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Robbins, M. (2015). The Royal Road—To Where?. Ann. Psychoanal., 38:196-214.

(2015). Annual of Psychoanalysis, 38:196-214

VI: Current Approaches to Dreams

The Royal Road—To Where?

Michael Robbins, M.D.

When Freud asserted that “the interpretation of dreams is the royal road to a knowledge of the unconscious activities of the mind” (1900, p. 609), psychoanalysis joined a caravan of people dating back to the dawn of human consciousness who have reflected on the significance of dreams and the nature of the mental process responsible for them. While the mental process responsible for dreaming is generally regarded as one of the most important constituents of unconscious mind, controversy and confusion abound as to what functions it serves as well as its relationship to development, to symbolic representational thought, and to psychosis. In this essay I argue that dreaming is an expressive instance of a qualitatively unique process I call primordial mental activity, which is different from thought but every bit as important in human affairs. In its relationships with thought, ranging from dissociation to various forms of integration, primordial mental activity is responsible not only for dreaming but for numerous other phenomena, some so ordinary as to go unnoticed, others extraordinary, and some pathological.

The Motivation and Function of Dreaming

It is generally agreed that there is an underlying episodic physiological stimulus, since most dreaming occurs during REM sleep. Most but not all researchers agree that dreaming serves psychological functions as well. In 1900 Freud articulated the theory of the primary and secondary processes and hypothesized that through the primary process the dream creates a hallucination/delusion that an unconscious wish has been fulfilled and in so doing preserves sleep. He described the wish at times as an instinctual libidinal tension and at others as a repressed thoughtful impulse. In 1920 Freud extended his study to traumatic and repetitive dreams that do not seem to be wish fulfillments and formulated the dual instinct theory that moved at least some instances of dreaming away from wish fulfillment and toward the more general realm of expression.

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