Society for Psychological Anthropology
Anthropology of Consciousness
Cosponsored - Oral Presentation Session
Dreams and culture are interdependent. Culture supplies templates for dream imagery, interpretation, and expression. Dreams in turn provide experiences that seem to confirm, modify, or extend cultural models of reality. These links indicate that dreams facilitate cultural diffusion and generate cultural diversity. Cross-culturally, the content, understandings, and uses of dreams varies to such a degree that what dreams make possible—and even what they are—depend on the dreamer’s cultural dream theory. Moreover, an even more profound and ancient connection between culture and dreams is coming to light. Dream imagery is now known to display the brain’s sorting and comparing process as it incorporates and consolidates recent memories with older ones. Since memory is a primary medium of culture, this means that dreams provide us with a window through which we can witness the recording and modification of culture itself. Other recent research has shown that humans spend less time sleeping but more of that time in REM (rapid eye movement) sleep than other primates. REM is the phase of sleep when dreams related to cultural updating predominate in our awareness. This pattern of sleeping and dreaming appears to be diagnostic of humankind’s hyper-socialness and exaggerated reliance on memory over instinct for adaptation. These qualities are themselves elements of humankind’s uniquely powerful capacity for culture. Hence, dreaming is related to the genetic evolution of our species’ capacity for culture on which our adaptive dependence on technologies from stone tools to computers is based.