The fact that we are often ourselves guilty of crime in dreams without feeling remorse, and that we calmly look upon others performing evil, has prompted some writers, as Schopenhauer, and Scholz, to state that these dream attitudes bespeak the dreamer's true nature. According to this view, Dionysius, the Roman emperor who had his subject, Marsyas, decapitated because the latter had dreamt of cutting the emperor's throat, convinced that assassination must have been the subject's waking thoughts, was right. It is possible that the thought had been in the mind of Marsyas, yet we all occasionally think things which we immediately regret, or dismiss as beneath us, or in any event would not carry out Be this as it may, many other students of dream life wish to be held unaccountable for their transgressions in dreams, inasmuch as dreams are errant, per se, and in no way truly indicative of the dreamer's real character. Indeed, St. Augustine thanked God that He did not hold him responsible for his dreams. The fact remains, however, that whether or not we consider ourselves culpable, we always suffer a certain amount of shame on awaking from an "unlawful" dream, in spite of the popular saying, "I wouldn't dream of such a thing," implying that for what happens in the world of dreams one must be held blameless.
As to one's responsibility for the morals of dream life, we must answer yes and no. If we consider that dreams of murder, for example, are occasioned by physical sensations, the dream is simply an explanation of these sensations. As Ellis points out, murder is for all persons the most serious of crimes, and if in the dream we strive to escape without first manifesting sorrow we act as we doubtless would were we guilty of such a crime in actual life. Self-preservation is the first law of nature, and when one is beset and endeavouring to save himself he has no time for the finer emotions. For dreams instigated by physical or external causes, we cannot be held accountable.
If we experience no regret for the criminal acts of dreams, this is also explainable by the fact that dreams are sometimes symbolic. Dreams of murder, for example, do not always mean actual murder, and the sleeping consciousness recognizes this point. What the symbolism is, in any given case, is a matter that can be ascertained only by analysis. In passing, it may be said that we react in the dream to what is recognized as concerning ourselves pretty much the same as in waking life.
There are other dreams which approach more closely the immoral, namely sexual dreams. Sometimes these proceed from organic excitation during sleep, in which case the dreamer is hardly responsible. At other times the individual is not faultless. One who spends much of his time in reveries where wanton thoughts hold sway is likely to find his dreams more boldly realistic. The day-dreamer of lust is, therefore, responsible to a great extent for the nature of the dreams, and unless the mind is clean when awake one may expect it to be filthy when asleep.
Regarding sexual dreams, their occasional occurrence is not a matter for concern. Some charlatans who prey upon the public claim that these dreams, even if infrequent, weaken body and mind; this is erroneous. Frequent sex dreams may indicate many things, as excitations due to local abnormalities, or strong sex instincts. The idea prevalent among certain classes that these dreams indicate the need of actually satisfying sex desires is likewise erroneous. Unfortunately, too many people, often to their sorrow, still cling to that antiquated and false notion that it is necessary, for some unaccountable reason, for youths or unmarried adults to "sow wild oats." There is no more necessity for this on the part of the man than on the part of a woman. While the writer does not wish to moralize, it would be very easy for him to point out very many instances of blindness, certain incurable paralyses and insanities, and innumerable other troubles, that have resulted solely from "sowing wild oats." If righteousness will not suffice to restrain the impetuous, if the individual will not recognize that his plea that "sowing" is necessary is merely an excuse and not a fact, then fear of the consequences surely should deter him. Practically all those persons who barter their womanhood are diseased; further, it is only rarely that their diseases are apparent. Even though an individual's sex instincts should be strong, these can be removed or sidetracked, their energies being used up in suitable ways. Should the individual feel that he is unable to do this for himself, a competent medical psychologist will direct him.
If immoral dreams - in which we include all dreams which deviate from the sense of righteousness which is present when awake - are to be considered indicative of one's inner character, then every one is immoral at times, for these dreams occur to all persons irrespective of their conduct in waking life. Unless habitual, they are far from being indices of the true character. Such dreams usually tell of what the dreamer knows, for one cannot dream of what he does not know, even though the knowledge is theoretical. As Kant has remarked, they give us an idea of what we might have been were it not for education.
Before leaving this subject, it may be well to mention that each of us is something more than the person we profess to be or seem to be, even to ourselves. We have one name, and apparently one personality; but we are really a number of persons; there are many sides to our natures. Usually certain ideas, which we deem the best, are permitted to control us because we want them to control us. At times, however, ideas which are opposed to our better selves strive to rule us, to dominate our acts. Often there is a warfare between the various opposing ideas, so that now one set assumes control for a longer or shorter time, now another set. Literature has afforded us many illustrations of this fact. Probably the most famous is Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Holmes, in The Autocrat of the Breakfast Table, gives us a picture of the four Johns; one was the John others knew; one was the John John himself knew; one was the John John wished to be; and the last was the true John. Medical science has afforded many examples of double and multiple personalities alternating in the same individual. Most of the cases which come to our notice in literature are pathological, but they illustrate possibilities for all of us. A little self-examination will reveal that many of us are one person at home and another abroad; we are often extremely courteous when the true self, within, is the exact opposite. Sometimes, too, we learn of respected members of society who were secretly thiefs; temperance cranks who were secret drinkers; moral reformers who were secretly vicious. Though the world knows us as a certain person, we, as a rule, know just what we really are. It happens, however, that the other side of one's nature is hidden from the individual himself, and is revealed only by the individual's actions. Thus, a man may make an impassioned defence of his guilty friend, even a stranger, because he, too, feels, deep within himself, that he might some day need a defender for the same deed; possibly he has once been guilty of the same offence; he is really defending himself, though he seems to be solely interested in another. Some vehement denunciators of alcohol are prohibitionists because they are fighting the temptation to drink. Some clergymen and some pillars of the church seek the church as a protection from inner weaknesses. Many who lavish affection on homeless cats and other animals are merely lavishing the love they, unconsciously, would like to give children. Many excessively modest' persons, many who delight in gossip, particularly the immoral gossip, who attack the reputation of upright people are merely projecting their own buried sexual ideas.