Dream Life

An Experimental Memoir

J. Allan Hobson's scientific experimentation began in childhood, with a soot-filled investigation into the capacity of a chimney to admit Santa Claus. (He discovered that even with the damper open the chimney was far too narrow.) Hobson’s life as an experimentalist has continued through a pioneering career devoted to aligning psychology and biology and to investigating the relationship of dreaming and consciousness. In Dream Life, Hobson conducts an experimental investigation into his life and work.

Hobson charts his developing consciousness through a vividly imagined conception (in October of 1932), birth, and babyhood, offering a theory about "protoconsciousness" in fetuses and infants. He recounts his youthful zeal for scientific discovery, his early sexual experimentation, and his education. He describes taking on the entrenched Freudians at Harvard Medical School in the 1950s, as a maverick psychiatrist who wanted to replace psychoanalysis with biological science. He describes his further studies, his marriages and love affairs, his travels, and what he learned about the brain from his whiplash-induced amnesia after a 1963 automobile accident and from his "brain death" after a stroke in 2001. Through it all, Hobson uses his life as the ultimate case study for his theory that REM sleep provides a test pattern that allows the brain to develop "offline." Dreams—most intense in REM sleep, when the brain is active—need no Freudian-style decoding, he says. Dreaming is a glorious mental state, to be enjoyed and studied for what it tells us about consciousness.

Table of Contents

  1. Preface
  2. I. Biologically Speaking: An Experimental Autobiography
  3. 1. Brain Birth: A Non-Immaculate Conception
  4. 2. Brain Growth: The Illusion and the Reality of Being
  5. 3. Brain State: A Self-Organizing Process
  6. II. My Experimental Nature
  7. 4. The Genesis of My Experimentalism
  8. 5. Marginal Modes of Being
  9. 6. Experimental Social Structures
  10. III. The Nature of My Experiments
  11. 7. Psychoanalysis as Thesis
  12. 8. Brain Science as Antithesis
  13. 9. Cognitive Neuroscience as Synthesis
  14. IV. Experiments of Nature
  15. 10. Brain Shock
  16. 11. Brain Death
  17. 12. Heart Failure
  18. 13. Back Ache
  19. 14. Sleep Strangulation
  20. V. Implications of My Work
  21. 15. Philosophical Implications
  22. 16. Scientific Implications
  23. 17. Dream Science and the Humanities
  24. 18. Functional Conclusions
  25. Bibliography
  26. Index