give
expression to the secret anxieties and
emotions which, unknown to him, have
been preying upon his mind. The clue to
these disturbing thoughts is generally
obtained in dreams or similar states of
relaxed consciousness. According to the
Freudians a dream always means something,
but never what it appears to mean.
It is symbolic, and expresses desires or
fears which we refuse ordinarily to admit
to consciousness, either because they are
painful or because they are repugnant to
our moral nature. A watchman is
stationed at the gate of consciousness to
keep them back, but sometimes these
unwelcome intruders slip past him in
disguise. In the hands of fanatical
Freudians this theory has developed the
wildest extravagances, and the voluminous
literature of psycho-analysis contains much
that seems to the layman quite as absurd
as the stuff which fills the shilling dream
It is impossible to believe that the subconsciousness
of every one of us contains
nothing but the foul and monstrous specimens
which they dredge up from the
mental depths of their neuropathic patients
and exhibit with such pride.
Bergson's view seems to me truer as
it is certainly more agreeable, that we keep
stored away somewhere all our memories,
the good as well as the evil, the pleasant
together with the unpleasant. There may
be nightmares down cellar, as we thought
as a child, but even in those days we knew
how to dodge them when we went after
apples ; that is, take down a light and
slam the door quickly on coming up.
Maeterlinck, too, knew this trick of our
childhood. When in the Palace of Night,
scene of his fairy play, the redoubtable
Tyltyl unlocks the cage where are confined
the nightmares and all other evil
imaginings ; he shuts the door in time to
keep them in and then opens another
revealing a lovely garden full of blue
birds, which, though they fade and die
when brought into the light of common
day, yet encourage him to continue his
search for the Blue Bird that never fades,
but lives everlastingly. The new science
of dreams is giving a deeper significance
to the trite wish of
Good-night and
pleasant dreams 1
It means sweet sanity
and mental health, pure thoughts and
goodwill to all men.
Professor Bergson's theory of dreaming
here set forth in untechnical language, fits
into a particular niche in his general
system of philosophy as well as does his
little book on Laughter. With the main
features of his philosophy the Englishreading
public is better acquainted than
with any other contemporary system, for
his books have sold even more rapidly here
than in France. When Professor Bergson
visited the United States two years
ago the lecture -rooms of Columbia University,
like those of the College de
France, were packed to the doors, and the
effect of his message was enhanced by his
eloquence of delivery and charm of personality.
The pragmatic character of his
philosophy appeals to the genius of the
American people as is shown by the influence
of the teaching of William James and
John Dewey, whose point of view in this
respect resembles Bergson's.
During the present generation chemistry
and biology have passed from the descriptive
to the creative stage. Man is
becoming the overlord of the mineral,
vegetable, and animal kingdoms. He is
learning to make gems and perfumes,
drugs and foods, to suit his tastes, instead
of depending upon the chance bounty of
nature. He is beginning consciously to
adapt means to ends and to plan for the
future even in the field of politics. He
has opened up the atom and finds in it
a microcosm more complex than the solar
system. He beholds the elements melting
with fervent heat, and he turns their
rays to the healing of his sores. He drives
the lightning through the air and with the
product feeds his crops. He makes the
desert to blossom as the rose, and out of
the sea he draws forth dry land. He treats
the earth as his habitation, remodelling it
in accordance with his ever-varying needs
and increasing ambitions.
This modern man, planning, contriving,
and making, finds Paley's watch as little
to his mind as Lucretius's blind flow of
atoms. A universe wound up once for
all and doing nothing thereafter but mark
time is as incomprehensible to him as a
universe that never had a mind of its own
and knows no difference between past and
future. The idea of eternal recurrence
does not frighten him as it did Nietzsche,
for he feels it to be impossible. The
mechanistic interpretation of natural
phenomena developed during the last
century he accepts at its full value, and
would extend experimentally as far as it
will go, for he finds it not invalid but
To minds of this temperament it is no
wonder that Bergson's Creative Evolution
came with the force of an inspiration.
Men felt themselves akin to this upward
impulse, this elan vital, which, struggling
throughout the ages with the intractable -
ness of inert matter, yet finally in some
way or other forces it to its will, and ever
strives toward the increase of vitality,
mentality, personality .
Bergson has been reluctant to commit
himself on the question of immortality, but
he of late has become quite convinced of
it. He even goes so far as to think it
possible that we may find experimental
evidence of personal persistence after
death. This at least we might infer from
his recent acceptance of the presidency
of the British Society for Psychical Research.
In his opening address before
the Society, May 28, 1913, he discussed
the question of telepathy, and in that connection
he explained his theory of the
relation of mind and brain in the following
language. I quote from the report in
the London Times :
The role of the brain is to bring back the remembrance
of an action, to prolong the remembrance
in movements. If one could see all that takes place
in the interior of the brain, one would find that that
which takes place there corresponds to a small part
only of the life of the mind. The brain simply
extracts from the life of the mind that which is
capable of representation in movement. The cerebral
life is to the mental life what the movements
of the baton of a conductor are to the Symphony.
The brain, then, is that which allows the mind
to adjust itself exactly to circumstances. It is the
organ of attention to life. Should it become deranged,
however slightly, the mind is no longer
fitted to the circumstances ;
it wanders, dreams.
Many forms of mental alienation are nothing else.
But from this it results that one of the roles of the
brain is to limit the vision of the mind, to render
its action more efficacious. This is what we observe
in regard to the memory, where the role of the brain
is to mask the useless part of our past in order to
allow only the useful remembrances to appear.
Certain useless recollections, or dream remembrances,
manage nevertheless to appear also, and to
form a vague fringe around the distinct recollections.
It would not be at all surprising if perceptions of the
organs of our senses, useful perceptions, were the
result of a selection or of a canalization worked by
the organs of our senses in the interest of our action,
but that there should yet be around those perceptions
a fringe of vague perceptions, capable of
becoming more distinct in extraordinary, abnormal
cases. Those would be precisely the cases with
which psychical research would deal.
This conception of mental action forms,
as will be seen, the foundation of the
theory of dreams which Professor Bergson
first presented in a lecture before the
Institut psychologique, March 26, 1901.
It was published in the Revue scientifique
of June 8, 1901. An English translaINTRODUCTION
tion, revised by the author and printed in
The Independent of October 23 and 30,
1913, here appears for the first time in
book form.
In this essay Professor Bergson made
several contributions to our knowledge of
dreams. He showed, in the first place,
that dreaming is not so unlike the ordinary
process of perception as had been hitherto
supposed. Both use sense impressions as
crude material to be moulded and defined
by the aid of memory images. Here, too,
he set forth the idea, which he, so far as
I know, was the first to formulate, that
sleep is a state of disinterestedness, a
theory which has since been adopted by
several psychologists. In this address,
also, was brought into consideration for
the first time the idea that the self may
go through different degrees of tension
a theory referred to in his Matter and
Its chief interest for the general reader
will, however, lie in the explanation it
gives him of the cause of some of his
familiar dreams. He may by practice
become the interpreter of his own visions,
and so come to an understanding of the
vagaries of that mysterious and inseparable
companion, his dream-self.
THE subject which I have to discuss here
is so complex, it raises so many questions
of all kinds, difficult, obscure, some psychological,
others physiological and metaphysical
; in order to be treated in a
complete manner it requires such a long
development and we have so little space,
that I shall ask your permission to dispense
with all preamble, to set aside
unessentials, and to go at once to the
heart of the question.
A dream is this. I perceive objects and
there is nothing there . I see men ;
seem to speak to them and I hear what
they answer ; there is no one there and
I have not spoken. It is all as if real
things and real persons were there, then
2 17
on waking all has disappeared, both
persons and things. How does this
happen ?
But, first, is it true that there is nothing
there? I mean, is there not presented a
certain sense material to our eyes, to our
ears, to our touch, etc., during; sleep as
well as during waiting?
Close the eyes and look attentively at
what goes on in the field of our vision.
Many persons questioned on this point
would say that nothing goes on, that they
see nothing. No wonder at this, for a
certain amount of practice is necessary to
be able to observe oneself satisfactorily.
But just give the requisite effort of attention,
and you will distinguish, little by
little, many things. First, in general, a
black background. Upon this black
background occasionally brilliant points
which come and go, rising and descending,
slowly and sedately. More often,
spots of many colours, sometimes very
dull, sometimes, on the contrary, with
certain people, so brilliant that reality canDREAMS
not compare with it. These spots spread
and shrink, changing form and colour,
constantly displacing one another. Sometimes
the change is slow and gradual,
sometimes again it is a whirlwind of vertiginous
rapidity. Whence comes all this
phantasmagoria ? The physiologists and
the psychologists have studied this play
of colours.
" Ocular spectra,"
" coloured
phosphenes," such are the names
that they have given to the phenomenon.
They explain it either by the slight modifications
which occur ceaselessly in the
retinal circulation, or by the pressure that
the closed lid exerts upon the eyeball,
causing a mechanical excitation of the
optic nerve. But the explanation of the
phenomenon and the name that is given
to it matters little. It occurs universally
and it constitutes I may say at once the
principal material of which we shape our
" such stuff as dreams are made
Thirty or forty years ago, M. Alfred
Maury and, about the same time, M.
d'Hervey, of St. Denis, had observed that
at the moment of falling asleep these
coloured spots and moving forms consolidate,
fix themselves, take on definite outlines,
the outlines of the objects and of the
persons which people our dreams. But
this is an observation to be accepted with
caution, since it emanates from psychologists
already half asleep. More recently an
American psychologist, Professor Ladd, of
Yale, has devised a more rigorous method,
but of difficult application, because it
requires a sort of training. It consists in
acquiring the habit on awakening in the
morning of keeping the eyes closed and
retaining for some minutes the dream that
is fading from the field of vision and soon
would doubtless have faded from that of
memory. Then one sees the figures and
objects of the dream melt away little by
little into phosphenes, identifying themselves
with the coloured spots that the eye
really perceives when the lids are closed.
One reads, for example, a newspaper ;
that is the dream. One awakens and
there remains of the newspaper, whose
definite outlines are erased, only a white
spot with black marks here and there ;
that is the reality. Or our dream takes
us upon the open sea round about us the
ocean spreads its waves of yellowish grey
with here and there a crown of white
foam. On awakening, it is all lost in a
great spot, half yellow and half grey,
sown with brilliant points. The spot was
there, the brilliant points were there.
There was really presented to our perceptions,
in sleep, a visual dust, and it was
this dust which served for the fabrication
of our dreams.
Will this alone suffice ? Still considering
the sensation of sight, we ought to
add to these visual sensations which we
may call internal all those which continue
to come to us from an external source.
The eyes, when closed, still distinguish
light from shade, and even, to a certain
extent, different lights from one another.
These sensations of light, emanating from
without, are at the bottom of many of our
dreams. A candle abruptly lighted in the
room will, for example, suggest to the
sleeper, if his slumber is not too deep, a
dream dominated by the image of fire,
the idea of a burning building. Permit
me to cite to you two observations of
M. Tissie on this subject:
" B Leon dreams that the theatre of
Alexandria is on fire ; the flame lights up
the whole place. All of a sudden he
finds himself transported to the midst of
the fountain in the public square ; a line
of fire runs along the chains which connect
the great posts placed around the
margin. Then he finds himself in Paris
at the exposition, which is on fire. He
takes part in terrible scenes, etc. He
wakes with a start ; his eyes catch the
rays of light projected by the dark
lantern which the night nurse flashes
toward his bed in passing. M
Bertrand dreams that he is in the marine
infantry where he formerly served. He
goes to Fort -de -France, to Toulon, to
Loriet, to Crimea, to Constantinople. He
sees lightning, he hears thunder, he takes
part in a combat in which he sees fire
leap from the mouths of cannon. He
wakes with a start. Like B., he was
wakened by a flash of light projected
from the dark lantern of the night nurse."
Such are often the dreams provoked by a
bright and sudden light.
Very different are those which are suggested
by a mild and continuous light like
that of the moon. A. Krauss tells how
one day on awakening he perceived that
he was extending his arm toward what in
his dream appeared to him to be the
image of a young girl. Little by little
this image melted into that of the full
moon which darted its rays upon him.
It is a curious thing that one might cite
other examples of dreams where the rays
of the moon, caressing the eyes of the
sleeper, evoked before him virginal apparitions.
May we not suppose that such
might have been the origin in antiquity of
the fable of Endymion Endymion the
shepherd, lapped in perpetual slumber, for
whom the goddess Selene, that is, the
moon, is smitten with love while he
sleeps ?
I have spoken of visual sensations.
They are the principal ones. But the
auditory sensations nevertheless play a
role. First, the ear has also its internal
sensations, sensations of buzzing, of tinkling,
of whistling, difficult to isolate and
to perceive while awake, but which are
clearly distinguished in sleep. Besides
that we continue, when once asleep, to
hear external sounds. The creaking of
furniture, the crackling of the fire, the
rain beating against the window, the wind
playing its chromatic scale in the chimney,
such are the sounds which come to the
ear of the sleeper and which the dream
converts, according to circumstances, into
conversation, singing, cries, music, etc.
Scissors were struck against the tongs in
the ears of Alfred Maury while he slept.
Immediately he dreamt that he heard the
tocsin and took part in the events of June
1848. Such observations and experiences
are numerous. But let us hasten to say ,
that sounds do not play in our dreams so
important a role as colours. Our dreams
are, above all, visual, and even more
visual than we think. To whom has it
not happened as M. Max Simon has
remarked to talk in a dream with a certain
person, to dream a whole conversation,
and then, all of a sudden, a singular
phenomenon strikes the attention of the
dreamer. He perceives that he does not
speak, that he has not spoken, that his
interlocutor has not uttered a single word,
that it was a simple exchange of thought
between them, a very clear conversation,
in which, nevertheless, nothing has been
heard. The phenomenon is easily enough
explained. It is in general necessary for
us to hear sounds in a dream. From
nothing we can make nothing. And
when we are not provided with sonorous
material, a dream would find it hard to
manufacture sonority.
There is much more to say about the
sensations of touch than about those of
hearing, but I must hasten. We could
talk for hours about the singular phenomena
which result from the confused
sensations of touch during sleep. These
sensations mingling with the images which
occupy our visual field, modify them or
arrange them in their own way. Often
in the midst of the night the contact of
our body with its light clothing makes
itself felt all at once and reminds us that
we are lightly clothed. Then, if our
dream is at the moment taking us
through the street, it is in this simple
attire that we present ourselves to the
gaze of the passers-by, without their
appearing to be astonished by it. We are
ourselves astonished in the drearn, but that
never appears to astonish other people. I
cite this dream because it is frequent.
There is another which many of us must
have experienced. It consists of feeling
oneself flying through the air or floating
in space. Once having had this dream,
one may be quite sure that it will reappear
; and every time that it recurs the
dreamer reasons in this way :
I have
had before now in a dream the illusion
of flying or floating, but this time it is the
real thing. It has certainly proved to me
that we may free ourselves from the law
of gravitation." Now, if you wake
abruptly from this dream, you can analyse
it without difficulty, if you undertake it
immediately. You will see that you feel
very clearly that your feet are not touching
the earth. And, nevertheless, not
believing yourself asleep, you have lost
sight of the fact that you are lying down.
Therefore, since you are not lying down
and yet your feet do not feel the resistance
of the ground, the conclusion is
natural that you are floating in space.
Notice this also : when levitation accompanies
the flight, it is on one side only
that you make an effort to fly. And if
you woke at that moment you would find
that this side is the one on which you
are lying, and that the sensation of effort
for flight coincides with the real sensation
given you by the pressure of your body
against the bed. This sensation of pressure,
dissociated from its cause, becomes
a pure and simple sensation of effort
and, joined to the illusion of floating
in space, is sufficient to produce the
It is interesting to see that these sensations
of pressure, mounting, so to speak,
to the level of our visual field and taking
advantage of the luminous dust which fills
it, effect its transformation into forms and
colours. M. Max Simon tells of having
a strange and somewhat painful dream.
He dreamt that he was confronted by
two piles of golden coins, side by side
and of unequal height, which for some
reason or other he had to equalize. But
he could not accomplish it. This produced
a feeling of extreme anguish. This feeling,
growing moment by moment, finally
awakened him. He then perceived that
one of his legs was caught by the folds
of the bedclothes in such a way that his
two feet were on different levels and it
was impossible for him to bring them
together. From this the sensation of
inequality, making an irruption into the
visual field and there encountering (such,
at least, is the hypothesis which I propose)
one or more yellow spots, expressed itself
visually by the inequality of the two piles
of gold pieces. There is, then, immanentV
in the tactile sensations during sleep, a
tendency to visualize themselves and enter
in this form into the dream.
More important still than the tactile
sensations, properly speaking, are the sensations
which pertain to what is sometimes
called internal touch, deep-seated sensations
emanating from all points of the
organism and, more particularly, from
the viscera. One cannot imagine the
degree of sharpness, of acuity, which may
be obtained during sleep by these interior
sensations. They doubtless already exist
as well during waking. But we are then
distracted by practical action. We live
outside of ourselves. But sleep makes us
retire into ourselves. It happens frequently
that persons subject to laryngitis,
amygdalitis, etc., dream that they are
attacked by their affection and experience
a disagreeable tingling on the side of
their throat. When awakened, they feel
nothing more, and believe it an illusion ;
but a few hours later the illusion becomes
a reality. There are cited maladies and
grave accidents, attacks of epilepsy,
cardiac affections, etc., which have been
foreseen, and, as it were, prophesied in
dreams. We need not be astonished, then,
that philosophers like Schopenhauer have
seen in the dream a reverberation, in
the heart of consciousness, of perturbations
emanating from the sympathetic
nervous system ; and that psychologists
like Schemer have attributed to each of
our organs the power of provoking a welldetermined
kind of dream which represents
it, as it were, symbolically ; and
finally that physicians like Artigues have
written treatises on the semeiological value
of dreams, that is to say, the method of
making use of dreams for the diagnosis
of certain maladies. More recently, M.
Tissie, of whom we have just spoken, has
shown how specific dreams are connected
with affections of the digestive, respiratory,
and circulatory apparatus.
I will summarize what I have just been
saying. When we are sleeping naturally,
it is not necessary to believe, as has often
been supposed, that our senses are closed
to external sensations. Our senses continue
to be active. They act, it is true,
with less precision, but in compensation
they embrace a host of
impressions which pass unperceived when
we are awake for then we live in a world
of perceptions common to all men and
which reappear in sleep, when we live
only for ourselves. Thus our faculty of
sense perception, far from being narrowed
during sleep at all points, is on the
contrary extended, at least in certain
directions, in its field of operations. It
is true that it often loses in energy, in
tension, what it gains in extension. It
brings to us only confused impressions.
These impressions are the materials of our
dreams. But they are only the materials,
they do not suffice to produce them.
They do not suffice to produce thern,
because they are vague and indeterminate.
To speak only of those that play the
principal role, the changing colours and
forms, which deploy before us when our
eyes are closed, never have well-defined
contours. Here are black lines upon a
white background. They may represent
to the dreamer the page of a book, or the
fagade of a new house with dark blinds,
or any number of other things. Who will
choose ? What is the form that will
imprint its decision upon the indecision
of this material ? This form is our
memory .
Let us note first that the dream in
general creates nothing. Doubtless there
may be cited some examples of artistic,
literary, and scientific production in
dreams. I will recall only the well-known
anecdote told of Tartini, a violinist-composer
of the eighteenth century. As he
was trying to compose a sonata and the
music remained recalcitrant, he went to
sleep and he saw in a dream the devil,
who seized his violin and played with
master hand the desired sonata. Tartini
wrote it out from memory when he woke.
It has come to us under the name of
"The Devil's Sonata." But it is very
difficult, in regard to such old cases, to
distinguish between history and legend.
We should have auto-observations of certain
authenticity. Now I have not been
able to find anything more than that of the
contemporary English novelist, Stevenson.
In a very curious essay entitled
" A
Chapter on Dreams," this author, who is
endowed with a rare talent for analysis,
explains to us how the most original of
his stories have been composed, or at
least sketched in dreams. But read the
chapter carefully. You will see that at a
certain time in his life Stevenson had come
to be in an habitual psychical state where
it was very hard for him to say whether
he was sleeping or waking. That appears
to me to be the truth. When the mind
creates, I would say when it is capable
of giving the effort of organization and
synthesis which is necessary to triumph
over a certain difficulty, to solve a
problem, to produce a living work of the
imagination, we are not really asleep, or
at least that part of ourselves which
labours is not the same as that which
sleeps. We cannot say, then, that it is
a dream. In sleep, properly speaking, in
sleep which absorbs our whole personality,
it is memories and only memories which
weave the web of our dreams. But often
we do not recognize them. They may
be very old memories, forgotten during
waking hours, drawn from the most
obscure depths of our past ; they may be,
often are, memories of objects that we
have perceived distractedly, almost unconsciously,
while awake. Or they may be
fragments of broken memories which have
been picked up here and there and
mingled by chance, composing an incoherent
and unrecognizable whole. Before
these bizarre assemblages of images which
present no plausible significance, our intelligence
(which is far from surrendering
the reasoning faculty during sleep, as has
been asserted) seeks an explanation, tries
to fill the lacunae. It fills them by calling
up other memories which, presenting
themselves often with the same deformations
and the same incoherences as the
preceding, demand in their turn a new
explanation, and so on indefinitely. But
I do not insist upon this point for the
moment. It is sufficient for me to say, in
order to answer the question which I have
propounded, that the formative power of
the materials furnished to the dream1 by
the different senses, the power which converts
into precise, determined objects the
vague and indistinct sensations that the
dreamer receives from his eyes, his ears,
and the whole surface and interior of his
body, is the memory.
Memory ! In a waking state we have
indeed memories which appear and disappear,
occupying our mind in turn. But
they are always memories which are
closely connected with our present situation,
our present occupation, our present
action. I recall at this moment the book
of M. d'Hervey on dreams ; that is because
I am discussing the subject of
dreams, and this act orients in a certain
particular direction the activity of my
memory. The memories that we evoke
while waking, however distant they may
at first appear to be from the present
action, are always connected with it in
some way. What is the role of memory in
an animal? It is to recall to him, in any
circumstance, the advantageous or injurious
consequences which have formerly
arisen in analogous circumstances, in order
to instruct him as to what he ought to
do. In man memory is doubtless less the
slave of action, but still it sticks to it.
Our memories, at any given moment, form
a solid whole, a pyramid, so to speak,
whose point is inserted precisely into our
present action. But behind the memories
which are concerned in our occupations
and are revealed by means of it, there
are others, thousands of others, stored
below the scene illuminated by consciousness.
Yes, I believe indeed that all our
past life is there, preserved even to the
most infinitesimal details, and that we
forget nothing, and that all that we have
felt, perceived, thought, willed, from the
first awakening of our consciousness, survives
indestructibly. But the memories
which are preserved in these obscure
depths are there in the state of invisible
phantoms. They aspire, perhaps, to the
light, but they do not even try to rise
to it ; they know that it is impossible, and
that I, as a living and acting being, have
something else to do than to occupy myself
with them. But suppose that, at a given
moment, I become disinterested in the
present situation, in the present action
in short, in all which previously has fixed
and guided my memory ; suppose, in other
words, that I am asleep. Then these
memories, perceiving that I have taken
away the obstacle, have raised the trapdoor
which has kept them beneath the
floor of consciousness, arise from the
depths ; they rise, they move, they perform
in the night of unconsciousness a
great dance macabre. They rush together
to the door which has been left ajar.
They all want to get through. But they
cannot ; there are too many of them .
From the multitudes which are called,
which will be chosen? It is not hard to
say. Formerly, when I was awake, the
memories which forced their way were
those which could involve claims of relationship
with the present situation, with
what I saw and heard around me. Now
it is more vague images which occupy my
sight, more indecisive sounds which affect
my ear, more indistinct touches which are
distributed over the surface of my body,
but there are also the more numerous
sensations which arise from the deepest
parts of the organism. So, then, among
the phantom memories which aspire to fill
themselves with colour, with sonority, in
short with materiality, the only ones that
succeed are those which can assimilate
themselves with the colour-dust that we
perceive, the external and internal sensations
that we catch, etc., and which,
besides, respond to the affective tone of
our general sensibility. 1 When this union
is effected between the memory and the
sensation, we have a dream.
In a poetic page of the Enneades, the
philosopher Plotinus, interpreter and continuator
of Plato, explains to us how men
come to life. Nature, he says, sketches
the living bodies, but sketches them only.
Left to her own forces she can never
complete the task. On the other hand,
souls inhabit the world of Ideas. In-
1 Author's note (1913). This would be the place
where especially will intervene those "
desires" which Freud and certain other psychologists,
especially in America, have studied with
such penetration and ingenuity. (See in particular
the recent volumes of the Journal of Abnormal
Psychology, published in Boston by Dr. Morton
Prince.) When the above address was delivered
(1901) the work of Freud on dreams (Die Traumdeutung)
had been already published, but "psychoanalysis"
was far from having the development
that it has to day. (H. B.)
capable in themselves of acting, not even
thinking of action, they float beyond space
and beyond time. But, among all the
bodies, there are some which specially
respond by their form to the aspirations
of some particular souls ; and among these
souls there are those which recognize
themselves in some particular body. The
body, which does not come altogether
viable from the hand of nature, rises
toward the soul which might give it
complete life ; and the soul, looking upon
the body and believing that it perceives
its own image as in a mirror, and attracted,
fascinated by the image, lets itself fall.
It falls, and this fall is life. I may compare
to these detached souls the memories
plunged in the obscurity of the unconscious.
On the other hand, our nocturnal
sensations resemble these incomplete
bodies. The sensation is warm, coloured,
vibrant and almost living, but vague. The
memory is complete, but airy and lifeless.
The sensation wishes to find a form on
which to mould the vagueness of its conDREAMS
tours. The memory would obtain matter
to fill it, to ballast it, ,in short to realize it.
They are drawn toward each other ; and
the phantom memory, incarnated in the
sensation which brings to it flesh and
blood, becomes a being with a life of its
own, a dream.
The birth of a dream is then no mystery.
It resembles the birth of all our perceptions.
The mechanism of the dream is
the same, in general, as that of normal
perception. When we perceive a real
object, what we actually see the sensible
matter of our perception is very little in
comparison with what our memory adds
to it. When you read a book, when you
look through your newspaper, do you
suppose that all the printed letters really
come into your consciousness ? In that
case the whole day would hardly be long
enough for you to read a paper. The truth
is that you see in each word and even in
each member of a phrase only some letters
or even some characteristic marks, just
enough to permit you to divine the rest.
All of the rest, that you think you see,
you really give yourself as an hallucination.
There are numerous and decisive
experiments which leave no doubt on this
point. I will cite only those of Goldscheider
and Miiller. These experimenters
wrote or printed some formulas
in common use,
Positively no admission,"
Preface to the fourth edition," etc. But
they took care to write the words incorrectly,
changing and, above all, omitting
letters. These sentences were exposed in
a darkened room. The person who served
as the subject of the experiment was
placed before them, and did not know, of
course, what had been written. Then the
inscription was illuminated by the electric
light for a very short time, too short for
the observer to be able to perceive really
all the letters. They began by determining
experimentally the time necessary for
seeing one letter of the alphabet. It was
then easy to arrange it so that the observer
could not perceive more than eight or ten
letters, for example, of the thirty or forty
letters composing the formula. Usually,
however, he read the entire phrase without
difficulty. But that is not for us the
most instructive point of this experiment.
If the observer is asked what are the
letters that he is sure of having seen, these
may be, of course, the letters really
written, but there may be also absent
letters, either letters that we replaced by
others or that have simply been omitted.
Thus an observer will see quite distinctly
in full light a letter which does not exist,
if this letter, on account of the general
sense, ought to enter into the phrase. The
characters which have really affected the
eye have been utilized only to serve as an
indication to the unconscious memory of
the observer. This memory, discovering
the appropriate remembrance, i.e. finding
the formula to which these characters
give a start toward realization, projects the
remembrance externally in an hallucinatory
form. It is this remembrance, and
not the words themselves, that the observer
has seen. It is thus demonstrated that
rapid reading is in great part a work of
divination, but not of abstract divination.
It is an externalization of memories which
take advantage, to a certain extent, of the
partial realization that they find here and
there in order to completely realize
themselves .
Thus, in the waking state and in the
knowledge that we get of the real objects
which surround us, an operation is continually
going on which is of quite the
same nature as that of the dream. We
perceive merely a sketch of the object.
This sketch appeals to the complete
memory, and this complete memory, which
by itself was either unconscious or simply
in the thought state, profits by the occasion
to come out. It is this kind of
hallucination, inserted and fitted into a real
frame, that we perceive. It is a shorter
process : it is very much quicker done
than to see the thing itself. Besides, there
are many interesting observations to be
made upon the conduct and attitude of the
memory images during this operation. It
is not necessary to suppose that they are
in our memory in a state of inert impressions.
They are like the steam in a
boiler, under more or less tension.
At the moment when the perceived
sketch calls them forth, it is as if they
were then grouped in families according
to their relationship and resemblances.
There are experiments of Miinsterberg,
earlier than those of Goldscheider and
Miiller, which appear to me to confirm
this hypothesis, although they were made
for a very different purpose. Miinsterberg
wrote the words correctly ; they
were, besides, not common phrases ; they
were isolated words taken by chance.
Here again the word was exposed during
the time too short for it to be entirely
perceived. Now, while the observer was
looking at the written word, some one
spoke in his ear another word of a very
different significance. This is what
happened : the observer declared that he
had seen a word which was not the written
word, but which resembled it in its
general form, and which besides recalled,
by its meaning, the word which was spoken
in his ear. For example, the word written
was "
" and the word spoken was
railroad." The observer read "
The written word was "
" and the
spoken word was the German " Verzweiflung
(despair). The observer read
Trost," which signifies
It is as if the word "
railroad," pronounced
in the ear, wakened, without our knowing
it, hopes of conscious realization in a
crowd of memories which have some relationship
with the idea of
(car, rail, trip, etc.). But this is only a
hope, and the memory which succeeds in
coming into consciousness is that which
the actually present sensation had already
begun to realize.
Such is the mechanism of true perception,
and such is that of the dream. In
both cases there are, on one hand, real
impressions made upon the organs of
sense, and upon the other memories which
encase themselves in the impression and
profit by its vitality to return again to life.
But, then, what is the essential difference
between perceiving and dreaming?
What is sleep? I do not ask, of course,
how sleep can be explained physiologically.
That is a special question,
and, besides, is far from being settled. I
ask what is sleep psychologically ; for our
mind continues to exercise itself when we
are asleep, and it exercises itself as we
have just seen on elements analogous to
those of waking, on sensations and
memories ; and also in an analogous
manner combines them. Nevertheless we
have on the one hand normal perception,
and on the other the dream. What is the
difference, I repeat? What are the
psychological characteristics of the sleeping
We must distrust theories. There are
a great many of them on this point.
Some say that sleep consists in isolating
oneself from the external world, in closing
the senses to outside things. But we have
shown that our senses continue to act
during sleep, that they provide us with
the outline, or at least the point of
departure, of most of our dreams. Some
say :
* To go to sleep is to stop the action
of the superior faculties of the mind," and
they talk of a kind of momentary
paralysis of the higher centres. I do not
think that this is much more exact. In
a dream we become no doubt indifferent
to logic, but not incapable of logic. There
are dreams when we reason with correctness
and even with subtlety. I might
almost say, at the risk of seeming paradoxical,
that the mistake of the dreamer
is often in reasoning too much. He would
avoid the absurdity if he would remain a
simple spectator of the procession of
images which compose his dream. But
when he strongly desires to explain it, his
explanation, intended to bind together incoherent
images, can be nothing more than
a bizarre reasoning which verges upon
absurdity. I recognize, indeed, that our
superior intellectual faculties are relaxed
in sleep, that generally the logic of
a dreamer is feeble enough and often reDREAMS
sembles a mere parody of logic. But one
might say as much of all of our faculties
during sleep. It is then not by the abolition
of reasoning, any more than by the
closing of the senses, that we characterize
dreaming .
Something else is essential. We need
something more than theories. We need
an intimate contact with the facts. One
must make the decisive experiment upon
oneself. It is necessary that on coming
out of a dream, since we cannot analyse
ourselves in the dream itself, we should
watch the transition from sleeping to
waking, follow upon the transition as
closely as possible, and try to express by
words what we experience in this passage.
This is very difficult, but may be accomplished
by forcing the attention. Permit,
then, the writer to take an example from
his own personal experience, and to tell
of a recent dream as well as what was
accomplished on coming out of the dream.
Now the dreamer dreamed that he was
speaking before an assembly, that he was
making a political speech before a political
assembly. Then in the midst of the auditorium
a murmur rose. The murmur
augmented; it became a muttering.
Then it became a roar, a frightful tumult,
and finally there resounded from all parts
timed to a uniform rhythm the cries,
" Out ! Out !
" At that moment he
wakened. A dog was baying in a neighbouring
garden, and with each one of his
" Wow-wows " one of the cries of
" Out !
Out !
" seemed to be identical. Well, here
was the infinitesimal moment which it is
necessary to seize.
The waking ego, just reappearing,
should turn to the dreaming ego, which
is still there, and, during some instants
at least, hold it without letting it go.
have caught you at it ! You thought it
was a crowd shouting and it was a dog
barking. Now, I shall not let go of you
until you tell me just what you were
doing !
" To which the dreaming ego
would answer,
I was doing nothing ; and
this is just where you and I differ from
one another. You imagine that in order
to hear a dog barking, and to know that
it is a dog that barks, you have nothing
to do. That is a great mistake. You
accomplish, without suspecting it, a considerable
effort. You take your entire
memory, all your accumulated experience,
and you bring this formidable mass of
memories to converge upon a single point,
in such a way as to insert exactly in
the sounds you heard that one of your
memories which is the most capable of
being adapted to it. Nay, you must obtain
a perfect adherence, for between the
memory that you evoke and the crude
sensation that you perceive there must not
be the least discrepancy ; otherwise you
would be just dreaming. This adjustment
you can only obtain by an effort of the
memory and an effort of the perception,
just as the tailor who is trying on a new
coat pulls together the pieces of cloth that
he adjusts to the shape of your body in
order to pin them. You exert, then, continually,
every moment of the day, an
enormous effort. Your life in a waking
state is a life of labour, even when you
think you are doing nothing, for at every
minute you have to choose and every
minute exclude. You choose among your
sensations, since you reject from your
consciousness a thousand subjective sensations
which come back in the night when
you sleep. You choose, and with extreme
precision and delicacy, among your
memories, since you reject all that do not
exactly suit your present state. This
choice which you continually accomplish,
this adaptation, ceaselessly renewed, is the
first and most essential condition of what
is called common sense. But all this
keeps you in a state of uninterrupted
tension. You do not feel it at the
moment, any more than you feel the
pressure of the atmosphere, but it fatigues
you in the long run. Common sense is
very fatiguing.
So, I repeat, I differ from you precisely
in that I do nothing. The effort
that you give without cessation I simply
abstain from giving. In place of attaching
myself to life, I detach myself from
it. Everything has become indifferent to
me. I have become disinterested in
everything. To sleep is to become disinterested.
One sleeps to the exact extent
to which he becomes disinterested. A
mother who sleeps by the side of her child
will not stir at the sound of thunder, but
the sigh of the child will wake her. Does
she really sleep in regard to her child?
We do not sleep in regard to what continues
to interest us.
' You ask me what it is that I do when
I dream? I will tell you what you do
when you are awake. You take me, the
me of dreams, me the totality of your past,
and you force me, by making me smaller
and smaller, to fit into the little circle
that you trace around your present action.
That is what it is to be awake. That is
what it is to live the normal psychical life.
It is to battle. It is to will. As for the
dream, have you really any need that I
should explain it? It is the state into
which you naturally fall when you let
yourself go, when you no longer have the
power to concentrate yourself upon a
single point, when you have ceased to will.
What needs much more to be explained is
the marvellous mechanism by which at
any moment your will obtains instantly,
and almost unconsciously, the concentration
of all that you have within you upon
one and the same point, the point that
interests you. But to explain this is the
task of normal psychology, of the psychology
of waking, for willing and waking
are one and the same thing."
This is what the dreaming ego would
say. And it would tell us a great many
other things still if we could let it talk
freely. But let us sum up briefly the
essential difference which separates a
dream from the waking state. In the
dream the same faculties are exercised as
during waking, but they are in a state of
tension in the one case, and of relaxation
in the other. The dream consists of the
entire mental life minus the tension, the
effort, and the bodily movement. We perceive
still, we remember still, we reason
still. All this can abound in the dream ;
for abundance, in the domain of the mind,
does not mean effort. What requires an
effort is the precision of adjustment. To
connect the sound of a barking dog with
the memory of a crowd that murmurs and
shouts requires no effort. But in order
that this sound should be perceived as the
barking of a dog, a positive effort must
be made. It is this force that the dreamer
lacks. It is by that, and by that alone,
that he is distinguished from the waking
From this essential difference can be
drawn a great many others. We can
come to understand the chief characteristics
of the dream. But I can only outline
the scheme of this study. It depends
especially upon three points, which are :
the incoherence of dreams, the abolition
of the sense of duration that often appears
to be manifested in dreams, and, finally,
the order in which the memories present
themselves to the dreamer, contending for
the sensations present where they are to
be embodied.
The incoherence of the dream seems to
me easy enough to explain. As it is
characteristic of the dream not to demand
a complete adjustment between the
memory image and the sensation, but, on
the contrary, to allow some play between
them, very different memories can suit the
same sensation. For example, there may
be in the field of vision a green spot with
white points. This might be a lawn
spangled with white flowers. It might be
a billiard-table with its balls. It might
be a host of other things besides. These
different memory images, all capable of
utilizing the same sensation, chase after
it. Sometimes they attain it, one after
the other. And so the lawn becomes a
billiard-table, and we watch these extraordinary
transformations. Often it is at
the same time, and altogether that these
memory images join the sensation, and
then the lawn will be a billiard-table.
From this come those absurd dreams
where an object remains as it is and at
the same time becomes something else.
As I have just said, the mind, confronted
by these absurd visions, seeks an explanation
and often thereby aggravates the
incoherence .
As for the abolition of the sense of time
in many of our dreams, that is another
effect of the same cause. In a few
seconds a dream can present to us a
series of events which will occupy, in the
waking state, entire days. You know
the example cited by M. Maury : it has
become classic, and although it has been
contested of late, I regard it as probable,
because of the great number of analogous
observations that I found scattered
through the literature of dreams. But
this precipitation of the images is not at
all mysterious. When we are awake we
live a life in common with our fellows.
Our attention to this external and social
life is the great regulator of the succession
of our internal states. It is like
the balance wheel of a watch, which
moderates and cuts into regular sections
the undivided, almost instantaneous tension
of the spring. It is this balance wheel
which is lacking in the dream. Acceleration
is no more than abundance a sign of
force in the domain of the mind. It is,
I repeat, the precision of adjustment that
requires effort, and this is exactly what the
dreamer lacks. He is no longer capable
of that attention to life which is necessary
in order that the inner may be regulated
by the outer, and that the internal duration
fit exactly into the general duration
of things.
It remains now to explain how the
peculiar relaxation of the mind in the
dream accounts for the preference given
by the dreamer to one memory image
rather than others, equally capable of
being inserted into the actual sensations.
There is a current prejudice to the effect
that we dream mostly about the events
which have especially preoccupied us
during the day. This is sometimes true.
But when the psychological life of the
waking state thus prolongs itself into
sleep, it is because we hardly sleep. A
sleep filled with dreams of this kind would
be a sleep from which we come out quite
fatigued. In normal sleep our dreams
concern themselves rather, other things
being equal, with the thoughts which we
have passed through rapidly or upon
objects which we have perceived almost
without paying attention to them. If we
dream about events of the same day, it is
the most insignificant facts, and not the
most important, which have the best
chance of reappearing.
I agree entirely on this point with the
observation of W. Robert, of Delage, and
of Freud. I was in the street, I was waiting
for a street -car, I stood beside the
track and did not run the least risk. But
if, at the moment when the street -car
passed, the idea of possible danger had
crossed my mind or even if my body had
instinctively recoiled without my having
been conscious of feeling any fear, I
might dream that night that the car had
run over my body. I watch at the bedside
of an invalid whose condition is
hopeless. If at any moment, perhaps
without even being aware of it, I had
hoped against hope, I might dream that
the invalid was cured. I should dream
of the cure, in any case, more probably
than that I should dream of the disease.
In short, the events which reappear by
preference in the dream are those of
which we have thought most distractedly.
What is there astonishing about that ?
The ego of the dream is an ego that is
relaxed ; the memories which it gathers
most readily are the memories of relaxation
and distraction, those which do not
bear the mark of effort.
It is true that in very profound slumber
the law that regulates the reappearance of
memories may be very different. We
know almost nothing of this profound
slumber. The dreams which fill it are,
as a general rule, the dreams which we
forget. Sometimes, nevertheless, we
recover something of them. And then
it is a very peculiar feeling, strange,
indescribable, that we experience. It
seems to us that we have returned from
afar in space and afar in time. These
are doubtless very old scenes, scenes of
youth or infancy that we live over then
in all their details, with a mood which'
colours them with that fresh sensation of
infancy and youth that we seek vainly to
revive when awake.
It is upon this profound slumber that
psychology ought to direct its efforts, not
only to study the mechanism of unconscious
memory, but to examine the more
mysterious phenomena which are raised by
psychical research." I do not dare
express an opinion upon phenomena of
this class, but I cannot avoid attaching
some importance to the observations
gathered by so rigorous a method and
with such indefatigable zeal by the Society
for Psychical Research. If telepathy
influences our dreams, it is quite likely
that in this profound slumber it would
have the greatest chance to manifest itself.
But I repeat, I cannot express an opinion
upon this point. I have gone forward
with you as far as I can ; I stop upon the
threshold of the mystery. To explore the
most secret depths of the unconscious, to
labour in what I have just called the
subsoil of consciousness, that will be the
principal task of psychology in the century
which is opening. I do not doubt that
wonderful discoveries await it there, as
important perhaps as have been in the
preceding centuries the discoveries of the
physical and natural sciences. That at
least is the promise which I make for it,
that is the wish that in closing I have
for it.
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