People, places and things in dreams

Pubblished by Bruno Bara Nicoletta Causi on Dream Psychology Dream Research How To
September 13, 2013

Hi Dreamboarders,

How are you? A new week is finishing and we are working hard on some very big news that we will announce shortly. Stay tuned!

Meanwhile we would like to continue with our explanation of the tracking fields in Dreamboard. They are very important because each of them will help you to better understand your dreams and what they are saying to you.

People, places, and things have a fundamental role in your dreams. Let’s discover more about them.

Throughout history, dreams have been the object of the most diverse and disparate theories and interpretative traditions, which we will only briefly mention here, referring the reader to more in-depth research elsewhere and inviting him/her to reflect on just how many points of view there are in relation to the complex phenomenon of dreams.


Of course, more than the dreamer’s emotions, what has received the most attention over time has been the narratives of the images in a dream, that is, the characters, contexts and various details of a dream. Attempts have been made to give meaning to these narratives – a meaning more or less related to the dreamer or else to symbols and rules completely unrelated to him or her.

 How have dreams been considered in the past?

The oldest Western text on dreams is a Dream Book written in hieratic script (1,300 BC). It inaugurated the theory of opposites – still deeply rooted in popular culture – according to which, for example, dreaming the death of someone means wishing him long life, and similarly, a defeat really means victory. Obviously, in this case, the personality of the dreamer and his or her experiences have no importance.

The Greeks considered dreams alternatively as a prophetic message from the gods and as a tool to diagnose disease, but they too underestimated the subjective nature of dreaming.

Artemidorus, however, in the five volumes of his Oneirocritica (a fundamental work of the second century AD), became the first great modern interpreter of dreams. He managed to abandon the traditional concept of a unique and objective meaning that for three thousand years had guided soothsayers. For him, a dream was not to be read in absolute terms, and he recognized that the same dream, experienced by two different people, could have two different meanings.

This position was swept away with the advent of the Middle Ages, when popular manuals appeared once again, promising to explain the meaning of sleep according to traditional absolute and objective methods, where neither the dreamer nor the interpreter counted, but only the explicit content of the dream. The Alphabet of Dreams and books of fate were published, and they contained a list of possible meanings for dreams associated with each letter of the alphabet, not to mention The Almanac of Dreams, which revealed the meaning of dreams without even taking into consideration their content: here, the key to understanding was only the phase of the moon during which the dream took place!

Romanticism, whose literature is full of evidence of the period’s fascination with the creativity of dreams, finds its highest expression in Von Schubert. He philosophized freely on the subject though he never paid any attention to the actual experiences of dreamers. In his work The Symbolism of Dreams (1814), in fact, he argued that dreams speak through a figurative language similar to hieroglyphic writing and use a universal symbolism that is the same for people all over the world, one therefore that is valid for both ancients and contemporaries. The image-based language of dreams would thus be “a superior kind of algebra” that can assume a poetic character at times, while at other times it is ironic (as in the case of bird droppings that symbolize gold).

With Freud, however, dreams regained the scientific respect they deserve and were seen in a perspective more similar to that of Artemidorus, in which the subjectivity of the dreamer is again (thankfully) taken into account, although a bit constrained within a system of interpretation entirely focused on sexuality. In his famous The Interpretation of Dreams (1899), in fact, Freud considered dreams as substitute gratifications of an unacceptable sexual desire, which, as such, had either been removed or required censorship to inhibit it or else permit its appearance only in a disguised form. Dream symbols, for him, were a way to prevent the removal imposed by censorship: if I cannot mention the forbidden object explicitly, I can at least refer to a neutral object that represents it symbolically.

Jung, one of Freud’s best students, gave even greater importance to the understanding of dreams. He considered dreams the most important tool for reaching the unconscious, as a bridge between the conscious and unconscious sphere expressed in symbolic form. His view contrasted with Freud’s because it did not seek to establish precisely what a dream meant. While in fact Freud considered every dream as a substitute satisfaction of a repressed desire, Jung believed that dreams were of different types and had multiple functions, ranging from those that regard the daily life of the dreamer, to those that are archetypes, which, if properly understood, can allow a person to navigate better through life. And lastly, for Jung, premonitory dreams– ones which anticipated future events – were possible, though very rare. The Swiss psychoanalyst did not try to simplify the complexity of life, and his notion of dream symbolism is consistent with this orientation: according to him we have universal symbols and personal symbols, and they are all mixed together, so it cannot always be true that they are produced only to escape removal by censorship, as Freud suggested.

For Jung, therefore, a single symbol, taken out of context, has no meaning, and there is no single definitive interpretation for any single dream: a dream must be analyzed in the symbolic universe of the person who produced it.

What does the theory on which DB is based say about dreams ?

As we have seen in previous articles  (Introduction to the theory of dreams and DB and The weirdness of dreams),there can be no real continuity between dreams and thier interpretation: too many processes alter a dream after it has been dreamed for us to be able to access its original meaning.

The idea on which DB is based is related to cognitive constructivist theory and consist of the intention to exploit the volatility of dreams, avoiding any attempt to establish their original meaning.

In practice, despite full awareness of the fact that a narrated dream is a text that has undergone too many changes to be considered a reliable version of the original, DB proposes nevertheless to treat dreams in their remembered version as a meaningful communication of the unconscious, of which the dreamer is unaware. We do not suggest, as Freud does, that dreams are caused by the unconscious desire to communicate something, but we believe that in order to help dreamers to make sense of their dreams, it is useful to consider dreams a posteriori as intentional communication.

While various traditions of interpretation try to identify the meaning of a dream in the very moment it was dreamed, we openly renounce any attempt to do so, in order to focus on the meaning the dream assumes when it is narrated.

And since we are constructivists, we also abandon the concept of symbol as an image that refers to a particular unique and intrinsic meaning for the individual (e.g. dreaming of a house means dreaming about your own personality). In fact, we prefer to concentrate on the single and unrepeatable experience of each individual dreamer – the image of a house could refer to a precise memory (e.g. memories of your aunt), or a particular issue (the constriction of being locked in somebody else’s house rather than the freedom of having a house of your own), or a multitude of other meanings that are impossible to predict a priori.

Indeed, as Jung said, more or less, there are no definitive interpretations of dreams and their characteristics; dreams can only make sense if they are analyzed by taking into account the context and the subjective experience of the dreamer.

 Write down the people, places and things in your dreams with DB

Once you have adopted the view that it is scientifically impossible to find the definitive meaning of a dream – simply because the original dream experience is no longer accessible – and that dreams cannot be bound to objective symbols (such as the medieval Alphabet of Dreams) or to interpretations that do not take into account the subjective experience of the dreamer, it is still highly useful to analyze the narrative elements of the dream, especially for what they are able to evoke in us.

In fact, every detail of a dream (a particular landscape, a character or an object that attracts our attention, etc.) can potentially help us discover unexplored aspects of our personal experience (a ring may refer to a particular woman, a countryside setting to our childhood memories, a plate of fries to a sense of guilt for one’s eating habits, etc.).

According to Freud’s famous principle of association, in order to draw closer to understanding the possible meaning that a dream (or a part of it) can have for us in a specific moment of our lives, it can be useful to start with the dream’s images (a ferocious cat, a countryside landscape, a ring or a plate…), letting these elements inspire us, and asking ourselves if they evoke any other representations that we can evaluate by recognizing similarities and differences.

If, therefore, by tracking our dreams with DB we discover that we often dream about a particular subject or context, or even if there is only one particular aspect that intrigues us, we should try to ask ourselves what this reminds us of, what other images, or thoughts, or emotions it evokes in us… This will certainly help us explore ourselves even more deeply, and the meaning that a particular dream may have for us at that time; we must keep in mind, however, that there are no unique and objective meanings to be found, but only possible messages we send to ourselves that it would be quite useful to know more about.


In order to explain more clearly what the scientific bases of Dreamboard, we are publishing in this blog different articles written by Professor Bruno Bara and Dr. Nicoletta Causi:

Introduction to the theory of dreams and Dreamboard 
Emotions in dreams
The meaning of colors in dreams
Why is bodily experience also important in dreams
The weirdness of dreams
People, places, things



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