Sleep and dreams make up one of the last and most intriguing frontiers in human self-discovery. For as long as we have existed, humans have wondered after the nature of dreams and the underlying processes. What, exactly, are dreams, we ask? Are they prophetic visions of the future? Advice from beings greater than ourselves? What makes us see the things we see when we sleep?
ìSince the dawn of history, humankind has been preoccupied with the source and significance of dreams. Primitive societies perceived their dreams as an integral part of their lives. A North American Indian who dreamed that he had been bitten by a snake would treat himself for snakebite immediately upon wakening. Some tribes believed that the source of dreams was in the soul, which left the body to roam the world during sleep and which signaled its return when the sleeper awoke. It was therefore forbidden to wake a sleeper suddenly, for the soul might not have managed to return to his body. In ancient religions, from the Sumerians and Babylonians to the Greeks, dreams were perceived as a means of communication between the gods and mortals. Dreams were the instrument for prophesying and understanding the intentions and desires of the gods. A despairing Saul complained to the prophet Samuel, ëand God is departed from me, and answereth me no more, neither by prophets nor by dreamsí (1 Samuel 28:15).î (Lavie 65)
As is typical of our species, over time we have come up with countless different explanations for the dream phenomenon. Dreaming is an experience that all people share, but one that is so difficult to accurately describe or explain that we still find ourselves running around in circles on the issue. Research on and for this topic encompasses a variety of fields and forums in the scientific community. As such we have decided to take an interdidsiplinary approach to our research.
ìSleep behavior among human beings appears to depend upon multiple factors which do not always act with the same intensity or in the same pattern. Sleep in not only an essential and vital life process, it is also a particulary informative instance of behavior because it makes details from biochemical, physiological, behavioral and sociological research incresingly available. Each of these areas deals with part of the total phenomenonof sleep. Each area has its own metaphor, but wach covers only part of the problem, largely taking the other aspects for granted. To begin to understand the whole, however, requirews first, that the various metaphors be put together as pieces in a puzzle, and second, tht they be made to map in some way on each other so that metaphors in paralle end up enriching, rather than competing with, each other.î (Arnoff, 18)
Since the study of dreams is such a vast and largely disputed field, we have chosen to focus on the dream hypothesis of one culture, the North American Cherokee Indian tribe, and carry out an experiment to test it. In no way do we mean to credit or discredit the religious beliefs or social values of the Cherokee - we are simply curious as to how scientifically verifiable their folklore is. There is a great deal of oral, circumstantial evidence to support these beliefs, but we are looking for something more definite and more readily analyzed, namely empirical data.
According to Cherokee tradition, the following sky conditions produce the specified effects in dreamers.
Total cloud coverage in the night sky:
No dreams or unclear images or events
Partial cloud coverage:
Short dreams with distinct images, although they arenít always relevant
Strong dreams with clear images, strong relevance and sometimes revelations
Vivid, clear dreams with distinct images and life-related messages (easily remembered)
Depends on cloud coverage
Cloudy: Dreams with no significance
Clear: Dreams with messages that will tie into other dreams
Dreams of change or forgotten people
Methods and Materials
We will use this information as our hypothesis for the study; we will operate under the assumption that these conditions will prove themselves to be true.
Past dream research has focused largely on one night of a subjectís sleep, making it impossible to study that subjectís sleep patterns or rhythms. In our study we will gather data over one weekís time for each of our subjects, and analyze the effect of sky behavior on what and how we dream. Hopefully, we will come away with a better understanding of our unconscious relationship with the movements and patterns of the sky.
Our plan is to assemble a group of roughly twenty people with diverse backgrounds and ages. In order to keep the results accurate, the subjects will not have knowledge of the goal of the experiment or the identity of the other subjects. We will give each person an empty composition notebook to serve as their personal dream journal for the next week. Upon waking each morning, they will be asked to write down a general account of the nightís dreams and answer a series of questions about them. The frequency of colors appearing, the total length of the dream, its intensity and other factors will be rated on a numerical scale. At the end of the week, we will collect the notebooks and pass them on (with the previous subjectís writings removed) to the next set of subjects. We will test Cherokee dream beliefs using information sent to us by Ms. Carolyn Sky Dancer, a member of the tribe. If our (adopted) hypothesis is correct, weather patterns should have a discernible effect on the themes, duration, and intensity of the groupsí dreams.
To determine the effect of the sky conditions on our dreamers, we will keep track of and record the weather nightly, as well as the phases of the moon.
The study we have chosen to undertake is a tricky one - dreams are a subjective business and hard to rationalize or explain in purely scientific terms. As we all know, it is highly difficult even to explain a dream in language that both makes sense and conveys the true nature of the dream. One almost has to experience a dream for oneself to grasp it. When describing or analyzing a dream, ìthere are cognitive uncertainties that may be due to an inability to describe abnormal or ambiguous dream actions in the language of the waking state.î (Hobson 298)
Hopefully, by keeping the subjects unaware of the exact nature of the study and of the others involved, we will keep fictitious dream reports to a minimum. If subjects are unable to recall their dreams from the previous night, we will ask that they simply write that fact down, as it is a useful piece of information as well.
Each subjectís notebook will have a copy of this sheet affixed to the inside cover-
This is part of a study that depends on you! Please be willing to take the first few minutes after you wake up to tell us about your dreams.
Here are the general things weíd like to know, but certainly feel free to elaborate and add your own tidbits. You never know what may be useful!
-What was the dream about? Even if you donít remember all the details, what was the theme or dominant thought?
-Include specifics (if possible) such as familiar people, strong or recurring colors, unique objects or actions, etc. Can you find a strong relevance to your life at this point in any part of the dream?
-How intense was the dream? Was it so real that you were convinced it was actually happening, or were you aware of the fact that you were dreaming?
-What was the mood of the dream? Did you feel uneasy, happy, terrified, sick?
-At what time of day did the dream take place? Was it light or dark?
-Did you experience this dream during nighttime sleep or during a midday nap?
If you are unable to remember your dreams, just write ìnone.î Be sure to write the date for each entry at the top of the page, and separate your accounts clearly.
Please rate each dream based on the following scales.
Colors - How vividly did you perceive the colors in the dream?
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Character development - How recognizable were the other characters in your dream? If you didnít recognize anyone you knew, how strong were the
personalities/presences of the others in the dream?
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Intensity - How involved were you in the plot of the dream? How absorbing was it? A good indicator for this one may be the clarity of your memory of the dream.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Life Relevance - Did this dream remind you of something that currently concerns you? Did it give you a new perspective on something youíre currently dealing with?
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Thank you very much and happy dreaming!
Pam, Brett, and Sean
We plan to conduct a mini-study with the class on the day of our presentation, to give them a closer look at dream interpretation. Using email, we will ask that members of the class record their dreams for the night before and bring the results with them. We will use the night in questionís weather information to draw what conclusions we can from the data the class presents us with.
Our study will not require an extensive list of materials - just composition notebooks and willing and cooperative subjects. Each subject will use the same notebook for the entire course of the week and will not have access to anyone elseís notebook.
Once again, our aim here is not to prove one religious view of dream behavior correct, or to trivialize anyoneís culture by reducing it to ratings on a one-to-ten scale. After hearing a lot of anecdotal evidence supporting the validity of the Cherokee dream hypothesis, we are simply curious to see if it can be verified using more scientific means. If we find a strong correlation between sky patterns and dreams, or if we find that there seems to be no relation at all, we will certainly not attempt to pass judgment on the beliefs or those who hold them. This is, of necessity, a small study, and one from which no definite conclusions can be drawn. Besides, religion is a world wholly apart from science, and even if people hold beliefs that conflict totally with scientific findings, they should be accorded the same amount of respect and dignity as anyone else.
ìOne possible function of sleep: to produce dreams.î (Behavioral Brain Research, Volume 69, Issue 1, July 8, 1995, pp. 203-206).
ìDream Interpretation in Ancient Civilizations.î (Dreaming, Volume 10, Issue 1, March 1, 2000, pp. 7-18).
ìA Historical Loop of One Hundred Years: Similarities Between 19th Century and Contemporary Dream Research.î (Dreaming, Volume 10, Issue 1, March 1, 2000, pp. 55-66).
Anch, Michael A., et al. Sleep: A Scientific Perspective. New Jersey: Prentice Hall.
Arnoff, Michael S., M.D. Sleep and its Secrets. New York: Plenum.
Hobson, Allan J. The Dreaming Brain. New York: Basic.
Lavie, Peretz. The Enchanted World of Sleep. New Haven: Yale University.
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