The many ways we dream

By | Last Updated: 23 December 2022

Dreams as Freud said are a road to the unconscious dimensions of the psyche

The dream process is not a static phenomenon but it follows a structural heirarchical development correlated with the psychological growth of humans

In order to understand this heirarchical dream development , it is important  to understand some basic types of unconscious processes operating in the psyche

1. *Ground or archaic unconscious*

The ground or archaic unconscious is the undifferentiated unconscious out of which the different types of unconscious processes arise , it can be likened to a fertile ground

2. *The embedded unconscious*

The embedded unconscious  constitutes the unconscious processes which are dominating the conscious aspects of the psyche at its present level of growth of development

For eg In a 2 year old child, the preoperational level of thinking is the embedded unconscious , which governs the conscious thoughts and activities of the child , but the child is not aware that he is following the hidden rules of this level

3. *The submergent/ repressed  unconscious*

The submergent/ repressed  unconscious represents the aspects of the psyche which have been cut off from the conscious  awareness of the individual  through the defence mechanism of repression

4. *Emergent unconscious*

The emergent unconscious represents the levels of unconscious which have still not emerged in the psyche but will subsequently do through the process of growth and development

For eg A child who is at preoperational thinking , the next  higher levels of cognitive development that is concrete operational thinking and formal operational thinking represent the emergent unconscious , which are evolutionary potentials stored in the ground unconscious

The level of the embedded unconscious forms the repression barrier which acts as a watershed or flood gate seperating the submergent unconscious and the emergent unconscious

During dreams the repression barrier relaxes and the floodgates open, because of which aspects of the submergent unconscious and the emergent unconscious merge and  contribute to the content of the dreams , whereas Freud believed that only the repressed aspects of the psyche and day time residual events form the main contents of dreams

As  psychological growth and development progresses , new levels of embedded unconscious come to dominate the conscious operations of the psyche and new types of materials start getting repressed creating new layers of submergent unconscious

So the unconscious is not just a heap of thoughts and emotions in the psyche but consists of heirarchically structured and stratified layers of the embedded unconscious , submergent unconscious and the emergent unconscious

Human beings are not just individuals but they are also embeduals ( embedded in the values and belief systems of the socio cultural mileu), so these socio cultural shared values and belief systems also contribute to the dream process

At present humans have gone through 8 or so major leaps in their cultural evolution , which are perfectly correlated with the psychological growth of individuals today , and which determines to a large extent the mechanics of dreams

1. Archaic - This stage was seen in the most primitive cave men around 200,000 years ago , and is same as the sensorimotor awareness stage seen in infants today   The main focus is on satisfying the basic physiological needs of hunger and thirst

So the embedded unconscious at this level of development is the sensorimotor awareness

But neither the cave men nor the child at this stage have developed language or the use of symbols , and language is the ultimate repressing agency , so the repression barrier is not that strong , and so dreams in this stage are mostly unstructured

2. Magic - This stage appeared in humanity around 50,000 years ago and was characterized by magical beliefs and thinking , fusion of thoughts and objects , no clear distinction between the self sense and the world , this level is seen in an infant today at preoperational level of thinking , and this is the first stage associated with the use of symbols and language and the creation of the repression barrier

So at this stage , the preoperational thinking is the embedded unconscious

and the level below it that is sensorimotor awareness becomes the submergent unconscious and during dreams when the embedded unconscious relaxes , the sensorimotor thinking creates the rules of how dreams will be interpreted , so dreams at this level  mostly revolve around  the basic physiological needs

Even in healthy grown up adults , when the physiological needs are not met , the dream content is mostly focused on these needs eg when fasting for long periods of time

3. Mythic - This level emerged in humanity around 10, 000 years ago and was characterized by worship of a a god or supernatural figure who is out there in the world , and pleasing him / her through various rituals and practices for the fulfillment of their material egoic desires , and following the rules and laws of one's social group and religious institution ,this stage correlates with the concrete operational thinking seen in children today or the rule - role mind , where the main focus is on being part of one's community, pleasing family members and peers , and following the rules and laws of various institutions

So the embedded unconscious at this level is concrete operational thinking and the level below it the preoperational thinking governs the hidden process of dreams

Now according to recent surveys more than 80 percent of the population is at the mythic stage or below

So when Freud was analysing the dream content of his clients , he was mostly dealing with clients from this level , and what he called the primary dream processes were infact the processes of preoperational thinking such as condensation , dispacement , diffusion , subject - object fusion , and majority of adults even today  experience the dream process through the hidden rules of preoperational thinking, which is just one level in a multitude of levels of dream interpretation

4. Rational - The rational level appeared in humanity during the 1800s with the dawn of the industrial revolution and emergence of various scientific disciplines , this level is characterized by scientific rational thinking , objective measurement and study of the world, creating hypothesis and testing them against alternatives , this stage correlates with the formal operational thinking seen in adolescents today

So at this level of development , formal ooperational thinking forms the repression barrier , and the level below it , the concrete operational thinking becomes the submergent unconscious and dominates the dream process

Many great scientific discoveries during this period were made in the dream state

Eg Mendeleev arranged  the elements of the periodic  periodic table in his dreams , which is the class seriation  and classification function of concrete operational thinking 

6 . Pluralistic - This stage emerged in the human society in the early 1960s , and is characterized by going beyond rational thinking , caring for the community and marginalized sections of society , egalitarianism , equal rights for all and a humanitarian stance and on a cognitive level by postfornal operational thinking which goes beyond hypothesis testing and tries to combine and find connections between different fields of knowledge

According to recent surveys 15 to 20 percent of the population is at this stage

So at this stage postfornal operational thinking is the embedded uncosncious and the level below it the formal operational thinking becomes the submergent unconscious and governs the operations of dreams

Eg Albert Einstein and Nikola Tesla were chronic day dreamers and all of their scientific discoveries came in the dream state through use of formal operational thinking.

So a careful analysis reveals that unconscious processes  which dominate the waking stage of individual at a particular stage becomes the predominant mechanism governing the operations of the dream state at the next higher level of development both individually and collectively

So , how the humans experienced the waking state 50,000 years ago, as can be decoded by seeing various cave paintings from this era , where there are fusion of various animals and humans , fusion of various elements of nature , and metamorphosis of one form to another , this same state we experience as dreams today , and future generations will experience our waking state as their predominant dream state