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The Social Roots of the Dream

Montague Ullman


The American Journal of Psychoanalysis, Vol. 20, No. 2, 1960

Montague Ullman, M.D., member of the faculty, Comprehensive Course in Psychoanalysis, New York Medical College; assistant clinical professor of psychiatry, New York University College of Medicine; charter fellow, The Academy of Psychoanalysis; fellow, American Psychiatric Association; Diplomate of the American Board of Neurology and Psychiatry. This paper was read at the mid-winter meeting of The Academy of Psychoanalysis, December 6, 1959, New York.


The relationship between dream and social myth has been of interest to the social scientist and the psychoanalyst. As such, it has relevance to the therapeutic endeavor. I shall begin with some ideas about dreaming. Next I would like to consider the unique position of social myth as an area of obvious concern to both the social scientist and the student of the dream. Finally, I hope to show the pertinence of some of these considerations to the problems of therapy.


There are four points I wish to make in connection with dreaming:

1. The function of the dream can be understood in the light of the fact that it occurs during states of partial cortical arousal, unstable states that must be resolved by awakening or returning to deep sleep. By a sequential series of images, the individual forms a statement that represents a total assessment of the currently disturbing life situation, and the defensive mechanisms by which it can be handled. This assessment determines whether full arousal has to occur or not. It is in this sense that there is a connection between dream consciousness and the vigilance needs of the organism.[1]

2. The elements in the dream are symbolic, not in the sense of disguising impulses, but because they represent the best approximation in personal terms that the individual can construct for himself of the real forces operating upon him and impinging upon the area of vulnerability with which the dream is concerned and which are not objectively known to the individual.[2]

3. The dream is bi-directional in terms of its ultimate behavioral effect. It can participate in the process of returning to a deeper level of sleep, or the process of further arousal.[3]

4. In the dream, the significant relations pertinent to a given conflictual area are experienced synchronically - that is, all at once in a spatial arrangement. This is in contrast with the diachronic arrangement of waking thought processes. The arrangements in the dream are actually logical and mathematical insofar as they bring together events on the basis of similarity and difference independent of spatial and temporal categories, again in contrast with the spatio-temporal relations of interconnectedness characteristic of waking thought. In each state, sleeping or waking, we are dealing with the same unitary entity: the psyche or mental apparatus. The different relations expressed and the form in which they appear are simply reflections of the different direction the human organism is facing and, hence, the different environment to which it is exposed. The human being is looking forward while awake and backward when asleep. To push the analogy a bit, he is making half-rights and half-lefts in various pathological states. Here our analogy ends, as we are using the concept of altered direction to include a reshuffling of the internal milieu, rather than a series of bodily adjustments.

There are certain points deserving emphasis in connection with the ensuing discussion of myth. The human organism may be considered as a system, in the sense defined by Radcliffe-Brown,[4] as a constellation of units in the form of events or processes forming an integrated whole based on the existing internal relations of the parts. The relations in the case of the sleeping individual pertain to three sets of variables:

1. The first is behavior. Behavior in connection with the sleeping individual is divorced from will and intent. It is something that, in effect, happens to the individual. I have reference to the involuntary movement passively experienced by the sleeper, such as the movement toward or away from the deeper levels of sleep.

2. The affective traces reactivated when the level of consciousness is such as to allow for some self-awareness. This level is known to re-occur at intervals throughout the sleeping phase of the sleep-waking cycle.

3. The metaphorical potential of the individual - the ability to express in concrete and metaphorical terms both aspects of the situation in which he finds himself - the involuntary behavioral aspect and the associated residual and unresolved emotional aspect. The activity or behavior is primary, the metaphorical process is secondary, in the sense that it does not initiate the activity. Once it comes into being, however, it may influence the subsequent course of the activity, depending on whether and to what extent the dramatic and affective overtones of the metaphor are congruent with the direction of the movement in the sleep-waking cycle.

Here I wish to underscore the central role of metaphor in dreaming. This has been done very brilliantly and provocatively by Tauber and Green in their recent book.[5] Metaphor, of course, is a frequent component of everyday discourse. As such, it renders speech more vivid and more expressive of the meaning to be conveyed. In the dream state the metaphor appears to function in a similar, but also somewhat different way. It is similar in regard to the concern with the qualities of dramatic presentation and vividness. It is different insofar as it is not concerned with the transfer of a meaningful statement from one person to another. In the dream state it is an integral part of a process of self-confrontation concerned not with the intelligibility and referential meaning of a given aspect of experience, but rather with the felt reactions associated with that experience. This technique does not solve the real problems at issue, but it does succeed in reducing an intangible and unknown set of operating causes to familiar and manipulable quantities, and in that way creates the possibility of resolving what, in the absence of more accurate knowledge, would be irreconcilable events. A personal myth is created which appears analogous to the mythopoetic process as it operates culturally.


If we attempt to define what is meant by myth we come upon a situation aptly described by Stith Thompson:

"No three blind men ever investigated the essential nature of the elephant with more surprising results than those who have sought the single answer which would unlock the mystery of the origin and nature of tales and myths."[6]

I wish to focus on three aspects of the mythopoetic process as these are emphasized by various writers on the subject.

First, the organizational function of the myth. Here I quote from Mark Schorer:

"Myths are the instruments by which we continually struggle to make our experience intelligible to ourselves. A myth is a large, controlling image that gives philosophical meaning to the facts of ordinary life; that is, has organized value for experience. A mythology is a more or less articulated body of such images, a pantheon. It is the chaos of experience that creates them and they are intended to rectify it."[7]

Second, the externalizing tendency of myths. Bruner writes:

"What is the significance of this externalizing tendency? It is twofold, I would urge. It provides, in the first instance, a basis for communion between men. What is 'out there' can be named and shared in a manner beyond the sharing of subjectivity. By the subjectifying of our worlds through externalization, we are able, paradoxically enough, to share communally in the nature of internal experience . . . . But perhaps more important still, externalization makes possible the containment of terror and impulse by the decorum of art and symbolism . . .."[8]

Third, the relation of myth to rational thought. When there are so many sides to the question, as there are in this instance, one is apt to end up with, if not the most valid line of inquiry, at least the one most congenial to one's original conceptual scheme. David Bidney's point of view appears to me to be both clear and reasonable:

"Myth originates wherever thought and imagination are employed uncritically or deliberately used to promote social delusion. All mental functions may contribute to the formation of myth, and there is historically an essential similarity in the psychological functions involved in its emergence and diffusion. All that changes is the type of myth which prevails at different times and in different cultures. In prescientific cultures animistic myths and magical rites tend to prevail. In our secular, scientific cultures we have naturalistic social myths reflecting ethnocentrism and deliberate falsification in the interests of propaganda. The social and political myths of our time, the effective social faith which guides national policy, are often the product of the divorce of scientific thought from the social values and beliefs which motivate our conduct."[9]

According to Bidney, there have been two basic approaches to the interpretation of myth, the literal and the symbolic. Of the former, he writes:

"Evolutionary, positivistic ethnologists, such as Tylor, have regarded myth negatively as a mode of explanatory thought destined to be superceded by scientific thought. Functionalistic ethnologists, such as Malinowski, have evaluated myth in terms of its pragmatic function in resolving critical problems which affect the welfare and destiny of the individual and his society. Myths are then said to validate institutions and rites. They are rationalizations introduced to justify established social facts. Pragmatic philosophers and sociologists, such as Sorel and Pareto, have recognized cynically the fictional character of myth but have nevertheless justified its use as an instrument of policy and social control."9

Referring to the second group, Bidney writes:

"On the other hand, idealistic philosophers and theologians have, from ancient to modern times, interpreted myth allegorically as symbolizing some transcendental, timeless truth but have differed among themselves as to the nature of the object and truth so symbolized."9

The significant aspects of the mythopoetic process may be restated as follows:

1. We have the ongoing activities of a given society, including undesirable effects arising apart from the will and intent of the members of this society.

2. There are the associated felt reactions of a distressing or disturbing nature.

3. There is the subjective explanation, which is objectively false but expressed in terms of referents external to the individual. The myth through the device of metaphor allows for illusory solutions in the absence of real mastery over some of the harsher realities of life.

These three aspects of myth - the source in an external and irreconcilable situation, the translation of felt reactions into metaphorical terms, and the organized quality of the resulting production - are analogous to the three variables discussed in connection with dreaming - namely, behavior, felt reactions, and metaphor. The myth is characterized by the same paradoxical qualities noted in the dream, that of compelling belief, yet at the same time having delusional quality. The essential difference between the two states lies in the fact that in the mythopoetic process the source of the compelling behavioral reactions is spatially external to the individual, whereas in the dream it is external only in the sense that the physiological event is experienced as separate and apart from the psychological event.

A further analogy perhaps exists in connection with the relationship of the newborn human organism to the problem of cultural continuity on the one hand and, on the other, the daily reemergence of waking consciousness at the end of the sleep cycle after repeated bouts of partial awakening experienced subjectively as dreaming. The culture that surrounds the newborn and developing human being presents him with more than he can absorb at any given moment. In a like manner the dream recapitulates and states more than the individual can absorb into his immediate waking experience.


Field workers in anthropology have interested themselves in dreams from the point of view of the role dreams play in a particular culture, the light they shed on the customs and traditional beliefs, their connection with the prevailing myths, and their role in cultural continuity. Dreams are dreamed by particular individuals in a culture; the question therefore arises as to how and in what manner the unsolved problems of the individual are related to the unsolved problems that characterize the particular cultural setting. In other words, we are posing the question: If a group of human beings living in a particular culture faces a certain array of unsolved problems as a result of the limits of their own development and the circumstances in which they find themselves, and if they have, in the course of their history, camouflaged those areas where their mastery over their environment has failed by their adherence to mythological beliefs, are we then not correct in focusing our attention on this state of affairs in our evaluation of the dream?

Many writers have called attention to the close relationship between dream and myth. Dreams of preliterate peoples reflect fragments of the prevailing mythology in a manner that is readily detectable to an outside observer. However they may be manipulated by the individual dreamer, the fact remains that the myth exists as an entity apart from himself, and one that is consciously or unconsciously assumed as real. These socially sanctioned foci of belief come to life in the dream as sources of support or as sources of anxiety, depending on the underlying nature of the immediate conflict.

By way of a summary statement we may delineate three evolutionary stages in the study of this problem. In the first stage there was the introduction of speculative hypotheses on the connection between myth and dream by psychoanalytic writers beginning with Freud,[10] and further developed by Abraham[11] and others. The second stage witnessed the emergence of ambidextrous scholars like Rivers[12] earlier, and Roheim,[13] Devereux,[14] and others more recently, who were knowledgeable in both psychoanalysis and anthropology and who, in their field studies, sought and found confirmatory evidence of classical psychoanalytic tenets. Current trends, characterizing stage three, reflect a qualitive change in the approach to the problem in two respects: first in the emphasis on manifest content, and second in the efforts to introduce quantitative measures in the assessment of dreams and culture. The approach became more open and exploratory and less concerned with the validation of a priori psychoanalytic concepts. I have reference to the work of S. G. Lee[15] on social influences in Zulu dreaming, the as yet unpublished studies on Yir Yoront dreams by David M. Schneider and R. Lauristan Sharp,[16] and the both intensive and extensive study of dreams from Hopi informants by Dorothy Eggan.[17],[18],[19],[20] The writings of the latter provide many clear examples both of the general cultural referents of the dream and the specific dynamic interaction between manifest content and the Hopi myth and folklore. On the question of the general cultural referents of the dream Eggan writes:

"The answer to the question of whether dreams can be used cross-culturally lies in part in the degree to which dreams can be considered both a projection of the personality and a reflection of the culture. On these points there is much affirmative evidence, both experimental and ethnographic."20

On the specific relation to myth she notes that in a series of 310 dreams from a single informant gathered over a twenty-year period, fully one-third reveal the use of specific folklore characters or themes in the manifest content and these are effectively applied to the solution of personal problems. Referring to this informant, she writes:

". . . in the absence of an acceptable reality solution, we find an interesting interaction between the problem solving quality in tribal myths and his dreams, so that through the fusion of personal and tribal fantasy he is able to deal with anxiety in a somewhat impersonal manner, a device which gives him a reassuring sense of identity with his people, even during periods of conflict with them."20

Bourguignon, in a study of Haitian dreams, comes to somewhat similar conclusions:

"Dreams furthermore act as channels for the development of idiosyncratic modes of worship and lend support to whatever mythology exists, which itself is largely based on anecdotal material about the gods. This mythological material, in turn, furnishes the basis for dream interpretation and for the manner in which dreams are experienced."[21]

Concerning the personal use of myth in dreams, Eggan writes:

"Clearly, then, there is an interaction between Sam's (an informant) dreams and Hopi folklore. He not only uses folklore in dreams, but his dreams in turn modify the way in which he interprets folklore situations. By manipulating the problem-solving quality both of myths and his dreams, his fantasies not only give a sense of reality to his desire to be wise, strong, courageous, a good runner, and a good hunter who is honored by his people, and pleasing to and protected by supernaturals: but he is also frequently able through fantasy to operate within the cultural stock of imaginative happenings - elaborated or distorted to be sure - but still familiar enough to give him a reassuring sense of identity with his people, even when rejected by them."19

In a quantitative analysis she found that "one-third of these 310 dreams use specific folklore characters or themes, many combining several of these, and all applied effectively to Sam's (pseudonym) personal problems."19

When we come to explore the relationship of myth and dreaming within the framework of our own existence, there are points of similarity and difference to the situation prevailing in primitive cultures. It is the same insofar as myths exist and gain expression in the content of dreaming. It is different in that, in contrast to the relative ease with which myth can be discerned in primitive society, the discovery of myth in our own milieu involves the effort of taking a look at our own insides - a feat even more difficult for a society than for an individual.

Sapir,[22] Kluckhohn,[23] Opler,[24] and others have called attention to the cultural patterning that plays so large a part in our lives. We are subjected to this cultural patterning before we are aware either that it is occurring, or aware of anything about the nature of the patterning. As humans, we find ourselves in the self-conscious and often quite difficult position of having to take a second look at a rather fragile and vulnerable product which is not by any means completely of our own making.

The overt difficulties, the symptomatology of illness at a manifest social level, are receiving more and more attention. The covert influences remain to be uncovered and understood in their influence upon the individual. The difficulty, of course, does not lie in the existence of covert patterning influences per se, but only so far as exploitative or manipulative influences operate to limit, alienate, and, to use LaBarre's term, emotionally disfranchise the individual. He refers to this in the following context:

"Success in our capitalistic society means the obtaining of what others may not have; it is the exclusiveness of achieving the statistically rare. Yet, strangely perhaps, a majority of humble supporters of this dispensation empathize with the figure on the dizzy pinnacle, ignore their own statistical chances of this invidious success, and delude themselves (with) the fantasy that it could be they . . . . Not all individuals in a given society are permitted to achieve success; therefore some individuals must be emotionally disfranchised for the benefit of others."[25]

The situation is stated more incisively by the sociologist Robert S. Lynd:

"Liberal democracy has never dared face the fact that industrial capitalism is an intensely coercive form of organization of society that cumulatively constrains men and all of their institutions to work the will of the minority who hold and wield the economic power; and that this relentless warping of men's lives and forms of association becomes less and less the result of voluntary decisions by 'bad' or 'good' men and more and more an impersonal web of coercions dictated by the need to 'keep the system running'."[26]

The hypothesis here propounded is that emotional disfranchisement is as much a symptomatic outcropping as political disfranchisement or any other unwelcome ethnocentric blight. It implies that emotional unrest has its sources in the unsolved problems characterizing a particular society. Children may suffer many injurious acts on the part of parents. What these parents do in these separate acts are wrong, mistaken, or traumatic, and as such are injurious to the child. Equally important, however, is what the parents are and to what extent the social milieu they provide reflects an effective struggle against all elements in a given society that curtail freedom, spontaneity, a sense of belongingness, and the capacity to care for and regard the rights of other individuals. What is crucial in terms of what happens to the child, that is, whether he becomes truly socialized or superficially socialized and basically alienated, is related to the relative success the significant figures in his immediate milieu have in this struggle just outlined. This determines the level of his immunity to the occurrence of specific noxious stimuli whether from the parents or other sources. Viewed in this manner, idiosyncratic neurotic behavior represents a misdirected and ultimately self-defeating attempt to cope with the limiting influence of certain prevailing socially patterned modes of behavior by altering the emotional climate between the individual and the significant adults in his environment. The affective concomitants of behavior betray the meaning of the social referents to the individual, whereas the symbolic expression reflects the gap, if any, between the personal and the social meaning of the behavior in question. Normality implies a unity among the three sets of variables mentioned earlier - behavior, affective reaction, and symbolic expression - and, by the same token, neurosis would imply a dysequilibrium among them. Normality here is not used in a judgmental sense to connote the quality or value of a person, but simply to indicate the ability to grasp accurately both the social and personal referents of behavior and to reflect this knowledge in symbolic expression.


The essential point, as far as the relevance of the preceding comments to dreaming is concerned, is that whereas psychoanalytic writers have greatly enlightened us as to the mechanism of unconscious processes - namely, how the individual copes with forces influencing his behavior and which are not understood by him - there is a great deal of confusion, disagreement and ignorance about precisely what is the source and nature of these unconscious motivating factors. It is in relation to this problem that concern with social myth assumes importance. Here we have a reservoir for what is collectively unknown or unconscious, and one that in some manner articulates with what is personally unknown or unconscious. The personally unknown or unconscious is, in the last analysis, derived from, and related to, that which is socially unknown and unconscious, regardless of the particular idiosyncratic mode of expression in any one individual.

One of the implications of this point of view, of course, is that it immediately relates therapeutic progress to social insight, as well as personal insight. I mean by this that one of the limitations imposed upon the therapeutic enterprise is the extent to which the individual can become free to examine the prevailing values that are implicit in his way of life. Where this capacity is impaired or lacking, progress can take place, but only up to a certain point and even then it remains contingent upon the future intactness of the social milieu in which these spurious values are embedded. We tend to overlook this by easily come-by rationalizations concerning the limitations of the individual, the irreversibility of certain character disorders, and so on, but in reality we are simply up against the type of two-pronged problem with which the therapeutic situation itself is not geared to deal - namely, the intermeshing of personal and social psychopathology, with the latter exerting the stronger influence. This idea is, perhaps, highlighted by the great difficulty in the management of addicts and chronic offenders where therapeutic efforts have to extend beyond the doctor-patient relationship to broader social measures. But this is only a caricature of what prevails in the case of any neurotic problem.

Our main emphasis as therapists has always been on the characterologic and personal conflictual referents of the dream. Each dream element, however, expresses not only the personal and subjective, but also an historical and social referent which actually exists or did exist. The objects depicted and their quality, their social meaning, have real external referents. When a woman dreams of a reference to her own sexual organs as a head of lettuce encased in the empty shell of a cantaloupe situated on the shelf of a supermarket, she is saying something about her own personal sexual problems and at the same time making a statement about an aspect of social life. The personal referents arouse our interest. The social referents are generally not pursued to any great degree. Briefly noted, the personal referents for the example given are:

1.    Sexual organs are seen as separate from her functioning self.

2.    Sexual organs are seen as objects.

3.    The object is made of leaves which are completely closed.

4.    The object can be bought and sold.

5.    There is an impersonal anonymity to objects lined up on the shelf of a supermarket.


The real life situation to which this symbolism alludes may be analyzed in relation to the three variables noted:

1.     Involvement in a situation of incipient sexual activity occurring apart from her own will and intent and at the instigation of her husband.

2.    Affective concomitants of irritation, compulsion, guilt, and constraint.

3.    Resolution through pseudo-acquiescence and preparatory sexual activity involving the use of a diaphragm.

Here we see the disunity between behavior, affect, and symbolic expression. The important point is that, although the factors predisposing this individual to this disunified reaction are imbedded in her own genetic development, they can emerge only in the presence of existing social referents that can be used or misused for the purpose of rationalization. The social referents may be similarly noted:

1.    We live in a society where the capacities of individuals are sometimes treated as objects divorced from the person: labor, brains, beauty, talent, sex.

2.    These separated capacities are bought and sold.

3.    The exchange value and laws of the market place tend to automatize and impersonalize the transaction.

4.    There exists in the nature of the external referent a detachment or separation of the individual from the commodity he needs or uses. His real relation to the commodity is obscured and his relationship to it is determined by its manifest elements - the object exists as something apart from himself which may or may not be purchased.

These external or social referents reflect significant aspects of the social structure. They assume importance when one considers that insight is not knowledge, but knowledge combined with the ability to change behavior. A new equilibrium through insight cannot be achieved unless and until it can be concretized in activity.

It is, of course, a relatively easier task to expose a neurotic mechanism than to change it. The difficulty of effecting a change, the working through, the struggle against resistance, is one that involves not only the exploration of how these mechanisms articulate with other dynamic aspects of the personality, but, of equal and perhaps greater importance, how this trend pays off - that is, the pragmatic value created by the sociopathologic environment bathing and nurturing the trend. The individual is pulled back not only by the weight of his own past experience, but also by the external reinforcement that is ever on hand in the surrounding social milieu.

The view presented differs essentially from the classical Freudian position insofar as it considers the source of unconscious motivating influences as linked to specific experiences in a given social and cultural milieu and not as originating in the biological nature of man, or as due to man's inherent vulnerability because of his extreme dependence on symbolic processes. Furthermore, it assumes no a priori identification of unconscious processes as intrinsically or potentially troublesome. In a sense, this point of view is an affirmation of a belief in the collective unconscious, not in the Jungian sense, but as something currently recreated for each individual as he participates in the cultural matrix long before there is any clear registration in awareness of the nature of the enculturating process. It is essentially a unitary view of man's nature and predicated on the view that where pathology exists in the psychic sphere, as well as in the physical sphere, our first task is to gain an accurate knowledge of the exact nature of the noxious agent at work. When functional alterations in consciousness occur, as in states of dreaming, the key to their understanding lies not in such dualistic concepts as the return of the repressed and the corollary concepts of wish-fulfillment and disguise, but in the basic notion that an individual in a state of partial arousal is striving to express in a very concrete way the totality of factors, some known, some unknown, governing his reactions to a specific life experience. While dreaming, no less than while awake, we are dealing with the same unitary structure, capable of the same logical incisiveness, but functioning under different conditions of afferent input, internal organization and behavioral effect. We are not dealing with a fragmentation or compartmentalization of the psyche, but rather with the relative dominance of a concrete and experiential mode of expression over an abstract and referential mode.


Historically, current dream theory arose in close connection with the problem of therapy. Its development has been weighted in the direction of sharpening its therapeutic efficacy. Increasing knowledge of the sleep-waking cycle suggests the need for changes in one direction - namely, clarification of the biological adaptive role of the dream. The developing interest of anthropologists and the usefulness of the dream in studies of culture and personality suggest the need to orient further investigation along the line of a greater concern with the potential of the dream as a tool with which to extend our knowledge of the molding influences of the social and cultural milieu of the individual. Current anthropological investigations relating to the manifest dream content are reviewed and their implications for psychoanalytic theory and practice are discussed.




In describing what he calls "stage three" in the evolution of approaches to the study of the relationship between dream and social myth, Dr. Ullman characterizes it as "more open and exploratory and less-concerned with the validation of a priori psychoanalytic concepts." This is a high academic standard, but even more important is it for this standard to characterize therapy. The greatest value in this paper, with all its stimulating academic aspects, is its facilitation of a "more open and exploratory" approach to the patient.

Before going on to the clinical portion of Dr. Ullman's contribution, I wish briefly to consider some theoretical questions ‑ questions, however, that also have important bearing on treatment. These concern metaphor, emotion, and distinctions made between processes of sleeping and waking consciousness.

Dr. Ullman says that metaphor in the dream state is "an integral part of a process of self-confrontation, concerned not with the intelligibility and meaning of a given experience, but rather with the felt reactions associated with that experience." This establishment of a basic separation between meaning and "felt reaction" obscures the relationship between meaning and emotion. It is essential always to bear in mind in clinical practice that there can be no affect without meaning. An individual feels a certain way because a situation has a certain meaning for him, whether or not he can recognize or communicate that meaning. An "affectual trace" in a dream is not a special phenomenon of dreaming, but a feeling whose conceptual source is unrecognized, just as it may be in waking consciousness. In the waking state it is common for people to feel angry, anxious, low, discouraged, and not know why. In the waking state, as we seek to communicate, I believe that many metaphors occur fleetingly, which we discard simply because they do not convey meaning either to ourselves or to another. In the dream, feeling may be associated with a metaphor which has not been discarded for failure to communicate and which is remembered on waking. This dream metaphor, which has not been discarded because of its failure to serve communication purposes, conveys nothing until we have investigated it. It is just this process of rejecting metaphors in the waking state that we interrupt in practice, and which constitutes much of free association. Furthermore, authentic meaning and authentic feeling are often lost because they are subjectively discarded in the individual's efforts to convey meaning and to communicate feelings - either or both are distorted to convey meaning or feeling that conforms with personal or social myth. The pursuit of the authentic feeling in waking and dream experience is a central aspect of therapy. The attempt to separate out feeling, whether as reactivated "affectual traces," as "residual and unresolved emotional aspects," or the "felt reactions" contrasted with the meaning of experience, impedes, I believe, the clinical pursuit of understanding of the reality of the patient.

I should like now to comment on another theoretical question regarding dream consciousness, because much confusion as there is about the nature of myth, I believe the nature of the dream is phenomenologically even less definable at this state of our knowledge. Dr. Ullman contrasts the spatio-temporal interconnectedness characteristic of waking thought with the spatio-temporal relation experienced synchronically in the dream. I believe, though, that the spatio-temporal relation experienced synchronically in the dream is also experienced synchronically in waking thought, but a further process is added in waking consciousness that is not added in sleeping consciousness: the selective arrangements making for interconnectedness and communicability. Descriptions of the creative process expressed by numerous writers and poets indicate strikingly the dream-like spatio-temporal synchronism out of which ordered interconnectedness is fashioned. While these creative experiences have been reported self-consciously by individuals whose lives are preoccupied with creativity, they have merely described a process which takes place to some degree, I believe, in every conversation.

To proceed now to the clinical aspects of Dr. Ullman's paper, I should like to begin by saying that I fully endorse the thesis that the exploration for and application of recognized social referents of dreams to therapy is an important clinical approach.

An extensive documentation of this thesis would, I feel, constitute a valuable contribution to the literature on psychoanalytic technique. I wish to discuss the topic in relation to resistance and feeling in dreams.

A brief dream from a young man in analysis with me several years ago illustrates some violent competitiveness and its social referents. Shortly after his wife, partly in response to his urging, also entered analysis with me (I do not adhere to the myth that this is either impossible or unwise) she began to show significant involvement in the process. One evening after having cried through a session she returned home and reported the experience to her husband. That night he dreamed that I was lying on top of his wife in intercourse and he started to search for a kitchen knife to plunge in a single murderous thrust that would dispatch both of us. Awake, his fury arose chiefly from the fact that I had the power to elicit emotions in his wife. Competitively, he was angry, not that I had made his wife unhappy, not because he had fantasies of sexual seduction, but that I had the power to arouse such deep feeling. Competitively, in his dream, he retaliated, killing me for affecting his wife and killing his wife for responding. The social referents, quite in contradiction to his professed credo, involved his desire to enforce the old tradition of a husband's complete dominion over his wife, to deny her any meaningful activity or existence apart from him. Such a relationship represented a demand for a decided competitive advantage over his wife, this male-female inequality being another referent from our culture - one supported, incidentally, by many pseudo-scientific and folk myths. The violation of this inequality, her making independent use of her analysis instead of continuing to appeal to him for help, was expressed in terms also of social reprehensibility, in terms of infidelity.

While this is a dramatic example, further complicated but also sharpened and clarified by husband and wife being with the same psychoanalyst, it represents a common source of resistance. The pursuit of any problems that threaten to deprive the patient of competitive advantage over others, whether this be of an operational or retaliatory nature, or the pursuit of any problem which indicates in the patient's framework a yielding of a competitive advantage to the analyst, will be resisted subtly, persistently, and strongly. This struggle is always reflected in resistance dreams. Employing these dreams in terms of the individual's history and his present behavior, and also in terms of the nurturing socio-pathological milieu, will be, as Dr. Ullman urges, of greater therapeutic benefit than the pursuit of any one of these aspects alone.

The dream of another patient vividly demonstrates a social referent, the very common covert belief in the importance of hiding one's emotions. This man, who required persistent inquiry and encouragement to include affectual components in his analytic productions, dreamed of driving his new car, which had a special gadget on the dashboard. This was called an eliminator. He immediately interpreted it as an "emotion-eliminator." He resented the man seated beside him, identified as the analyst, for removing the gadget. Unique as may be the genetic reasons in any particular individual for "playing it cool," for concealing one or another or all feelings, the disguise of feelings is a prevalent practice, a common aspect of personality, a widespread covert credo in much of our Western, or at least American, culture. It too often has a competitive aspect based on the recognition that in our pervasively manipulative interpersonal exchanges, advantages are to be gained either by playing upon or exposing another's emotions. With many, the mere mastery, that is, the hiding of external manifestations of feeling, represents a superiority over other people, while the term "emotional" becomes a derogatory designation.

A young man came to his first session of analysis with a previous night's dream in which he was passionately copulating, his trousers pulled down on his thighs as he revealed both his bare buttocks and his passion to a contemptuous, derisive man sitting behind him on a tennis umpire's raised chair. An important social referent of this dream is the commonly found disdain for those who reveal deep feelings.

These and related social referents of the affectual life represent some of the most intense aspects of resistance. They are involved in the patient's reaction to the therapist and also are involved in the trends that "pay off," as Dr. Ullman describes them, that have, as he says, "a pragmatic value created by the socio-pathologic environment" which gives them constant "external reinforcement." (Unfortunately, the patient's sense of the value of appearing to have no emotions sometimes receives reinforcement from the social milieu created by the analyst.)

In closing I wish to say I agree basically with Dr. Ullman that much of the pathology reflected in dreams derives from psychopathogenic forces in our culture. I agree that these forces also tend to support the patient's stake in retaining his particular warp of personality and to counter the new kinds of activity without which insight can have no substance. One of the commonest of these forces is the competitiveness of Western culture. The patient so often claims, for example, that he has to compete in order to survive in this world. And this is true, up to a certain point. But here, I feel, it is essential that we as therapists carry Dr. Ullman's evaluation one step further. While we may help our patients to see the sociopathogenic forces with which they do, and will within their lifetime, have to contend, forces such as those of male-female conflict, of cynicism, of mutual exploitation, of power struggle, it is also important to assist patients to recognize those spheres in which the human potential may be successfully and more richly realized. In limited areas genuine co-operation, mutual warmth, trust, solicitude, may be developed in various and intense degrees with spouse, children, friends, and importantly in the therapeutic relationship itself. Without the clear inclusion of this positive realism there is some danger that both resistance and the therapeutic pessimism of interminable (or prematurely terminated) analysis may flourish, as blame is shifted from mythical instincts to incontrovertably real social forces.


Dr. Ullman's is an "essentially unitary view of man's nature and (is) predicated on the view that where pathology exists in the psychic sphere," it exists as well "in the physical sphere." Other statements in his presentation indicate that he might add "and where healthy exists in the psychic sphere it exists as well in the physical."

Starting with these quotes is to say I find many aspects of Dr. Ullman's ideas congenial to my own, not only in this presentation, but as I have observed their evolution in his publications. I refer to the direction of his thinking, its evolutionary and exploratory nature, and its unitary viewpoint. I shall attempt to present my definition of unitary, my notions of symbolizing and of the dreaming process as bases for discussing certain points in Dr. Ullman's paper.

By unitary or holistic, I mean that the pattern of living is integrating; that living is dynamic, directional, and can be formulated as a hierarchy of systems in oscillating equilibrium and describable in process language; that theories of living must take into account all aspects: from the physical to the psychological, from the individual to the cosmic: all values, from those relating to facts, aesthetics, and morality through the existential, to the spiritual ones; from what is scientifically explainable to the formless, which can be simply pointed at and intuited for each to look at, see, and experience in his own way.

This is of course an aspiration, and an urgent one if we are to survive on this planet. Thinking and feeling in universal categories can no longer be rejected with the cynical epithets of "mystical or "metaphysical verbiage." Why such vast visions and such encompassing attempts for such a short paper? Because the paper deals with man, and in the main topics discussed - dreaming and myths ‑ hardly an aspect of man through time is not touched upon.

The needs for universal and unitary models of man to deal with dreaming and myths are essential for these reasons and many more. Man has dreamed throughout recorded time. Human beings at all times, in all cultures and civilizations, have been awed by and interested in their dreams, had theories about them, and attempted to understand and interpret them.

"Dreaming appears to be an intrinsic part of normal sleep and, as such, although the dreams are not usually recalled, occurs every night in every sleeping person . . . . There appear to be no exceptions . . . . Total sleep time, six hours fifty minutes; total dream time, eighty minutes; percentage of dream time, nineteen point five .... A certain amount of dreaming each night is a necessity. It is as though a pressure to dream builds up with accruing dream deficit during successive dream-deprivation nights .... There is a more or less quantitative compensation for the deficit . . . . It is possible that if the dream suppression were carried on long enough, a serious disruption of personality would result .... Psychological disturbances such as anxiety, irritability, and difficulty in concentrating developed during the period of dream deprivation, but these were not catastrophic .... The most important fact was that none of the observed changes were seen during periods of control awakenings."[27]

These findings have become possible through the application of the scientific method and are based on our expanded knowledge and techniques in neurophysiology. They are in large part the outcome of Kleitman's extensive studies on sleeping and dreaming. Dr. Ullman has suggested many fruitful hypotheses regarding the neurophysiological substrata of dreaming. He, Kleitman, Dement, and others assert that dreaming goes on while sleeping. I feel they are pointing at certain objective facts as evidence of dreaming when I feel that all they can infer is that psychic activity with physical concomitants is what is obtaining during sleeping. Psychic activity during sleep can also be inferred from the resolution of problems on waking and from the creative solutions seen in dreams. But as I define symbolizing these happenings are not possible while sleeping, but only while becoming sleeping and becoming waking.

The above quotes point at something quite crucial about the nature and fact of creative, curative, and life-affirming and maintaining processes in the psychic activity going on during sleep, which they call dreaming. The psychological disturbances they find on dream, but not sleep, deprivation with the suggested possibility of serious personality disruption if "dream suppression were carried on long enough" is valid. It is suggested evidence that where the growth possibilities and the creative potentialities present in all human beings are interfered with they become mentally ill and, I would say, eventually they die psychically, spiritually, and - even - physically.

There are more universals in regard to dreaming which can be delineated. Dreaming is a universal language in which all human beings formulate and communicate their most immediate and ultimate concerns. No other aspects of human expression, including the arts, uses as many forms, from the aesthetic to the abstract, as are manifested in dreaming. In dreaming each individual approximates toward being the universal man in the genius of his artistry and his memory, to mention but a few manifestations of this possibility. All aspects of human being and being human are portrayed in dreams. In dreaming all aspects of past, present, and future are portrayed and the manifold dimensions of being from the yet unmanifest to the most concretely manifest. There is no feeling, no value, no thought process not portrayed in dreaming, and dreaming goes on from infancy through senescence. Dreams manifest individual, group, and cosmic reference. All human capacities are portrayed. All manner of human problems are met with and their solution and resolution are attempted by all possible means.

In dreaming we are all at the precipice of the vast unknown common to the human race, the collective unconscious, not in Jung's sense, but more as Dr. Ullman has suggested it. And it is at that growing edge where human paradoxes are experienced, where dying to live through choiceful leaping into the unknown takes place. It is through such aware choosing of anxiety possibilities, which is courage, that authentic being emerges, genuine creativity and the experiences universal to the whole man come into awareness. They can be formulated and pointed at only in models approximating toward the universal.

For formulating, explaining, understanding, and communicating what is essentially human a universal notion is necessary and that notion is form or, more accurately, forming in its present participle form. Then forming is functioning and functioning is forming. Thereby, we do not create in the first place, to then have to invent ways of undercutting, such as existentialism is attempting, the spurious oppositional dualism of form versus function.

Symbolizing[28] is one aspect of forming. I define symbolizing as, metaphorically, a spiral starting with pure fact (Northrop), chit (Hindu philosophy), tathata (Zen), hsing (Chinese philosophy), or the ground is being, in existential terms[29] There are those levels of the spiral which are prelogical or prerationative evolving to the rational, the logical, to the highest order of abstraction. I define the self‑system in terms of my notion of symbolizing. It takes into account all aspects of being from the physical to the spiritual, the individual to the cosmic, all that I feel is subsumed in the existential notions of eigenwelt, mitwelt, umwelt. By bracketing in, as is done in phenomenology, we delimit those areas of interest referred to as biochemistry at one end and comparative religion at the other, in a continuum from the material‑individual to the cosmic‑collective. At the same time, we define the models which are symbol constructs that function as theories generically and individually relevant to each of these disciplines in the spectrum pointed at.

With the above condensation of some of my views on forming, symbolizing, and dreaming, enough contextual background is available for commenting on some points in Dr. Ullman's paper.

Much in his first four points about dreaming I began to suggest in 1944[30] when

I said dreaming, as I defined it, is not possible while sleeping and only happens on becoming sleeping and becoming waking, mostly during the latter. Kleitman has confirmed my viewpoint in his studies on sleeping and dreaming although I feel he inaccurately refers to inferred psychic activity while sleeping as dreaming. Dreaming while becoming sleeping was drawn to my attention by one patient whose only dreams occurred falling asleep. However, even with resolving the psychically determined forgetting of such dreams on the part of many other patients, the number of falling asleep dreamers as compared to waking up dreamers was still very small.

The theory of symbolizing and of dreaming that I have suggested would be consonant with Dr. Ullman's notions regarding the mythopoetic process, because to me interpreting dream symbols means the experiencing and understanding of the symbols in their reference to past, present, and future, to self and others, to meanings acquired from individual, familial, group, cultural, and cosmic sources. The examples given to indicate the individual and cultural referents in dreams of other cultures are understandable and interpretable from my viewpoint. Even before the Neurotic Personality of Our Time, Horney was already emphasizing the cultural referent aspect of character development and of understanding dreaming in such terms.

I find Dr. Ullman's extensively discussed example of the woman who dreams of her sexual organs as a head of lettuce, in an empty shell of a cantaloupe, on the shelf of a supermarket, from my own viewpoints regarding symbolizing and dreaming, as quite understandable from the patient's individual and cultural referents.

Our differences of viewpoint show up in how I define symbol and symbolizing and symbolic. I had to omit discussion of the epistemology of symbols and symbol functions, as I see them. My position on symbolizing and dreaming differs with that of many others. For me, symbolizing is a phenomenologically descriptive term and basic to theories of epistemology. Of course, we have the terms literal and symbolic. A symbolic symbol, as I understand Dr. Ullman and others use of the term, is saying that that particular symbol has many more aesthetic and emotive components than another symbol, and that for its meaning to be experienced requires many more associative connections to grasp its greater dimensions. A literal symbol means one that has immediate, objective and concrete external reference - literally a table or literally the letter X. I feel saying that something is more symbolic than something else is confusing usage. It only means something requires more associative connections to be understood and experienced. Starting with the process in symbolizing, according to my definition, it follows that analogy and metaphor are forms of symbolizing and add their richness to human formulating, creating, communicating, and living.

I felt I could contribute more in my discussion of Dr. Ullman's paper by defining my position, indicating similarity of direction of interest and of thinking and familiarity in working with such viewpoints in theory building and in therapy. Given more space, I could have pointed out further differences of emphasis and interest. In his basic thesis regarding "The Social Roots of the Dream" and the nature of the mythopoetic process, I find much that is congenial and stimulating.


Dr. Ullman's paper is an important step forward on the road toward a holistic concept of dreaming. He rejects the mechanistic-teleological formulation which sees the dream merely as the "guardian of sleep," He rejects dualistic concepts which see dreams as the return of the repressed, or as expressions of wish fulfillment, and he rejects the view that dream symbols are disguising impulses.

From a dynamic viewpoint, however, the role and the meaning Dr. Ullman assigns to the dream still appears too limited in scope. In dreaming, he says, "the individual forms a statement that represents a total assessment of the currently disturbing life situation, and the defensive mechanisms by which it can be handled." This formulation gives the dream the quality of a mainly reactive, defensive, and almost conscious phenomenon. Dreaming is an active creative process, an essential aspect of human life and growth. It fulfills a basic organismic need, as Kleitman's and Dement's work on dream-deprivation has confirmed.

Unconscious processes are not only "not intrinsically or potentially troublesome," but often highly constructive and superior to conscious processes in providing valid insight and motivation, particularly in dreams, as I have shown in my paper on "Constructive Forces in Dreams." The "currently disturbing life situation," the frustration, anxiety, or rage about an unsolved conflict may start the dream. Dreaming, however, is a comprehensive process which crystallizes in dynamic symbols the total emotional state of the dreamer, his needs, anxieties, conflicts, and attempts at solution which may be more neurotic or more healthy according to the changing character structure of the dreamer.

Symbolization in dreams has as its almost inexhaustible source the dreamer's total life experience: childhood, adolescence, and later life, be it conscious or unconscious at the time of the dream. No longer restricted by compulsive focusing on the pressing needs of the day, the inner horizon of the dreamer widens. The possibilities for self-awareness increase. The alienation from our true feelings, from our selves, is temporarily lessened. The dream has access to repressed aspects of our past and to rejected aspects of our selves: neurotic aspects which we have denied or idealized, as well as healthy aspects such as the courage to be and realize ourselves, which we were afraid to experience and to express. Thus the dream becomes "a door to the larger self" and, therefore, one of the important factors in the process of growing self-awareness, which is the basis of any effective therapy.

Dreaming synchronizes past, present, and future as it is also often done by the creative artist. But I cannot agree with the concept that "the human being is looking forward while awake and backward when asleep." The past enters the dream, but not because the dreamer looks backward. The past enters the dream as a dynamic symbol of the present. It is called forth by the emotional constellation of the present. At times of increasing anxiety, past symbols of dependency and helplessness may enter the dream. At times of lessening alienation and stronger self-feelings, constructive feelings of the past may enter. Chronologically, they lead back to childhood or adolescence, dynamically however they are by no means regressive. They may indicate constructive moves in which the patient reconnects himself with a time when his feelings were more genuine, when he was able to take a stand for himself, when he had a greater sense of personal identity.

Myths have been called the "dreams of nations" (Abraham). Such collective dreams of nations do not merely allow "for illusory solutions in the absence of real mastery over some of the harsher realities of life." Irrational myths may become powerful enough to affect reality even in our time. The myth of "blood and soil" helped Hitler to achieve real mastery which destroyed millions of human lives.

Man is a bio‑social organism. Social factors and social values may, therefore, enter the dream as they become part of the dreamer's life experience. Myths, however, as well as social and cultural symbols, as, for example, the cross or the swastika, enter the dream only to the extent and in the way in which they are appropriate and pertinent symbols of the dreamer's personal experience and conflicts.

How essential it is to see the dream as a symbolization of the dreamer's most personal experience may be illustrated in connection with the dream to which Dr. Ullman refers. The woman who symbolizes her sexual organs as a head of lettuce in the empty shell of a cantaloupe on the shelf of a supermarket, reveals an extreme alienation from herself, her feelings, her body, and her sex organs. Her dream reflects her market-orientation (Fromm), a reification of herself, a distortion of the I-Thou into an I-It experience (Buber) in her interpersonal relationships. Such orientation may be fostered by the culture in which she lives. The dream however is specific and characteristic of the experience of this individual patient. Over-emphasis on the impact of the general marketing character of this society can easily blind us to the very specific meaning of the dream and the underlying emotional conflict.

Even in this society very different, less alienated, less "marketing" forms of experiencing and, therefore, of symbolizing one's sexual organs are possible and prevailing. The individual is by no means a passive object molded by the surrounding culture. The healthier he is, the less he will be compelled to adapt himself uncritically to the prevailing values of his environment and the more able and eager will he become to change the environment and the prevailing values into more human ones which foster healthy growth and self-realization. In my opinion it is one of the tasks of the analyst to help his patient to achieve a solid sense of personal identity, and with it an emotional "immunity level" which will protect him against becoming infected by unhealthy and dehumanizing influences of the surrounding culture.

[1] Ullman, Montague: The Dream Process, Am. J. Psychotherapy, 12:4, October, 1958, 671-690.

[2] Ullman, Montague: Dreams and the Therapeutic Process, Psychiatry, 21:2, May, 1958, 123-131.

[3] Ullman, Montague: Dreams and Arousal, Am. J. Psychotherapy, 12:2, April, 1958, 222-242.

[4] Radcliffe‑Brown, A. R.: A Natural Science of Society, The Falcon's Wing Press, Glencoe, Illinois, 1957.

[5] Tauber, E. S. and Green, M. R.: Prelogical Experience, Basic Books, New York, 1959.

[6] Thompson, S.: Myths and Folktales, in Myth: A Symposium, Sebeok, T., ed., American Folklore Society, Philadelphia, 1955, 109.

[7] Schorer, Mark: William Blake: The Politics of Vision, Vintage Books, New York, 1959, 25-26.

[8] Bruner, Jerome S.: Myth and Identity, Daedalus, Spring,1959, 349-358.

[9] Bidney, David: Myth, Symbolism, and Truth, in Myth: A Symposium, Sebeok, T., ed., American Folklore Society, Philadelphia, 1955, 12, 13.

[10] Freud, S. and Oppenheim, D. E.: Dreams in Folklore, International Universities Press, New York, 1958.

[11] Abraham, K.: Traum und Mythus: Eine Studie zur Volkpsychologie, Schriften zur angewandten Seelenkunde, 1909, Heft 4, 73ff.

[12] Rivers, W. H. H.: Conflict and Dream, Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner and Co., London, 1923.

[13] Roheim, G.: The Gates of the Dream, International Universities Press, New York, 1952.

[14] Devereux, G.: Dreaming, Learning and Individual Ritual Differences in Mohave Shamanism, Amer. Anthropologist, 59:6, December, 1957.

[15] Lee, S. G.: Social Influences in Zulu Dreaming, J. of Social Psychol., 47, 1958, 265-283.

[16] Schneider, D. M. and Sharp, R. L.: Yir Yoront Dreams (unpublished manuscript).

[17] Eggan, D.: The Significance of Dreams for Anthropological Research, Amer. Anthropologist, 51:2, 1949, 177-198.

[18] Eggan, D.: The Manifest Content of Dreams: A Challenge to Social Science, Amer. Anthropologist, 54:4, 1952, 469-485.

[19] Eggan, D.: The Personal Use of Myth in Dreams, in Myth: A Symposium, Sebeok, T., ed., American Folklore Society, Philadelphia, 1955.

[20] 20. Eggan, D.: Dream Analysis (unpublished manuscript).

[21] Bourguignon, E. E.: Dreams and Dream Interpretation in Haiti, Amer. Anthropologist, 56:2, April, 1954, 262-268.

[22] Sapir, E.: The Unconscious Pattering of Behavior in Society, in The Unconscious: A Symposium, Drummer, E. S., ed., Knopf, New York, 1929.

[23] Kluckhohn, C. and Murray, H. A.: Personality in Nature, Society and Culture, Knopf, New York, 1953.

[24] Opler, M. K.: Cultural Anthropology and Social Psychiatry, Am. J. Psychiat., 113:4, October, 1956, 302-311.

[25] LaBarre, W.: Social Cynosure and Social Structure, J. Personality, 14, March 1946, 169-183.

[26] Lynd, R. S.: Business as a System of Organized Power, in Readings in Sociology, Lee, A. M., ed., Barnes and Noble, New York, 1951.

[27] Dement, W.: The Effect of Dream Deprivation, Science, Vol. 131, No. 3415, June 10, 1960, 1705-1707.

[28] Kelman, H.: Life History as Therapy, Part III, The Symbolizing Process, Am. J. Psychoan., XVI, No. 2, 1956, 145-166.

[29] Kelman, H.: Communing and Relating, Am. J. Psychotherapy, Vol. XIV, No. I, (January) 1960, 70-96.

[30] Kelman, H.: A New Approach to Dream Interpretation. Am. J. Psychoan., Vol. IV, No. 1, 1944, 89-107