Of Dreaming

SLEEP is one of those ultimate facts which take place in the course of nature, which a just philosophy does not attempt to explain. We can no more ascertain what alterations take place in the mind and body in sleeping, so as to cause the one to cease thinking, and prevent the other from acting, than we can determine in what thought, imagination, and reasoning themselves consist, and how the soul exercises these acts. The same, however, is not the case with dreaming. Being acquainted with the operations of the mind in its various modes of thinking, and with the evident state of insensibility into which the body is thrown by sleep ing, we may afford a very satisfactory solution of the irregular and curious phenomena of dreaming, without having recourse, with Mr. Baxter, to the interference of supernatural beings, or without supposing, with Bishop Newton, that the doctrine of Homer still retains its authority, and that dreams descend from Jupiter, or are the immediate suggestions of the Divine mind. Such doctrines have no founda. tion either in reason or revelation, and are only calculated to encourage among the ignorant and credulous a silly and injurious superstition. Let us recur for our solution to the principles before propounded.

We have said that it has now been sufficiently substantiated by fact and experience, that in all cases of the operations of mind, there is a correspondent action produced in the bodily organs, and vice versa; although, in no case can we become acquainted with the nature of that action. Thus there is one alteration produced in the corporeal system by perception, another by imagination, a third by voli. tion, and others by reasoning, and the exercise of our passions and affections. All this nice and delicate machinery, the several parts of which the mind successively sets into operation in exercising its powers, is in a state of rest and inaction during sleep. Now suppose that while the mind and body are in this recumbent posture, any accidental cause, such as crudities in the stomach arising from indigestion, sudden pain or uneasiness resulting from partial stoppages in the circulation of the blood, or some impedi. ments preventing the natural performance of the secretions or other functions of the body, or a thousand other causes which it is impossible to enumerate or ascertain; (for this effect might be produced by any thing affecting the senses, even while we are turning in bed.) Suppose, from some of these causes, the organs of perception are excited into action, or have those alterations produced in them which always accompany our perceptions. It is evident, under these circumstances, that our perceptive powers being partially roused from their dormant state would begin to act, and we should think, and a train of thoughts would succeed each other in the mind. The perceptive powers being thus excited into imperfect action, and the mind beginning to think, all its other faculties would be successively set into operation, as of imagination, memory, reason, volition, &c. That the mind may be excited into that imperfect action, denominated dreaming, by operating upon the organs of sense is proved by numberless facts. It is a common observation, that put any one's feet into cold water while he is sleeping, and we shall be able to extract all his secrets from him, since he will begin to dream and talk. The thoughts too on such occasions, usually fasten upon those objects that have a relation to our own sensations. Mr. Stewart mentions the case of a man, whose feet while he was sleeping, being put into hot water, dreamt that he was walking amidst the burning lava of Mount Etna, and of another, who on account of sickness having a blister-plaster applied to his head, dreamt that he was scalped by Indians. These facts incontrovertibly show, that we may be made to think by such exciting causes externally applied to the senses. Let us proceed to state the usual phenomena of dreaming, and endeavour, as far as possible, to explain them upon the principles we have prescribed.

In the first place, it is to be remarked, that our dreams are woven out of the materials furnished by our waking thoughts, though for the most part, most strangely, incoherently and fantastically wrought together. Every man's dreams receive their hue from his own constitutional temperament of body and mind, and respect those transactions in which he is constantly engaged in life. Hence Milton, who often discovers as much of the Philosopher's insight into nature as of the poet's fancy, in his Paradise Lost, represents Adam as remarking to Eve, after she has recited to him her ominous dream, that “ those airy shapes, which in her sleep had been so disjoined by imagination, wild work producing, bore some resemblance to their last evening's talk, but with strange addition.” The same poet represents dreams, as the product of fancy, exercising her mimick art, in the imitation of reason, who fashions our ideas into regular structures, while this higher power has retired into her private cell when nature rests. This observation also is just and profound, and may serve to account for those wild and grotesque shapes into which our thoughts are apt to shoot forth in dreams. The hardier powers of reason, the will, the memory, are more slightly exerted in sleep, while the lighter ones of conception and imagination, are allowed to operate without their control. In the state of sleep, therefore, imagination released, for the most part, from the sway of reason, memory, or will, collects at her pleasure all the colours with which she delineates her pictures, and mixes and applies them with an unsteady hand. Hence proceed the wildness and extravagance of these pictures. And here it is to be remarked, that according to the theory we have proposed above, the natural result of the state of both body and mind in sleep, is that sensation and imagination should be the principal agents in producing our dreams, while the hardier powers of reason and the will should be nearly or entirely quiescent. For those causes, to which we have just alluded, which acting upon the senses, excite our perceptive powers, and set us to thinking, may easily give rise within us to a train of ideas in regular succession through the imagination; without producing those actions in our bodily organs which always accompany the exercise of reason, recollection or the will. How often do we even in our wa. king moments, indulge in those trains of ideas which spring up involuntarily in the mind, without exerting in the slightest degree the higher faculties? Is it not probable, then, that those faculties are still less exerted during the torpor brought both upon body and mind in a state of sleep?

In the second place, it is to be observed, that while in ge. neral it is true, that the hardier powers of reason, invention, recollection and willing are not exercised in sleep, but fancy is left alone to form her most airy and fantastick shapes, yet there are some exceptions to this rule. If those powers are generally suspended, and our wildest dreams are produced, when imagination is let loose from their rein, yet they sometimes act, and that too with considerable efficiency and effect. Although our memory and judgment may be sometimes so completely inert that in dreaming we seem to converse with our deceased friends, and to have forgotten that they are dead, and to frame in our mind the most ridiculous propositions; yet, at other times, we seem capable of vigorous acts of both these faculties. “Often," says Haller, “in my dreams, I seem to read books, printed poems, histories of travels, &c.

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