Books by Owen Flanagan

Released: Nov. 1, 1999

An informative review of current research on sleep and dreams and a new theory about the nature and function of dreaming, presented with clarity, wit, and finesse. Flanagan (philosophy, experimental psychology, and neurobiology/Duke Univ.), editor of the Philosophy of Mind Series, to which the present work belongs, brings insights from philosophy, phenomenology, evolutionary biology, psychology and psychiatry, anthropology, sociology, and neuroscience to his theory of dreams. What's more, he does so in an unpedantic way that utterly engages the reader. Dreaming, he asserts, is not an evolutionary adaption but a side effect of an adaptation that human beings have learned to use in creative and helpful ways. While Flanagan's theory sees dreaming—"a free rider on a system designed to think and to sleep"—as serving no direct biological function, he finds that dreams do matter, for they sometimes possess meaningful structure, are sometimes self-expressive, and sometimes provide insights into one's own mind and one's relations with others. Unlike Freud, he finds that most dreams do not conceal their content or have deep meaning. He uses Freud's famous "wolf man" dream interpretation to illustrate the implausibility of the Freudian approach and argues that his own alternative is both plausible and testable. He also takes issue with the notion that dreams are wellsprings of creativity, effectively destroying the commonly accepted belief that the lengthy "Kubla Khan" came to the poet Coleridge in a dream and that Mary Shelley dreamed the entire plot of the novel Frankenstein before writing it down. What is important to remember, in Flanagan's view, is that while dreams, hatched in the chaotic activity of the brainstem, sometimes don't mean much of anything, the images and memories activated in our sleep are our own, and it is we ourselves who give them narrative shape. Diagrams, cartoons, quotations, and of course dreams—mostly but not always the author's own—illuminate and enliven the presentation. Science writing at its best. (16 line illus., 3 halftones) Read full book review >