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Dream, Metaphor, and Psi

Montague Ullman

Chaired by Robert Van de Castle (University of Virginia), Delivered August 11, 1983

RESEARCH IN PARAPSYCHOLOGY 1983, Abstracts and Papers from the Twenty-sixth Annual Convention of the Parapsychological Association, 198, RHEA A. WHITE and RICHARD S. BROUGHTON Editors, The Scarecrow Press, Inc. Metuchen, N.J., & London 1984

Over the years I have tried in every way I know to capture psi in a dream and learn something of the possible interrelationship of the two. The net result was a series of close encounters with this elusive prey, ending with an ongoing approach I am engaged in and will later describe. Each encounter was of value in its own way, but none bought me as close to my goal as I would have wished. Despite this I remain convinced more than ever that dreams have something of importance to tell us about psi. I can't prove this statement, but at the same time, I don't discount the possibility that something credible underlies my continuing enthusiasm. I want to share the distillate of my experience with you in the hope that some of my enthusiasm is contagious enough to keep dream-related psi research alive.

Encounter Number One

Like many others I have had, on occasion, dreams that struck me as paranormal. Experiences of this kind deepened my belief in the reality of psychic phenomena, but did little in the way of advancing its scientific standing.

Encounter Number Two

In the forties and fifties a number of psychiatrists, including myself, tried to track the appearance of psi in the course of psychoanalytic therapy. Psi effects did crop up, most frequently around dreams, and were meaningful in terms of the specific psychological constellation in existence at the time between patient and therapist. They were both analogous to and different from spontaneously occurring anecdotal reports of psi. In the latter instance objective external circumstances block a compelling communication. In the clinical situation internalized necessities block communication. Those necessities arise out of the defensive operations we have unconsciously adopted to protect vulnerable areas of our personality. These defensive measures generally take one of two forms, compulsive distancing or compulsive closeness. In both instances entrapping security measures block the kind of emotional interaction that sustains genuine contact. Defensive operations arise out of earlier unmet needs and will tend to arise, along with the possibility of a psi component, whenever current counterparts of these earlier and more visceral areas are touched upon. The current reminders of these earlier progenitors are situations that are experienced either in dependency terms, as in the parent-child constellation, or as problematic peer relations, most commonly in the form of male-female tensions.

Except for the continuing heroic efforts of a few, the psychoanalytic epoch has all but come to an end, having had very little, if any, impact on the development and direction of parapsychological research.

Encounter Number Three

Much has been written about the work of the Maimonides Dream Laboratory so there remains little to add. The investigations provided experimental evidence that linked psi and dreams, but produced little else of any heuristic importance.

Encounter Number Four

This last, and probably final, encounter evolved out of the preceding ones and was further stimulated by a change that my own professional career took about ten years ago. At that time I had the opportunity to devote myself to the development of a small group approach to dreams. This was not psi-oriented, but was designed both as a teaching instrument to familiarize professionals with the unique healing potential of the dream and as a way of structuring a small group process so as to make dreams generally accessible in a safe and effective way. Working with dreams in a small group setting has enriched and, in some ways, modified the view I had of dreams as a practicing psychoanalyst. For one thing, it has brought me closer to seeing the dream in its self-healing potential. It is available as an instrument by means of which a greater state of wholeness can obtain. Emerging as the product of a "larger self, " it confronts the dreamer with an aspect of the self that has not heretofore been acknowledged or utilized. The dream does not yield its secret easily. Work has to be done in the waking state before this healing potential can be realized. The language is strange for someone who, upon awakening, immediately drops the figurative mode of the dream and resumes the discursive mode of the waking state, along with the habitual strategies of self-defense such a mode offers (denial, rationalization, etc.).

I would like to share a number of speculations that have come out of this work that may have a bearing on the relationship of dreaming to psi. They also provided the stimulus for initiating the psi-oriented dream group that has been held at the ASPR for several years.

The Metaphorical Transform

The most interesting feature of our dream life, to my way of thinking, is the way that significant information is encoded in highly personal and often ingeniously crafted metaphors. Our dream life becomes manifest to us figuratively through the use of the visual metaphor. This involves the selection and restructuring of socially available imagery so that it can serve as a metaphorical carrier of meaning. The visual metaphor of the dream serves this purpose through the selection of an image or sequence of images that have an implicit similarity to events in the life of the dreamer. Our dreams may be thought of as metaphors in motion.

In general, metaphor links two separate domains and achieves its expressive power by the implied similarities involved in the linkage. The oneiric or dream metaphor does this by linking imagery generated in an imaginative domain in a sleeping subject to specific constellations of events that took place in the recent and past life of the dreamer. We usually assume that the memory of these events and the feelings associated with them are the starting point of the dream image. In fact we don't know where and when the metaphorical process begins. What we do know is that the oneiric metaphor is immediately available to the dreamer and with effortless skill the succeeding images unfold, adding depth and range to the original statement. There is no laborious search for the proper image, no hunting through the files to select the most appropriate one. It is simply there when it is needed, or so it seems. Although most of the imagery emerges out of the recent and remote past of the dreamer, the existence of the telepathic and precognitive dream suggests that any event anywhere in time and place can, on occasion, be recruited into metaphorical service for the dreamer.

The ready availability of appropriate visual metaphors for the dreamer suggests the possibility that, not only do we experience events in our waking life, but that we also screen them unconsciously for their metaphorical value. The ones we end up with in our dreams are those with either the greater metaphorical valence or the most recent, or some combination of both. Perhaps the hypnagogic image has a bearing on this question. At one moment we are closer to the waking state and are aware of a succession of thoughts going through our mind. At the next instant we are closer to the sleeping state and there is the immediate appearance of the image metaphorically expressing the last thoughts we had. It seems to have come into being at the moment as a transformation of the waking event that stimulated that particular train of thought. The image then forms part of the visual metaphor repertoire of the dreamer that is available for use any time it may be needed.

Stated another way, there are two simultaneous ways of processing the passing streams of sensations to which we are subjected. One is the familiar waking mode, the end point of which is the sense of order and understanding we come to about the world. The second way is to extract from the happenings around us their metaphorical potential and to express the result in the form of imagery which becomes available when we surrender the waking mode. The first mode is structured in and therefore limited by time and space. The second is structured more as a field extending in time and space with the greatest concentration of force being around the limited space-time frame of the individual, but with no sharp boundaries between that frame and the frame of others, nor between past, present, and future frames. What we refer to as ESP would then be the manifestation of this force field as it manages to transcend the individual and reach into someone else's space-time or the future space-time of the same individual. A limited but suggestive analogy might be that of the magnetic field generated by an electrical current, the latter being the palpable structure of reality as we assume it to be, and the former what we might call the metaphorical psi field, being continuously generated by real events. Paranormal cognition is rarely, if ever, precisely on target. There is enough similarity to the real event to classify it as paranormal, but it is generally embedded in the idiosyncratic productions of the particular percipient. What I am suggesting is that what we all recognize as the elusive aspect of the psi event may simply represent the emergence of a metaphorical statement in which the psi factor is one among many in the creation of the metaphor. Its frustrating elusive character then becomes an interesting allusive one. If the connection to metaphor is valid the task of the investigator becomes somewhat more difficult. He or she has to use a double-barreled approach that will identify both psi and the metaphor.

A point worthy of note is how remarkably articulate we are in the figurative domain. We have the necessary visual metaphors immediately on hand. They are incredibly apt, ingeniously constructed, and remarkably comprehensive. We are less articulate when we rely on words alone to describe our state of being (unless we revert to a metaphorical mode as the poet does). Perhaps we should modify our analogy and view the metaphorical psi field as primary and the linguistic discursive mode as secondary. Metaphors, which often originate in dreams, do provide the rich and fertile soil of language. Metaphor is the initial way of grasping on to something felt and something in need of gaining expression. When a metaphor is newly created it is alive in contrast to the dead ones which have already passed into everyday speech. The live metaphor offers a creative jolt to the literalness of language. It makes use of our versatility with language, but is never quite reducible to the literalness of language. There remains something ineffably elusive about the metaphor whether it be of the poet or of the dreamer. The same is true when we deal with a metaphor that encapsulates a psi event. We know it is true, but we know it is not true in a literal sense, and cannot be reduced to a state of literalness.

The newly generated metaphor has a creative, living thrust. There are two processes that came together in its birth. There would have to be a selection process to ascertain what it is that has to be expressed, and then a choice has to be made of the most suitable vehicle. Both these processes have potential theoretical linkages to the operation of psi. A psi effect can be thought of as a kind of information scanning process and one that often uses imagery as the vehicle. There are shared end-points in each instance: namely, a heightened feeling response and a sense of an opening to larger vistas -- a sense of moving into unexplained territory and going beyond the self. A powerful and original metaphor, when it first arrives on the scene, does seem to connect the creator and all those affected by it to a universe larger than the self. It propels us deeper into that universe in an ineffable and feeling way rather than in a rational and logical way. If science carried us into the future in discrete steps, the metaphor does it by setting off an unending set of ripples that may diminish in amplitude, but never quite fade out. Shakespeare offered us a supply that will last for an eternity.

Dreaming is the metaphor-creating state par excellence. It is also a state quite conducive to the spontaneous generation of psi. We have made very little of the possible relationship between the two. Is our capacity to zero in on just the right image to serve our metaphorical needs cut from the same cloth as our ability to paranormally apprehend an event that would otherwise be beyond our reach? I have suggested that to some extent a psi event is a psi event because of its metaphorical potential. Perhaps when a reality constellation is as good a metaphor for both subject and agent, a psi event occurs. Or, perhaps the psi connections are ever-present, but it takes a metaphorical spark to make them explicit.

In summary, what I am saying about the connection of the oneiric image and psi is that it has to be viewed as part of a more general metaphorical way of processing ongoing events. Our feelings are the starting point for this flow of imagery. It is our feelings which mobilize, on the basis of emotional rather than logical contiguity, the information we need either from our past or, paranormally, from external sources in the construction of the metaphorical image. In the course of dreaming those metaphorical images emerge which express, reflect, and shed light on our current predicament. The creation and deployment of the visual metaphor is a remarkably powerful way of revealing, at a feeling level, where we are in relation to these issues and the impact of recent events in our lives upon them. In our dreams we give visibility to the emotional components of the interpersonal fields of greatest importance to us. The potential for psi events is intrinsic to this field but hardly ever actualized, perhaps because of our underdeveloped sense of the reality of psi.


In a tantalizing way dreams seem to originate in a source outside the self we are ordinarily familiar with while awake. From an early age our waking self organizes experience in space and time. The view taken by the self asleep and dreaming is quite different. For one thing it links events together not in space, time, and logical causality, but on the basis of emotional contiguity. It is as if our waking experiences leave emotional traces which are always available to our dreaming self but which can be manipulated in one way or another by our waking self (forgotten, repressed, denied, rationalized, etc.). This extended view of ourself in sleep has been the starting point of conjecture about the unconscious dimension of our existence. Labeling that source the Unconscious (Freud) or adding the notion of the Collective Unconscious (Jung) is to foreclose too quickly on an aspect of our existence that contains mysteries yet to be solved.

I was taught that dreams were very personal narcissistic indulgences. I now view them quite differently. I believe that the source that informs dreaming consciousness includes but goes beyond issues of personal motivation. I have come to feel that our dreams are fundamentally concerned with the assessment of damage to, repair of, and enhancement of our connections to others. The notion of species-connectedness seems to me to be the underlying motif of our dream life. There is a part of our being that is fundamentally concerned with the survival of the species and only incidentally with the problems of the individual. The sense of our own discreteness dominates the scene while awake and we view the world and ourselves from that position. This perspective changes radically when we are asleep and dreaming. We rearrange our recent waking experience into a different order of priorities. Our dreaming self is reactive to anything in our waking experience that tampers with the state of our connectedness to others, beginning with significant persons in our life, but extending outward to all others. We reorder these experiential residues around the issue of connectedness. In our dreams we get down to basics and, from a more global perspective, see ourselves in the closely linked mosaic that makes up the human species.

Our dreaming self seems to hold onto a notion that escapes us in our waking moments -- namely, that we are all members of a single species. Our historical fate has fragmented that unity, often in self-defeating ways, along every line of cleavage conceivable by our ingenuity and foibles, e. g., politically, religiously, economically, ethnically, etc. This fragmenting process continues macroscopically in the way we divide the nations of the world into forces of good and evil. It goes on microscopically in the way we hurt, corrode, or destroy our sense of connection with each other, by the countless ways in which we pursue individualistic goals at the expense of others. Whereas we may be perfectly capable of living a long life as an individual thriving on dishonesty (the reverse of the adage of "the good die young"), the likelihood is that we won't long survive as a species if unchecked dishonesty undermines our humanism. And, of course, there is ample evidence currently of the danger of that possibility. The part of our being that shapes our dreams seems very much concerned with this issue. Our dreams reflect back to us with ruthless honesty how our connections to significant others fared on the previous day. We seem to have a built-in way of monitoring the extent to which inner and outer events interfere with (or enhance) our own humanity. The dream can be looked upon as a kind of steering mechanism which, if attended to, can help us stay on a survival course. Considering the calculated neglect accorded dreams on our march toward civilization it may already be too late. At any rate, it is this more global concern, one that transcends the existence of the individual as a discrete entity, that suggestively parallels or may be more intrinsically related to the way that manifestations of psi seem to have a bearing on issues of connectedness.

The evidence for the dream's proclivity for species-connectedness is only suggestive at this point. There is much in Jung's emphasis on the connection of myth to dreams, his notion of archetypes and the collective unconscious that may have a bearing on this.

Nonreflective Consciousness

There is yet another aspect to the dreaming experience that bears mention. I refer to the nonreflective way in which we experience ourselves while dreaming. This is a point emphasized by Sartre (as set forth in Tolaas, in press) in his discussion of images and the same point is made by Rechtschaffen (1979), although he refers to it as the single-mindedness of the dream. While dreaming we do not reflect on what is happening to us. We accept everything unquestioningly, unreflectively, as a living experience. It is there for us in its actuality, not as a dream or a fantasy or a story we are telling ourselves. We have translated the complexities of our life into a series of seemingly real perceptual experiences. Perhaps this is the closest we come to the kind of direct experience of the world that lower animals have. Ordinarily we know the world through the categories of language. In experiencing the world only perceptually we may inadvertently experience more of it than we usually do. Perhaps what we consider a limitation in lower animals, their failure to reach our levels of abstraction, is for us, under these circumstances, something of an enhancement. And, since this experience is beyond our ordinary comprehension, metaphor is the only vehicle we have for capturing something of its essence. How might a psi effect be connected with it? If dreaming brings us into a different relationship to an inner reality, it might also bring us into a different relationship to an outer reality. We are filtering in what our categorical understanding awake filters out. It is now reaching us indirectly through the metaphorical construct. To some extent this rippling outward transcendence of space and time, this sense of being brought closer to a more mysterious matrix, is an aspect of all creative metaphor. It is also, perhaps, the essence of the aesthetic experience. Psi research may ultimately bring us closer to a point of convergence of the scientific and aesthetic so that the satisfaction of greater knowledge will always be tempered by the awareness of greater mystery.

The ASPR Dream Group Project

The group work I was doing with dreams soon led to the idea of adapting the process I was using in a way that would be oriented to the occurrence of psi effects and still include an experiential arrangement to explore the contextual references of the images when correspondences were noted. The project was initiated with a small group of coexplorers a little over five years ago at the ASPR. I hesitate to dignify what we are doing with the name "experiment." It is more in the way of an experience that we are having together out of which psi seems to crop up in its characteristically tantalizing and elusive way. There have been a number of changes in the make-up of the group and in the approach in the course of this time. An earlier report covers the work we did through 1979 (Ullman, 1980). We will deal here with developments since then. The group has become smaller in size. It now numbers four.[1]


We have weekly meetings that last approximately one and a half hours. Each member keeps a written record of his or her dreams, which are then typed, copied, and distributed at each meeting. Time is set aside to review and compare the dreams of others to his or her own dreams. From this point on, the process evolves quite informally. A light and spontaneous atmosphere prevails in our pursuit of a suggestive correspondence. We seek out any correspondences between the dreams of others and events in our own lives and any correspondences between our dreams and paranormally apprehended events in our own lives. Where manifest correspondences occur or simply intuitive guesses hint at a possible psi effect an experiential process is invoked to uncover further possible correspondences and to explore the dynamics of the particular relationships in which these effects are happening. In brief, this consists of an exploration of the emotional context that led to the dream and the shared free play of the collective imagination of the group to elaborate on the metaphorical possibilities of the imagery in an effort to help the dreamer arrive at the one that fits. As is characteristic of dream work, significant emotional patterns are often exposed and shared. The experiential dream process as here structured facilitates access to material of this kind in a safe and nonintrusive way. Many of the correspondences noted, though exposable to view in a small group setting, were too private for a larger public exposure.

The emotional set of the group and the challenging novelty of each dream heightens the expectancy level with regard to the possibility of psi occurring and prevents the process from ever lapsing into a stereotyped or dull operation. The procedure lacks any formal experimental design features. Our judgments of correspondences remain purely subjective. No blind or objective judging procedure has been introduced.

We are dispensing with the assumption that we can designate an agent, subject, and target in advance and are starting with what we know about psi, namely, the significance of an emotional field and the predilection for the dreaming state. We add to this the stimulation of the group setting and the challenge (and fun) of looking for psi effects not only in the manifest dream but also in ferreting them out from behind their metaphorical coloring.

We are replacing the controlled environment of the laboratory with an ongoing social context of people who are interested in and open to psi effects. As investigators we are simply orienting ourselves to an observational process geared to recognizing psi events wherever and whenever they turn up in the lives of the group members. There is no specification in advance of the kind of psi effect we are looking for. Our interest is not limited to effects that occur within the group, but extends to the outside context that involves the lives of each individual member. We are not setting aside specified laboratory time for the occurrence of psi but, to the best of our ability, we are prepared to look at events that occur during the nocturnal as well as the diurnal phases of our existence, and to do this seven days a week. In effect, we are allowing ourselves to be guided by the phenomena rather than setting more restrictive conditions for their appearance.

There are, of course, serious pitfalls in so personal an approach as well as in the methodology itself. A good deal of enthusiastic subjectivity undoubtedly colors our judgment. We amass more data than we can handle in the time available to us and we are often unable to deal adequately with the complexity of the data that we are able to look at. Antecedent common chance factors that may facilitate correspondences are not systematically ruled out. We end up with consensual, subjective evaluations that lack quantitative assessment as well as predictability. Our hope is that, what we lose in control and quantitative certainty, will be offset by a better understanding of the developmental aspects of psi sensitivity.

An unexpected development was the emergence of psi ability in one person (B.S.). It became more and more apparent that most of the effects we observed involved B.S. either in relation to events in her life outside the group or in relation to what was occurring between her and other members of the group. Prior to her experiences in the group, B.S., although interested in psychical research, had not had any personal psi experiences. We began more and more to focus on her dreams, singling them out for experiential exploration of how they touched her life paranormally or were linked paranormally to the lives of the other participants. We were thus in the privileged position of participating in and observing the evolution of this type of sensitivity in one of the members of the research team. To a lesser extent I think it occurred in each of us.

What had been noted earlier, namely, the way psi effects seemed to ride along on specific dyadic motivational channels, continued to be observed in this recent period. The motivational patterning that seemed to channel psi between M. U. and B.S., for example, took various forms at different times. They included: Father-Daughter, Doctor-Nurse (B. S. is a psychiatric nurse), Nurse-Patient, Man-Woman.


In the first two examples that follow I wish to illustrate some of the ways that I became more aware of psi occurring in my dreams and related events in my life.

Dream: Saturday, August 29, 1981. I am close to someone who is a president. He and I are on very familiar terms. Something about Arthur Twitchell, Tuesday night and his going to the Psychiatric Institute at the Columbia Medical Center. Some man told his wife that they had to leave for the Island Tuesday night.[2]

Life event: Friday, August 28, 1981. Arthur Twitchell, then president of the ASPR, was hospitalized at the Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center early Friday morning, Aug. 28, 1981. He had been ill for several days before that. On Saturday, Aug. 29, I learned that he had been taken to the hospital in acute congestive heart failure. The last contact I had with him was several weeks earlier at the Parapsychological Association convention in Syracuse. To my knowledge this is the first and only dream that I ever had of him. There was no opportunity to explore with Arthur the possible metaphorical overtones to the manifest correspondence. What I could and did do was to correlate what little I knew about his personal life with what I felt might be a related context from my own life. The word president is mentioned in the dream and, of course, earlier that year, Arthur had succeeded me as president of the ASPR. I thought, however, that the relevant context might have gone back to much earlier time. I was a psychiatric resident at the New York State Psychiatric Institute in 1942. The Institute is one component of the Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center. I was called into the military in November of 1942 and shortly thereafter served as a medical officer in a POW camp for German prisoners in Georgia for a brief period. During the war Arthur served in the Air Force. He was shot down over Germany and was a POW for several years. Although in no way objectively comparable to the time Arthur spent as a POW the year of my residency at the Psychiatric Institute was the most stressful one of my life.

The following dream of mine may have been no more than a coincidence. On the other hand, it may possibly have been precognitive.

Dream: Friday, March 12, 1982. My wife and others had left our house and had driven away. Sometime later I noticed they were all back and gathered in the driveway. Her cousin P. R. was also there as was a policeman who had driven up in a police car. They had been in some sort of accident.

Life Event: Friday, March 12, 1982. Friday night, about 11:.00 p.m., while driving home from a talk in Ossining, I stopped at a stop sign before making a turn onto a major highway. I was struck suddenly from behind by a large car and catapulted onto the highway. Somewhat dazed, I got out of the car to investigate. There was minor damage to the rear bumper and I suffered a slight whiplash injury. The real danger was my exposure to oncoming cars which, fortunately, were going slow enough to stop in time before hitting me. It was the first accident I had had with a car in over twenty years. My wife had had an accident with her car last December. Her cousin P. R. very much reminded me of the woman who was the hostess for the evening. In the accident my wife had a police car run into her as she was making a turn.

Anyone who drives into New York will be apt to have dreams about cars. When they do crop up in my dreams they generally involve parking problems. This was the first dream depicting an accident. Cars are, of course, a source of rich metaphorical potential and in this age of dependency on cars, they often symbolize an aspect of the self. Certainly an aspect of my own narcissism may have been involved. I was driving a new car and this was the first marring of its appearance. My dream also confronts me with a bit of residual chauvinism. It made me aware how convinced I was that if anything happened to the car it would occur while my wife was driving.

Another vulnerable area of mine tapped by the car as metaphor is that of relationship to authority. The car is my own object, but it is an object which at every moment that it is in use brings me into a potential tension with the law. There are red lights and stop signs that tell you to stop; signs that tell you to yield; there is registration, licensing, and insurance; there is the constant possibility of accident; and finally, there is always the temptation to go a little above the speed limit. A number of other problems with cars play into aggressive undercurrents -- problems with other drivers on the road, the difficulty in finding a parking space in New York, fear of being towed away as one inevitably has to take risks in parking, and finally, the real danger of having the car stolen or broken into.

None of the presumptively psi exchanges between Barbara Shelp and myself were directly on target. They were all tantalizingly suggestive, feeling truer to the participants than they are apt to strike an outside observer. I think this is so because, however slight the surface correspondences may seem, they set off resonating effects at deeper levels in the involved parties. Although that is hard to evaluate with any degree of objectivity, it is a definite felt reaction that has to be taken into account in judging whether the seeming coincidence is or is not meaningful. The following is an example:

My dream: Thursday, January 7, 1982. Something about Groucho Marx and surprised to see him looking so young.

Life events. The Marx Brothers have always been favorites of mine, particularly Groucho. I could think of no reason why he turned up in my dream that night. Here are Barbara's comments on Thursday, January 7, when we met to review our dreams.

On the evening of January 6th [the night I had the dream--M. U.] I was talking to my neighbor and telling him of a birthday party I had had four years ago. I had decided to give myself a birthday party and to invite whomever I wanted. At the time I invited them I also told each guest what I wanted each one to bring, something I felt was appropriate for that person to do or bring. I asked one young friend to write a poem, which he did. He also came in with a package. It was a framed picture of Groucho Marx which was taken when he was much younger. This gift referred to a special incident that had occurred between us. There is a hole in the wall beside the door in my house which had originally housed an intercom. He had earlier noticed that unseemly sight and had brought the picture so that I could hang it over the wall to cover the hole. Last night I was telling my neighbor about it and having a good laugh over it. This morning (January 8th) I had noticed a thick layer of dust on the frame of Groucho's picture. I took it down. With the picture off I could hear what was said in my neighbor's living room.

This incident, including Groucho as a metaphor, was replete with possibilities for me, possibilities that I will just hint at, since they are too private to be explicit about. In his films Groucho usually had a way with women, or thought he did. The relationship of the location of the picture to an old and unused communication channel is also of interest. The link to a communication device has often been associated with the appearance of psi in a dream.

Dream of Barbara Shelp

The following account was prepared by Barbara Shelp. It is possibly precognitive and illustrates the value of working with a longitudinal recording of dreams:

On February 27, 1982, my daughter Eileen received a telephone call from a friend named Phil in Florida, whom I do not know, asking her to visit during her vacation. On March 1, 1982, I was looking through the record of my past dreams in preparation for a paper. My daughter, looking over my shoulder, took note of the following dream from several months before:

9/3/81 "Regisistra" Something about a training program for teaching; class; with a large bet riding on its success ... name Smetana

My daughter pointed out that the name Regisistra is the last name of her friend Phil and that she had discussed with him the fact that she would have to arrange her visit so that it would not conflict with a summer course she is registering for.

Notable about the above example is the space of time over which the series of dreams is spread, and that I had apparently picked up on a rather unusual name. I also had the correct pronunciation. None of the latter part of this would have been recognized if I had not gone back over my dreams and if my daughter had not happened to look over my shoulder.


The approach I have described has something in common with the psychoanalytical way of observing psi, but it is also different. The psychoanalytic model enables us to witness the sporadic occurrence of psi and, at the same time, provides us with an in-depth view of the dynamics involved in the evolution of a special kind of human relationship. We are dealing with psi arising spontaneously in an emotional field but of a specially structured sort. It is a therapeutic rather than an investigative effort. Neither the patient nor the therapist come together for the purpose of generating psi effects. In contrast to that model in our group project the investigative interest remains dominant and all involved are both subject and agent, participant and researcher. We are exploring the psi potential of each other. In both instances the appearance of psi is unpredictable and spontaneous, occurring in an interpersonal field as yet too complex to specify with accuracy at any given moment and not controllable by the waking ego.

The laboratory model characteristically involves experimenter and subjects and introduces controls designed to identify variables and test hypotheses. The arena in which the psi effect is sought is specified in advance. The laboratory investigator is involved in a trade-off. He or she is seeking greater control over the conditions that make for the appearance of psi at the expense of the more cumbersome and uncontrollable factors involved in the pursuit of spontaneous cases.

Let me close with a number of questions addressed to a future generation of experimentalists:

1.    Why limit the appearance of psi to a predetermined experimental moment, generally arbitrarily chosen by the experimenter? Why not include the entire diurnal cycle as the possible temporal field for the appearance of psi?

2.    Why not explore further the range and depth of the scanning that goes into the production of dream imagery?

3.    Why not exploit the feeling of communality and connectedness that is the inevitable outcome of dream work in a group?

4.    Why not take advantage of the opportunity for varied dyadic arrangements that are possible in a mixed group?

5.    Why not add a longitudinal temporal dimension to the tracking of psi, such as is possible in an ongoing long-range dream group?

6.    Why not explore how psi sensitivity can develop in an individual over time, given the support, encouragement, and enthusiasm generated in a group situation?


The group approach I have described has the advantage of working with spontaneously generated psi effects and then using the dynamics of the dream to gain access into the nature of the emotional currents favorable to or presaging the appearance of a psi event. It not only adds a longitudinal dimension to a psi research project but also, by using the full diurnal cycle, casts a wider net.

It embodies the elements of spontaneity and play and provides for an opportunity to note and explore the appearance of psi in naturally occurring emotional contexts that are ongoing, changing, and developing. Since the psi effect is not specified in advance the technique is open to any manifestation of the information gathering aspects of psi and does so in terms of unconscious as well as conscious manifestations. As both investigators and subjects we are the source and explorers of what we produce.

I have also shared a number of theoretical speculations that have arisen in connection with group dream work. These have focused on the role of metaphor, the concern of the dream with the survival of the species, and the yet to be explored aspects of unreflective consciousness.


Rechtschaffen, A. The single-mindedness and isolation of dreams. Sleep 1979, 1, 97-109.

Tolaas, J. Transformatory framework: Pictorial to verbal. In B. Wolman and M. Ullman (Eds. ), Handbook of Altered States of Consciousness. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, in press.

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[1] The members of the current group are Barbara Shelp, Patrice Keane, Nancy Sondow, and myself.


[2] The date given for the dream is the morning the dreamer awakens with the dream. which may have occurred at any time during the night.