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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 54.djvu/755

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THE STUFF THAT DREAMS ARE MADE OF.

take the body up to the moor, among the stones, remove the brown paper, and people would think the murdered man had killed himself. He drove off and soon returned with the empty cart. "What's this blood in my cart?" asked the man to whom it belonged, looking inside. "Oh, that's only paint," replied the husband. But the dreamer had all along been full of apprehension lest the deed should be discovered, and the last thing she could recall, before waking in terror, was looking out of the window at a large crowd which surrounded the house with shouts of "Murder!" and threats.

This tragedy, with its almost Elizabethan air, was built up out of a few commonplace impressions received during the previous day, none of which impressions contained any suggestion of murder. The tragic element appears to have been altogether due to the psychic influences of indigestion arising from a supper of pheasant. To account for our oppression during sleep, sleeping consciousness assumes moral causes which alone appear to it of sufficient gravity to be the adequate cause of the immense emotions we are experiencing. Even in our waking and fully conscious states we are inclined to give the preference to moral over physical causes, quite irrespective of the justice of our preferences; in our sleeping states this tendency is exaggerated, and the reign of purely moral causes is not disturbed by even a suggestion of mere physical causation.

There is certainly no profounder emotional excitement during sleep than that which arises from a disturbed or distended stomach, and is reflected by the pneumogastric to the accelerated heart and the impeded respiration.[1] We are thereby thrown into a state of uninhibited emotional agitation, a state of agony and terror such as we rarely or never attain during waking life. Sleeping consciousness, blindfolded and blundering, a prey to these massive waves from below, and fumbling about desperately for some explanation, jumps at the idea that only the attempt to escape some terrible danger or the guilty consciousness of some awful crime can account for this immense emotional uproar. Thus the dream is suffused by a conviction which the continued emotion serves to support. We do not—it seems most simple and reasonable to conclude—experience terror because we think we have committed a crime, but we think we have committed a crime because we experience terror. And the fact that in such dreams we are far more concerned with escape from the results of crime than with any agony of remorse is not, as some have thought, due to our innate indifference to crime, but simply to the fact that our emotional state suggests to us active escape from danger rather than the more passive grief of remorse. Thus our dreams bear wit-


  1. Other pains and discomforts—toothache, for instance—may, however, give rise to dreams of murder.