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Dreaming Souls: Sleep, Dreams and the Evolution of the Conscious Mind (Philosophy of Mind Series) 1st Edition

9 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0195126877
ISBN-10: 0195126874
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Editorial Reviews 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

From Kirkus Reviews

An informative review of current research on sleep and dreams and a new theory about the nature and function of dreaming, presented with clarity, wit, and finesse. Flanagan (philosophy, experimental psychology, and neurobiology/Duke Univ.), editor of the Philosophy of Mind Series, to which the present work belongs, brings insights from philosophy, phenomenology, evolutionary biology, psychology and psychiatry, anthropology, sociology, and neuroscience to his theory of dreams. What's more, he does so in an unpedantic way that utterly engages the reader. Dreaming, he asserts, is not an evolutionary adaption but a side effect of an adaptation that human beings have learned to use in creative and helpful ways. While Flanagan's theory sees dreaming''a free rider on a system designed to think and to sleep''as serving no direct biological function, he finds that dreams do matter, for they sometimes possess meaningful structure, are sometimes self-expressive, and sometimes provide insights into one's own mind and one's relations with others. Unlike Freud, he finds that most dreams do not conceal their content or have deep meaning. He uses Freud's famous ``wolf man'' dream interpretation to illustrate the implausibility of the Freudian approach and argues that his own alternative is both plausible and testable. He also takes issue with the notion that dreams are wellsprings of creativity, effectively destroying the commonly accepted belief that the lengthy ``Kubla Khan'' came to the poet Coleridge in a dream and that Mary Shelley dreamed the entire plot of the novel Frankenstein before writing it down. What is important to remember, in Flanagan's view, is that while dreams, hatched in the chaotic activity of the brainstem, sometimes don't mean much of anything, the images and memories activated in our sleep are our own, and it is we ourselves who give them narrative shape. Diagrams, cartoons, quotations, and of course dreamsmostly but not always the author's ownilluminate and enliven the presentation. Science writing at its best. (16 line illus., 3 halftones) -- Copyright ©1999, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Series: Philosophy of Mind Series
  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (November 18, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195126874
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195126877
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,420,227 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

44 of 45 people found the following review helpful By Daniel A. Oldis on November 15, 1999
Format: Hardcover
On the 100th anniversary of Freud's THE INTERPRETATION OF DREAMS, the philosopher/scientist Owen Flanagan has given readers a facinating synthesis of natural selection and depth psychology in the form of an original theory regarding the purpose and function of dreams. Written in a lively and conversational style, the book dissects such disparate dream-work hypotheses as Freud's, Hobson's and Crick's on its way to a realistic yet human understanding of Hamlet's rub. Dreams are not evolutionary adaptations and do not contribute to the species' survival; they are simply by-products of the neuro-chemical goings-on of sleep, but they do reveal ouselves to ourselves and contribute to personality and identity. This book is a worthwhile companion to Antonio Damasio's THE FEELING OF WHAT HAPPENS from a neurological perspective and Gordon Globus' DREAM LIFE, WAKE LIFE from a philosopical one. Flanagan elaborates on the epistomological musings of Descartes (how can we know if we are ever truly awake and not dreaming?), the moral dilemma of St. Augustine (can we truly sin in deams?) and the objectivity challenge of Daniel Dennet (do we actually dream at all or just invent the dream story upon awakening?) While there are interesting examples of dream interpretation here, readers should not look for deep symbolism, creativity wonder stories, Jungian archetypes or a how-to book on decoding one's own dreams. Neither does this book really have much to say about the general evolution of consciousness outside of dreams--Damasio's is the place to go for that. But this is good reading on the cognitive structure of dreams and it is science straight up--an important book as our dreams, along with our lives, move into the next millenium.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Thomas H. Lynch on December 22, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Flanagan delivers a theory of dreams that could largely supplant the psychodynamic dream theories of Freud, Jung and others of this ilk. Freud, as is well known, thought dreams release socially unacceptable desires that got repressed in our waking lines. Dreams are a royal road to the dynamic, meaningful unconscious. Is an intimidating theory that makes it prudent either to forget dreams or keep them to oneself, or save to disclose in the confidentiality of therapy. Jung's theories were not so narrowly based, but nonetheless he touts dream material as personally laden messages cast up from the deep coils of our personal and collective unconscious minds.
Flanagan has a much friendlier, sensible view based on modern findings about how our brains actually work, as well as an extensive survey of actual dream content, information not available in the early 20th Century when Freud and Jung cranked out their dream theories. Flanagan's book is well worth the effort to understand. I will attempt a few highlights so as to whet your appetite to learn more directly from his book.
One key concept is that our brains evolved within social groups of our early ancestors. We need to make sense of things while awake, especially what's what in our own social group. We are tuned to take gossip and make the best story we can of it. We're storytellers one and all, making up a story and calling it what actually happened. We hear and see whatever fits in with the stories we have constructed over time.
The brain never turns off. Flanagan credits as dreams any mentation we have while not awake. Let me attempt report to you Flanagan's idea of dreaming in the rapid eye movement part of sleep.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Leslie Halpern on September 22, 2005
Format: Paperback
"Dreaming Souls" clearly lays out an anti-Freudian way of viewing dream content. Flanagan's focus on dreams as "free-riders" that coincidentally join us each night when we sleep is a fascinating way to interpret the latest in sleep science.

He offers his Laws of Dream Science to help explain the bizarre nature of our dreams without giving them undeserved (in his opinion) importance to our everyday lives. His IUD scale measures the incongruity, uncertainty, and discontinuity found in most dreams. The descriptions of our physiological processes during sleep are presented in easy-to-understand language, with diagrams and an occasional photograph to help discuss these complex ideas.

A Duke University professor, Flanagan adroitly explains difficult concepts in simple terms that even a C-student freshman could understand (which may or may not be a good thing for you). Despite this small complaint about style, the substance of this book is so overwhelmingly important that anyone the least bit interested in sleeping, dreaming, Freud, or consciousness should read it.

Leslie Halpern, author of Dreams on Film: The Cinematic Struggle Between Art and Science and Reel Romance: The Lovers' Guide to the 100 Best Date Movies.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By jkjkl on July 31, 2004
Format: Paperback
owen flanagan does it once again in a great naturalistic work that sketches a controversial but logical theory in a controversial field. With experience in the philosophic, neuroscientific, and psychological fields owen is more than capable of proving his theory that dreams are not spandrels of sleep, they are fitness enhancing and although a biproduct of evolution are self expressive. He tackles all the neccessary and interesting questions from all his fields and creates an overal complex but clear and illuminating work that is a extreme pleasure to read
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