Dreaming by J. Allan Hobson
Publisher: Oxford University Press
I use to travel to Vienna a few times a year. While there, I always buy a stack of books in order to keep my German language skills alive. As a psychology student, I often head for that section in the bookshop. And believe me, Freud and psychoanalysis are still huge in Vienna. Over the last years, I've read several of Freud's publications. With my language goal in mind, Freud is actually a good choice. Freud was a great writer and Eric Kandel even puts him on par with literary giants like Franz Kafka and Thomas Mann. As far as his psychology goes, things look different though.
Freud's initial goal was to base his psychology on solid brain science. His main problem was that he was born a century too early. In a time where no one had heard of PET or fMRI, Freud resorted to a speculative philosophy in-line with post-modern analysis of dream content. Further, Freud based most of his psychological research on case-studies. In particular his dream theory was built on studies of his own dreams. As a scientific method, Freud's techniques are questionable at best. Yet psychoanalysis remains in use and has influenced the public's view of psychology (if you want a pop-culture example of Freud's ideas, check out The Sopranos ).
Modern dream theory parts drastically with Freud. In Hobson's book, the focus is on the form of dreams rather than the freudian focus on content. It turns out that dreams share a set of cognitive features: loss of self-awareness, loss of orientational stability, loss of directed thought and a severe reduction in logical reasoning and memory. In Dreaming, Hobson presents the molecular biological mechanisms behind those features of dreams. Despite its short page count, this is not an easy read; the workings and interactions on neural level are quite complex. But Hobson does a great job in this introduction. The result is a fascinating book that covers much of the history of the field, it's present state, and investigates some common misconceptions about dreams.
It's a short book and I'll keep my review short too. If you have any interest in why we sleep and dream or an interest in the mechanisms of dreaming, this is a must read. Dreaming is a great introduction to a complex and active area of research.
Reviewed April 2010