A groundbreaking new theory that puts dreaming at the heart of our emotional well-being…
Why do we dream? What do dreams mean? Why is the content of our dreams so very often bizarre? Why do our dreams seem so intense and significant when we experience them, and yet are usually forgotten afterwards?
How do dreams connect with emotions? What is the link between learning and dreaming? Why does everyone love a good story?
In what has been described as
One of the most important scientific breakthroughs of the last hundred years
Dr Farouk Okhai (consultant psychiatrist and psychotherapist at the Milton Keynes Primary Care NHS Trust)
Joe Griffin discovered how and why dreaming evolved in mammals and helped unravel what dreams actually mean. Thanks to Griffin’s work, we now know what dreams are doing for us: they keep us sane, or, in certain circumstances, can drive us mad. The explanation turns out to be strikingly simple and satisfying. And this knowledge opens up wonderful new possibilities for humanity: greater creativity, improved mental health and deeper understanding of who we are.
Griffin and Tyrrell convincingly show that dreaming is vital for mental health and that the brain state we associate with dreaming (the REM state) also has crucial importance for when we are awake. This understanding of the REM state explains not only how our brains construct a model of reality, but also explains hypnosis, how creative behaviour works, and why we develop mental illnesses such as depression and psychosis.
The conclusions arrived at in Dreaming Reality are breathtaking, and considering the freedom the reader has to apply them to his or herself, they prove to be astonishing. This book gives such rational explanations that the culminative effect is like turning a light on in a room of shadows.
Mental Health Practice (the UK’s leading practice-based journal and e-resource for professionals)
Those introductory paragraphs come from the publishers’ blurb to Griffin and Tyrell’s 2004 book Dreaming Reality.
In my own words, I’ll now attempt to summarise Griffin’s model and show why it is so significant for music, drama and History of Emotions studies in general, as well as for the Australian Research Council’s Centre for the History of Emotions (CHE, to which I am attached) in particular. More about CHE here.
Joe Griffin is a research and clinical psychologist based in Ireland. His work was initially published in The Therapist magazine from 1993, and brought together as a monograph The Origin of Dreams (1997).
This was updated and revised in non-technical language with co-author Ivan Tyrell (psychotherapist and Principal of MindFields College, which trains over 12,000 NHS and social welfare staff each year) as Dreaming Reality (2004). A further update has just been published, Why we Dream: the definitive answer (2014).
Griffin’s theory of Dreams suggests a new Organising Idea with wide applications across many fields, and has led to the founding of a new school of Psychotherapy, based on the Human Givens (Griffin & Tyrell 2003). More about the Human Givens College here.
The Expectation-Fulfiment Theory of Dreams
- Dreams are associated with the Rapid-Eye-Movement (REM) state during sleep
- The biological function of Dreams is to resolve unfulfilled expectations (positive or negative), generated whilst awake
- Dreams re-present unfulfilled expectations in Metaphors, so that they can be resolved by pattern-matching to recalled memories.
- Some 40,000 years ago, humans evolved the ability to access the REM-state whilst awake: this facilitated learning, language, tool-making and higher culture.
Griffin’s metaphor for the REM-state is the Theatre of Dreams.
Griffin suggests that the evolutionary moment when human beings achieved waking access to the REM-state was associated with the development of language, and with conscious awareness of past, present and future. This idea, connecting dreams with creativity, emotional expression and high culture, is explored in more detail in Godhead: The Brain’s Big Bang (Griffin & Tyrell, 2011).
Application to mental health
Griffin’s theory offers an explanation of the observed links between creativity and mental illness. It also offers a new model for the treatment of Depression, one that has proved highly effective in clinical work.
The model predicts that anti-depressant drugs will be largely ineffective (except in so far as they reduce the amount of REM-sleep in sufferers), that Freudian therapy involving deep introspection about negative events in the past will have a negative effect, and that the Cognitive Behaviour Therapy and other talking therapies will be more effective if re-aligned in accordance with the Griffin model. These predictions seem to be borne out in practice.
The practical application of the model and clinical results are reported in Griffin & Tyrell How to lift depression – fast (2005) This book is written in non-technical language, and is intended to help sufferers and their families.
Applications to History of Emotions studies
Emotions drive our lives – in Tyrell’s words, “Emotions motivate behaviour change, so that emotional needs can be met” (private communication). The Human Givens concept compares the psychological resources evolution has given us to the basic human needs. Those needs, Tyrell points out, are hierarchical: food & shelter are fundamental to basic survival; security, control, status, privacy and attention are necessary for mental well-being. Once these lower needs are met, higher needs emerge: intimacy, achievement, a sense of meaning, learning, exploring. These higher requirements satisfy the needs of the spirit.
Thus Human Givens presents “a clear framework of what all human beings need to live mentally healthy and fulfilling lives – based on a solid understanding of the essentials needs and resources we are all born with, whatever our circumstances or cultural background… Because this knowledge about human psychology, emotional health and behaviour is so fundamental to every human interaction and endeavour, the skills and knowledge encompassed in this approach are widely applicable to a wealth of other fields.” Tyrell seeks to provide “a shared language – a lingua franca – that also allows clear and jargon-free communication between practitioners of different disciplines”. [Human Givens College]
It would seem that the Griffin & Tyrell’s Human Givens approach might have much to offer Emotions studies of historical Change, as well as for improving understandings of mental and spiritual well-being within many different cultures and social groups, both historical and modern.
Dream Theory & the creative arts
But let’s now look at that area of History of Emotions studies that is concerned with the creative arts, whether literary, visual or aural, crafted or performed. Griffin’s theory of Dreams and the REM-state explains how the mind’s capacity to pattern-match, to resolve emotionally charged expectations by means of Metaphors, is the fundamental human resource that enables the power of music, drama and art-works of all kinds. Griffin’s model places Metaphor and Story-telling at the centre of human processing of intense emotions. It therefore offers an evolutionary, biological and psychological underpinning to the creative arts, as well as to emotional engagement with daily life, social interactions and major events throughout history.
Waking access to the REM-state offers a scientific model for religious visions, artistic creativity, historical events that appear to evidence mass-emotions etc. Specific historical phenomena featuring in CHE’s investigations (histories of religion, witchcraft, historical attitudes towards soul/mind/body, emotional connections that shape the modern) would appear to be case studies for which Griffin’s model may offer a theoretical framework.
With its explanation of the fundamental significance of Dreams and Metaphors, Griffin’s work offers a theoretical underpinning for literature, music, fine art and indeed almost any human cultural expression, as well as for experiences of religious visions or demonic voices. It links metaphors and emotions to mental well-being. It also explains the observed susceptibility of highly creative individuals to mental illness. I suggest that it is highly relevant, indeed that it could become a keystone for History of Emotions studies.
Dream Theory & the Australian Centre for the History of Emotions
A new, profound yet elegantly simple scientific theory supports all kinds of varied, detailed historical research across many humanities disciplines. New insights relate Early Modern History to modern life, offering simple and inexpensive ways to improve the mental well-being and quality of life of the entire population. There is a special connection to Australia and to native Australians, whose culture preserves a beautiful metaphor of the modern theory in their ancestral Dreaming.
New Investigations with Dream Theory
Accessing Super-Creativity: May the Flow be with you!
I hypothesise that Flow, as described by Csikzentmihalyi, is an Altered State of Consciousness, which can be understood within the Griffin model of the REM-state. I link Flow also to Eriksonian hypnosis and Ericsson’s Deliberate Practice.
My aim is to build on existing work, and draw on my differing personal experiences of Flow as an elite performer (music), professionally competent sailor, and elementary student (fencing), in order to develop exercises, teaching techniques, training conditions and rehearsal methodologies that facilitate entry into Flow.
The Theatre of Dreams:
Operatic Performance as an Early-modern REM-state Activator
Period performance practices around the year 1600 show a strikingly close correlation to known gateways into trance (e.g. Ericksonian hypnosis).
Working from Griffin’s model of the REM-state as the “theatre of dreams”, I hypothesise that singers in the first operas were inducing their audiences into an Altered State of Consciousness by means of regular rhythm, particular patterns of speech, persuasive suggestion and authoritative commands, in which deep relaxation in slow rhythm was mixed with sharp calls for attention.
In the REM-state, audience members would be highly susceptible to the metaphors and story-telling of 17th-century drama, which might well then succeed in ‘moving the passions’.
Opera, orchestra, vocal & ensemble director and early harpist, Andrew Lawrence-King is director of The Harp Consort and of Il Corago, and Senior Visiting Research Fellow at the Australian Research Council Centre for the History of Emotions.