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Dreams, Species-Connectedness, and the Paranormal[1]

 

MONTAGUE ULLMAN

 

The Journal Of The American Society For Psychical Research

Volume 84 April 1990  Number 2, pp. 105-125

ABSTRACT

In this nuclear age where the survival of humanity is constantly on the line, we are faced with the responsibility of realizing fully the basic fact that we are all members of a single species. The full implication of this will involve the radical transformation of the self into one capable of working toward repairing and maintaining the basic unity of the species and overcoming the many ways in which we have succeeded in fragmenting that unity.

 

A view of dreaming is presented in its bearing on the issue of survival. Dreaming consciousness is discussed in its similarity to and differences from waking consciousness. Chief among the differences is the more focused concern while dreaming with the recognition and representation of developing disconnections between ourselves and others. A number of lines of thought are brought together in support of this view from sources as far apart as physics and psychiatry.

 

That dreaming may be related fundamentally to species-connectedness is congenial to much of what we have learned about the occurrence of paranormal dreams as they have been encountered in the anecdotal and clinical literature. Bohm's theory of the implicate order and Jung's ideas about synchronicity are discussed in their relevance to both ordinary and paranormal dreams and the connection of both to survival.

I want to express my personal debt to Gardner Murphy, whose memory we honor this evening. Mentor, colleague, friend, and benefactor, these were all aspects of my relationship with him, which began with our first meeting in 1945 and ended with his death in 1979. Somehow I managed to become a psychiatrist, even a psychoanalyst, without ever having read a text in psychology. In retrospect I do not regret this. It was as if I waited for the appearance of Murphy's (1947) classic volume on personality, which more than made up for my deficit. Murphy was gentle, interested, and appreciative of my early efforts to reach a point of view about dreams that made sense, at least to me. He initiated me into parapsychological research when he was still working at City College in New York City. He would bring some of his students to my office, and we would seek psi effects through relaxation techniques and hypnosis. Lois Murphy was with us on many occasions. When I joined the Maimonides Medical Center, it was Gardner Murphy who raised the money to launch our investigation into dream telepathy. For this and many other personal reasons, I feel deeply privileged to participate in this occasion.

I have chosen for my talk a very broad subject, namely, the unity of the human species as a prerequisite for its survival, implying in my title that dreams may have something to do with this.[2] Later I will discuss how psi effects come into the picture.

What can our dream life have to do with the difficult and challenging problems that face us in maintaining the viability of the human species in a nuclear age? To ease into this seemingly far-fetched notion, I am going to ask you to exercise your imagination and indulge with me in making several assumptions about the nature of consciousness and dreaming. Having done that, I will then cite supporting data in the hope of pinning down these assumptions. Finally, I hope to show that if these assumptions are valid, we may be in a better position to explore the link between dreams and psi.

Assumption Number l: If we assume that all adaptive changes in the course of evolution serve a survival function, at least initially, then consciousness serves to establish the kind of connections to other members of our species necessary to insure our survival as a species.

I regard waking consciousness as an evolutionary adaptation that enables us to move into the future as social creatures bent on shaping our own cultural and social destiny. At our disposal in this endeavor are the memories of our past, the free play of our imagination, the range of our desires, and the energy, hope, and creativity we bring to this task. I find the following views congenial.

Addressing the nature of consciousness from the point of view of a biologist, Barlow (1980) notes:

"Consciousness is not a property of a brain in isolation, but is a property of a brain that is and has been in communication with other brains" (p. 82). In responding to the question: "What is the survival value of consciousness?," Barlow answers:

I shall suggest that consciousness . . . is Nature's method of making humans behave co-operatively. Our being is centered in our conscious self, but if consciousness is the relating of one brain to another, that means that one's being is centered, not in one's own brain, but in the relation between one's own brain and others. (p. 82)

An early pioneer of the psychoanalytic movement, Trigant Burrow (1964), wrote extensively on what he referred to as species or phylic consciousness. He spoke of the preconscious stage in development, referring to the sense of total union experienced by the infant with its environment. For him the preconscious stage of unity between mother and child offered a template for all future relatedness. His emphasis was on how, in our subsequent development, we fail to preserve this common biological heritage and no longer feel linked in a total way to our natural and human environment. Burrow felt that our vulnerability to this kind of split began with our mastery of language and the development of our capacity for symbolic expression. He writes:

As with so many things he has invented man has become a victim of his own ingenuity. Inevitably, his word has suffered. As often as not, he uses his words to hide his meaning, to disguise his feeling. Words have become the medium of differing standards of motivation, of markedly competitive behavior among us. In this detached use or, rather, misuse of words, our purpose as a social organism is not organically coordinated. We are not, as we assume, more united, more articulated, but insidiously, more separated from one another as the word is increasingly separated from the organism that uses it ....

 

The word that links us now is a poor makeshift for the bond that unites us organically - the bond initially experienced in its individual aspect in the union of the infant and maternal organism. In our dependence on the flimsy consistency of the word we are really at war with one another while we think there is only convenant and understanding. (pp. 110-111)

Too much in their heads, humans have created a false social persona of which they are largely unaware. We have not been taught how to let our feelings deepen the natural bonding so essential for survival. As Burrow (1964) notes:

The emphasis is always on the intellect, on knowledge. Man has taken his intellect to the university for centuries, but never his feeling. There have been no courses for the education of feeling, for instruction and training in the emotions. This education of the intellect to the exclusion of the mood of man inevitably entails a distortion of both. (p. 110)

I have quoted at length from Burrow because I feel that the breadth of his vision has generally not been appreciated in the current era. Although reared in the psychoanalytic tradition, he transcended it and wrote extensively on what he considered to be an insidiously pervasive form of social pathology that even influenced the practice of psychoanalysis. Our fate has been to overemphasize our existence as discrete creatures and discrete nations at the expense of species unity. He felt that psychoanalysis played into this trend in its failure to take into account that both analyst and patient alike were victims of this larger "social neurosis." His was an attempt to shift attention from individual pathology to social pathology. For this heresy he was drummed out of the American Psychoanalytic Association, an organization he once headed as president.

We certainly have succeeded in fragmenting ourselves as a species. In our long struggle to become civilized. we have exploited fully every conceivable line of cleavage that can separate human beings from one another. Not only have we failed to overcome geographical boundaries, we continue to throw up barriers on the basis of religion, class, race, sex, etc. The evolution of two superpowers, poised on the brink of mutual annihilation, is both symbolic of this fragmenting process and, unfortunately, an accurate and true picture of where our history as a species has brought us. Our artists and writers both reflect and rebel against the fragmentation; our scientists, through their increasing specialization, play into it; our philosophers worry about it; and our politicians seek in vain for solutions. Religion offers an ideal but fails in practice. The rise of interest in Eastern philosophies seems at one and the same time to be a retreat from the problem and an attempt to transcend it.

An individual human being can lead a self-centered and selfish life, live to a ripe old age, and die peacefully in bed. From all indications, that possibility does not exist for humankind as a whole. The nations of the world are just beginning to face the reality that only through cooperation and collaboration will it be possible for all to inhabit the same planet. This realization has moved many writers and scientists to call attention to our plight and to emphasize the urgent need to establish a basic phyletic unity. Robert Jay Lifton (1987), who has written so powerfully about the major disasters of our time, recently published a volume of essays expressing this urgency. He speaks of a "species self" and asks whether each of us will be able to reshape and transform our individual selves in a way that will actively ensure the unity of the human species and whether we will be able to do it in time to prevent the ultimate nuclear holocaust. Can we learn collaborative modes of behavior that extend across all boundaries?

The situation is serious but not yet hopeless. The idea of species unity exists both as an ideal and as a necessity. Manifestations of what Burrow (1964) referred to as the organic unity underlying our existence do persist despite the vicissitudes and failures along the path toward individuation. They make their appearance in art, literature, and in the communal life of primitive tribes. We can disregard, hurt, and impair this unity, but we can never rid ourselves completely of its influence. Whenever we move against it, there is a contrary reaction to preserve it. We build weapons to destroy the other, and then we work with the other to destroy the weapons.

The emphasis on wholeness has been given an impetus in recent years from the world of science, most notably in the work of David Bohm (1976, 1980, 1985). His notion of implicate orders as the ground of connectivity arose out of his effort to bring intuitive understanding to the mysteries of quantum mechanics. Not satisfied with the existing formalism, he shifted the emphasis from one concerned with the discreteness of objects, including ourselves, to the underlying unity or ground out of which all objects emerge and to which they return. Bohm (1986), in addressing this audience as the first Gardner Murphy Memorial lecturer, developed his views more specifically in their possible relevance to psi phenomena.

Assumption Number 2: There is a basic identity between dreaming consciousness and waking consciousness with regard to the processing of novelty.

In establishing this underlying identity, let us begin with a consideration of the nature of the stimuli impinging on us in both states and how they are handled. One constant feature of the waking state is the way we are bombarded by stimuli from the outside. In fact, were these stimuli to cease altogether, we would find it difficult and even impossible to maintain our ordinary state of consciousness. Fortunately, only a small and selective portion of these stimuli requires our attention. Most are dealt with automatically and unconsciously. That small fraction serves to keep us alert and interested, and it engages our attention.

Our ordinary perceptual processes are quite complex. To "see" an object we must have had prior experience with that or similar objects. The form, shape, or other sensory attributes initiate a quick memory scan, and based on models available to us from earlier experience, recognition occurs and we perceive the object for what it is. It is a process in which we move almost instantaneously from simple sensory stimuli to accurate perception. This is so habitual with most of the objects we encounter that we are unaware that it is a process. We become aware of it only when we are up against a novel encounter of some sort. If we unexpectedly come upon an unfamiliar object in dim light and when there is no immediate recognition, we automatically scan the environment for more information to see if we can fit it into a model available to us. If we cannot, we remain in the dark as to precisely what it is. The crowd that catches a glimpse of Superman in the air cries out: "It's a bird! It's a plane! No, it's Superman!" It is the interplay of information and interior modeling that results in a perceptual response.

Waking consciousness has something in common with a radar system. In our concern with what is going to happen in the future, we scan the environment as well as our past to shed as much light as possible on what is happening in the present. When we come up with the resources needed to cope with what is novel in our lives, we succeed in enlarging our behavioral repertoire. When, for one reason or another, we cannot avoid dealing with what confronts us, there results a lingering tension of greater or lesser intensity, depending on the significance of the issue.

We go to sleep with varying degrees of success in setting to rest the various tensions that accompany our forced march into the future. The lingering tensions continue to linger. We pursue the same orientation to what interests us most at the moment while asleep and dreaming as we do when awake. The difference lies in the nature of the information that is processed and the way it is processed. Nature has seen to it that even while asleep we are aroused periodically, and by means of dreaming consciousness, we take stock of how things are with us at the moment. Asleep, we are still moving into our future, but passively, without (with occasional exceptions) the exposure to the external stimuli that impinge on us while awake. The tensions that are left over from the previous day surface when the brain becomes sufficiently aroused, and they become the formative matrix for the dream that ensues. In contrast with the waking situation, however, the end result of the way we think while dreaming is not an immediate or projected external behavioral response but, rather, an interior change. Dreaming affects the level of arousal by the intensity and quality of the feelings evoked, and it either causes us to awaken or allows us to return to dreamless sleep.

Freud referred to the kind of daytime novelty that is relevant to our nighttime thoughts as the day residue. He defined it as any event, regardless of how trivial or incidental it might seem at the time, that finds its way into the dream that night because it serves to carry a message from the dreamer's past, dimly sensed but not clearly perceived during the day. For the dreamer, the element of novelty arises in so far as the feelings evoked by the day residue are unclear and unfamiliar at first, an upsurge from the past that makes its presence felt by a distant background rumble. This leaves the dreamer with the task of perceiving more accurately the nature and source of these tensions so as to assess their implications for the future. In contrast to the effort to gather sufficient sensory information in order to perceive the nature of an external object, the dreamer struggles with feeling tones so as to define more accurately an internal subjective state. The dreamer needs more information, and as in the case of an external object, that information has to be "real," that is, it must reflect accurately the internal reality to be perceived. The dreamer, however, has no place to turn to fulfill this task except to his or her own store of memories and feelings. Both poles of the process that I described for the person while awake - namely, searching the environment for further details and matching the information against memory models - have to be carried out internally while the person is asleep. This results in scanning whatever past experiences have left residues of feelings similar to the current residue. It also involves scanning past modes of dealing with such feelings, all with the intent of shedding further light on the current tension. If we come up with answers that allow us to remain comfortable with the current tension, we remain asleep. If the result of our search evokes feelings that are too strong to be contained while asleep, we awaken. Only in the waking state can we return to the cushioning effect of our social environment and ultimately gain the additional experience needed to cope with whatever emotional outcropping from our past now faces us.

The nighttime processing of information is different from daytime processing. We experience dreaming consciousness mostly in the form of visual imagery. In effect, we create our own internal supply of stimuli as we dig into the past and clothe the information we come up with in sensory visual form. The goal remains the same: Only by perceiving current happenings accurately can we prepare for what is likely to happen next. The pursuit of clarity and information while awake orients us more realistically to the present and prepares us more effectively for the future. When we are asleep and dreaming, the historical exploration of the feeling residue helps us to assess its significance for the future. Consciousness in whatever form it occurs is future-oriented.

The unique value of dreams for our waking life rests on the fact that we do something asleep and dreaming that we cannot do nearly as well while awake. We look at ourselves with greater honesty and in greater depth. This ability rests on what I consider to be the three cardinal features of dreaming consciousness, two of which I have already noted. The first is the fact that dreaming is connected with current concerns. As we go through the day, feelings and moods evolve that register with greater or lesser clarity. In general, feelings serve as a kind of connective tissue between ourselves and others. When feelings flow freely and appropriately, they do not leave any troublesome residue. When, however, that free flow is impeded by a tension that we fail to resolve, there is a tear or rupture, so to speak, in this connective tissue. The aftereffects persist as a kind of background Greek chorus reminding us that there is some unfinished emotional business from our past that needs attention.

While dreaming we not only have the opportunity but also face the necessity to look further into the situation. The way we do this is the second unique feature of dreaming consciousness. One takes the feeling connected with this break in the connective tissue and runs it through our memory bank in order to gather more information and clues about its historical source in our particular life history. That is why references to the past so often find their way into the dream. The more available the information, the more accurately one can assess the extent and significance of the break in the connective tissue. In addition, this backward search reminds us of the many coping mechanisms we have at our disposal.

The third and most significant quality of dreaming consciousness is its utter honesty. It may seem strange to think of the bizarre and confusing pictures we create at night in terms of honesty. To understand it, we must take a closer look at the situation we are in when our sleeping brain gets the signal to be aroused and start dreaming. At that point the dreamer has been aroused from a state of seeming unconsciousness. The dreamer is also very much alone, having temporarily suspended connections to the outside world and the cushioning support they offer. The consciousness then shaping itself is geared to three implicit questions:

What is happening to me?

How has it come to be that way?

What can I do about it?

In other words, the dreamer is reorienting himself or herself to life at that moment and to his or her subjective state in particular. When we orient ourselves to our surroundings while awake, we do so by means of language. That remarkable tool, as I have noted, is a two-edged sword.

We can use it to communicate honestly, or we can use it to deceive ourselves and others. Many unconscious strategies of self-deception are resorted to in the waking state when we do not wish to be confronted by what is distasteful or frightening. (I will have more to say about the inexorable quality of this honesty in my discussion of the connection of dreaming consciousness to the survival of the species.) We have no such leeway when we dream. This is because we have a most important question to decide, and we are left completely to our own devices to come up with an answer. We cannot look it up in a book or get help from anyone else. The decision we are faced with is whether, in the light of the residual tension that now occupies us, it is safe to remain asleep and alone or it is sufficiently important for us to awaken and return to a more familiar landscape. This is a decision that involves a more radical change of state than we are ever called upon to make when awake. It also requires a greater degree of honesty.

When I refer to the honesty that underlies the images we create while dreaming, I do not mean to imply that we are transformed into super­honest creatures endowed with halos, but rather that we allow ourselves to catch an honest glimpse of our subjective state, one that displays whatever self-deceptive tendencies that may be at work. It is this truthful encounter with ourselves, warts and all, that makes the remembered dream so powerful a therapeutic instrument.

What I have not yet addressed is why dreaming consciousness takes the form of imagery to carry out its potentially alerting function. Dreaming characteristically occurs during the rapid eye movement (REM) stage of sleep. This is controlled by subcortical mechanisms, and from a phylogenetic standpoint it is considered the most archaic stage of sleep. The ability to think in imagery seems to be carried over from our prehistory. The fact that such imagery is so closely linked to the repetitive physiological stages of arousal during sleep, the REM stage, has suggested to others (Snyder, 1966; Tolaas, 1986) and myself (Ullman, 1986) that the imagery serves an alerting function. The need for this may have come about because, from a phylogenetic standpoint, it may not have been safe enough, in the presence of predators, to remain unconscious for too long a period of time. Lower animals have the same periods of arousal during sleep that characterize the dreaming stage in humans. Other anmals are more immediately dependent on their natural environment than are humans, and their survival is contingent on possible dangers from that environment. As primitive humans evolved into social beings their concerns shifted gradually from the possibility of physical danger from the outside to dangers inherent in maintaining the fabric of social existence. The problem of survival was transformed to what was happening in the human social environment. This, in turn, was contingent upon the quality and nature of the individual's connections to others. Social dangers become manifest through the play of feelings and mood, contingent on the vicissitudes of social intercourse. To display concerns of that kind, the simple literal imaging mode, presumably possible for lower animals, had to be transformed into a more sophisticated use of imagery, which ultimately led to the use of the image as a visual metaphor.

This formulation stresses the underlying identity between waking consciousness and dreaming consciousness. Both are concerned with the impact of impinging stimuli. Both involve the challenge of novelty. Awake, we scan an external environment. Asleep, we scan an internal environment. Awake, perception begins with sensitivity to form and motion, and it is directed outward. Asleep and dreaming, perception begins with sensitivity to feelings triggered by recent intrusive events, and it is directed inward. Awake, we strive toward conceptual clarity as a guide to action in the world. In the case of dreaming, there is a flow of imagery that both expresses and contains feelings. The "action" that results is an internal one affecting the level of arousal. Both forms of consciousness serve a communicative function. Awake and through the power of language, we are able to keep in touch with others. Asleep and dreaming, we use a different language to tell ourselves stories about ourselves that we have not heard before.

In summary, dreaming consciousness serves the same function as waking consciousness with regard to laying the foundation for interconnectedness among members of the human species. It does so under different circumstances, it deals with different content, and it processes that content in a different way. In each of us, there is an uncorrupted core of being that is sensitive to the way we hurt ourselves or others and concerned with undoing the fragmentation that has resulted. We have not done too well as yet in preserving our animal heritage of being at one with nature or our human responsibility to be at one with each other. Our dreams are constant reminders of the infinity of ways we have managed to get derailed and, at the same time, they provide us with the opportunity to get back on track.

Assumption Number 3: In a fundamental sense, our dreams are not concerned primarily with us as individuals but, rather, as the necessary agents in ensuring the survival of the human species.

I referred earlier to the social dimension of (waking) consciousness. This was stated most cogently by Barlow (1980), who referred to consciousness as a trick nature played on us to insure a cooperative style of living (and hence of our survival). Burrow (1964) noted how this ingenious mechanism went astray and how, through the misuse of our symbolizing powers, we have created an uncertain balance between living in harmony with each other and destroying each other, both literally and figuratively.

The building tool for conscious social adaptation is language, a somewhat unreliable tool. Lies can be presented as truths, and all kinds of deceptions can ensue. In other words, there is nothing so compelling about the nature of waking consciousness that would insure its success as an instrument for survival. Not only individuals, but whole nations have been deceived into thinking the emperor is parading through town wearing beautiful clothes. Might dreams be the child in us protesting the deception? Rycroft (1979) refers to the "innocence of dreams," an innocence we otherwise seem to have lost. Might dreaming consciousness serve our survival needs as a species by the way it cuts through illusions and, with considerable drama and a good deal of hyperbole, calls attention to both our basest and our loftiest attributes?

If the point of view is correct that dreaming is an unconscious ally in the struggle of the species to survive, then its concern with the individual is both secondary and selective. It is secondary in the sense that the survival of the individual is necessary for the survival of the species. It is selective in the sense of being indifferent to all that goes on in the life of the individual except that which furthers or hinders the prospects of survival of the species. In practice, this would mean a concern with whatever goes on in waking life that either strengthens or destroys collaborative ties between people. My thesis is that this is the sum and substance of what we dream about. Dreaming is there to be enlisted as a reliable ally in the struggle to survive. It may even be a more reliable ally than waking consciousness in that there are no ego needs to pander to. It is more spontaneous, more insistent, more compelling.

Is there any evidence for endowing dreaming consciousness with so transcendent a function? I must admit that the evidence is circumstantial and inferential, and the most I can hope is that although it is personally convincing to me, others may at least find it to be of some interest.

The case rests largely on what I referred to as the third important feature of the dream, namely, its intrinsic honesty. Poets and writers have known all along about this quality of our dream life. Emerson (1947) described it in one of his essays:

Dreams have a poetic integrity and truth. This limbo and dust-hole of thought is presided over by a certain reason .

 

. . . Their extravagance from nature is yet within a higher nature. They seem to us to suggest an abundance and fluency of thought not familiar to the waking experience. They pique us by independence of us, yet we know ourselves in this mad crowd, and owe to dreams a kind of divination and wisdom. (p. 246)

Jung (1953) referred to this quality of the dream in a very apt way: "So flower-like in its candor and veracity that it puts us to shame for the deceitfulness of our lives" (p. 46).

 

This honesty is not expressed in any literal way, but it makes its presence felt figuratively as imagery that reflects our existing subjective state. Dreams tell it like it is with regard to the range and depth of our feeling life and regardless of whether it is disturbing to our waking sensibilities. Our dreams inform us as to the stage of our emotional development, the degree to which we have consolidated our identity, and to what extent freedom and honesty characterize our exchanges with others and with ourselves.

 

What concerns us here is the facilitating role our dreams can play in fostering greater harmony than now exists among us. Dreams speak not only to the disconnects in the immediate life of the dreamer, but through the social stereotypes that find their way into the dream, they also address issues that confront society as a whole. In a society in which racism has not yet been eradicated, it is not unusual for a young white woman to use the image of a black male to symbolize sexual aggression. It is the honesty of the dream that points to what is irrational and prejudicial in society and in ourselves. As Bertrand Russell (1961) notes, it is the irrational that separates us; the rational unites us (p. 184). None of us grow up perfect, and irrationalities enter into our behavior with others. This is where we are all vulnerable and where the state of our connections to others is at risk. This is precisely the area of interest to our dreaming self. I do not mean to imply that dreams discriminate in favor of these negative residues. It is only that they, more than positive experiences, give us more to mull over while we sleep.

If we take the trouble to permit those nocturnal reflections to find their place in our waking world, they provide us with a starting point in the continuing struggle to transcend our limitations. The nature of our interdependence is such that, as personal connections evolve more solidly, there are effects that reverberate upward toward ever larger social units. Dreams can point us in the right direction. They reveal our strengths, acknowledge our weaknesses, expose our deceits, and liberate our creativity. They deserve far greater attention than they now receive.

I think there is a parallel between Jung's intuitive grasp of the dream and the point of view I have been developing. He freed dreams from the stranglehold of instinct, called attention to their compensatory function, and attributed a commonality to dreams in the form of a collective unconscious (Jung, 1968). He regarded the collective unconscious as the repository of our archetypal heritage; it was a genetically determined objective form of consciousness. Archetypes had their source in the developmental struggles common to all humankind, and they made their presence felt in dreams through universal images that arise during periods of tension and transformation. The dream as a whole, however, was still dealt with within the framework of the dreamer's individual psychology. While I do not agree with the specifics of the collective unconscious as Jung defined it, along with its archetypal derivatives, I do see in this concept a sensitivity to what there is in dreams that binds us together, that points to a common heritage, and that provides us with a common language with which to speak of common issues. In a manner somewhat analogous to Chomsky's (1972) view of our intrinsic structural preparation for language, I prefer to postulate an inborn structural preparation for a nocturnal language capable of communicating to ourselves any tears in the social fabric of our existence. No one taught us this language, but we all speak it fluently. Our dreaming self has never lost sight of the fact that we are all members of a single species, and it makes use of this intrinsic capacity by reminding us of that fact.

I believe the present thesis is implicit in all that Burrow (1964) has written about the prevalence of psychological ills. The ego often operates with a kind of arrogant disregard of the more basic organismic needs that are relegated to the unconscious domain, where they presumably gain expression in dreams. He notes that the "larval mode of consciousness" (p. 15), the enduring source of our ties to each other, is to be found in certain dreams. I would qualify that and note that whereas it may appear more starkly in certain dreams, it shapes the imagery of all dreams.

Bohm's writings on wholeness and the implicate order do not explicitly address the issue of dreams. He does, however, consider the nature of thought as representing movement from the implicate to the explicate (Bohm, 1980). When wholeness is lost sight of, as it tends to be in our current world view, thought processes, like other objects in reality, are experienced only in their discreteness. Their connections to the implicate are lost or ignored. Interpolating, one might assume the dreaming psyche concerns itself with impediments to the free flow between implicate and explicate.

One contemporary writer who explicitly addresses the issue of the relationship of dream content to survival is the late Christopher Evans (1983). Drawing on an analogy with computer programming, he suggests that we sleep in order to dream and we dream in order to review and revamp existing behavioral programs or to create new ones in response to the previous day's experience. In this way, old programs are brought up to date or replaced by new ones. This is close to what I am saying, but it differs in one important respect. Dreaming may serve to keep an animal's behavioral repertoire in a readiness state. At the human level, however, the survival benefit derives not only from the occurrence of dreaming per se as an alerting mechanism, but also from the opportunity it presents to put its content to good use in the waking state. Metaphor has come into the picture, and only by explicating and appreciating metaphor as metaphor can we fully make use of all that the dream has to offer. A line has to be drawn between the adaptive significance of dreaming for the sleeping organism and the use to which we can put the remembered dream once we are awake. Dreaming is a transitory state of consciousness relating primarily to the needs of the sleeping organism. What we bring back from that state, namely, the dream, can then be transformed into an instrument by means of which we can gain a more accurate perspective on who we really are. That, in turn, can help clear away the debris that has accumulated in the path we have to follow to establish deep, close ties with others. All that constrains us and makes it difficult to pursue that path passes before us at night.

Assumption Number 4: The collectivity intrinsic to dreaming can become manifest through dream sharing.

For the past decade and a half, I have been exploring the possibilities of group dream work as an educational rather than a formal, clinical experience (Ullman, 1988; Ullman & Zimmerman, 1979). With the help of others in the group, the dreamer learns to appreciate what a dream has to offer. The more involved I became with dream work in the context of a group setting, the more my own views on dreaming and the dream began to change. I became more and more convinced that only a suprapersonal view of the dream could account for its content and for the bonding and sense of communion that results when a dream comes to life in a supportive social milieu.

When a dream is shared and worked on in a small group setting, it reaches a higher degree of "socialization" than when a dreamer works on it alone. The feelings and meanings that can be derived from the imagery are transposed from a private to a public domain. The "collective" quality of the dream becomes manifest in the interplay of curiosity, courage, honesty, and in the creative nature of the quest, the freedom that results, and the impact on the others in the group who are there as helpers. Let me say a word about each of these.

There is something curious about the curiosity everyone has about dreams. It is more than idle curiosity. I believe it hides a deeper awareness that dreams speak to hidden truths about our nature. With the dream comes an insistent urge to get at those truths. It is as if, at some level, we all recognize the validity of Swedish author Poul Bjerre's (1982) characterization of the dream as a "natural healing system." Quite early in the century, Bjerre took issue with Freud and saw dreams as a readily available route to healing. His writings demystified dreams and showed how the understanding of dreams could be helpful to everyone in everyday life.

Working with dreams entails risk. Courage is involved. The dreamer jumps into a body of water without knowing its depth, thus placing his or her bet on the value of truth over privacy and showing the courage to face whatever it takes to get at the truth. The struggle of the dreamer mobilizes the healing resources of the helpers in a common effort to provide both the support and the stimulation the dreamer needs to get closer to the dream. When carried out properly, the deep level of sharing generates trust and a sense of communion, commonality, and closeness.

Those of us engaged in group dream work cherish the honesty that is there for us in our dreams. Ordinarily we are left to our own devices in the pursuit of that kind of honesty. Group dream work can become a readily available avenue, open to all, to achieve that end. What I have seen happen repeatedly is that the respectful and supportive atmosphere, as well as the cooperative endeavor to meet the needs of the dreamer, results in the dismantling of long-standing defensive structures. They melt away when given the opportunity, and whatever truth emerges is welcomed regardless of how painful it may be. With the feeling of discovery comes the opportunity for change. On returning to everyday routine, one also becomes more aware of what it is that triggers defensive maneuvers. The opportunity to come to terms with the secrets of the soul provides relief and points the way to greater security and freedom of interaction with others. The more we allow ourselves to be known to othes, the fewer emotional time bombs we harbor that can go off unexpectedly. Our dreams tap into the power to move against ingrained behavioral patterns and make changes in our lives.

Then there is the encounter with our creativity. The original metaphorical images we manufacture while dreaming introduce us, often for the first time, to the range and power of our creativity. It is a remarkably creative act to mold and shape images that specifically and elegantly speak to what we are feeling. The seemingly spontaneous insight that is so characteristic of all creative acts seems to be the essence of what dreaming is all about. Just as such acts in waking life move us emotionally or intellectually, the same can be said of the dream image as its creative quality emerges through the common effort of the dreamer and the group. The process itself leaves each of the participants with the feeling of having been part of a highly creative experience. There is an interweaving of lives at so profound a level that the feeling of interconnectedness is almost palpable.

Assumption Number 5: The connection between dreaming and species survival has relevance for our understanding of psi effects.

 

There are two aspects to this question. Is there something about dreaming per se that is relevant to psi apart from the hypothesis that dreaming is concerned with species-connectedness and survival? The second aspect concerns the relevance of this latter hypothesis to psi.

In the 1984 presidential address to the Parapsychological Association, Rhea White (1985) sounded an urgent call to parapsychologists to reorient future research to the in-depth study of the human psyche. The quantitative approach initiated by Rhine still largely colors our experimental strategies. We have harnessed sophisticated technology to the effort, gained a notch or two in the level of scientific respectability accorded our endeavors, learned a little more of some of the vicissitudes that characterize the manifestation of psi; but in a basic sense, we know precious little more than our forebears did when they initiated the scientific era of psychical research. This has been so discouraging that it has led some of us to wonder if it was ever intended for us to know more of these mysterious happenings. Not being of that school, I am not ready to give up. I can sustain hope only if there is the kind of radical transformation in our effort to pursue psi, an effort such as White outlined so eloquently. So far I see no indication that her call has been heeded.[3] It is on record as another presidential address, but the urgency of its tone and the importance of its message has yet to be heard.

 

There are many approaches to this task. The study of dreams is a particularly powerful and useful one. Let us go back to our comparison of waking consciousness and dreaming consciousness, but extend it to the way that psi effects register in consciousness, awake or asleep. As noted, both waking and dreaming consciousness start with incomplete data, closely associated with an attempt to make sense of the data by retrieving relevant information from the past. Awake, the perceptual process begins with sensory input and ends successfully when the models we have built around similar input (based on past experience) enable us to recognize what is now before us. In most instances, we need relatively few sensory cues for recognition to occur.

Dreaming also begins with ambiguous stimuli in the form of feeling residues of recent experience. Again, this is a situation in which the data are incomplete and where a search for more information has to be implemented. The nature and results of that search, unique to the dreaming state, may provide a clue as to how a psi effect, once it comes into being, is processed. For the dreamer it is the feeling tone that is important. It is the source and significance of the feeling that is about to be explored. In the course of this exploration, the ordinary time frame is bypassed and time dimensions are condensed into the present moment. The same is true of spatial relations. Time and space are not disregarded but are rearranged so as to gain sensory representation. The end point is not an accurate factual perception but a feeling-tinged metaphorical image. There is a spontaneous and compelling quality to the way that imagery is experienced.

All of these aspects are applicable to the way psi effects seem to make their presence felt. Here, too, the data are generally experienced in a somewhat fragmentary way; here, too, it is the feeling tone that plays the predominant role; here, too, ordinary temporal and spatial relations do not exert a constraining influence and in a like manner seem irrelevant. The end point is reached as the dreamer succeeds in weaving together the psi­derived residue and other residues at hand into some kind of metaphorical unity. Although an ordinary dream has a compelling quality in the sense of our being involuntary spectators of what is going on (despite the fact that we may be participating in the action), that compelling quality may be more in evidence when telepathic or precognitive dreams occur. Feelings associated with an ordinary dream that stay with us may pique our curiosity about our inner world. A psi dream, connected as it is to external events to which we are not privy, may go beyond that and leave us with the urge to take some action in the external world.

From a biological point of view, there is a hint of how psi might fit into the scheme of things. The physiological underpinnings of the stage of sleep associated with dreaming, the REM stage, are located in the brain stem. Phylogenetically, the REM stage is considered an older and more primitive form of sleep than the non-REM stages of sleep. It would seem natural to connect it with more primitive survival needs. In both waking consciousness and dreaming, a scanning process sensitive to novelty is going on, but under very different circumstances. Awake and embedded in a social matrix, we scan a limited horizon. Asleep and dreaming, we are very much alone. We have taken temporary leave of that social cushioning, and as a consequence, we are potentially at greater risk. We now have to be open to a much wider scanning process, one capable of registering a range of possible disconnects from the most subtle to the most threatening. If we take psi effects seriously, this is so regardless of whether the source of the disconnect lies close at hand or is distant in time and space. In typical anecdotal reports, a psi effect makes its presence felt under circumstances where external, unforeseen circumstances either threaten us or have brought about a significant loss. Our bonds to others are constantly on the line, at the mercy of our own misguided behavior, the behavior of others, constraining social arrangements, and in the case of psi, unforeseen events at a distance either in space or time.

Can any further support for the way we have connected dreams and psi in the interest of survival be garnered from some of the writers whose views on consciousness, connectivity, and wholeness we have already quoted? Interestingly enough, all were or are regarded as "dissidents" in their respective fields. Jung broke from the psychoanalytic tradition Freud was attempting to establish. Burrow was excommunicated from the psychoanalytic establishment. David Bohm, a most highly regarded theoretical physicist, maintains his standing in the field because of his many contributions, but his views on the implicate order are quite controversial.

Burrow did not explicitly relate his theoretical concepts to the paranormal. He maintained a skeptical attitude to the work of Rhine (Burrow, 1958, pp. 365-368) while at the same time admitting his own bias. His view on the significance of the preconscious sense of unity of the infant with its environment and how that is all but lost in adulthood is certainly compatible with Ehrenwald's (1978) view of the mother-infant relationship as the cradle of ESP. Perhaps Burrow may not have gone that far, but his stress on the importance of that early bonding and the role it continues to play in what he referred to as a phylic or species consciousness is at least congruent with the thesis I have put forth.

In his movement away from classical psychoanalysis, Jung introduced two interesting concepts, namely, the collective unconscious and the principle of synchronicity. Earlier I commented on what I felt was of value about the former. I would now like to consider his controversial proposal of synchronicity.

Jung (Jung & Pauli, 1955) defined synchronicity as the acausal meaningful conjunction of inner and outer events. He regarded it as a second principle of nature, on a par with causality. For Jung it provided an approach to the paranormal (see Franz, 1980). It has evoked some interest among parapsychologists but not what I would call a very warm welcome. For the most part it has been either politely criticized (Beloff, 1977) or scoffed at as "nonsense" (Braude, 1980).[4] Although I cannot bring to the discussion any level of philosophical acumen, I cannot deny that the idea of synchronicity as a natural principle does have an appeal. Perhaps this is so because I find a congenial fit between what Jung was reaching out for and how Bohm is trying to reframe the nature of physical and mental reality. Both individuals, starting from different points (as was the case with Jung and Pauli, 1955) and using very different language, postulated a common ground of being, the collective unconscious of Jung and the implicate order of Bohm. Both were concerned with field relations based on meaning, the synchronous event of Jung and the transformative significance of the quantum potential of Bohm. Both based their views on the unity of mind and matter, Jung with his concept of the psychoid progenitor of matter and Bohm with his postulate of information transfer as characterizing both inanimate as well as animate matter.

Bohm's (1980) concept of the implicate order offers a more explicit statement of the common root of mind and matter and of a common information source out of which both mind and the world of material objects emerge. Not satisfied with a view of reality based solely on the pillars of mathematical formalism, Bohm sought a more intuitive understanding of quantum mechanics. This led him to postulate universal wholeness as the basic reality and the world of discrete objects as more or less stable vortices in the continuous two-way flow between the implicate and the explicate. Historically this is not an unfamiliar theme, but never before has it been developed in such a mathematically sophisticated way consistent with current knowledge of quantum events. Psi events fit into Bohm's scheme without the bedevilling anomalous quality they now possess.

Both Jung's and Bohm's views have been conjoined around the notion of synchronicity in a recent book by a physicist and colleague of Bohm's, David Peat (1987). He links thought to the flow between implicate and explicate orders in the following way:

In this sense, therefore, our thoughts are the explicate forms thrown up by the underlying movements of the implicate orders of mind. Like the vortex of a river . . . thoughts have no absolute, independent existence of their own but are constantly being supported by the underlying processes of their ground. Ultimately this movement of mind merges into that of matter so that the two should not be considered as dual aspects of nature but as arising out of the same underlying ground. In a similar sense, individual minds could be said to arise out of the one ground. They represent relatively stable forms, identities, as it were, within the underlying background. In this way it appears that individual minds have a common or collective origin that has something in common with that of matter. In a sense, therefore, mind is able to act upon mind, and mind and matter exert an influence one on the other. But this should be thought of not as some form of causal interaction since individual minds, and mind and matter, are not fundamentally separate but are simply the explicate forms that emerge out of a common, generative order." (p. 174)

In discussing the relationship of thought to the implicate order, Shainberg (1987) suggested that when such vortices of thought become relatively autonomous, isolated from the supporting ground of the implicate order, they make for pathological fixations.

 

John Palmer (1980), in his 1979 presidential address to the Parapsychological Association, made what I consider a very pertinent observation: "It seems to me, that the definition of parapsychology must be broadened drastically to include a much wider range of potentially synchronistic events than is presently the case" (p. 207).

What interests me is that there may be a way of looking at dreaming consciousness itself as a synchronistic event. Put differently, is there an element of synchronicity in dreaming, aside from the manifestation of psi effects? Is the way that recent, external triggering events, often of a seemingly incidental nature, link up in a meaningful way with long forgotten memories at a particular moment a synchronistic event? Does the dreamer's way of bringing together outer reality in the form of the day residue and inner reality in the form of a subjective range of feelings have something in common with synchronicity, whether or not psi events come into play? The inner and outer events arise out of seemingly independent antecedent causes, but the coming together is both timely and meaningful. The external event was an event that happened to be there when an independent inner process had developed in the dreamer to the point where it was ready to become manifest. Might this be more than a coincidental occurrence in the ordinary sense of the term? Synchronicities of this sort do not ordinarily come to our attention. The external event registers, often only peripherally, but without its meaning being self-evident at the time. Only through reexperiencing it while dreaming are the inner-related events joined up with it. Even then, what we are experiencing is imagery shaped by the feeling aspect of this conjunction. The full grasp of the expressive power of the image and the meaning it conveys has to await its translation into the coin of waking life, namely, language. By contrast, in the kind of synchronicities Jung wrote about and that parapsychologists have encountered, the meaning is generally there to see at the time of its occurrence.

Might there be an emotional gradient in terms of intensity that determines the synchronistic valence of a particular external event? Might an outer event carrying a high valence make a suitable triggering mechanism for the dream, without regard to spatial and temporal constraints? Below a certain level of intensity we enter into the pattern of these external events through our ordinary dreams. Above this threshold, the patterning includes events spatially and temporally distant from us, and a paranormal dream occurs. The assumption I am making is that the same underlying ordering principle is at work in both instances. In the following quote, what Peat (1987) notes about synchronicities of the Jungian variety would then apply equally well to the connection between day residues and dreaming:

Synchronicities are manifestations, in mind and matter, of the unknown ground that underlies them both .... The parallelism between the objective and the subjective aspects of the universe do not so much arise through causal connections, or linear patterns in time, but out of underlying dynamics that arc common to both. (p. 115)

I am aware that in making this proposal, I seem to be creating a mystery where none existed before. Ever since Freud, the day residue has been accepted as the natural precursor of the dream. There was no mystery involved. It was simply an accidental event that could be used by the dreamer to carry some heavier emotional weight. But is that all there is between the recent life context and the dream? Why, we might ask, is there a need in the first place for a day residue to trigger the content of a dream? Why do we need reminders from the outside that there is something to be attended to? On going to sleep we put our unconscious on automatic pilot. Why cannot we simply rely on whatever is there bubbling up on its own? Why does it have to be propelled into consciousness by external events? In accordance with this more generalized view of synchronicities, one could say that any impending tear in the social fabric is a concern not of the individual alone but of the species. The underlying ordering pattern in turn unfolds in a way that makes the impending tear more visible. The dream then processes that tear in the interest of restoring connectivity.

In short, I am suggesting that the dreaming mode is one in which there is a readiness for inner and outer events to come together on the basis of meaning. The dream is then the subjective side of a synchronistic set of circumstances where the outer event seems incidental but is nevertheless meaningfully related to the dreamer. Considering the reality of psi, that readiness includes sensitivity to events distant in time and space. This, of course, does not explain the mystery of psi. All it does is link it more closely to the mystery of dreams.[5]

I realize that proposals of the kind I have raised have far-reaching philosophical and cosmological implications. Those fall beyond the scope of this paper and my own area of expertise. The only justification I can offer is that our ongoing encounter with such matters as synchronicities and psi will continue to push each of us to the far edge of our imaginations in the hope of reaching an understanding that is both intuitively and logically satisfying.



[1] This is a revised version of the Fifth Gardner Murphy Memorial Lecture given April 7, 1989 at the Hotel St. Moritz, New York City.

[2] 2 Murphy called attention to this theme in following up the suggestion by H. E. Starr (1933) that in addition to the more obvious motives of the dreamer, "there exists a self-realizing motive based on identification with humanity, [and] that the sociality of man leads to the all-embracing motive of unification with the human family" (Murphy, 1947, p. 430).

[3] There is one notable exception. Steven Rosen (1985), a philosopher of science, has drawn attention to a similar critique of the conceptual basis of current parapsychological research.

[4] An exception is that of John Palmer (1980), who in his criticism of the transmission theory of psi gave serious consideration to the concept of synchronicity as the progenitor of conformance theory.

[5] The themes opened up here of the relationship of dreaming to the implicate order and species-wide connectedness are developed further elsewhere (Ullman, 1987).

 

 

 

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