Freud's Irma Dream and the Possibility of Biochemical Pathways from Diseases to Dreams

A later version of this paper was published in Dreaming: Journal of the Association for the Study of Dreams, Volume 5, Number 4. December, 1995 (267-287)

In the time of sleep ... small impulses seem to be great ... Since the beginnings of all things are small, obviously the beginnings of diseases ... must also be small. These then must be more evident in the sleeping than in the waking state. (Aristotle On Prophecy in Sleep)

I would like to thank Dr. Dietrich Hoffmann for discussing tobacco chemistry with me and for editing the sections on tobacco chemistry in a rough draft of this paper. I have included his suggestions, but I may have missed some, and so I take responsibility for errors.

Historical Comments on the Film, "A Dangerous Method"

{slider Letter to an Hollywood Agent about the Film}

August 9, 1999

Dear xxxx,

     Regarding: Sabina, script by Christopher Hampton

Psychological Types:


A mouse that can't tell a snake from a branch will die. A snake that can't tell the smell of a mouse from the smell of a leaf will also die. We too need to discriminate between things or we'll die.

As soon as we're born we can discriminate the breast and the nipple. We discriminate mothers and other family members. And, if we want to get older, we must learn to discriminate between friend and foe, those who care about us and those who don't. And that's only the beginning.

The flip side is that we have to be able to recognize things. And we've got to learn how some things are similar to others like them — similarities. There's no point in learning that one fire's hot if we stick our hand into the next one.

Psychological Types

Psychological types

What is more important for us than to distinguish between the “snakes” and the “mice” around us? If we don't learn, at some point, how to tell a con-man or a liar or a fool or a heel or a heartless vagabond or the emotionally unstable or the addictive personality, our lives won't run too smoothly.

But it's often not that easy. People try to trick you and appear what they aren't. We can invent a thousand psychological tests to unveil whether an angry boy will kill his schoolmates or if a political dissident will become a terrorist, and they can come up with a thousand and one ways to hide their natures.

We are like snakes and mice and are largely dependent on instinct here. However, as soon as we start thinking, how can we help but turn our thoughts to figuring out who are the good people and who the bad? “Will he or will he not hurt me if I trust him?” asks the young woman teetering on the brink of falling in love. “If I hire him will he work hard and get along with other workers, or will he be a burden and a drain?” asks every boss. “Does he care about us or is he after the sensation of power?” we all ask of a man running for president.

In the olden times if we had to know “What kind of person he is?” we'd consult an elder or the priest or rabbi or even an astrologer or the local psychic. Now we look more and more to “expert” psychologists with their tests and diagnoses. But psychology, for all its popularity, is a new science. It has potential for victory more than it has actual victories. After nearly a hundred years of developing and testing tests, as of today, there is still no test that can tell if a person is going to kill himself, and there is no test to tell if a person is capable of murder. No doubt, one day, a combination of lab tests and psych tests and clinical interviews will be able to give us pretty good ideas about these things, but what do we do until then? We can't wait!

We are pretty much back in the Middle Ages or in the Dark Ages or in ancient times when we look around and think about everyone we know, and we just do the best we can. And we discuss it with each other, endlessly! It's not gossip. It's an attempt to figure out about people. “Is she really happy, or is she just naïve and silly?” “Is he really as calm as he looks?” “What's she thinking when she sits there so quietly?” “Is he a depressed personality, or is he seeing things we're afraid to look at?” No one knows. Or it's a matter of intuition, and those who know can't say how they know.

So let's say we want to get a little further than this. This is the age of science. Can't we go a little faster in answering questions like these? Can't we just get a bunch of people together and look at them and come to an agreement on who is who and what is what?

But it isn't that easy. One thing is that we are different, and if I see one thing, you will, without doubt, see another. But let's forget this problem. Let's say, just for argument's, that you are going to make this study yourself, so you don't have to worry about checking your conclusions with other people. You're going to try to figure people out, for your own use. You're not just going to socialize with them and have fun or work with them on a common project, but you're going to observe them, coldly and rationally and scientifically. But you're not a peeper with hidden cameras, and you're not trying to hurt them, so they're volunteers.

But, since they know you're watching, you're almost certain they're on their best behavior, so how do you get through to see what they're really like? Even if you're getting somewhere by watching their behavior, if you want to go further you have to ask them questions. “What are you thinking?” “Why did you wince when so and so said that?”

But then there are new problems. Are they being honest? Even if their being honest, what do their words mean? And how do you know if they even know the truth. “I love people,” says one man, and he seems to mean it, but he looks angry. If you say, “But you look angry,” he might say, “No I'm not! I'm just having a bad day!” And soon you're in a maze, scurrying to figure out what's real and what's camouflage. [And there are many other problems – see the last section here].

So, to me, it makes sense that, if we need to learn about other people, we shouldn't start by looking at them. We should start with the person who we are in a position to know the best. For you that is you. For me it is me. If we look at ourselves we don't have to guess at so many things. We can omit a lot of steps. The assumptions are, “If we can't learn about ourselves, who can we learn about?”, and, “If we don't know ourselves, who do we know?”

We have to be honest, or what's the point? And the questions aren't always going to be easy. “Have I ever stolen?” “Have I ever hurt animals or people?” “If, someday, people around me start doing bad things, will I go along or turn a blind eye?” “Am I smart?” “Am I reliable?” “Am I vain, greedy, an over-eater ….?”

But we also have to wonder if we have more potential than we think, if maybe we're not as silly or neurotic or stupid or selfish as others have said. And these are just a few random question of the thousands that could pop into mind.

We don't have to tell anyone the answers we come up with. Your project is confidential, for your eyes only, and mine is for me. And we shouldn't begin if we're not going to be as honest as we know how to be. We have to the truth to ourselves, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

But there are rewards for this work. One is that, if we learn about ourselves, we will be learning about others also, and so we'll get on better. This is an assumption of the work.

Some will not agree with the project and say the best way to learn about people is to study people, not to study just one person, and especially not oneself where objectivity is nearly impossible. Others, by temperament, will think spending a lot of time looking in a mirror is selfish and self-centered and narcissistic.

Here is my list of Personality Traits, the part that is relevant here.

  1. Some people value objectivity and some don't. – There's zero point ready further if you don't place objectivity high on your scale of values.

  2. Some people want to be good and some don't care. – If you think being good is stupid, please don't read further.

  3. Some people value relaxing; some value work; some value both working and relaxing. – This site is not a fun and games site. But mania is the danger if you don't know how to relax.

  4. And some people think it's useful to examine themselves under an electron microscope and others don't. – This site is aimed at both of these types.

How can I want to write to people who believe in examining themselves and also to those believe in focusing on others? Isn't the gap between the two types too big to be on the same wave-length? I don't think so. The type a person is is more a starting place than an end point. It is like when they built the Transcontinental Railway across the U.S., where both teams of workers had the same goal, but they approached it from different directions, East and West. It's like this in psychology, but we haven't yet come to a place where both sides have met face to face, and there is no golden spike yet joining the objective work of both teams.

And also, neither gung-ho self-examiners nor gung-ho other-people-examiners can hang on to their own position forever. Self-examiners who start by going deeper and deeper into themselves will, one day, run into the enigma of other people. And other-people-examiners who want, above all, to keep themselves out of the equation will, at some point, be thrust by circumstances into their own murky selves and become confused and afraid. I think it is inevitable, psychologically.

Each serious investigator has to start somewhere but then, inevitably, will move and wind up somewhere else.

I am starting somewhere, more on the side of self-examination, but, as you will see if you read on or look at the topics in the Psychological Lessons, l come out focusing on the world. And a goal I have had in setting up the site, is for a person to be able to start from either starting place. Over time, I hope the site will be organized more and more to allow this and be comfortable for people of either type.

Three 1960's Critiques of Attempts to Classify People

Three Critiques within Psychology of attempts to classify people — from the period of my training, the 1960's

1. When I was training in the 1960's, the philosophy of Existentialism was having a strong influence on psychology. At the same time, the drug culture was going full force, and many people (including) psychologists were going to Eastern gurus and reading Buddhist texts. These three related forces all merged in the idea that became dominant in some psychological circles that it was wrong to label people. It was ethically wrong and intellectually incorrect. For example, to stick a label of “schizophrenic” on a person was considered immoral, because it could turn society against the person and condemn the person to a institutional life. It was intellectually incorrect, it was thought, because people are not things like tables and chairs, and they choose who they are and what they become. A schizophrenic is not a schizophrenic like a table is a table. He or she has adopted schizophrenic responses to situations. To label them “schizophrenics” encourages them to think of themselves as objects and discourages them from taking responsibility for their behavior and changing. Combine this with the mystical idea that the Ego is an illusion and that the real Self is eternal and divine, and it is easy to see why a certain group of psychologists felt the whole idea of categorizing is corrupt. Though this criticism has merit in some situations, it should be mentioned that different branches of Buddhism have a very elaborate and interesting system of classification and that they feel it is useful for adepts seeking meditation to understand it.

2. There are also problems classifying people, because it is possible to see people on different levels. There are superficial levels and deeper ones. On superficial levels it is easy to see differences, even if it isn't always easy to label them and to measure them. However, when it is felt that people are being seen on deeper levels, through self reports and empathy, it is possible to feel an identification with them, and to feel that we are all pretty much the same. I am told that in governmental departments investigating fraud, the investigators are changed frequently as they begin to feel a bond with the people they are investigating and begin to understand them. The same thing happens with psychologists who work with dangerous people. After a while, the psychologist begins to feel “close,” to begin to see the person's point of view, to feel there is no difference between the patient and him or her. Whether or not this is true on the deepest levels, it is very dangerous to overlook the superficial differences between yourself and, say, a serial killer. The point I am making here is that, depending how we look at people or into people, we may classify them in different ways.

3. People categorize other people for purposes, and these people can be high or low or relatively neutral. Is it one person trying to navigate the maze of his own experiences? Is it a bank president who has hired a psychologist to come up with a psychological test to help him know who to train for management positions? Is it the Gestapo who has demanded that a psychiatrist review his list of patients and differentiate between those whose “lives are not worth living” and those whose lives are worth living? Is it the school system who has asked its psychologists to try to differentiate between angry students who will kill other students and angry students who won't? Is it a con man trying to devise a few simple questions to determine who is gullible and who isn't? – We all type people based on our needs and our own type and our own goals. A theory of types is like a gun; It can be used for good or for bad.

Short idea (1): In psychology, as in war (and as in life in general) there are no experts. Some psychologists have a lot more experience than others. These are the wily veterans, more familiar with the up's and down's of "the battlefield" than the greenhorns — but they are not expert in the way people who use Microsoft Word or tie bow ties or dice vegetables or solve calculus problems can become expert.

Longer Observation (4): Dream of a Raging River: If a patient can’t cross a raging river in a dream, this can be the whole focus of therapy, and it may take many years for her to discover if she needs to and wants to cross and then how to cross and if she can. And then there is the crossing itself and, finally, the beginning of life on the other side.  These are difficult goals to explain to insurance companies.

Short idea (33): Everybody is normal. Some people are also abnormal. – This is a paradoxical way to put it, but I can't think of a clearer way. Implications: Abnormal people will begin to seem normal if you get to know them, and normal people may turn out to be abnormal. – You can use the same formula for “ordinary” and “extra-ordinary”: Everybody is ordinary; Some are also extra-ordinary; etc.

Short idea (86): When good people become bad, they often become very very bad, and when bad people become good, they often become very very good.

Short idea (59): If you have a camera whose pictures are getting more and more inaccurate — this is a good metaphor for getting old. Decaying tools can cause problems. There are additional problems if you don't know your tools are decaying. And still more problems when you insist to others that everything's fine when everyone can see it isn't.

Short idea (61): The Jewish people, as a people, suffer from PTSD. This doesn't mean that every individual Jewish person has PTSD.

Short idea (118): Psychotherapists learn quickly that people who appear good are almost never as good as they appear, and people who appear bad are rarely ever as bad as they appear.

A Psychological Approach to Tension and Migraine Headaches

{slider Introductory Comments}

Introductory Comments

This is a discussion of migraines from a psychological point of view — from the "inner" point of view. [I hope it is clear that it is not offered as a cure or psychological treatment for headaches. It is meant to be used in addition to psychological, psychiatric, and/or medical treatment, not as an alternative or replacement for them. The goal is to help the reader understand possible underlying psychological factors involved in some headaches. It is aimed at people interesting in learning about themselves.]

Dear Reader with Anxiety,

The following is one thing I think about anxiety, and it is only my opinion.

Dear Reader with Schizophrenia,

(This is not meant as a replacement for psychotherapy! but as a thought that might be helpful for certain people at certain times who are already working in therapy.)

Just because you don't smell yourself or don't think you smell bad, doesn't mean others don't smell you or that others don't think you smell bad.

Dear Reader who is a Pre-Batterers,

(This is not meant as a replacement for psychotherapy! but as a thought that might be helpful for certain people at certain times who are already working in therapy.)

Here are some assumptions about batterers — people who have tendencies to hit people or animals (or yell at them or insult them, and the like) but who haven't done it yet.

Errors, Illusions, Hallucinations, Delusions:

A simple error or a mistake isn't always an illusion or hallucination or delusion. You can be tired and adding a series of numbers and make a mistake. Or you can hear it will rain today and believe it and be wrong.

Short idea (132): Every family struggles with psychological problems to some degree (just as every family struggles with physical or economic problems to some degree). It is a matter of degree.

Dear Reader: Can Psychotherapy Help?

We all have problems. Psychology has become very popular. Sometimes it is easy to slip into the idea that psychology can solve all our problems, but it obviously can't. On the other hand, I think there is no problem that can't be looked at from a psychological angle, and often this angle can open new doors and avenues.

Longer observation (15): Is he Bad or Mentally Ill (or Both)?: In these modern times we hear people discussing people who have done something bad. One person says, "He's just bad! No excuses! He should be punished!" and the other person says, "No! He's mentally ill! You would have done the same thing if you had been through what he has been through! We should be compassionate!" The person in question could be a criminal on trial or a political tyrant or even a family member who is hurting and, maybe, tyrannizing, people within the family.

Longer observation (16): The Growth of Trees and of People: If you look casually at a large tree that has lost its leaves for the Winter, you might be struck by an intriguing and/or beautiful pattern, but the pattern itself will probably appear meaningless and random. A grove of trees or a forest can feel even more overwhelming and confusing and meaningless to an intellect trying to understand it. However, if you begin to think about the tree (or trees) from the angle of their history, the patterns begin to make sense.

Longer observation (17): The Center of Everything: It is usually as clear as a bell to young children that the sun and moon are the largest and closest objects in the sky; that the sun is the brightest object in the sky and the moon is the second brightest; that the sun is the center of the daytime sky and moves around our earth; and that the stars are the faintest and most distant objects in the sky.

Longer observation (18): The Great Mystery: Whatever you think about the Great Mystery, the Answer, or the Secret, there are many people who spend much of their lives searching for such things. A portrayal of someone on a Search or Quest for such things is given by Somerset Maugham in his book, The Razor's Edge.

Longer observation (20): Limitations of the DSM-5: Whether or not the newest edition (Fifth Edition) of the Diagnostic and Statistic Manual for mental illnesses is an improvement over the Fourth Edition is being debated within the mental health professional community. Which ever side of the debate we find ourselves on, perhaps we will agree that any attempt to categorize mental illnesses has inherent limitations. We use the image of a building with windows to demonstrate the point.

Dear Reader who is a Batterer,

(This note is definitely not meant as a replaced for psychotherapy! It is a thought that might possible be useful for some people, some of the time, who are already working on this problem in psychotherapy.)

This is a note to people who:

1) have impulses to assault and battery

2) struggle with these impulses, because they think they are bad, and still have trouble controlling them, and

3) whose abuses are minor on a scale of 1-10 —

(There are many degrees of abuse. Some abuse is tolerated by society and is not illegal. Some is socially acceptable and even encouraged. In this last class are some forms of emotional and verbal abuse that people feel is funny or strong. People who stand up to these "minor" forms of abuse are often considered to be "overly sensitive." —

(This note to batterers assumes the reader will feel it is morally correct for him or her to seek help now and immediately with any abuse that even hints at severity to him or herself and/or others.)

Dear Reader suffering from Ambivalence,

(This is not meant as a replacement for psychotherapy! but as a thought that might be helpful for certain people at certain times who are already working in therapy.)

The following presentation is taken from real life:

Short idea (144): One type of injury, like a cramp, can be helped by exercising it and by not giving in to it. Another type, like certain sprains, require the opposite. These require immobilization and no movement and are dependent on time to heal. It may be that sometimes these never heal; the best you can hope for here is to learn to compensate, to learn what movements to avoid aggravating the injury. There are also these same two types of psychological wounds and the same two types of psychological healing.

The Unconscious:

The Idea of The Unconscious

Freud thought there is an area of our minds that is unconscious. We all speak of Consciousness and Unconsciousness, but Freud spoke of an area that he called the Unconscious. The Unconscious is filled with ideas, thoughts, feelings, fears and anxieties, angry emotions, fantasies and so on that we don't know are going on inside us. If we want to experience our own unconscious material, we can stop and try to pay attention to what is going on inside us, but, according to Freud, it is usually not enough to make a conscious effort.