Dreaming Souls: Sleep, Dreams and the Evolution of the Conscious Mind (Philosophy of Mind)

Owen Flanagan

Published by Oxford University Press, USA, 2001
ISBN 10: 0195142357 / ISBN 13: 9780195142358
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Synopsis: What, if anything, do dreams tell us about ourselves? What is the relationship between types of sleep and types of dreams? Does dreaming serve any purpose? Or are dreams simply meaningless mental noise--"unmusical fingers wandering over the piano keys"?
With expertise in philosophy, psychology, and neuroscience, Owen Flanagan is uniquely qualified to answer these questions. And in Dreaming Souls he provides both an accessible survey of the latest research on sleep and dreams and a compelling new theory about the nature and function of dreaming. Flanagan argues that while sleep has a clear biological function and adaptive value, dreams are merely side effects, "free riders," irrelevant from an evolutionary point of view. But dreams are hardly unimportant. Indeed, Flanagan argues that dreams are self-expressive, the result of our need to find or to create meaning, even when we're sleeping. Rejecting Freud's theory of manifest and latent content--of repressed wishes appearing in disguised form--Flanagan shows how brainstem activity during sleep generates a jumbled profusion of memories, images, thoughts, emotions, and desires, which the cerebral cortex then attempts to shape into a more or less coherent story. Such dream-narratives range from the relatively mundane worries of non REM sleep to the fantastic confabulations of deep REM that resemble psychotic episodes in their strangeness. But however bizarre these narratives may be, they can shed light on our mental life, our well being, and our sense of self.
Written with clarity, lively wit, and remarkable insight, Dreaming Souls offers a fascinating new way of apprehending one of the oldest mysteries of mental life.

Review: It is a long-held notion of evolutionary theory that every aspect of behavior has an adaptive purpose, making the organism that exhibits it more fit for survival. That view hits a wall when it is brought to bear on dreaming, an act that seems to have no discernible adaptive advantage.

What good does it do us to dream? Cognitive scientist Owen Flanagan addresses this and related questions in Dreaming Souls, an endlessly interesting excursion into the philosophy of mind. He proposes, first, that dreaming is simply a by-product of the ordinary awareness that allows us to live as conscious beings, an unintended rejoinder to our waking states. Nature selected mammals to have rigid skeletons in a calcium-rich environment, Flanagan notes, but "cared not one bit about their color"; in the same way, he suggests, dreaming may simply be "an expectable side effect of selection for creatures designed to have and utilize experiences while they are awake, and which continue to have experiences after the lights go off." All this is not to say that dreams are unimportant, Flanagan adds, even though they may not be especially trustworthy; dreams may be a useful means of mind reading, something we constantly do while we are awake, interrogating ourselves constantly in order to gauge our thoughts and responses to the world around us. Dreams enable us, too, to mine below the narrative self of daily life, the person we present to others, a mask that may be quite different from who we really are. ("The self," Flanagan observes, "trades in fiction rather than fact.")

Flanagan proposes no definitive answers to the question of why we dream, but his ideas are stimulating and well-argued, and they open the door to further investigation. --Gregory McNamee

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Title: Dreaming Souls: Sleep, Dreams and the ...
Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
Publication Date: 2001
Binding: Paperback
Book Condition: Used: Very Good

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