Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 54.djvu/753

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
729
THE STUFF THAT DREAMS ARE MADE OF.

nomenon. Gowers considers that a spontaneous contraction of the stapedius muscle of the ear during sleep causes a sensation of falling. Stanley Hall, who has himself from childhood had dreams of flying, boldly argues that we have here "some faint reminiscent atavistic echo from the primeval sea"; and that such dreams are really survivals—psychic vestigial remains—taking us back to the far past, in which man's ancestors needed no feet to swim or float. Such a theory may accord with the profound conviction of reality that accompanies such dreams, though this may be more simply accounted for, even by mere repetition, as with dreams of the dead; but it is rather a hazardous theory, and it seems to me infinitely more probable that such dreams are a misinterpretation of actual internal sensations. My own explanation was immediately suggested by the following dream. I dreamed that I was watching a girl acrobat, in appropriate costume, who was rhythmically rising to a great height in the air and then falling, without touching the floor, though each time she approached quite close to it. At last she ceased, exhausted and perspiring, and had to be led away. Her movements were not controlled by mechanism, and apparently I did not regard mechanism as necessary. It was a vivid dream, and I awoke with a distinct sensation of oppression in the chest. In trying to account for this dream, which was not founded on any memory, it occurred to me that probably I had here the key to a great group of dreams. The rhythmic rising and falling of the acrobat was simply the objectivation of the rhythmic rising and falling of my own respiratory muscles under the influence of some slight and unknown physical oppression, and this oppression was further translated into a condition of perspiring exhaustion in the girl, just as it is recorded that a man with heart disease dreamed habitually of sweating and panting horses climbing up hill. We may recall also the curious sensation as of the body being transformed into a vast bellows which is often the last sensation felt before the unconsciousness produced by nitrous oxide gas. When we are lying down there is a real rhythmic rising and falling of the chest and abdomen, centering in the diaphragm, a series of oscillations which at both extremes are only limited by the air. Moreover, in this position we have to recognize that the whole internal organism—the circulatory, nervous, and other systems—are differently balanced from what they are in the upright position, and that a disturbance of internal equilibrium always accompanies falling. Further, it is possible that the misinterpretation is confirmed to sleeping consciousness by sensations from without, by the absence of the tactile pressure pro-


    to these sleeping experiences of floating on the air, confesses that they are so convincing that he has jumped out of bed on awaking and attempted to repeat the experience. "I need not tell you," he adds, "that I have never been able to succeed."