Conditions may arise in the psyche in which interest is held up abnormally. The will strives in vain to direct it along a particular path, and the cause of failure is not manifest to the conscious mind. The following case may serve to illustrate this state of affairs.
The conscious estimate of the patient R. of his condition requires to be studied before the problem of his dreams can be taken up. It can be condensed in the following terms. He had a strong impulse to perform a certain task, but as soon as he began it, a check occurred. His interest would not flow along the desired channels, his ideas weakened and faded, and he fell into a kind of reverie state or mental blackness. The sense of a loss of confidence in his intellectual powers grew on him. He became absent-minded, apathetic, and irritable, and eventually wondered if some brain deterioration had set in. He could not give the task up : the impulse to attempt it remained, but the results of these attempts became increasingly unsatisfactory.
Four salient points can be selected from this brief account. (1) The impulse continued in the patient R. all through his troubles. (2) Although the impulse was there, adequate control of attention and interest failed him. (3) When the patient began to work in obedience to his impulse, his conscious field became a blank ; what had existed in it, rapidly faded. (4) He had no explanation of the cause of his state, save that it was due to some obscure physical condition. I do not propose to enter more fully upon a discussion of the conscious estimate of R., because the features essential to an initial estimate of the significance of his dreams have been compressed into the above account. But it is worth pointing out perhaps that the state of mind R. found himself in, though not rare as a temporary experience, is one that might possibly have caused serious mischief if it had persisted. A persistent impulse strongly felt but incapable of adequate realization or comprehension—that is, incapable of being led out into the light—might suggest something akin to a compulsion-neurosis, which is one of the most troublesome to deal with amongst the psycho-neuroses. Broadly speaking, a compulsion-neurosis is an imperative impulse behind an irrational or anti-social idea. It is a kind of abnormal fixation of interest; but in this case there was nothing necessarily irrational or anti-social in the impulse which did not play through any circumscribed area of conscious ideas, but remained as an indefinite irritant in the marginal psyche.
During the period of his trouble he experienced unusually vivid dreams. I propose to record and discuss three of these, in the order in which they occurred.
I. "I was in an upper room surrounded by a crowd of ancient philosophers in flowing robes. Amongst them I saw B. They were all talking at once, with pompous gestures. In the centre of the room was my writing-table, and at it sat someone whom I did not see clearly, as his head was in his hands. I gathered that the noise around him interfered with his work. Then I found myself in the room below. It was a dirty kitchen. A fat, ugly cook, with bloodshot eyes, as ugly as Socrates, came in. She was friendly and demanded a drink of beer and stout. I had some beer in a bottle in my hand, but I could not find any stout. I became embarrassed. At last I found some on a shelf, amongst the dirty crockery. I poured her out a mixture and she took it, fixing me all the time with a humorous, leering look. Then she nodded and winked, and raising the glass said, quite distinctly, ' You must always mix the clear with the muddy,' and began to drink. At that moment the floor above us collapsed and there was a mix-up, but I was not hurt. I caught a glimpse of one very tall, empty room. The cook and the philosophers had all vanished." This dream forms a good example of the semi-rational atmosphere in which the dream-conceptions of the sleeping mind are cast. It is well constructed but apparently quite absurd. We may assume that it contains marginal or unconscious material—that is, material inadequately realized, or not realized, by the dreamer.
If the above dream is carefully examined as it stands, there are some interesting points to be found in it. The dream opens with the dreamer standing in the upper room, among a throng of ancient philosophers, and there he sees his own writing-table at which sits a shadowy figure, who is prevented from working by the noise round him. The anamnesis has already told us that the patient himself, so soon as he sits down to write, is overtaken by a mental condition that prevents him continuing.
On his descent from the upper room, when the dreamer finds himself in the lower room, he has in his hand a bottle of beer. Here he undergoes a remarkable experience, and feels embarrassed—the only emotion felt in the dream—because he has no stout. This would seem, taken literally, to be totally absurd. The cook, however, does not say that he has to mix beer with stout, but that he must always mix the clear with the muddy.
If we glance at the contrasts suggested by the words of the cook that occur in the dream, the upper room can be regarded as a contrast with the lower room, not only in the matter of position, but in the nature of the inhabitants. Above is the philosophical atmosphere peculiar to intellects of a dead world ; below, in the person of the cook, is a very human and contemporaneous philosopher, who, though not exactly an intellectualist, is far from being a negligible factor in life.
The remaining point of interest is found in the sequence of events which follow on the mixing of the beer with the stout. The two rooms become mixed up—merged into one tall room—and, curiously enough, neither cook nor philosopher remains. What remains is only vaguely seen.
Before continuing the investigation of this dream, a second one may be given which, though it occurred later, forms a sort of introduction to the above example, and helps in the understanding of it.