Dreams - Henri Bergson
The following passage was written by Henri Bergson and discusses what humans see when they dream.
1. The subject which I have to discuss here is so complex, it
2. raises so many questions of all kinds, difficult, obscure,
3. some psychological, others physiological and metaphysical;
4. in order to be treated in a complete manner it requires such
5. a long development—and we have so little space, that I
6. shall ask your permission to dispense with all preamble, to
7. set aside unessentials, and to go at once to the heart of the question.
8. A dream is this. I perceive objects and there is nothing there.
9. I see men; I seem to speak to them and I hear what they answer;
10. there is no one there and I have not spoken. It is all as if real things
11. and real persons were there, then on waking all has disappeared, both
12. persons and things. How does this happen?
13. But, first, is it true that there is nothing there? I mean, is there not
14. presented a certain sense material to our eyes, to our ears, to our
15. touch, etc., during sleep as well as during waking?
16. Close the eyes and look attentively at what goes on in the field of
17. our vision. Many persons questioned on this point would say that
18. nothing goes on, that they see nothing. No wonder at this, for a
19. certain amount of practise is necessary to be able to observe
20. oneself satisfactorily. But just give the requisite effort of
21. attention, and you will distinguish, little by little, many things.
22. First, in general, a black background. Upon this black background
23. occasionally brilliant points which come and go, rising and
24. descending, slowly and sedately. More often, spots of many colors,
25. sometimes very dull, sometimes, on the contrary, with certain
26. people, so brilliant that reality cannot compare with it. These
27. spots spread and shrink, changing form and color, constantly
28. displacing one another. Sometimes the change is slow and gradual,
29. sometimes again it is a whirlwind of vertiginous rapidity.
30. Whence comes all this phantasmagoria? The physiologists and
31. the psychologists have studied this play of colors. "Ocular
32. spectra," "colored spots," "phosphenes," such are the names
33. that they have given to the phenomenon. They explain
34. it either by the slight modifications which occur ceaselessly in
35. the retinal circulation, or by the pressure that the closed lid
36. exerts upon the eyeball, causing a mechanical excitation of
37. the optic nerve. But the explanation of the phenomenon and
38. the name that is given to it matters little. It occurs universally
39. and it constitutes—I may say at once—the principal material
40. of which we shape our dreams, "such stuff as dreams are made on."
41. Thirty or forty years ago, M. Alfred Maury and, about the same time,
42. M. d'Hervey, of St. Denis, had observed that at the moment of falling
43. asleep these colored spots and moving forms consolidate, fix
44. themselves, take on definite outlines, the outlines of the objects and
45. of the persons which people our dreams. But this is an observation to
46. be accepted with caution, since it emanates from psychologists already
47. half asleep. More recently an American psychologist, Professor Ladd,
48. of Yale, has devised a more rigorous method, but of difficult
49. application, because it requires a sort of training. It consists in
50. acquiring the habit on awakening in the morning of keeping the eyes
51. closed and retaining for some minutes the dream that is fading from
52. the field of vision and soon would doubtless have faded from that
53. of memory. Then one sees the figures and objects of the dream melt
54. away little by little into phosphenes, identifying themselves with
55. the colored spots that the eye really perceives when the lids are
56. closed. One reads, for example, a newspaper; that is the dream.
57. One awakens and there remains of the newspaper, whose definite
58. outlines are erased, only a white spot with black marks here and
59. there; that is the reality. Or our dream takes us upon the open sea—
60. round about us the ocean spreads its waves of yellowish gray with here
61. and there a crown of white foam. On awakening, it is all lost in a great
62. spot, half yellow and half gray, sown with brilliant points. The
63. spot was there, the brilliant points were there. There was
64. really presented to our perceptions, in sleep, a visual dust, and
65. it was this dust which served for the fabrication of our dreams.
Bergson, Henri. Dreams. New York: B.W. Huebsch, 1914. Print.
What is the primary function of paragraph 2?