13. The logic of dreams

Reading Friedrich Nietzsche’s Human all too human

Read the introduction here

You can read the aphorism I discuss here below the main article.

Synopsis and my take on it:

Nietzsche writes that many different “inner occurrences” brings to the dreamer “hundred occasions for the spirit to be surprised and to seek for the reasons of this excitation”. The dreamer will interpret the influences on his body in his dream. “A person who, for instance, binds his feet with two straps will perhaps dream that two serpents are coiling round his feet”. The sleeper thinks and imagines that “These serpents must be the causa of those sensations which I, the sleeper, experience,”—so decides the mind of the sleeper. The dreamer weaves external influences into his dreams. “But how does it happen that the mind of the dreamer is always so mistaken, while the same mind when awake is accustomed to be so temperate, careful, and skeptical with regard to its hypotheses?” “I hold, that as man now still reasons in dreams, so men reasoned also when awake through thousands of years” Humans treated unseen influences in the past as we still do in our dreams. “the first causa which occurred to the mind to explain anything that required an explanation, was sufficient and stood for truth.” We still develop on that dream thinking our higher reasoning. During our development this explaining thru what comes first into your mind like in the dream state  ”dreaming is a recreation for the brain, which by day has to satisfy the stern demands of thought, as they are laid down by the higher culture”

Now Nietzsche explains what in his view the dreams are made of, from light and colors you collected during the day. “The actual accompanying process thereby is again a kind of conclusion from the effect to the cause: since the mind asks, ” Whence come these impressions of light and colour? ” it supposes those figures and forms as causes; it takes them for the origin of those colours and lights, because in the daytime, with open eyes, it is accustomed to find a producing cause for every colour, every effect of light. Here, therefore, the imagination constantly places pictures before the mind, since it supports itself on the visual impressions of the day in their production, and the dream-imagination does just the same thing, —that is, the supposed cause is deduced from the effect and represented after the effect” Because this al goes fast and “a sequence may look like something simultaneous, or even like a reversed sequence” you can understand why I took so long for “the strict discrimination of cause and effect” to develop “when our reasoning and understanding faculties still involuntarily hark back to those primitive forms of deduction, and when we pass about half our life in this condition. The poet, too, and the artist assign causes for their moods and conditions which are by no means the true ones; in this they recall an older humanity and can assist us to the understanding of it.

In one sentence:

The way we make a dream is the basis of our thinking


Human, all too human a book for free spirits Part I translated by Helen Zimmern 1909

  1. THE LOGIC OF DREAMS.—In sleep our nervous system is perpetually excited by numerous inner occurrences ; nearly all the organs are disjointed and in a state of activity, the blood runs its turbulent course, the position of the sleeper causes pressure on certain limbs, his coverings influence his sensations in various ways, the stomach digests and by its movements it disturbs other organs, the intestines writhe, the position of the head occasions unaccustomed play of muscles, the feet, unshod, not pressing upon the floor with the soles, occasion the feeling of the unaccustomed just as does the different clothing of the whole body: all this, according to its daily change and extent, excites by its extraordinariness the entire system to the very functions of the brain, and thus there are a hundred occasions for the spirit to be surprised and to seek for the reasons of this excitation ;—the dream, however, is the seeking and representing of the causes of those excited sensations,—that is, of the supposed causes. A person who, for instance, binds his feet with two straps will perhaps dream that two serpents are coiling round his feet; this is first hypothesis, then a belief, with an accompanying mental picture and interpretation—” These serpents must be the causa of those sensations which I, the sleeper, experience,”—so decides the mind of the sleeper. The immediate past, so disclosed, becomes to him the present through his excited imagination. Thus every one knows from experience how quickly the dreamer weaves into his dream a loud sound that he hears, such as the ringing of bells or the firing of cannon, that is to say, explains it from afterwards so that he first thinks he experiences the producing circumstances and then that sound. But how does it happen that the mind of the dreamer is always so mistaken, while the same mind when awake is accustomed to be so temperate, careful, and sceptical with regard to its hypotheses? so that the first random hypothesis for the explanation of a feeling suffices for him to believe immediately in its truth ? (For in dreaming we believe in the dream as if it were a reality, i.e. we think our hypothesis completely proved.) I hold, that as man now still reasons in dreams, so men reasoned also when awake through thousands of years ; the first causa which occurred to the mind to explain anything that required an explanation, was sufficient and stood for truth. (Thus, according to travellers’ tales, savages still do to this very day.) This ancient element in human nature still manifests itself in our dreams, for it is the foundation upon which the higher reason has developed and still develops in every individual ; the dream carries us back into remote conditions of human culture, and provides a ready means of understanding them better. Dream-thinking is now so easy to us because during immense periods of human development we have been so well drilled in this form of fantastic and cheap explanation, by means of the first agreeable notions. In so far, dreaming is a recreation for the brain, which by day has to satisfy the stern demands of thought, as they are laid down by the higher culture. We can at once discern an allied process even in our awakened state, as the door and ante-room of the dream. If we shut our eyes, the brain produces a number of impressions of light and colour, probably as a kind of after-play and echo of all those effects of light which crowd in upon it by day. Now, however, the understanding, together with the imagination, instantly works up this play of colour, shapeless in itself, into definite figures, forms, landscapes, and animated groups. The actual accompanying process thereby is again a kind of conclusion from the effect to the cause : since the mind asks, ” Whence come these impressions of light and colour ? ” it supposes those figures and forms as causes ; it takes them for the origin of those colours and lights, because in the daytime, with open eyes, it is accustomed to find a producing cause for every colour, every effect of light. Here, therefore, the imagination constantly places pictures before the mind, since it supports itself on the visual impressions of the day in their production, and the dream-imagination does just the same thing,—that is, the supposed cause is deduced from the effect and represented after the effect ; all this happens with extraordinary rapidity, so that here, as with the conjuror, a confusion of judgment may arise and a sequence may look like something simultaneous, or even like a reversed sequence. From these circumstances we may gather how lately the more acute logical thinking, the strict discrimination of cause and effect has been developed, when our reasoning and understanding faculties still involuntarily hark back to those primitive forms of deduction, and when we pass about half our life in this condition. The poet, too, and the artist assign causes for their moods and conditions which are by no means the true ones ; in this they recall an older humanity and can assist us to the understanding of it.

Menschliches allzu menschlich 1878/80

  1. Logik des Traumes. – Im Schlafe ist fortwährend unser Nervensystem durch mannichfache innere Anlässe in Erregung, fast alle Organe secerniren und sind in Thätigkeit, das Blut macht seinen ungestümen Kreislauf, die Lage des Schlafenden drückt einzelne Glieder, seine Decken beeinflussen die Empfindung verschiedenartig, der Magen verdaut und beunruhigt mit seinen Bewegungen andere Organe, die Gedärme winden sich, die Stellung des Kopfes bringt ungewöhnliche Muskellagen mit sich, die Füsse, unbeschuht, nicht mit den Sohlen den Boden drückend, verursachen das Gefühl des Ungewöhnlichen ebenso wie die andersartige Bekleidung des ganzen Körpers, – alles diess nach seinem täglichen Wechsel und Grade erregt durch seine Aussergewöhnlichkeit das gesammte System bis in die Gehirnfunction hinein: und so giebt es hundert Anlässe für den Geist, um sich zu verwundern und nach Gründen dieser Erregung zu suchen: der Traum aber ist das Suchen und Vorstellen der Ursachen für jene erregten Empfindungen, das heisst der vermeintlichen Ursachen. Wer zum Beispiel seine Füsse mit zwei Riemen umgürtet, träumt wohl, dass zwei Schlangen seine Füsse umringeln: diess ist zuerst eine Hypothese, sodann ein Glaube, mit einer begleitenden bildlichen Vorstellung und Ausdichtung: “diese Schlangen müssen die causa jener Empfindung sein, welche ich, der Schlafende, habe”, – so urtheilt der Geist des Schlafenden. Die so erschlossene nächste Vergangenheit wird durch die erregte Phantasie ihm zur Gegenwart. So weiss jeder aus Erfahrung, wie schnell der Träumende einen starken an ihn dringenden Ton, zum Beispiel Glockenläuten, Kanonenschüsse in seinen Traum verflicht, das heisst aus ihm hinterdrein erklärt, so dass er zuerst die veranlassenden Umstände, dann jenen Ton zu erleben meint. – Wie kommt es aber, dass der Geist des Träumenden immer so fehl greift, während der selbe Geist im Wachen so nüchtern, behutsam und in Bezug auf Hypothesen so skeptisch zu sein pflegt? so dass ihm die erste beste Hypothese zur Erklärung eines Gefühls genügt, um sofort an ihre Wahrheit zu glauben? (denn wir glauben im Traume an den Traum, als sei er Realität, das heisst wir halten unsre Hypothese für völlig erwiesen). – Ich meine: wie jetzt noch der Mensch im Traume schliesst, so schloss die Menschheit auch im Wachen viele Jahrtausende hindurch: die erste causa, die dem Geiste einfiel, um irgend Etwas, das der Erklärung bedurfte, zu erklären, genügte ihm und galt als Wahrheit. (So verfahren nach den Erzählungen der Reisenden die Wilden heute noch.) Im Traum übt sich dieses uralte Stück Menschenthum in uns fort, denn es ist die Grundlage, auf der die höhere Vernunft sich entwickelte und in jedem Menschen sich noch entwickelt: der Traum bringt uns in ferne Zustände der menschlichen Cultur wieder zurück und giebt ein Mittel an die Hand, sie besser zu verstehen. Das Traumdenken wird uns jetzt so leicht, weil wir in ungeheuren Entwickelungsstrecken der Menschheit gerade auf diese Form des phantastischen und wohlfeilen Erklärens aus dem ersten beliebigen Einfalle heraus so gut eingedrillt worden sind. Insofern ist der Traum eine Erholung für das Gehirn, welches am Tage den strengeren Anforderungen an das Denken zu genügen hat, wie sie von der höheren Cultur gestellt werden. – Einen verwandten Vorgang können wir geradezu als Pforte und Vorhalle des Traumes noch bei wachem Verstande in Augenschein nehmen. Schliessen wir die Augen, so producirt das Gehirn eine Menge von Lichteindrücken und Farben, wahrscheinlich als eine Art Nachspiel und Echo aller jener Lichtwirkungen, welche am Tage auf dasselbe eindringen. Nun verarbeitet aber der Verstand (mit der Phantasie im Bunde) diese an sich formlosen Farbenspiele sofort zu bestimmten Figuren, Gestalten, Landschaften, belebten Gruppen. Der eigentliche Vorgang dabei ist wiederum eine Art Schluss von der Wirkung auf die Ursache; indem der Geist fragt: woher diese Lichteindrücke und Farben, supponirt er als Ursachen jene Figuren, Gestalten: sie gelten ihm als die Veranlassungen jener Farben und Lichter, weil er, am Tage, bei offenen Augen, gewohnt ist, zu jeder Farbe, jedem Lichteindrucke eine veranlassende Ursache zu finden. Hier also schiebt ihm die Phantasie fortwährend Bilder vor, indem sie an die Gesichtseindrücke des Tages sich in ihrer Production anlehnt, und gerade so macht es die Traumphantasie: – das heisst die vermeintliche Ursache wird aus der Wirkung erschlossen und nach der Wirkung vorgestellt: alles diess mit ausserordentlicher Schnelligkeit, so dass hier wie beim Taschenspieler eine Verwirrung des Urtheils entstehen und ein Nacheinander sich wie etwas Gleichzeitiges, selbst wie ein umgedrehtes Nacheinander ausnehmen kann. – Wir können aus diesen Vorgängen entnehmen, wie spät das schärfere logische Denken, das Strengnehmen von Ursache und Wirkung, entwickelt worden ist, wenn unsere Vernunft- und Verstandesfunctionen jetzt noch unwillkürlich nach jenen primitiven Formen des Schliessens zurückgreifen und wir ziemlich die Hälfte unseres Lebens in diesem Zustande leben. – Auch der Dichter, der Künstler schiebt seinen Stimmungen und Zuständen Ursachen unter, welche durchaus nicht die wahren sind; er erinnert insofern an älteres Menschenthum und kann uns zum Verständnisse desselben verhelfen.

Sources:

I will read a Dutch translation that is based on the work of researchers Colli and Montinari. I also use a translation from R.J.Hollingdale and the Gary Handwerk translation from the Colli-Montinari edition. Both are more modern than the copyright free translation I use here. This is a translation from 1909 by Helen Zimmern, who knew Nietzsche personally, but there was no critical study of Nietzsche’s work done back then and this translation suffers from that. The same goes for the translation from Alexander Harvey. My German is not good enough to pretend that I can translate it better than the professionals do but I will use the original as a referee.

  1. Menselijk al te menselijk een boek voor vrije geesten, translated by Thomas Graftdijk, 2000. Buy it here
  2. Human, all too human a book for free spirits, translated by R.J.Hollingdale, 1986
  3. Human, all too human a book for free spirits I V3, translated by Gary handwerk 1997
  4. Human, all too human a book for free spirits Part I, translated by Helen Zimmern 1909. Read it  here
  5. Human, all too human a book for free spirits, translated by Alexander Harvey, 1908. Read it here
  6. Menschliches allzu menschlich 1878/80. Read it here

 

 

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