As a physician who began his career treating patients in Boston's most horrendous psychiatric ward, Hobson has strived for 40 years to pay homage to Freud for initiating the brain-based study of mind--and yet also to set dream research free of a "superstitious and religious fixation on psychoanalysis." Hobson's research focuses on the organic aspect of dreaming that makes possible a dream's psychosislike features, including disorientation, visual hallucination and memory distortions. By measuring neural activity during dreaming, he and his colleagues have correlated brain-activation patterns with dream content, enabling them to show that much of a dream's form and substance derive from physiological processes that occur independently of a dream's apparent meaning. Raw emotions and recent memories may trigger a dream, but not necessarily in a way that yields to clear, rule-based interpretations. Along with many current neurophysiologists, Hobson sees a dream's apparent meaning as an after-the-fact attempt to synthesize and put into story form an otherwise meaningless pattern of neural activations, most likely prompted by recent events rather than deeply rooted conflicts.
Not accidentally, Hobson's entertaining tale itself has a dreamlike quality--an autobiographical tapestry woven from strands of science, history and life in which he journeys through 13 of his own 350 dream reports, accumulated during his career. In each case, he uses a dream to make a point--usually how events in his life had most likely stimulated particular brain regions that subsequently were reactivated during a dream. He also weaves through his story recent research to explain the operations of a unified "brain-mind," emphasizing that the mind is a product of brain structure and chemistry, and nothing else. On the heels of half a century of modern neuroscience, he says, "it is now possible to build a new dynamic psychology on the solid base of brain science."
Hobson says Freud was "correct in assuming that any scientific psychology needed to be brain-based. But lacking that base, he was forced to speculate, and I have found that his contribution to a science of the mind is, at best, obsolete and, at worst, misleading." Imagining Freud's reaction to recent research, Hobson envisions the illustrious psychologist admitting that "the time has come to clear the decks of the wreckage of psychoanalysis and build a new science of dreams based on what is now known about the brain." --Richard Lipkin
This article was originally published with the title Mind Reads.