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Schönberger, S. (1939). A Dream of Descartes: Reflections on the Unconscious Determinants of the Sciences. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 20:43-57.

(1939). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 20:43-57

A Dream of Descartes: Reflections on the Unconscious Determinants of the Sciences

Stephen Schönberger

In a short work entitled Olympica, René Descartes, the celebrated French philosopher and man of science, tells us how, when he was twenty-three years old, 'cum plenus forem enthousiasmo et mirabilis scientiæ fundamenta reperirem', he once had three dreams. He has given us an account of these dreams in the work referred to, accompanied by his comments on them and the information that the doubts which had hitherto tormented him entirely ceased to trouble him from that day.

Although Freud himself has remarked in connection with this dream that analysis of the dreams of historical figures offers little promise because we are compelled to dispense with the dreamer's associations, it was also Freud who shewed us that, even when the material available is unsatisfactory and incomplete, it sometimes enables us to make constructions with useful results: only we must never forget the hypothetical character of these constructions. I propose to consider this principle as applicable in the present paper.

I must crave your indulgence if, bearing in mind the limited time at my disposal, I have resolved to forgo any attempt to present you with a complete description or detailed analysis of the three dreams and to content myself with an account of those aspects which I consider strictly necessary for a proper understanding of my thesis.

So far as concerns the first dream, I shall merely remark that, to all appearance, it centres round masturbation and homosexuality. In the second dream Descartes hears a peal of thunder and awakes in terror; everywhere in the room he sees sparks, which he regards with curiosity.

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