Data-Mining Our Dreams

Posted on October 26, 2013

ARE dreams really meaningful?

Virtually every culture throughout history has developed methods to interpret dreams — most notably, in the modern era, the psychoanalytic approach. But today many people assume that this quest has failed. Science, they say, has proved that dreams are just random signals sent from primitive regions of the brain, signifying nothing, and that dream interpretation is a kind of superstition.

The earliest work in the quantitative study of dream content goes back more than a century, to a Wellesley psychologist named Mary Whiton Calkins. Her 1893 article “Statistics of Dreams” described one of the first scientific experiments devoted to dream content.

Calkins and a colleague kept journals of their dreams, recording each one upon awakening. She collected a total of 375 dream reports, each of which she analyzed and “coded” for several categories of content and then tabulated to determine which elements appeared most often. She found, for example, that the content of these dreams was routinely characterized by realistic settings, lots of familiar characters (“the dream world is well peopled”), mostly negative emotions, a surprisingly high proportion of rational thought and a “very striking” preponderance of visual imagery compared with other sense perceptions.

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Source material from New York Times

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