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Night Visions: Dreams can free us from the constricting world of rationality

By Richard Handler

September/October 2008

A History of Last Night's Dream: Discovering the Hidden Path to the Soul
Rodger Kamenetz
HarperOne. 256 pp. ISBN: 978-0-06-057583-0

Throughout history, humans have tried to make sense of the baffling, nonlinear fleetingness of dreams. For shamans, mystics, and sages, dreams have provided a pathway to transcendent power—call it God (or myriad gods). In the Holy Bible, dreams were often seen as prophetic. Abraham's grandson Jacob dreamed of a ladder into the heavens where angels journeyed up and down, as if on some celestial highway. Later, Jacob's son Joseph dreamt dreams that were the envy of his brothers, who sold him into slavery in Egypt. There, Joseph used his gift for dream interpretation to gain the Pharaoh's favor. If you really understood dreams, Joseph's accomplishments seemed to demonstrate, you could parlay your skills into real power right here on earth.

Even though Sigmund Freud dismissed religion as an infantile fantasy, he appropriated the oracular nature of dreaming into his new "science" of psychoanalysis. For him, dreams were psychic puzzles, but instead of containing signs from some transcendent realm, they offered a royal road to the deepest riches of hidden and repressed conflicts. When Freud's disciple Carl Jung picked up the gauntlet of dream interpretation, he harked back to the older, oracular tradition. Jung's whole schema of archetypes and his idea of the "collective unconscious" gave dreams a…

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