Review of "Children’s Dreaming and the Development of Consciousness "By David Foulkes
Harvard University Press, 1999
Review by Dan L. Rose, Psy.D. on Apr 7th 2003
In a sense, one can see in the politics
of contemporary dream research a microcosm of the tensions found in the science
of psychology as a whole. The concern with being a real science like biology
or chemistry is ever present. The near shame at its history is also there,
especially embarrassment by those ideas too readily embraced by the public and
suffuse with the very subjectivities hard science has reportedly left behind.
There seems an almost obsessive need to purge speculation and prune theory to
its most austere and linear ends. At a glance, one might suspect that such a
thing could not hope to survive outside the walls of a well-controlled
laboratory. Those tensions inform, direct and ultimately define David Foulkes
text, Childrens Dreaming and the Development of Consciousness.
The text begins with an explanation
for its existence. It seems Foulkes earlier works were too technical for the
layperson and relegated to the academic ghetto by his peers. Foulkes claims
that, as a result, the importance of his findings were overlooked. More popular (and erroneous by Foulkes
data) theories hold sway in both the public and academic arenas, the former
still stupid over the likes of Freud and Jung and the latter by Hobson and his
neurological reductionism. Foulkes new book is geared to make his results more
bite sized for the public and a call to recognition to his apparently lost
The first chapter is a summation of
his theory concerning what dreams tell us about development and why it is
imperative we study them in children. Foulkes posits that dreams are not the
bizarre, surreal images (Dali be damned) that folk wisdom would allow. In fact,
Foulkes says he has the data to prove that, novel and creative they might be,
dreams are actually just as mundane as the thoughts we think during the day.
Furthermore, he asserts that infants and very young children do not dream and,
he extrapolates, they do not possess consciousness, at least as it is
experienced by adults.
Two chapters follow to initiate the
reader into the nature of scientific dream study. Foulkes poses questions
expected from a skeptical consumer and answers them deftly. His justification
for studying children away from home and in the imposing environment of a sleep
laboratory is particularly convincing.
The main body of the text is a
description of the two studies Foulkes and his crew undertook over several
decades. The first is a longitudinal study in which children ages 3 to 15 were
followed throughout the course of their development, with dreams collected on
REM awakenings and non-REM awakenings. The second is a cross sectional study,
redesigned to validate findings in the earlier study, focusing on children ages
5 to 8. Both also used several cognitive tests to determine general
intelligence and visual-spatial ability. With great skill and an ironclad
empiricism, Foulkes takes the reader through each age group in the study,
building a case for his study and rebutting his critics. Along the way he takes
a slap or two at the more subjective and less empirical publics view of
Foulkes uses the last part of his
book to summarize his findings, seal his arguments and, briefly shedding his
empirical armor, allow a bit of speculation about the nature of consciousness
itself. Key findings on the developmental progression of dreaming are
presented, with dreaming moving from single images of animals, a jump to more
kinetic images and social interaction, and finally active self presentation,
increased frequency and narrative complexity. Using findings from the cognitive
tests given, Foulkes reasons that this developmental shift reflects cognitive
growth and development. Furthermore, he asserts that it is the dawning of
consciousness, of the ability for self-reflection and control, that underpins
this development. He speculates that the same cognitive skills used in waking
life, namely the creating of cogent, useful narratives, is present in the dream
world. However, the unique confines of sleep (no external stimulation and loss
of voluntary control) cause difficulty in creating the standard daytime
cognitions. Instead, dreams are novel creations of an active, meaning-making
mind trapped in sleep.
Foulkes summarizes by targeting the
two foes to his ideas, both the neurological reductionism of current dream
theory (dreams are in essence brain froth or random firings of subcortical
origin and therefore meaningless) and more popular inflation of dreaming
(Jung and his ilk making too much meaning of what is really the mundane
workings of the mind). He rallies with his notion that dreams have meaning, but
only the everyday sort of meaning one affords waking thoughts. They are the
royal road to studying the mind as conscious agent, not as a reduced automaton
or possessor of unconscious Godhead.
In the struggle to seriously study
dreams, be they those of children or adults, this text is a remarkable asset.
Foulkes reveals himself to be a cogent, disciplined researcher equipped with
obvious experience and seasoned reasoning. His ideas, not so revolutionary as
he might argue, are nonetheless startling enough to invoke a
reconceptualization of consciousness, the real aim of the text.
Any significant weaknesses are
really more reflective of the aforementioned politics surrounding psychology
itself and made more prescient by the subjective nature of dreaming. There
seems too quick a dismissal of more traditional psychological theories, such as
Freud or Jung. One wishes he might have taken the time to properly address and
refute them. Instead, he aims his lance at the windmill of brain science. It
would be asking too much to hope Foulkes might bridge the two, integrate them.
If he could meld meaning and process in the very center of the storm
surrounding dream theory, he would find the royal road to a more empirically
valid and relevant psychology.
© 2003 Dan L. Rose
Dan L. Rose, Psy.D. is a Clinical
Psychologist involved in direct clinical work and training at Columbus State
University and in private practice. His interests include psychoanalysis,
neuroscience, religion and literature.