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Guillotine

Dreamed 1865 by psychologist Louis Alfred Maury, as described by Sigmund Freud

"He was ill in bed; his mother was sitting beside him. He dreamed of the Reign of Terror during the Revolution. He witnessed some terrible scenes of murder, and finally he himself was summoned before the Tribunal. There he saw Robespierre, Marat, Fouquier-Tinville, and all the sorry heroes of those terrible days; he had to give an account of himself, and after all manner of incidents which did not fix themselves in his memory, he was sentenced to death. Accompanied by an enormous crowd, he was led to the place of execution. He mounted the scaffold; the executioner tied him to the plank, it tipped over, and the knife of the guillotine fell. He felt his head severed from his trunk, and awakened in terrible anxiety, only to find that the head-board of the bed had fallen, and had actually struck the cervical vertebrae just where the knife of the guillotine would have fallen.

This dream gave rise to an interesting discussion, initiated by Le Lorrain and Egger in the Revue Philosophique, as to whether, and how, it was possible for the dreamer to crowd together an amount of dream-content apparently so large in the short space of time elapsing between the perception of the waking stimulus and the moment of actual waking."

--Freud's "The Interpretation of Dreams", 1913 ed., ch. 1.

For generations after Maury's dream, psychologists were forced to assume dreams were nearly instantaneous. Then REM was discovered--and it turned out that dreams play in realtime! Not instantaneous bursts at all.

So how can a dream anticipate unlikely interruptions like this? Prediction, or chance? I won't argue it. The World Dream Bank has hundreds of examples of apparently predictive dreams; read them and decide for yourself.

Instead, I want to point out a second aspect of Maury's dream that Freud ignored: its purpose. Maury's dream wasn't random! He was a psychologist experimenting with external stimuli (subliminal or blatant) to see how they affect a dream. Colleagues tickled, poked, and drenched him as he slept. Torture in the name of science! Freud is silent about this, but the dream directly addresses Maury's chief concern, dream research itself. This is no mere sleep-saving reflex! It's a challenge to Maury's mechanistic view of the dreaming mind--a challenge so outrageously bold it still threatens accepted paradigms 150 years later.

Maybe even too bold. "How did the dream do that?" has eclipsed the equally intriguing question: "Why did the dream do that?"

Am I attributing intentionality to Maury's dream? Oh, yes.

I too had a short-term predictive dream, Fanfare Foreseen that could almost be mistaken for a dream instantaneously explaining away a sleep stimulus...but not quite, for the set-up came before the stimulus. Like Maury's, my dream came when I was deep in dream research--and skeptical of the possibility of predictive dreams. That is...

Not only dream researchers have such "guillotine" dreams (short-term predictions anticipating external stimuli). See FIP: 4: A Midlands Mum, reported by JB Priestley, for an idle feverdream apparently running several seconds ahead of our time in which the dreamer seemed aware of both times at once.



LISTS AND LINKS: revolution - trials - violence & dying in dreams - blades - heads up! - prediction - ESP in general - dreamwork - those similar anticipatory dreams: Fanfare Foreseen, FIP: 4: A Midlands Mum

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