International Institute for Dream Research

The International Institute for Dream Research

Mark Hagen of the International Institute for Dream Research has been collecting people's dreams for more than 30 years. Throughout this course of study, Mr. Hagen noticed patterns, similarities and confluences in the subject and meaning of these dreams, despite differences in the race, class, sex or country of origin of the dreamers.

For example, one of the earliest and most pervasive themes he discovered was political abuse of human rights. People who dreamed about such abuse were not only from undemocratic, repressive societies; it was a common theme across the board. Mr. Hagen further realized that the political dynamics of repression, oppression and suppression are revealed through the study of dreams.

Mr. Hagen believes that through dream interpretation, people will come to understand both the role that dreams play in individual and collective lives, as well as the influences - national, societal, cultural, etc. - that affect the subject of their dreams. Thus, this website and its Dreambank were born.

The Enterprise of the International Institute for Dream Research

The IIDR views dreams through a variety of lenses, involving issues such as morals, aesthetics, epistemology and logic, and metaphysics. Its approach includes placing dreams in the context of art and the social sciences, and uses an interdisciplinary approach to understand the logic of the dream, including sociology, anthropology, biology, psychology, pathology (the study of disease) and philology (the study of language).

The Institute takes this multi-layered approach because of the variety of influences that can affect behaviour and mental processes (and thus, dreams), such as memory, cultural values, language and the nature of motivation. By studying these influences as they appear in dreams, the IIDR hopes to illuminate the common strands of humanity, from ancient Greece up to the present day.

This website, like life and dreaming, is a work in progress.

The Western Canon and Your Dreams

Harold Bloom in The Western Canon, envisions the cycle of literary achievement flowing from Dante's Divine Comedy to Samuel Beckett's Endgame. The key issue being the creation of original works of the imagination whose foundations are found in figurative language and their vicissitudes. The departure from the historical museum of literary metaphor depends on the turning away from all prior figuration. For Bloom this departure is motivated by the anxiety of influence, where the arrival represents represents a new and fresh literary work. The methods employed by dream interpretation to examine the Western Canon of collective dreamwork patterns points not somuch to Beckett's Endgame as it does to Bertold Brecht's collective "alienation effects" as envisioned by Friedrich Nietzsche and Martin Buber.

The American sociologist Vance Packard published a book in 1957 called The Hidden Persuaders, wherein he identified and analyzed images found in commercial propaganda (read: advertisements). It was Packard's view - a revolutionary one at the time - that advertisers were appealing to people's basest desires and anxieties in order to sell products. For example, instead of selling a particular car - say, a Porsche - as a convenient and snazzy way to get quickly from Point A to Point B, advertisers wrapped the car in all sorts of messages about what kind of person you are if you own one: they could tie owning a Porsche to your socio-economic status, to your masculinity or virility, even to your worth as a human being. A car was no longer a product, it was an expression of your very self.

That these tactics were working is borne out by the dreams collected by Mr. Hagen; many of the images that are found in commercials turn up again and again in the "collective subconscious" revealed by the Dreambank.

As a result of this appeal to our basest needs and fears, people were cast in the role of consumer (as opposed to citizen, say), and more and more we see people accepting unsatisfying, meaningless employment in order to go on consuming. Consumerism promises relief through even more consumption, and so the cycle continues. The dissatisfaction often remains in the unconscious, surfacing in dreams. If we know how to read those dreams, we can identify the source of our dissatisfaction, providing an opportunity to break the cycle.

Advertisements are not the only "texts" we have in common, of course. The entire history of Western literature, from Plato to the Bible, through Shakespeare to the Romantic poets, down to the screenwriters for movies and TV, all draw on common base stories and plotlines that are repeated over and over in new forms, so that, for example, the teenage girl who watches "Clueless" with her friends is exposed to Jane Austen without even realizing it. The texts vary from society to society, naturally; the common "language" based on shared history will be a different one in Africa than the one in North America. By viewing our dreams through the lens of shared texts, the IIDR hopes to help interpret some of the images that pop up constantly: where do they come from? What do they mean? These are questions we hope to answer.

This website is organized to evoke a virtual drive-in theatre, where one of the movies we are watching is "The Western Canon of Literature."

It is meant to be seen as a descendant of Plato's Cave; our dreams, our shared texts and the site itself are all "virtual reality" - just like the shadow images on the cave wall. But how we view the movie, and the discussions we have about it, and the dreams we dream about it, tell us much about who we are.

Dreams and the IIDR

Dreams, yours and mine, are the mental forums where we, as individuals, deal with the concerns and conflicts of everyday life. Often these concerns arise as a result of living in groups or societies. The IIDR website is designed to advance studies of the dream as a revealing and important field of social and psychological study

• by collecting dreams in the Dreambank for study
• by providing news about advances in dream research.
• by developing opportunities for education in Biotopographical Psychology.  

Collecting Dreams

The Institute receives e-mails about dreams from around the globe, including Africa, India, Europe, North and South America and Australia. Most of the dreams we receive, however, are from Canada and the United States, reflecting the leadership position North Americans have taken in connecting to the Internet.

Dreams contributed to the IIDR are collected in The Dreambank. They show emerging patterns that can make the foundations of everyday life apparent. The dream is the living tissue of the relationship between the mind and body. We perform a "biopsy," comparing the images played on the individual dreamscreens in our minds with the ones played on the communal dreamscreens of the mass media.

The demographics are varied and promise to be even more so in the future as more people connect to the Internet. The dreams we receive are from a diverse population: men, women, students, parents, adolescents, young adults, black, white, middle class and poor. Dream narratives provide data from which we can measure the unconscious social dynamics of individuals, families, societies and nations.

When we study dreams, we study the intersections of individual biography and collective history. This is the Sociology of Dreams. Individuals are encouraged to keep their own Dream Journals to help them understand their own life story production, and its relationship to narratives unfolding around them.

Biotopographic Analysis

"Biotopographical Psychology" is the term Mr. Hagen has given to the literary study and interpretation of dreams through the triple lenses of biology, biography and society. By this he means that the intersection of personal history, personal biology and societal influences can be viewed in our dreams.

Dreams are examined as biographical documents much like letters or diaries - they are stories of the individual. But, no man being an island, the individual must be placed in context, in terms of biology (sex, race, health, physical and mental characteristics), society (the surrounding cultural and physical environment) and history (time and place). Humans naturally tend toward organizing themselves into groups. Just as we affect the groups we belong to, so those groups affect us, and the changes that take place within ourselves as we make connections with others will affect us as individuals, and thus, our dreams. One of the main research subjects for the IIDR has been public opinion or attitudes: the orientation toward a person, situation, institution or social process. Underlying values and beliefs are revealed by, and often pre-determine, our actions. 

Anatomy of Dream Vision

Dreams use a narrative structure. They are stories with beginnings, middles and ends. They continuously define objectives, recognize and overcome obstacles with the hope of achieving resolution. This structure can be found in history and mythology, as well as narrative fiction. It is also the structure used in modern advertising, news reports and corporate mission statements; all the communications that affect our individual and collective lives. The media use this narrative structure to circulate images of taste and fashion that encourage individuals and the community to present coherent social identities and lifestyles - in other words, they encourage conformity.

Small wonder, then, that the IIDR has found narrative structure in the dreams it receives from around the world. Dream research can use the tools of literary criticism to understand the underlying commonalities that influence our dreams. An understanding of literary styles, structures and devices - such as biography, narrative, myth and farce - will help clarify the meaning of dreams.

The IIDR is compiling a dictionary of narrative structures and their adaptations of memory, thought, language and fantasy. The Institute has developed The Anatomy of the Dream to analyze human behaviour, attitudes and beliefs as the basis of this dictionary, much as Northrop Frye did with fiction.

Dream Vision and Everyday Life

Since the Middle Ages the dream has been used as a dramatic device in the service of such allegorical narratives as The Romance of the Rose, Bunyan's Pilgram's Progress, Edward Bellamy's Looking Backwards, Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland and Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake has been viewed as a cosmic dream as is Dante's Divine Comedy.

The narrator falls asleep and dreams the story that is told, making the Theatre of Everyday Life transparent. This device, expressed or assumed, has expanded into modern media, from movies to television to the internet, where we imagine an entire "virtual" new world.

The advent of language opened human experience to the metaphoric view of life as a literary work of art. We may think of the earth as a stage, of people as characters and life as a series of plots told from different points of view. The dream stands as an ever-present narrator with an all-encompassing view, providing insight and introspection into the secret desires and hidden motives, past, present and future, into humanity's stories. Fredric Jameson's The Political Unconscious: Narrative as a Socially Symbolic Act sees the historical past only as being understood as parts of a single collective story.

Dream Vision as Hypertext

Dream Vision is about the screening of the goals of human work. As this concept relates to dramatic narrative structures, the dream provides access to a culture's stagework. Representing and making transparent Western stagework provides insight into the dramatic currents of communication within the Marketplace of Thought. The dream makes visible and audible the communication codes of cultural inheritance and production of life writing, specifically comedy, romance, tragedy and satire. As a Hypertext (nodes, linkages) the dream brings into focus the communicative pathways of the production of meaning within the cultural stages of everyday life.

The straightforward, linear narrative is only one convenient way of viewing dreams. The advent of the Internet has proven more clearly perhaps than any other tool that human beings do not always think in straight lines. Just as the links in a web page can lead a reader backwards, forwards, or off on some wild, sideways tangent, so too can dreams skip from one image, thought or story to another.

Therefore, the IIDR has found the Internet to be an ideal vehicle to explain its theories of human communications and connections. Dream Vision can make visible the codes of communication especially in terms of social psychopathology.

Truth and Censorship in the Marketplace of Thought

A society committed to freedom - of speech, the press, religion, assembly, etc. - will be an open one where individuals can attain high levels of self-realization and satisfaction through a lack of censorship. This freedom leads to autonomy and dignity for the individual, which in turn benefits society as a whole. The self-fulfillment of a free speaker can be understood through the "Marketplace of Thought," where the thoughts of the individual and the collective combine in an open discussion.

But, again, in order for society to function, the individual cannot express him- or herself fully when that expression infringes on the right of others, or threatens to destabilize the community. Both high and pop art are often used as a means of channelling drives and desires that could be disruptive if expressed in any other way. The alternative is the repression of those drives through the censorship of vision and voice. For Freud, dreams were an expression of the repressed impulses; nightmares were a sign that the individual had failed to repress them successfully. As noted above, dreams lie at the intersection of the personal and the communal selves, and can therefore be used to remember and express those drives which have been suppressed for the good of the community. Through the collection and study of their dreams, individuals can reclaim their "natural," independent selves, filling in gaps in their own autobiographies and creating a more perfect "truth."

As mentioned in the section on the Western Canon, the literary and cultural inheritance of a given society will affect the Marketplace of Thought, and thus the dreams of its citizens. Western dreams are both influenced by, and provide a road map for, the Western cultural history, from ancient Greece, through national folk tales, up to the present day. For example, René Descartes reportedly had three dreams which inspired him to create his foundation of scientific and mathematical principles. Four centuries later, science and math remain dominant parts of our cultural paradigm. Similar through-lines of thought and perspective can be found throughout history.

Besides freedom and cultural inheritances, another vital element of the Marketplace of Thought is that of Dialogue. A discussion isn't open if one person is doing all the talking. Our dreams often take the form of dialogues - some theorists have compared dreams to stage- or screenplays, where the dreamer is writer, director and actor. In the subconscious, the dreamer can work through his or her feelings, desires, conflicts, etc., by placing words into his or her own mouth, as well as into the mouths of the dream's "co-stars." Dreams can also be seen themselves as a dialogue between our conscious and unconscious minds.

Democracy - or - Dreams of Transparency

The 18th-century French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau believed that in order for individuals to achieve the highest possible levels of freedom within society, the workings of that society needed to be transparent. In other words, institutions, such as governments, businesses, social groups and the like, needed to be fair and open.

But even the most open societies still operate within the boundaries of some system or other: Western nations such as the U.S. and Canada, for example, are bound by the strictures of their respective forms of government, as well as by their capitalist economic systems. These strictures, as well as those imposed by the constraints of race, class and gender, will show their influence in the dreams of people living within these groups. When we analyze a number of dreams, patterns emerge that reveal the workings of various influences on our larger social structures. By contributing to the Dreambank you will provide some of the raw data which we can examine for these patterns.


This website, like life and dreaming, is a work in progress.

All material Copyright 2006 International Institute for Dream Research. All rights reserved.