Sometimes, as Sigmund Freud said, a cigar is just a cigar.
Don't take it hard. A kiss is just a kiss and a sigh is just a sigh, too. The fundamental things apply, even to dreams.
Even to some of your recurring dreams, the ones that made you think you were crazy when you were a little kid, or maybe they still do. The ones that made you worry that someday you'd be lying on the psychiatrist's couch, and the conversation would go, approximately:
"Doctor, I, ah, know this sounds odd, but I have this dream where I'm, ah, falling. You know, just falling, and . . . "
"I mean, I only have it once in a while."
"You've had this falling dream more than once? This is a recurring dream?"
"I, ah, yes. I'm afraid so."
The doctor gets up, pulls a textbook off the bookshelf, opens it and reads. He winces. He looks at you, and back to the book.
"Any dreams about flying or floating? Having sex, being chased or attacked, preparing for an exam or being naked in public?"
"Well, I mean . . . "
"Missing a train or plane or something similar?" he asks, sidling toward the office door, wearing a wary grin. "Seeing a loved one in danger or dead? Accomplishing something great?"
The doctor ducks out the door, slamming and locking it. Minutes later, as the ambulance siren dies down, two giant orderlies burst through the door with a dripping hypodermic, the great big kind with a handle . . .
Nobody had done a national survey on our dreams until a recent poll commissioned by ABC and The Washington Post. There was a lot of evidence from doctors, there were some studies done among college students, but nobody'd knocked on the door of Mr. and Mrs. Front Porch USA to find out what was playing on the Posturepedic picture show.
"They're all common dreams," says psychologist Rosalind Cartwright, a dream researcher at Rush Presbyterian Hospital in Chicago.
"Typical dreams," says Dr. Milton Kramer, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Cincinnati. "Let me guess which ones were most common in the poll. I'd say falling and being chased or attacked. Falling would be more common in men, and being chased or attacked would be more common in women."
In fact, 71 percent of the 1,500 respondents, aged 18 and above, had had a falling dream at least once or twice, to put this one at the top of the charts. But it was 76 percent women, and 66 percent men. Being chased or attacked was the third most popular, with 55 percent of men dreaming it, and 56 percent of all women. Career women, however, reported this one at a 63 percent rate. And 62 percent of people who thought that nuclear war was likely had had this dream, compared with 51 percent of people who thought nuclear war was unlikely.
Yes, thanks to computers, we can now generate statistics like those last ones correlating nuclear war and our dream patterns.
It might not be a surprise, for instance, that 56 percent have had a dream of a sexual experience, or even that it's most popular among the 18-to-30 age group (69 percent) and least popular with those over 60 (34 percent.) It might not be surprising to know that men beat out the women, 70 to 41 percent on this one. But who'd have guessed that 68 percent of the people who said they do not like President Reagan's person, but approve of his policies would have this dream, while the people who like him but disapprove of his policies have this dream at a mere 50 percent rate?
Doesn't this mean something? If so, what? Do we care what the answer is?
The question is: Why are we having these dreams at all? And the computer doesn't answer.
Neither, really, do the psychologists and psychiatrists after a century of scientific inquiry, and 82 years since the publication of Freud's "The Interpretation of Dreams."
Or they do answer, but the answers are all different.
Freud speculated that falling and flying dreams were reenactments of being tossed in the air by adults as a child. "I cannot, however, disguise from myself that I am unable to produce any complete explanation . . . I myself have not experienced any dreams of the kind since I turned my attention to the subject of dream interpretation."
None, herr doktor? Isn't this a bit . . . unusual?
(The flying or floating dream got a 45 percent response in the poll, with the top and bottom groups being, should you care to know, those who dislike Reagan but approve of his policies, at 64 percent; blacks along with all people who make less than $12,000 a year, both at 38 percent.)
Anyhow, the interpretations vary, and nobody claims to know for sure.
"Falling is either first or second in every survey I know," says San Francisco psychologist Patricia Garfield, author of "Creative Dreaming." She says it means that the dreamer "may sense the loss of support, somehow. Or it may reflect the fact of falling asleep. There's some thought that it may be physiologically related. The Senoi tribe in Malaysia tell their children that they have the dream because the earth spirits love them. They say to relax, go and find out what the spirits want to teach you."
In Cincinnati, Dr. Milton Kramer is more certain. "Insecurity," he says.
In Washington, psychiatrist Dr. Walter Mendelson says that dreams of danger in general may have something to do with the fact that during dreaming periods, which are marked by rapid eye movement, "there's a general paralysis of major muscles. They lose all of their tone."
And, according to "Prof. A.Z. Hitts," author of the 1982 edition of the "3 Wise Men Dream Book," available at any number of corner stores in Washington, next to "Grandma's Dream Book" and "Lucky 13 Dream Book," a dream of falling means that you'd be wise to play any of the following numbers in the lottery or local numbers game: 812, 203, or 37-69-99.
In short, the experts tend to disagree. Get a real weird dream, like Freud dreaming that the pope is dead, or that he's dissecting his own pelvis, or his children's doctor's face turned popeyed and brown, and the interpretation can go on forever.
It's the common ones that come hard.
The 10 dreams which ABC polled people about were picked in consultation with psychologists. They were as follows, accompanied by the percentage of people who said they'd had them, and general thematic interpretation by Dr. Milton Kramer.
Falling, 71 percent. Insecurity.
Seeing a loved one in danger or dead, 59 percent. Threat of loss.
Being chased or attacked, 56 percent. "Often dreamt by people who are very aggressive in waking life."
Having a sexual experience, 54 percent. "I'm surprised at how high that is," said Kramer, eschewing interpretation.
Accomplishing something great, 52 percent. Wish fulfillment.
Flying or floating, 45 percent. Rising above obstacles. "There's a hypothesis now that it's caused by your vestibular nuclei being stimulated."
Were paralyzed, unable to run or scream, 42 percent. Indecision.
Preparing for or taking a school exam, 31 percent. "This tells us we can actually do what we fear we can't, because we wake up and find the dream wasn't true."
Missed a plane or train or similar, 28 percent. Missed opportunities.
Suddenly naked in public, 15 percent. Fear of being revealed.
So fine. What else is new?
We can't answer the old questions to anyone's satisfaction, and now we have all these new ones coming out of the computer. Why is it, for instance, that independent voters consistently out-dream Republicans or Democrats, except when it comes to dreams of a loved one in danger or dead, where the Democrats do better?
The young dream more than the old, according to this poll. That's no surprise. But the more-educated dream more than the less-educated, and the rich dream more than the poor. (Maybe the rich get more sleep.)
Blacks dream about the same as whites, with one notable difference being in the accomplishing-something-great dream, which was reported by 52 percent of the general poll respondents, but 76 percent of the blacks.
People who dislike Reagan and disapprove of his policies have slightly more of these dreams than people who like and approve.
People who think nuclear war is likely report more dreams than those who think it's unlikely, with one exception, in the sexual experience dream, in which the unlikelies topped the likelies 58 to 51 percent. Get it? The folks who dislike Reagan but approve of his policies out-dream those who like/approve, like/disapprove and dislike/disapprove in eight out of 10 dream categories, often by considerable margins. Got it? Good. The dreamy dislike/approves, however, were a small minority amid the others. And think about it: you'd have to be a little strange to dislike a president but approve of his policies. (Wonder what they think of Freud and his policies?)
The point of recurring dreams, says psychologist Patricia Garfield, is that "there's a problem that's not solved. Your mind is saying 'Hey, this is important, you have to attend to it.' "
And as an Atlanta dream researcher points out, polling people on their dreams is difficult and might be meaningless. "Each dream is a complicated narrative. The dream is constructed out of the knowledge of the particular dreamer. These themes of falling and so on may occur in lots of dreams, but the dreams are never the same. You never see a whole dream which is identical in two people."
Put that in your computer and correlate it.