Freud Was Wrong 1
NS 2809! Dream psychiatrist: Freud was out to lunch
* 19 April 2011 by Tiffany O'Callaghan
[It is fantastic that someone as old as Hobson would change his mind. We heard
him at a AAAS session in iirc 2000. I was quite impressed with him and am even
more impressed with him now.]
IN HIS new book Dream Life: An experimental memoir, psychiatrist and
dream researcher J. Allan Hobson looks back on his life and puts
forward his dream theory of protoconsciousness.
Why did you choose to write an "experimental memoir"?
I think it's interesting to consider both autobiographical details
and biological phenomena. Since my life's work has been of that
nature, I wanted to emphasise the importance of both.
What is your dream theory of protoconsciousness?
In 2008 I was preparing a lecture and I realised I was still
thinking of dreaming as an unconscious mental process, and that that
was wrong. The minute I threw out the Freudian idea that dreaming is
derivative of waking experience was when I could see it for what it
probably is--a prediction about waking experience.
REM sleep is antecedent to waking. It occurs in utero. Now, you
can't tell me that's because you're trying to get rid of infantile
wishes. It means that dreaming has a developmental function. It is
also something that occurs relatively late in evolution: if you
don't have a thalamus and cortex, you don't have REM sleep, despite
the fact that it's a brainstem function.
REM sleep is in the service of brain function that will ultimately
lead to waking consciousness. My theory is that dreaming is not a
replay of memory. It is a "preplay" of perception.
Why did you abandon the idea that dreaming is unconscious?
I had to ask myself, why do I say it's an unconscious mental
process? The answer was because I'm still a Freudian, even though
I've been trying to get over it. The philosopher Willard Quine once
told me I belong to Freudians Anonymous. It's true, and it's not
just me: I think everyone is addicted to Freudian misconceptions.
We've got to take all of these received ideas more seriously, and
then take them apart.
How did you become disillusioned with psychoanalysis?
In the first two weeks of my psychiatry residency in 1960, I thought
I'd see that my doubts about psychoanalysis had been mistaken. But
it was just the opposite. I was told, "There must be something wrong
with you if you're asking all of these questions." My chief
suggested I really believed in science. I said, "That's ridiculous.
I don't believe in science; science is our defence against belief."
Science is institutional scepticism. We need to ask these questions.
Yet some people still hold to psychoanalysis?
Psychoanalytic theory is popular because it's easy to understand,
but I think it's wrong. I don't think dreams are caused by the
release of repressed infantile wishes. There's nothing scientific
about psychoanalysis, there's nothing scientific about Sigmund
Freud. He didn't do a single experiment, he didn't do any direct
observation, he used no controls. The guy was out to lunch.
You argue we should move toward a "science of subjectivity". What is
that and what makes it worthwhile?
Subjective experience is a methodological approach to studying the
brain: look, keep accurate records and then analyse them. That's how
we discovered "dream bizarreness". Everyone said that dreams were
bizarre, but nobody really knew what that meant. It doesn't mean you
see monsters or that you can fly, but that times, places and persons
change without notice in dreams. I think there are other ways this
will play out when people take the science of subjectivity
Where should research into dreams go from here?
One of the main problems is in understanding the brain imaging data
in terms of cellular and molecular activity--there's a big gap
J. Allan Hobson is emeritus professor of psychiatry at Harvard
Medical School and a prominent researcher in the field of REM sleep.
He is the author of nine books on dreaming and consciousness, the
latest of which is Dream Life: An experimental memoir, published by
The MIT Press