Review: The Oracle of the Night


Sleep Health | Sleep Review

The Guardian is reviewing Brazilian neuroscientist Sidarta Ribeiro’s new book, The Oracle of Night, which explores the history of dream research.

Ribeiro tries to bridge the gap between neuroscience and psychoanalysis by drawing attention to various studies that suggest a scientific basis for psychoanalytic dream theories. Electrophysiological experiments that were carried out on rats in 1989 showed, for example, that neurons activated when awake were specifically reactivated during subsequent sleep, which supports the idea advocated by Freud in his dream interpretation (1899) that dreams represent a “remnant of the day”. – a resumption of memories and emotions that one experienced in waking life. Research by South African neuropsychologist Mark Solms has shown that the brain’s dopaminergic reward system is activated during REM sleep, leading Ribeiro to conclude that “Freud’s thesis that desire is the engine of dreams is much more factual than his Critics would acknowledge … is ‘desire’ because both are ‘dopamine’. “

Ribeiro precedes his scholarly treatise with a detailed survey of remarkable dreams in politics and culture from ancient to modern. Many of them are of a precautionary, prophetic, or revelatory nature. We learn that both Xerxes and Alexander the Great were inspired by megalomaniac dreams in their expansion adventures; Julius Caesar’s wife, Calpurnia, foresaw her husband’s death in a nightmare on the eve of his assassination; When Prince Friedrich III. was asked by Saxony to hand over Martin Luther to the Holy Roman Emperor after a papal bull burned, he refused after a dream revelation and thus changed the course of European history. Artists and musicians as diverse as Albrecht Dürer, Marc Chagall and Paul McCartney have created great works inspired by dreams; Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s famous poem Kubla Khan was composed largely during a deep sleep after an opium high; chemist August Kekule discovered the hexagonal structure of benzene after dreaming of a snake eating its own tail.

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