Sleep Learning - or - Brave New World of Mass Media

Dreamer: Jim, 21, North American College student

Dreamer: Jim, 21, North American College student

I have a question that I really would like to know the answer to. My friend believes that all dreams are based on experience or things that we are aware have happened, stemming from information that the brain has stored. E.g. if a dream contains violence or war scenes even though that person has never experienced war or violence, they are able to dream about it as they know it exists.

However, I am curious as to whether it is possible that when we dream, we can imagine and discover new and amazing things and places that seem to originate from nothing, i.e., there is nothing in the dream that can be described or which any person on earth (to our knowledge) has experienced or seen. Therefore, I am wondering if in our dreams, we can dream of things that the human life has no experience of and see images that the brain has never stored, therefore, seemingly coming from nowhere. If this makes any sense to you as no one else seems to understand what I am trying to say, can you provide me with an answer?

Mark's Reply:  Free Your Mind -or- Mass Media and Mind Control

Some astute thinking.

Most dreams are memory/experience generated as you state. Can we derive knowledge of things that are not yet known? Isn't that what discovery and creativity is all about? From a learning perspective, insight learning occurs in dreams and is known as sleep learning. 

The brain when recalling memories, thoughts, feelings and sensations, generates a "stream of consciousness." As the English poet Coleridge has noted, there is a difference between mechanical "fantasy" which is a reproduction of information stored in memory and reconfigured, and "imagination" which is the mind's ability to create a new image, perception or idea. From a visual perspective these images are seen through the "mind's eye". Reportedly Friedrich Kekule, the father of modern chemistry, discovered the constitution of molecules from a dream, and Robert Louis Stephenson found the plot for "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" in a dream. These are just a few examples of the creative process at work that goes on every day. 

From a different perspective, hypnopaedia or sleep learning was a literary device used by Aldous Huxley in his dystopian novel "Brave New World". In the book, infantile hypnopaedia is used to condition consciousness and ensure the compliance of the characters with the ideological social order. Throughout the novel, characters spout the rhetoric and sentiments of their hypnopaedic training unconsciously and behave according to the indoctrinated precepts of their sleep-teaching. Even those like the Brave New World's character Bernard Marx who is conscious of the mind control techniques of hypnopaedia cannot fully escape its power. The dystopian hypnopaedic practice supports a totalitarian social stability but destroys personal identity and independence. 

The communications expert Marshall McLuhan clearly understood the depth psychological effects that media had on people. Many dreams sent to the International Institute for Dream Research (IIDR) are induced by the media. In fact, one of the main findings of the IIDR is the pervasive influence of media on our dreams. One such dream interpretation; "The Influencing Machine and Visual Culture" discusses the problem. As Morpheus says to Neo in the film "The Matrix"; "free your mind". 

Further Reading:

  • Shirley Sugarman (ed.), "Evolution of Consciousness"
  • Edith Cobb, "The Ecology of the Imagination in Childhood"
  • Roger Walsh, "Towards an Ecology of the Brain"
  • Gregory Bateson, "Ecology of the Mind"
  • Hannah Arendt, "Origins of Totalitarianism"
  • Aldous Huxley, "Brave New World Revisited"

Hope these thoughts are of help and provide some insight,
Mark H.

All material Copyright 2006 International Institute for Dream Research. All rights reserved.