The Mind at Night

In The Mind at Night: The New Science of How and Why We Dream, award-winning journalist Andrea Rock takes on the daunting task of reviewing the state of knowledge on the mysterious phenomenon of dreaming. This involves looking backward at the early roots of research into the nature of dreams, including a nod to the often challenged theoretical contributions of psychotherapists such as Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. Rock does go into considerable depth in looking at empirical studies of brain activity related to dreaming. Dating back to the 1940’s, these studies have led to a cumulative, well-documented science of the physiological aspects of dreaming. Interestingly enough, Rock concludes that these physiologically-oriented studies have actually supported limited portions of psychoanalytic theory. As Freud indicated, dreams do offer a gateway to the subconscious. As Jung indicated, race memories may indeed be incorporated into our dreams in the form of the commonly dreamed “fight or flight” motif.

In the second half of her book, Rock moves beyond a dutiful review of the literature to a more speculative look at broader issues related to dreaming. These issues include the evolutionary functions (if any) of dreaming, the relation of dreaming to the phenomenon of consciousness, the experience of “lucid-dreaming,” and the relation of dreaming to such maladies as clinical depression. Rock closes the book with an “epilogue” in which she outlines areas of ongoing research, indicating that while we have learned much about dreaming, there are still a great number of questions in need of rigorous inquiry.

This is an informative and well-written book. It is not completely satisfying, however. Despite valiant efforts by the author to include the occasional amusing or poignant anecdote, the first half of the book is dry. The second half of the book, where readers get more into the content of dreams, reads very well, though it is often anti-climactic. At times, the author also seems a bit out of her depth, as in her effort to come to terms with the issue of consciousness and the relationship between brain and mind.

Of course, this latter topic has confounded just about everyone who has looked at it closely, and, overall, Rock has produced an accessible and engaging introduction to what we now know, and what we do not know, about dreaming.