Advances in neuroscience allow us to ‘see’ into the dreaming brain. But dreams are as old as humanity, a part of our shared cultural heritage. Long before we learned something about them through scientific investigation of the brain, people developed ideas about the origin and nature of dreams.
Past ideas about dreams have cast them as shadows of the future, or as a kind of temporary madness. Creativity sprung from dreams, but so did fear. Dreams could be trivial – Shakespeare called dreams ‘the children of an idle brain / begot of nothing but vain fantasy’. Or they could be serious and scary; Goya’s paintings show dreamers at the utter mercy of their dreams, which take the form of goblins and winged demons. The strangeness of dreams and the relationship between mind and body means that even scientific approaches to these subjects venture into the territory of art and creativity. This exchange is revealed in the beautiful images of the online exhibition ‘Dream Anatomy’, created by the National Library of Medicine (US). Even detailed anatomical drawings of the 17th and 18th centuries that were supposed to replicate the human body ventured into the fantastic and grotesque. Are they science, or art? What people cannot see with their eyes – even when it comes to their own minds and bodies – they fill in with the products of dream and imagination. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/dreamanatomy/index.html
Many of the musings on this blog will look at the science behind dreaming, and the role dreams play in creativity and contemporary art. But the past can be a great place from which to start thinking about the present. The Wellcome collection provides an excellent finding guide to items in their archives related to dreaming, including 17th-century tracts on dream interpretation, more recent perspectives from the psychoanalytic theories of Freud and Jung, and interesting visual material such as a pack of cigarette cards from the 1920s featuring dream motifs. Dreams have played such an important role in our shared history that their influence is all around us, from grand paintings to the simple and everyday object. http://library.wellcome.ac.uk/doc_WTX042113.html