Robert Bosnak with Jill Fischer
Ever since I learned to work
with dreams at the C.G. Jung Institute in Zurich in the early 1970s, I
have been fascinated by the way different Peoples dream. One dream that
repeated itself twice, was of my Grandfather, a tailor from Poland (I have
no such historical ancestor) who wanted to get to know the world through
dreams. Since then I have traveled far and wide to learn the ways of
dreaming in different parts of the world. The problem I had, however, was
that even though I was away from home and my analytical practice for
around three months every year, I could only infrequently see the people I
visited, and with vast intervals. So when the Internet became operational
for the general public around 1994, I began to imagine how I could satisfy
my dreaming Grandfather from 30 years ago by way of this new medium.
One thing has always been
obvious to me: dreamwork belongs to the oral tradition. It is the probing
voice of others that can lead a dreamer into depth.
Hearing is more primitive than reading. The written word makes the
dreamer have to shift into an intellectual mode of consciousness, each
time a written question is posed. We instinctively understand the spoken
word, while the written text is indirect.
Thus, I had to wait until the spoken word became readily available
over the ‘net. This happened in April 1997, when the voice program
VoxPhone came out with a conference feature which made it possible to have
a small group of people talk together in an affordable voice program with
the use of an off-the-shelf PC. Jill Fischer, Diana Cook, Dick Smith and I
immediately formed the first cyberdreamwork voice group and founded
cyberdreamwork.com. Our website went online in May of 1997. Our purpose
was to wed the most advanced telecommunications technologies with
dreamwork. From there the work has expanded rapidly. In December 1999
www.firetalk.com opened its services, for free to the general public. For
the first time it was possible to speak with anyone in the world who
downloaded Firetalk for free from the web and it is now possible to have
groups of up to 7 dreamworkers with several observing supervisors or
students of cyberdreamwork if this is so desired. Our first
cyberdreamcoach training started in the fall of 1999 with participants
from the U.S. and South Africa. The
training was successful and the trainee from South Africa felt very close
to her cyberdreamwork partners in the United States.
The community building aspects of cyberdreamwork are profound.
Some aboriginal peoples in Australia tell each other their dreams upon
awakening in a ritual called ‘the morning news.’ It revitalizes the
sense of belonging to a tribe, a culture and a shared cosmos.
Of course, presently we
can only work among people in the same language, which limits
intercultural dreamwork, even though many people speak some English. Also,
as of yet many countries have only limited access to the ‘net but that
is bound to improve. With the advent of computer translation programs, the
language problem will be largely alleviated, especially since the language
used during in-depth dreamwork is relatively simple, as can be seen from
the example below. During in-depth dreamwork, consciousness sinks down to
a hypnagogic level, approaching sleep. In this state, complicated
questions are not understood, and answers are usually succinct. I believe
that within the next decade both the problem of access to the Internet and
that of language will have been solved, and intercultural cyberdreamwork
will have become a mature discipline. It will take a while until people
feel free enough to entrust their dreams to people who are not present in
the flesh, but with the advent of broadband, when video and soon (within
the next 20 years) full motion virtual reality will be a fact, the
difference between bodily and virtual presence will diminish. Let’s
remember that within a generation people were able to communicate
intimately over the telephone. At present I think that cyberdreamwork will
take place mainly among people of similar cultural backgrounds. When I
visited China recently, however, there was quite some interest among
psychology students to be a part of the cyberdreamwork movement.
From its inception we
have felt that the computer should not remain a passive medium like the
telephone, but should become actively involved in the process of dreamwork.
The computer was to become an assistant to the dreamer, a partner in the
process of asking questions. The method of dreamwork we have developed
over the years is based on the Socratic principle, that if asked the right
questions, a person will naturally give birth to adequate answers. The
task of the Socratic dreamworker is similar to that of the midwife.
Differing from Socratic philosophers, the dreamworker is after an
awareness of a psycho-physical nature, which means that any insight has to
be embodied, felt simultaneously as a perception of emotion, and as a
specific body awareness. For example, it is not enough to realize that I
am angry; it is vital to feel
the simultaneous upset in my stomach, since this
is just as much a sign of anger as is the emotion. For the computer
to be an assistant in the questioning process, it was of the utmost
importance that it could register the psychophysical responses of the
dreamer. For this we reached back to the earliest work of C.G. Jung and
his work on the word association experiment.
In the beginning of the
previous century, around 1902, Jung began a series of tests that
eventually culminated in his discovery of the polygraph -- a little know
fact, but one that earned him an honorary doctorate in Law from Clark
University during his and Freud’s visit to the United States in 1909.
Jung set out to prove, with the use of scientific experiment, the
existence of unconscious complexes. He was able to demonstrate that
consciousness was affected by coherent undercurrents he called complexes.
These undercurrents themselves remained invisible, but from their effects
on consciousness conclusions could be drawn as to their configuration, in
the same way astronomers can conclude upon the existence and mass of an
unknown heavenly object by the gravity it exerts on known objects. The
technological measurement tool he primarily used was the galvanic skin
response meter. The galvanic skin response works more or less as follows:
we have two sweat systems, one used for cooling, and one, located
primarily in the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet, that is
directly connected to the autonomic nervous system (ANS). Any reaction in
the ANS is translated within a second and a half into a sweat response at
these physical locations. The more sweat there is in the skin, the easier
electricity passes through. This is called the skin conductance.
Sensors are placed on the tips of two fingers or elsewhere on the
hand (at M.I.T. a convenient unobtrusive sensor glove has been developed.
Eventually this sensorium will communicate with the computer by wireless
means.) When a very low current of electricity passes through the skin,
the conductance level of the skin can be measured, and in this simple way
the fluctuations of the ANS can be observed. Since by definition the ANS
functions unconsciously, there is frequently a high correlation between it
and unconscious Psychophysical phenomena.
We started our research
with the hypothesis that similar psychophysical responses in a given
dreamer would produce matching patterns on a galvanic skin graph (called
electro-dermal response, these days). With the outstanding help of its
able research director Bruce Mehler, we set out to test this hypothesis at
the laboratory of the NeuroDyne Medical Corp. in Cambridge, Mass., leader
in medical instrumentation like computerized electro-dermal meters, EEGs,
ECGs, etc. We began in 1998 with a group of five dreamers who were each to
work on their dreams in a group, and found the first match in dreamwork
conducted on June 11, 1999. The resemblance in the graph below is striking
and lasts for about 30 seconds, much too long to be random noise.
Text of Pattern From:
June 11, 1999
45:28(2728)-45:32(2732) - [Can you look
at this man?} Yes.
45:32(2732)-45:47(2747) - He just makes
45:48(2748)-45:50(2750) - I'm going to
45:50(2750)-46:22(2782) - [Stay with the
feeling. Just feel it.]
46:22(2782)-46:25(2785) - He really helps
:52(60) - A man comes up to us. He's the
communicator for the dinosaurs.
1:01(61)-1:06(66) - We are to take the
front of our heads and crack them down into the dinosaurs openings.
- It's the only way we're to survive.
1:19(79) - For some reason I trust this
man even though I'm terrified.
1:24(84)-1:33(93) - I decided to do
it...The cracks reveal an amazing world of new possibilities.
This finding seemed to indicate
that Jung had been right one hundred years ago, when he suggested that the
complex was not a single emotion but a complex of emotions (hence the
name) organized by metaphor. From his word association experiments he did
not conclude upon, say, unconscious fear, but on, for instance, an
unconscious mother complex: an interwoven pattern of feelings organized by
the image of ‘mother’. In the example above, the matching pattern
surrounds the meeting –first in the telling of the dream and later the
dreamwork itself -- with a knowledgeable trustworthy old man. The pattern
seems to be an effect of the relationship between the dream-ego and this
man. Jung would call this dream figure a member of the ‘Wise Old Man’
family; an archetypal ilk of images prevalent the world over, noted at all
times in history. It is the relationship to this figure, which shows a
measurable psychophysical coherence. The match also gave an indication as
to the effect of dreamwork: when the dreamer told us her dream from
memory, the excitation of the pattern was on a considerably lower level
(bottom graph) than when we had lead her back into the dreaming and helped
her re-experience in the-here-and-now what it was like to meet with this
man (top graph.) Dreamwork apparently intensifies the experience so it can
become conscious: a stronger feeling can more readily reach the surface of
Based on this, Jill Fischer set up a working hypothesis, that
matches are most likely to be found around specific dream characters. This
was an important narrowing of the search for patterns, since the large
amount of information in this stage still had to be searched by eye,
as the pattern matching software program, developed by Dr. Wolf
Fischer, a recognized expert in signal processing, had not yet been
completed at this time. Our ultimate goal was for the software to
recognize the pattern match so we could build the dreamwork assistant
Cathy (Computer Assisted
THerapY) upon this basis. From the pattern match above Cathy (human
voiced) could remark, for example, “When you just said (Cathy plays back
the words of the dreamer) ‘I’m going to cry’, you had the same
feelings as before when you mentioned (playback)
‘It’s the only way to survive’. Can you feel both these
moments and explore what occurs to you?” This intervention of Cathy’s
could help the dreamer reach further depths. Also, Cathy with her
gigabytes of memory might remind the dreamer that similar feelings had
existed in dreams last month and last year, and she can play back the
sequences. The superior memory of the computer can then be employed to
have the dreamer reach into structural feeling states that recur time and
Cathy will be furnished
with learning algorithms, a form of artificial intelligence that will make
her learn from her expanding database of an individual’s patterns. In
collaboration with her human, Cathy will find words describing certain
complex feelings. Her human may decide to call the feelings in her dream
surrounding the old man ‘dinosaur-man.’ Next when these patterns arise
in a session, Cathy may suggest: “It seems the dinosaur-man is
around.” The human will reflect and then reply either yes or no. In case
of ‘yes’ the algorithm is strengthened and Cathy has learned. In case
of ‘no’ Cathy unlearns somewhat, taking into account that her human
may be resistant. Eventually Cathy’s responses will be increasingly
precise and, like in the process of analysis, an individualized vocabulary
of feeling states is devised based on intuitive metaphoric signs, much
like sophisticated icons. The implications for Cathy-assisted diary
writing and the accompanying self-understanding is promising. She will
enable us to provide our emotional lives with, often sorely needed,
The implications for
intercultural dreamwork are obvious: Cathy with her direct relationship to
ANS patterns is not culture-sensitive. She will work in the same manner
with people from all cultures. The way in which her assistance may be
accepted by people from different cultures is another matter.
By now we are several
steps closer to the realization of Cathy, who may be employed both to
assist in dreamwork with others as well as in solo dreamwork, (and in a
host of other applications, like helping couples interact with more
awareness, etc.) With great excitement we continued our work and below we
reproduce the results of an entire dreamwork session, together with the
significant pattern matches.
[select times below to see graph]
|0 - 250
The dream below is of a man
entering a meditation hall and being confronted with an attractive woman
who sticks a needle in his hand, which creates a strong libidinal
response. We help the dreamer experience the dream both from the
perspective of the dream-ego as well as from the perspective of the
‘needle woman.’ (The perspective change occurs between the 1514th and
1538th second of the work.) After the shift of perspective, the tension in
the work as shown by the graph, increases dramatically. A move to a
non-ego perspective often leads to an intensification of experience. If
you put all the graphs next to each other you will notice a rise in the
general level of tension throughout the dreamwork. This is a frequent
psychophysical pattern in dreamwork, since it operates on the principle of
a constant build-up of pressure, a technique gleaned from alchemy. (For
further explanation of this technique see my book Tracks in the
Wilderness of Dreaming.) We are now developing a color shift in the
background of the graphs between bluish and reddish, so this fluctuation
of intensity can be instantly observed.
The work on the dream was
conducted while the dreamworkers were watching the monitor on which the
graph was being displayed. In order to imitate Cathy’s future responses
the questions were based upon the noted fluctuations in the graph.
Jill Fischer found three
significant pattern matches, which were confirmed by the software program
completed by Dr. Wolf Fischer. The match between 120-150 seconds and
615-645 seconds was consistent with her working hypothesis. They were both
around the presence of the needlewoman.
Oct 1, 1999 - Match
9:36(576)-10:06(606) - I see the woman.
She comes up on my right.... Maybe she's Chinese or Asian. She's
10:06(606)-10:29(629) - She comes towards
me on my right.
10:29(629)-10:47(647)) - She's coming
towards me. I'm supposed to meet her. It's choreographed. I'm ready
to meet her.
- The choreography includes the Tibetan man. It's what is expected
1:52(112) - Opposite end of circle is a Tibetan
man about 20 ft. from me.
1:52(112)-2:12(132) - Woman gets up on my
right. She is Asian?, Tibetan?, Chinese?.
2:12(132)-2:26(146) - She's coming towards me,
so I get up.
2:26(146)-2:30(150) - I extend my right
2:30(150)-2:36(156) - She puts a needle
through my right hand or into it.
In the match 777.5-787.5 :
460-470 there seems to be a response relationship between the moment of
the penetration by the needle and the presence of the Tibetan teacher.
This is a match up that might indicate the intimate relationship between
the moment of penetration and the presence of the teacher, a
correspondence that would not have been picked up by the human
dreamworkers, but would have been registered by Cathy instantly. The
implications are that Cathy can make connections that humans can’t,
which more than justifies her existence.
Cathy might ask: “What is the
relationship between the moment when you said (playback) ‘She presses
into my hand’ and before when you mentioned (playback) ‘It is crowded,
more energy. The Tibetan man is sitting across from me.’” Cathy offers
the dreamer a new vantage point for reflection.
12:52(772)-13:00(780) - She moves her
right hand and takes this needle and presses it into my hand.
3:00(780)-13:12(792) - She presses it
into my hand.
13:12(792)-13:15(795) - The moment she
presses it, I'm affected.
7:33(453) - 8:00(480) - I say why I'm
there. All leave with more coming back into room. It's crowded, more
-8:15(495) - Tibetan man is sitting across from me. I asume he's
their teacher; has power, authority.
The last match, 330-350 :
1450-1470 is most curious. It matches the oblong shape of the room, the
architecture of the dream, with the penetration -- a connection no human
dreamworker would have made, but Cathy would necessarily raise.
Oct 1, 1999
5:26(326)-5:48(348) - 8,9,10, people. It's a
circular oblong shape.
5:48(348)-6:06(366) - What's Happening
now? I'm seeing the oblong shape of the room.
- First she puts the needle in the hand; the first time. She moves
24:17(1457)-24:35(1475) -[ Above
24:35(1475)-24:40(1480) - She then
quickly, penetrates hand with needle...Slow and precise; like a cat.
A future with Cathy can deepen
dreamwork significantly, whether it is done in a cyberdreamwork setting
between participants thousands of miles apart, in solo dreamwork, or in
face to face dreamwork in groups or as a duet. Cathy will immediately
engender projections, which will bring her to life, especially when she
will be connected to virtual reality technology giving her virtual body.
When her great grandmother, the first psychotherapy program developed in
the Sixties called Elisa, based on the Rogerian mirroring method, entered
the scene at M.I.T., several people insisted that they felt better
understood by Elisa than by others. Cathy will become a trusted assistant
in our quest to better understand our feeling life.
Whenever I paint this future
(not too distant) to people, many feel threatened. They shake their heads
and mutter things like ‘Brave New World’. (Of course Aldous Huxley
himself might have been the first to employ Cathy, but that is another
matter entirely.) In the way dream beings can be our friends, sharing our
lives in the most intimate of ways, virtual beings can play that role as
well, once they become sufficiently sophisticated, as Cathy will be. The
reason for the very existence of the cyberdreamwork movement itself is the
intimate connection between dreaming and virtuality. Virtuality will be
ensouled by the likes of the first users of Elisa, who will enliven our
human-like partners through transference. Eventually there shall be a
virtual Middle Earth where Hobbits will help humans and vice versa. I
don’t see this as a nightmare, but as a necessary development in the
consciousness of a being who for centuries has been called homo faber, Man
Robert Bosnak is a Jungian analyst whose books include A
Little Course on Dreams and Tracks
in the Wilderness of Dreaming. He is the founder of the
cyberdreamwork movement which explores the uses of multi-modal remote
sense sharing in dream groups.
Jill Fischer, M.S.,APRN,C.S. is a Clinical Specialist. She has been
practicing psychotherapy for over 30 years and as co-founder and webmaster
of cyberdreamwork.com has
expertise in both dreamwork and online community building.