Dreaming is one of the most interesting and ill-understood activities of human existence. Many of us don’t remember most of our dreams—to the extent that a number of people don’t think they even have dreams (while not completely conclusive, the scientific evidence suggests that all of us dream every night—except people who live on RedBull and 2 hours / night until they tragically die young.) However, when we do remember a dream, it’s often a vivid and profound experience. Some people dream lucidly (are aware they are inside a dream as it occurs), and a few people have lucid dreams on a regular basis. This has led people to draw all sorts of conclusions about dreams existing in a realm beyond the physical, and what not.
While there remains a lot that we still don’t know about dreams, a great deal of science has been advanced in recent decades—enough to take dreamland out of the realm of spiritual mumbo-jumbo and even away from the weak (and largely wrong) science of Freud, and into the realm of legitimate science. This book summarizes much of that science in a concise package. The “A Very Short Introduction” (VSI) series from Oxford University Press offers this type of guide for many subjects. They’re usually about 100 pages long, and give a quick and gritty rundown of the subject at hand.
This book is organized into eleven chapters covering: What is dreaming? Why the Freudian approach (and earlier dream interpretation schemes) failed? How the brain is activated during sleep? What is happening at the level of neurochemistry? Why we dream? What can go wrong with dreams? (i.e. sleepwalking, night-terrors, etc.), How dreaming relates to delirium and mental illness? (i.e. it is, after all, a state of hallucination in which we take often bizarre imagery for granted.) There’s a discussion of the new psychology of dreaming which is based in neuroscience and not on an Austrian with a pipe suggesting that it all comes down to penises and vaginas. (Hobson isn’t anti-Freud, though he does want to make clear that the psychology pioneer was quite wrong on this subject.) There’s a discussion of how learning and memory can (and can’t) be advanced through sleep. Hobson discusses the interaction of consciousness and dreams, e.g. lucid dreaming. And there’s a discussion of interpretation of dreams that is rooted in more modern thought.
An interesting feature of this guide is that the author uses his own dream diary entries as case studies to make points clear. That helps make this VSI guide a little less dry than they tend to be by their nature.
I do enjoy the VSI series. I’ve read quite a few of them, and find they are a good way to study up on a subject with a minimal of effort or pain. I also enjoyed this volume specifically. It’s certainly one of the most fascinating topics on which I’ve read a VSI, and the author doesn’t disappoint in bringing interesting facts and anecdotes to the table.
I’d recommend this book if you want to get up to speed on dreaming in a little over a hundred pages.