Dreaming Souls: Sleep, Dreams, and the Evolution of the Conscious Mind

Dreaming Souls: Sleep, Dreams, and the Evolution of the Conscious Mind

Dreaming Souls: Sleep, Dreams, and the Evolution of the Conscious Mind

Dreaming Souls: Sleep, Dreams, and the Evolution of the Conscious Mind

Synopsis

What, if anything, do dreams tell us about ourselves? What is the relationship between types of sleep and types of dreams? Does dreaming serve any purpose? Or are dreams simply meaningless mental noise--"unmusical fingers wandering over the piano keys"? With expertise in philosophy, psychology, and neuroscience, Owen Flanagan is uniquely qualified to answer these questions. In this groundbreaking work, he provides both an accessible survey of the latest research on sleep and dreams and a compelling new theory about the nature and function of dreaming. Flanagan argues that while sleep has a clear biological function and adaptive value, dreams are merely side effects, "free riders," irrelevant from an evolutionary point of view. But dreams are hardly unimportant. Flanagan argues that dreams are self-expressive, the result of our need to find or to create meaning, even when we're sleeping. Written with remarkable insight, Dreaming Souls offers a fascinating new way of apprehending one of the oldest mysteries of mental life.

Excerpt

To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;
No more; and, by a sleep to say we end
The heartache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, 'tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause.
-- William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act III, Scene i

WHEN HAMLET, THE PRINCE OF Denmark, asks the compelling question "To be, or not to be?," he is, of course, contemplating suicide. Is it worth going on to face "the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, . . . the heartache and the thousand . . . shocks that flesh is heir to" -- when one could just end things? At first the thought of death as eternal rest comforts Hamlet. But he immediately worries "to sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub"! We know not "what dreams may come when we have shuffled off this mortal coil."

It is this thought, that we might not find eternal rest in "that sleep of death" but instead might have hellish dreams for all eternity, that is "the rub." And it is this thought that "give[s] us pause," "puzzles the will," and ultimately "makes cowards of us all." The "dread of something after death" makes us bear "those ills we have than fly to others we know not of."

This speech, possibly the most famous in all of English literature, gets quickly to the heart of the problem: the problem of conscious-

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.