“Dream A Little Dream Of Me”*

Image: Sigmund Freud, pictured in 1926.

*1931 song with music by Fabian Andre and Wilbur Schwandt and lyrics by Gus Kahn.

Jess Keiser, assistant professor in the department of English at Tufts University and the author of “Nervous Fictions: Literary Form and the Enlightenment Origins of Neuroscience”, wrote in the Washington Post of Feb. 26, 2021:

“…Since so much modern brain research tends to treat Freud with indifference or disdain, the idea that his psychology ever sought to be “scientific” may come as a surprise. But in his exciting new book, “The Hidden Spring: A Journey to the Source of Consciousness,” the neuropsychologist and psychoanalyst Mark Solms picks up where Freud left off on that October night. Drawing on extensive cognitive science research — much of it his own — Solms argues that Freud’s theories anticipate some key findings in current brain research. In Solms’s reckoning, those controversial ideas weren’t just ahead of their time; he proposes that they still have something to teach neuroscience today…

What is perhaps most striking about Solms’s project, though, is his insistence that Freud already laid the groundwork. As Solms explains in the opening chapters of “The Hidden Spring,” he came to accept Freudian psychoanalysis by simply following where the science led him. For instance, his earliest work in neuropsychology involved research on sleep and dreams. When Solms began studying the nervous system in the 1980s, dreams were an unlikely path to proving Freud right. At the time, researchers associated dreaming with REM sleep, a particularly “mindless” state. Solms sums up the scientific consensus with the words of the researcher Allan Hobson: “The primary motivating force for dreaming is not psychological but physiological.” Dreams, according to this model, were more like neural indigestion than deeply meaningful fantasies.

For Freud, by contrast, every dream is the expression of an unconscious wish. By digging through the dross of the dream’s explicit imagery (which he called its “manifest content”), the analyst and patient could discern the stifled desires (“latent content,” in Freudian lingo) buried beneath. Solms soon came to the conclusion that this story — in which dreams are meaningful — was closer to the truth than contemporary neuroscientists realized. Through his neurological research he discovered that “patients with damage to the part of the brain that generates REM sleep still experience dreams.” While REM sleep certainly had some connection to dreams, another bit of the brain — a bundle of nerves often referred to as the psyche’s “reward system” or “wanting system” — also played a role. This is the “one part of the brain that might be considered responsible for ‘wishes,’ ” Solms writes. “It rapidly became clear that neuroscience owed Freud an apology.”

Readers of Freud’s writings on dreams are often drawn to his accounts of decrypting his patients’ puzzling nocturnal imaginings, which read like virtuosic detective stories. Solms, however, seems to have been taken by something more fundamental: the fact that for Freud, dreams are, at their core, manifestations of wishes. What Freud got right, then, and what Solms hopes modern brain science will soon embrace, is the importance of drive and desire in our mental life…”

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