Journey Into Nature – Margaret Mead on Dreams – January 7, 1962 – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –
Dreams – everybody has them and we’ve had them forever. It’s that thing most of us do when our eyes close. Some dreams are vivid, others are strange, many make no sense. Some people don’t dream – others dream in brilliant colors.
But dreams have been the topic of studies and speculation and no one is quite sure what they are all about – at least when this interview with Margaret Mead took place in 1962. They were one of life’s big mysteries.
In 1962 getting a handle on the dream state often meant waking a patient after a period of sleep and asking what they were dreaming about, if they in fact did dream. The patient, in a groggy state of incoherence would describe, as best they could, what was going on just prior to being awaken – but it was hardly reliable. Later it was determined that a patient entering a dream state was signaled by rapid eye movement, and this was noted by researchers who carefully recorded or filmed the movement and then woke the patient up to ask what they were dreaming about.
But both of these methods relied on the patient being able to articulate in some coherent way, what they were experiencing just prior to being awaken. But both methods weren’t believed to be totally accurate, because dreaming is about images, sounds and smells and unless you were able to describe that state in some meaningful way, everything was up to speculation.
Mead tells the interviewer that dreams are universal – everyone has them, no matter who or where they are – they exist in this realm of sights, smell, sounds and involuntary movements. But what wasn’t known at the time was what function the dream state actually served. Some Psychologists theorized the purpose of dreams was to protect sleep; that situations going on in waking life serve to intrude consciousness where the dream dresses the situations up to keep the person asleep. And there was another school of thought that the purpose of dreams was to wake you up and that the function of dreaming was to keep the person from falling into too deep a sleep. Still another theory was that dreams were symbolic of the creative state – that humans were, by nature, creative and the dream state was a way of manifesting that. Hence, Art, Writing and Music.
A lot of theories but no conclusive proof – not in 1962 and most likely not now. But Margaret Mead was the foremost authority on cultural Anthropology and certainly was the most visible.
If you aren’t familiar with her, here’s a chance to become at least partially acquainted via her interview for the program Journey Into Nature from January 7, 1962.
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