The dream between neuroscience and psychoanalysis.

M. Mancia


The dream is tackled sometimes from the neurobiological viewpoint, sometimes from the neuropsychological angle, or from the positions of experimental and psychoanalytical psychology. Interest in dreams started with psychoanalysis in 1900, and 53 years later the discovery of REM sleep by Aserinski and Kleitman, and subsequent psychophysiological findings took the dream into the realm of biology. The dichotomous model of REM and non-REM sleep is described, as a basis for thought-like activity (non-REM sleep) and dreaming (REM sleep). This led to Hobson and McCarley's theory of activation-synthesis, suggesting that the mind while dreaming is simply the brain self-activated in REM sleep. Psychophysiological research has shown that people dream in all phases of sleep, from falling asleep to waking, but that the characteristics of the dreams may differ in the different phases. Bio-imaging studies indicate that during REM sleep there is activation of the pons, the amygdala bilaterally, and the anterior cingulate cortex, and disactivation of the posterior cingulate cortex and the prefrontal cortex. The images suggest there is a neuroanatomical frame within which dreams can be generated and then forgotten. Psychoanalysis studies the dream from a completely different angle. Freud believed it was the expression of hallucinatory satisfaction of repressed desires. Today it is interpreted as the expression of a representation of the transference in the hic et nunc of the session. At the same time it also has symbol-generating functions which provide an outlet by which affective experiences and fantasies and defences stored as parts of an unrepressed unconscious in the implicit memory can be represented in pictorial terms, then thought and rendered verbally. From the psychoanalytical point of view, the dream transcends neurobiological knowledge, and looks like a process of internal activation that is only apparently chaotic, but is actually rich in meanings, arising from the person's affective and emotional history.

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