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Fisher, C. (1954). Dreams and Perception—The Role of Preconscious and Primary Modes of Perception in Dream Formation. J. Amer. Psychoanal. Assn., 2:389-445.

(1954). Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 2:389-445

Dreams and Perception—The Role of Preconscious and Primary Modes of Perception in Dream Formation

Charles Fisher, M.D.


1. This investigation represents a repetition and extension of Poetzl's classical experiments on dream formation following the tachistoscopic presentation of pictures. In more than thirty experiments Poetzl's chief findings have been confirmed. It was shown that those portions of the exposed pictures which were excluded from conscious perception went to make up the manifest content of subsequent dreams.

2. It was shown that a remarkable process of preconscious perception is involved in these experiments. This process is characterized both by extreme accuracy of registration and great distortion of the preconsciously perceived percepts.

3. It was shown that some of the preconscious visual percepts retain in the dream the meaning of the object denoted by them, while in other instances the percept is treated as a concrete object divorced from its meaning; these formulations also hold for preconsciously perceived words.

4. The preconscious visual percepts appear not to be available to free association but can be recaptured by confrontation in an experimental situation where control is retained over the visual perceptual field and the dream process itself through the influence of suggestion.

5. The role of suggestion and of transference in these experiments has been discussed. The experimental dreams were shown to be transference dreams and this fact explains why the subjects structure the dream around the tachistoscopically exposed pictures.

6. The preconscious visual process revealed in these experiments was shown to be related to similar perceptual processes

found in visual agnosias, eidetic imagery and alcoholic hallucinosis. The concepts of "primary" and "secondary" perception were discussed. Primary perception is under the influence of the unconscious wish, the drives, and the primary process. It plays an important role in normal dream formation, and becomes manifest in a number of pathological states such as visual agnosia.

7. It was suggested that the process of dream distortion may take place at the moment of and in close temporal relation to perception, and that it may involve the first stage of the dream process, as set forth by Freud, as well as the second stage.

8. The "hierarchy" theory of perception was briefly discussed. The evidence from this investigation supports the theory that perception develops in levels or stages.

9. It was suggested that the dream cannot create a new visual structure any more than it can a new speech. It was shown that memory pictures from the past do not appear in dreams unless "covered" by or "screened" by a recent visual percept and that one of the important functions of day residues is to supply such percepts. Evidence was cited to show that a recent visual impression retains a capacity for hallucinatory revival for several days only.

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