Frontiers in Psychology 4 (2013)
AbstractI propose a narrative fabrication thesis of dream reports, according to which dream reports are often not accurate representations of experiences that occur during sleep. I begin with an overview of anti-experience theses of Norman Malcolm and Daniel Dennett who reject the received view of dreams, that dreams are experiences we have during sleep which are reported upon waking. Although rejection of the first claim of the received view, that dreams are experiences that occur during sleep, is implausible, I evaluate in more detail the second assumption of the received view, that dream reports are generally accurate. I then propose a “narrative fabrication” view of dreams as an alternative to the received view. Dream reports are often confabulated or fabricated because of poor memory, bizarre dream content, and cognitive deficits. It is well documented that narratives can be altered between initial rapid eye movement sleep awakenings and subsequent reports. I argue that we have reason to suspect that initial reports are prone to inaccuracy. Experiments demonstrate that subjects rationalize strange elements in narratives, leaving out supernatural or bizarre components when reporting waking memories of stories. Inaccuracies in dream reports are exacerbated by rapid memory loss and bizarre dream content. Waking memory is a process of reconstruction and blending of elements, but unlike waking memory, we cannot reality-test for dream memories. Dream experiences involve imaginative elements, and dream content cannot be verified with external evidence. Some dreams may involve wake-like higher cognitive functions, such as lucid dreams. Such dreams are more likely to elicit accurate reports than cognitively deficient dreams. However, dream reports are generally less accurate than waking reports. I then propose methods which could verify the narrative fabrication view, and argue that although the theory cannot be tested with current methods, new techniques and technologies may be able to do so in the future.
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