[I]ASD Newsletter "Dream Review", by Kelly Bulkeley

Book reviewed in this essay:

A Dreamer's Life: Robert Van de Castle's Our Dreaming Mind

Robert Van de Castle packs a lifetime of dream study into his new book, Our Dreaming Mind. The work is a broad and extremely ambitious overview of dreams in Western history, ranging through religion and mythology, art and literature, medicine and psychology.

In its structure, tone, and effective use of illustrations, the book is very similar to Norman MacKenzie's 1965 Dreams and Dreaming, which also offered a grand historical narrative of Western dream theories. But MacKenzie's book was deeply flawed by the absence of any citations to his sources; readers had to take his word for it that his references were legitimate. Our Dreaming Mind, by happy contrast, is extremely well documented, pointing readers to a wealth of interesting material on dreams. For this reason alone, the book should serve as a valuable reference for scholars and general readers alike. The most interesting aspect of Our Dreaming Mind is the story it tells of Bob Van de Castle's personal journeys as a dream explorer. He has been a uniquely central figure in the history of modern dream studies: he participated in the earliest days of sleep laboratory research, he was a colleague of Calvin Hall and with him co-wrote the highly influential The Content Analysis of Dreams (1966), he has been deeply involved in the study of psychic and precognitive dreams, he served as co-editor with Henry Reed of Dream Network Bulletin, he was the second president of the ASD and host of two ASD conferences, and he is the general editor of the Series in Dream Studies being published by State University of New York (SUNY) Press.

More than just a reference book, Our Dreaming Mind is the intellectual biography of a man who's been in the very thick of the dream studies world for over 30 years. The work is divided into six parts. Part 1 offers various examples of dreams that have reportedly inspired significant events in religion, politics, art, science, and history. Part 2 races through dream theories from "the dawn of history" to the nineteenth century. Part 3 outlines the major dream theories of the twentieth century: Freud, Jung, Boss, Perls, Gendlin, Hall, and Ullman, among others. Part 4 describes modern scientific dream research, while Part 5 explains the methods and the findings of content analysis. Part 6 unveils "the twilight zone of dreams," including psychic, lucid, and spiritual dreams. In a book as sweeping as this one, there are bound to be uneven spots. For example, the discussion of content analysis in part 5 makes the best case I've ever seen for the usefulness of this approach to dreams. Similarly, part 4 is excellent, with a rich and wonderfully readable account of sleep laboratory research during the "era of REM studies." But many scholars will certainly find weaknesses in parts 1 and 2, where hundreds of brief dream examples are presented with virtually no historical, cultural, or linguistic context. These sections of the book might have been more persuasive had they offered fewer examples, but in greater detail. Anthropologists may complain that Our Dreaming Mind makes no real attempt to integrate the extensive research we now have on non-Western dream theories and practices, although Van de Castle does include findings from his own research among the Cuna Indians on the San Blas Islands near Panama. Again, such scholarly criticism is inevitable for a book that aspires to the lofty goal of describing the full range of human dreaming experience.

In Our Dreaming Mind, Van de Castle is trying to share the insights he has gained from a lifetime of dedicated dream research. He has a sincere desire to help others appreciate their dreams better, and his boundless enthusiasm fairly leaps off the page. This book, Van de Castle's magnum opus, will serve for years as introductory text on the Western study of dreams.