IN the astronomical sciences, the future may often be accurately prophesied; for instance, the movements of the stars, the return of comets after their vast journeys through space, the coming of eclipses; or in chemistry, the periodic law by which the existence of many new elements was predicted. Contrary to the popular belief, however, it is extremely doubtful if dreams can in any way foretell future events. Freud states as follows concerning this point:
"The belief in prophetic dreams numbers many adherents, because it can be supported by the fact that some things really do happen in the future as they were previously foretold by the wish of the dream.
But in this there is little to be wondered at, as many far-reaching deviations may be regularly demonstrated between a dream and the fulfillment, which the credulity of the dreamer prefers to neglect."
For instance, many people have dreamed of some burning ambition being realized, and some time later this ambition is fulfilled in reality. The wish has thus been fulfilled both in the dream and in actual life. From this we must not conclude that the dream possesses any prophetic function, or that it can in any way forecast the future, but one must interpret both the dream and its later fulfillment as being merely the realized wish. The wish produced the dream, and in the ambition of every-day life to fulfill this wish there was a constant striving, and finally it was actually fulfilled. The dream took place because a dream never concerns itself with trifles, and consequently the fulfillment of the wish had a strong personal motive.
Sometimes, also, we dream of a certain person whom we have never met before and several days later or even the next day, lo! to our surprise, we meet the individual. The dream is not prophetic. What occurs is this. The strange individual dreamed of is usually a condensation, like a composite photograph, and on meeting the actual stranger, we unconsciously take one element of this composite dream figure and apply it to the stranger. Thence arises the illusion, for it is only an illusion, of having met a total stranger, who had been previously seen only in a dream. In fact, if such accounts as these be carefully analyzed, it will be found that the person dreamed of never actually resembled the person later met.
During sleep, also, the brain admits and is influenced by impressions received by the various organs of the body, impressions sometimes of so slight a character that they are not felt in the waking state. In morbid conditions of certain organs, therefore, it is possible that in their early stages these conditions, which are not noticed at all by the waking consciousness, may give rise to various types of dreams, particularly dreams of anxiety. Medical writers have long admitted this significance of the dream thus protecting sleep and drawing the attention of the sleeper to morbid disturbances of various organs. Freud, who seems to have thoroughly reviewed the literature on the subject, states as follows concerning these types of dreams:
"Serious disturbances of the internal organs apparently act as inciters of dreams in a considerable number of persons. Attention is quite generally called to the frequency of anxiety dreams in the disease of the heart and lungs. . . . Tissie even assumes that the diseased organs impress upon the dream content their characteristic features. The dreams of persons suffering from disease of the heart are generally very brief and terminate in a terrified awakening; the situation of death under terrible circumstances almost always plays a part in their content. Those suffering from disease of the lungs dream of suffocation, of being crowded, and of flight; and a great many of them are subject to the well-known nightmare which, by the way, Boerner has succeeded in producing experimentally by lying on the face and closing up the openings of the respiratory organs. In digestive disturbances the dream contains ideas from the sphere of enjoyment and disgust. Finally, the influence of sexual excitement on the dream content is perceptible enough in every one's experience, and lends the strongest support to the entire theory of the dream excitation through organ sensation." 1
Of course attempts at such diagnostic performance from a dream are full of disappointment and fraught with the greatest danger.
1 "The Interpretation of Dreams," pp. 87-88.
Sometimes a temporary physical disturbance may act as the inciter of a dream, but becomes so disguised by the censor for the purpose of protecting sleep and thus preventing awakening, that the disturbance itself remains unknown to the sleeper until he awakens. A pretty example is the following dream of a young married woman. She dreamed that she was feeling ill and consulted a woman physician, who said to her: "You are worrying about something, a man by the name of X." The analysis of this brief dream is interesting. On awakening, she found that the left eye was swollen and inflamed apparently from some insect bite during the night. The name of the eye specialist whom both she and her husband had consulted in the past, and in whom she had great confidence, was Doctor X., the name being identical with the one in the dream. Thus the pain and discomfort of the swollen eye sent a disguised substitute in the form of a distorted and unrecognizable dream into the consciousness of the sleeper, so as not to awaken her. The dream was really a desire or wish on the part of the censor to protect the sleeper, and this wish was fulfilled by translating a bodily discomfort into a meaningless dream. The dream therefore did not disturb sleep; in reality it protected it. The discrepancy concerning the absence of pain or discomfort in the dream is readily explained when we remember that the emotion of discomfort belonged to the latent content and not to the manifest content of the dream.
A dream may often solve situations, important crises, and mental conflicts which may baffle one in the waking life. The situation and the conflict are cleared up in the dream by a kind of unconscious incubation of wishes, and only in this sense the dream may be said to be prophetic.
An example of this is the following. A young woman, after her betrothal, began to be troubled by worries, perplexities, and mental conflicts concerning the decisive step she had taken, wondered if she really loved her betrothed, and whether or not it might be well to break the engagement. One night she had the following dream:
Dream. She seemed to be in a large house, partly clear and partly dimly recognized; her fiance was there, only in the dream he seemed to be her husband. Her mother-in-law was also present, knitting, and paid not the slightest attention to her. Then it seemed as though she came down-stairs with her hair disarranged and wearing a light dressing-gown.
Analysis. This is a pretty example of a prophetic wish dream, which solved the situation which was baffling her and causing the perplexity in her waking life. In the dream, her mental conflict is cleared up, the problem has been solved for her by her secondary consciousness during sleep. In the dream, she felt thoroughly at home in the house, although it did appear strange; no one noticed her, and yet her feelings were not hurt or ruffled; and she was able to go about clothed in a dressing-gown without the slightest embarrassment. Now this situation could only have taken place where there was great intimacy, and such intimacy could only have been brought about if she were a member of her fiance's family, that is, actually married to him. The dream is a wish dream of family intimacy. Therefore, in spite of her doubts, she really wanted to marry this particular person, to become a member of his family. Her problems are solved in the dream; her real, unconscious wish has neutralized her perplexity and is fulfilled. But since the fulfillment can only be brought about in the future, the dream is prophetic only in the sense that her wish for a happy marriage is projected into the future and the perplexing situation solved, in the form of a dream.
I cannot leave the subject of prophetic dreams without another example of practical medical interest. A five-year-old boy had the following dream:
Dream. A number of dogs came to the door of his house, and one little black dog actually knocked at the door. As he was coming up the steps, he grew larger and larger and was changed into a large and fierce white dog. Then he came up to the little boy and started to eat him, a procedure which was not objected to, because the little boy felt that he would not remain in the dog's mouth very long.
This is a typical anxiety dream which often gives rise to nightmares in children. From this dream a temporary anxiety hysteria was predicted in the child, a nervous disturbance which actually took place a short time later. The boy became dissatisfied because he did not care to live in the country; he wanted the excitement of the city. His uncle, who was a physician, lived in the city, and the boy had visited him shortly before the dream took place. Therefore a simulated illness which later took place, in which he claimed that he had an earache, pretended to cough, etc., were all for the purpose of again visiting his uncle. The symptoms completely dis-appeared within a few days, on advising the parents to use purposeful neglect of the child's complaints.
The point which I wish to emphasize by this brief recital is this: that the morbid anxiety produced both the dream and hysteria; both had the same mechanism, and from the dream it was possible to predict with a fair amount of certainty the onset of psychoneurotic symptoms. In fact, these symptoms were actually predicted at the time of the dream, and several days before the symptoms themselves had made their actual appearance.
I am very skeptical concerning prophetic dreams which actually foretell the future.
From a strictly scientific standpoint, such an interpretation would be very superficial in that it did not take into full cognizance all the complex factors which may produce a dream. For instance, it must be proven, in the analysis of such a dream, that the event "foretold" in the future never existed as a wish in either the conscious or unconscious thought of the dreamer. In my experience, I have yet failed to find such a genuine prophetic dream.