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Sigmund Freud and the Role of Dreams - Sample history of psychology paper

This sample psychology essay describes how dreams interact with Freud's broader theories of psychoanalysis. It was written for a survey course on the history of psychology. This example social science paper looks at where dreams originate, the nature of dreams, and the types of dreams. It would be a good reference for a student who wants to take a historical theory and explain its relevance.

Daydream Believer: Examining Freud's Dream Theory

Sigmund Freud was an Austrian psychiatrist who created the psychoanalytical school of philosophy. He was born in 1856 in Moravia, Czech Republic, and he went to college at the University of Vienna where he studied neurology. After going to Paris to study with the renowned neurologist Jean Martin Charcot, Freud decided to pursue a career in psychopathology. He went on to develop the theory of psychoanalysis in which he became famous for his theories of the unconscious mind, defense mechanism of repression, and the role of dreams. He studied the nature of dreams through his patients dreams and his own. Moreover, he said that man has both conscious desires, and unconscious desires that co-exist within our minds. He concluded that dreams are the result of our unconscious thought breaking through while we are asleep. In his writing, The Interpretation of Dreams, he discusses the origin, nature, and function of dreams through his theory of the unconscious mind.

A major issue Freud sought to answer was, where dreams originated. He said that historically man had simply believed dreams to be a manifestation of a higher power, either demonic or divine. However, he rejected this notion, claiming that dreams come from individual's own self. He said that dreams normally are influenced by an event occurring within the last twenty-four hours, or as he called it, the "dream day." This Freudian notion of dreams coming from our self soon became widely recognized, "To-day only a small minority of educated people doubt that dreams are a product of the dreamer's own mind." (143) To support this theory he said that the unconscious causes our dreams. He claimed that the mind has three structures: the ego which is the part of our mind that deals with the world, the id which is where the energy of the mind comes and is always striving to achieve its desires, and the superego which is the source of conscious and serves as a buffer from the relentless drives of the id. When we sleep the superego weakens and allows more of the id to reach the ego. Freud points to this as the result of dreams. The ego becomes flooded with desires from the id and then produces dreams. Therefore, he states that dreams originate in a part of our mind, which is kept in check, while awake, by the superego.

In addition to researching the origin of dreams, Freud also focused on the nature of dreams. He classified two characteristics of dreams, the manifest content and the latent content. The manifest content in a dream is the part that can be clearly recalled. While the part where the dream actually originates and is difficult to understand or remember is the latent content. The overall content of a dream is usually derived from repressed memories or thoughts. He says that through sleep, our deep unconscious mind is able to reach the ego, allowing repressed thought to influence our dreams. Therefore, he claims that our dreams are never random, but are created by things we have repressed within our mind.

Furthermore, the transformation of latent dream-thoughts into manifest dream-content is important because it is the change to a mode of expression we can understand. Freud says that in order to get from latent to manifest content a process called dream-work is needed. "It follows that the dream-work is not creative, that it develops no phantasies of its own, that it makes no judgements and draws no conclusions; it has no functions whatever other than condensation and displacement of the material and its modification to pictorial form." (162) This quote represents the role that dream-work plays in interpreting dreams. He stresses that it should only analyze what the dreamer remembers and help move from the latent content to the manifest content.

In contrast, moving from the manifest content to the latent content is much more difficult, requiring the use of psychoanalysis. Because the latent content is often hidden in dreams and hard to recall, it can only be made known through psychoanalysis conducted by a therapist. The therapist will try and bring out the latent content by listening to the patient's description of their dream. The therapist has to be extremely disciplined to avoid planting seeds within the patient. The process can involve trying to bring about repressed thoughts and having the patient write down their dreams so they can be better analyzed. Freud viewed psychoanalysis as a great way of discerning the latent content of a dream, and essential for moving from manifest content to latent content.

Another major aspect of the nature of dreams, are the three types of dreams identified by Freud. Intelligible dreams can easily be understood and fit in with the context of our mental life. The second type is bewildering dreams, which can be recounted but do not relate to your life. Finally, the third type is confused, disconnected, and meaningless, which is the most common type of dream and have the strongest manifest and latent content. "The contrast between the manifest and latent content of dreams is clearly of significance only for dreams of the second and more particularly the third category." (149) He states that because we do not fully understand the second or third type of dream, psychoanalysis must be used to reveal the latent content. Thus, these different types of dreams play a role in determining the nature of our dreams in terms of how they relate to manifest and latent content.

In order to understand the content of dreams, dream-work deals with the idea of displacement. Displacement causes dream content to have a different center from the dream-thoughts. Freud uses displacement in the process of dream-work. Displacement helps move from latent content to manifest content. Analysis of dreams undoes displacement, allowing us to obtain truth between the instigators of dreams and their connection to waking life. Henceforth, it is important to use psychoanalysis to ensure that displacement doesn't mask the true meaning of a dream. "If what makes their way into the content of dreams are impressions and material which are indifferent and trivial rather than justifiably stirring and interesting, that is only the effect of the process of displacement." (156) He is saying that dreams are important and meaningful, and that only through displacement can it appear otherwise. Freud is supporting his theory that all dreams come from one's self and represent repressed feelings and thoughts.

Another part of the process of dream-work is the dream composition. Freud says this part demonstrates how some dream's work. By observing the dream composition a person can reveal the origin of the activity in their dream and fully understand the purpose or meaning of the dream. He also argues that dream composition can also serve to confuse a person if it is set up in a way that doesn't readily make sense. This can cause us to misinterpret a dream by trying to relate it to something already known to us. "Its function would then consist in arranging the constituents of the dream in such a way that they form an approximately connected whole, a dream composition. In this way the dream is given a kind of façade and thus receives a first, preliminary interpretation, which is supported by interpolations." (161) This quote demonstrates how dream composition can either help interpret dreams, or create false conclusions about a dream.

The final aspect of dreams Freud focused on was the function of dreams in our lives. One purpose dreams serve is providing fulfillment of our fantasies and wishes by allowing our minds to believe they have acquired a wish within a dream. An example of this is demonstrated by Freud's dream on page 140 where he learns that Otto is responsible for Irma's pain and not him. The dream provided wish fulfillment for him and was motivated by a wish. "Dreams which are intelligible and have a meaning, we have found that they are undisguised wish-fulfilments; that is, that in their case the dream-situation represents as fulfilled a wish which is known to consciousness, which is left over from daytime life, and which is deservedly of interest." (165) Therefore, he clearly conveys that one function of dreams is to fulfill people's wishes that they are unable to obtain in their daytime lives.

In addition to fulfilling our wishes, dreams act as a method for protecting sleep from disturbances. Dreams make it easier for our mind to succumb to sleep because it is still able to work and strive for its desires through the process of dreaming. Therefore our minds can find ease in this knowledge, making it easier for people to fall asleep. Another way dreams protect sleep is by distracting us from external stimuli or noises. Dreams will either incorporate an external noise into our dream or provide internal stimuli for our minds to focus on. "Every dream which occurs immediately before the sleeper is woken by a loud noise has made an attempt at explaining away the arousing stimulus by providing another explanation of it and has thus sought to prolong sleep, even if only for a moment." (169) This quote demonstrates how can dreams can effectively serve as protection for sleep. I myself often find that when my alarm sounds in the morning, there is often a buzzing noise present in my dream that is created by a different object such as a microwave or a bell. However, once I wake up I realize that the real source of the buzzing noise is, sadly my alarm clock. This is an example of Freud's theory that dreams function as a means for protecting sleep.

Overall, Freud made many great advances in the field of psychoanalysis, but none have influenced later generations as much as his work with the unconscious mind. His theories on the origin, nature, and function of dreams are still widely accepted today and held in high regard. His work revealed that dreams are the production of our own minds, stemming from repressed thoughts. Manifest and latent content of dreams were used by Freud to explain the nature of our dreams along with the three distinct types. Furthermore, he explained the function of our dreams as a means of wish fulfillment and sleep protection. More than sixty-eight years after his death, Freud is still a prominent and leading figure in the ever-going study of men's minds.
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