THIS IS AN interesting, thoughtful, well-written book, and its main ideas deserve close attention from all psychotherapists who take dreams as seriously as they ought to.
Freud's original theory of dreams has long been recognized as unsatisfactory. Freud believed that, with certain exceptions, dreams represented unfulfilled, and often unacceptable, wishes originating in the dreamer's early childhood. "Repressed infantile sexual wishes provide the most frequent and strongest motive-forces for the construction of dreams." Since such wishes were disguised, what the dreamer recalled was only the "manifest content"; the "latent content," the true meaning of the dream, could only be discerned through the interpretations of the analyst.
Palombo's idea, already partially presented in Psychiatry and the Humanities-Vol. 2 (Yale, 1977), is that dreaming is a form of processing information. Adaptation to the environment requires that information shall be stored in the memory, which then serves as a basis of comparison against which new information can be matched. Dreams are one way in which this is done. The experience of the day, which frequently appears in dreams, is being matched in the dream with the residues of previous experiences before being assigned to the appropriate slot in the permanent memory.
This theory of dreams might account for the fact that both the events of the day and also memories from the dreamer's early childhood are found to coexist in a single dream in what often appears as a highly confused mixture. In such cases, we may be seeing the matching process in operation. One confusion noted by Freud was called "condensation": when a single image was found to represent two or more discrete entities. Palombo calls this "superimposition," since he believes it to be part of the matching process resembling the superimposition of one photograph upon another.
Since Palombo's theory presents the dream as an important, albeit primitive, adaptive mechanism, he is also furnishing an explanation for the fact that people become ill when they are not permitted to dream. There is a good deal of evidence to suggest that animals, too, need to dream, and it appears certain that dreams do, in fact, serve an important biological function.
Palombo produces evidence for his theory from the dreams of a patient reported in analytic sessions, bolstered by additional dreams recovered in the sleep laboratory when this cooperative patient agreed to the procedure of being awakened when his electroen-cephalogram revealed that he had been dreaming. This section of the book is less convincing because Palombo, although justifiably and sometimes apologetically claiming that he has gone beyond conventional Freudian theory, is still so influenced by it that he assumes castration, primal scenes, and Oedipal wishes to be obviously discernible in dreams which might be interpreted in a number of different ways by analysts with different trainings. The idea that dreams are something to do with mastering disturbing stimuli, which is certainly useful in practice, and which Freud recognized when considering the dreams of people who had suffered traumata, does not seem incompatible with Palombo's theory. But there are many varieties of dream which do not seem so easily to fit.
If one regards the psyche as a self-regulating system, like the body, some dreams seem to be compensatory in function, presenting an opposite point of view to that held consciously by the dreamer. Others, as Freud agreed, seem to come from some remote source which he describes as "part of the archaic heritage which a child brings with him into the world," and cannot be accounted for in terms of either the dreamer's adult life or his forgotten childhood. Jung wrote: "There are, it is true, dreams which manifestly represent wishes or fears; but what about all the other things? Dreams may contain ineluctable truths, philosophical pronouncements, illusions, wild fantasies, memories, plans, anticipations, irrational experiences, even telepathic visions, and heaven knows what besides." Palombo's theory, valuable as it is, does not yet give us the answers to all these varied manifestations of the dream.