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Dyer, A.R. (1986). The Dreams of Descartes: Notes on the Origins of Scientific Thinking. Ann. Psychoanal., 14:163-176.

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(1986). Annual of Psychoanalysis, 14:163-176

The Dreams of Descartes: Notes on the Origins of Scientific Thinking

Allen R. Dyer, M.D., Ph.D.

The dreams of Descartes are of enduring fascination. Not only are they intrinsically interesting, but also Descartes claimed that the dreams that he had on November 10, 1619, revealed to him the basis of a new philosophy, the scientific method. Several reviews have attempted to interpret the dream symbolism in light of known biographical details of Descartes's life. Schonberger (1939) has offered a Kleinian interpretation of the dreams; von Franz (1968) has offered a Jungian interpretation; Feuer (1963) has interpreted the dreams according to a classical template exploring the sexual anxieties of the dreamer; Hanson (1977) has explored the narcissistic dynamics of Descartes's dreams. Freud himself was invited to comment on the dreams (1929) and offered appropriate cautions about the difficulties of making accurate interpretations without access to the associations of the dreamer. He noted that the dreams were of the sort he described as “from above” (p.203), meaning that they included thoughts that were close to the dreamer's consciousness and might be had while awake.

What has proved most difficult in interpreting Descartes's dreams, however, has not been the lack of information about his life or even associative material, of which Descartes himself provided a great deal. The problem has been understanding how the dreams relate to the philosophy which Descartes claimed emerged from them.

The answer to that question lies not just in the content of the dreams, but in their context. The dreams are but one source of information, which taken together with the historical and biographical background of Descartes's philosophy, suggest the nature of the anxieties and problems with which Descartes was struggling in both his dreams and his philosophy.

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