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December 2022

A cognitive theory of dream symbols

Journal/Book: Journal of general psychology. 1953; 48: 169-186.

Abstract: SUMMARY: Freud's theory of dream symbols as disguises for reprehensible referents has been examined and found wanting in several respects: (a) it does not explain why censurable referents appear in some dreams in their naked form and in other dreams as symbols, (b) it does not explain why some people are able to decipher their own dreams with facility, (c) it does not take into account the self-conscious and intentional use of slang and figures of speech for referent objects which are symbolized in dreams, (d) it does not deal adequately with the question why there should be multiple symbols for the same referent object, and (e) it assumes that the mind during sleep is capable of performing exeedingly complex operations. Starting from Freud's other hypothesis regarding dream symbols, that which he called regard for representability, the following theory of dream symbols has been formulated: (a) the referent of a dream symbol is the dreamer's conception (idea) of a referent object, (b) a dream symbol is substituted for a referent object in order to express clearly and economically the conception that the dreamer has in mind, (c) symbols are amploued because conceptions are abstract and must be represented by visible embodiments if they are to appear in dreams, and (d) a symbol is selected, because the dreamer's conception of the symbol is identical with his conception of the referent object. Dream symbols may be decomposed into conceptions by making use of various clues: (a) clues that are present within the context of the dream itself, (b) clues from other dreams of the person, (c) free association, (d) acting out as exemplified by dreams that terminate in nocturnal emissions, and (e) evidence from slang, figures of speech, myths, fairy tales, etymology, and the visual arts. The theory presented in this paper has been called a cognitive theory of dream symbols because it assumes that the process of symbolizing is a function of the the cognitive system of the ego.

Note: From: Kenneth E. Bruscia: Bibliography on GIM and related topics. (April 1995)

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