How to View Dream Imagery

Traditional dream work treats a dream image as a “given,” a part of a text or narrative created by the subconscious mind and whose appearance is determined from the beginning of the dream. Cocreative theory, in contrast, treats the imagery as the “mutable interface” (my words) between the dreamer’s consciousness and the dream content, which is unformed until it is observed. In cocreative theory, the dream image is a “quantum” event. That is, it does not exist prior to perception, but comes into consciousness as a cocreated product of the observer’s “set” and the content’s agenda. So the image is what physicists might call a resultant vector of two forces meeting. What makes this even more complex is that the image is a moment-to-moment, fluctuating interface–subject to change in response to the dreamer’s reaction to it. Thus the image and dreamer are in a synchronous, reciprocal feedback loop. Modern family therapy is founded on this premise, which can be succinctly summarized as, “Reciprocity is the governing principle of relationships” (Nichols and Schwartz, 2008). Previously, this founding principle of systems theory has not been applied to dreams for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is the age-old Greek theory of mimesis–that dreams represent something in our waking lives. So we ask, “What does Jane represent to you?” rather than, “What is the quality of relationship between you and the Jane figure and how is she changing in response to your style of relating to her, and vice versa?” This is a longer question, and generates a more complex answer, but it preserves the rich, dynamic, relational process that has been heretofore overlooked entirely in traditional dream work. This process is the same process that we understand to be at work in waking relationships. So cocreative dream theory sees the dream as possessing all of the ambiguity and indeterminacy of a waking experience, which unfolds according to the interaction between the observer and the phenomenal realm.