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Boris Sidis, Ph.D., M.D.

Boston: R. Badger, 1914




A PERIPHERAL process often of a pathological nature, a state of dissociation and a subexcitement of secondary sensory and ideo-motor elements constitute the main conditions of hallucinations. The peripheral pathological process and the state of dissociation are requisite to the formation of the hallucinatory percept, while the content of such percepts is given by the systems of sensori-motor and ideo-motor elements. A peripheral process alone, even if it be pathological in character, does not give rise to hallucinations.

        Similarly a state of dissociation by itself or a state of subexcitement of secondary and representative elements cannot give rise to hallucinations. It is only when these conditions cooperate, it is only then that hallucinations arise. The state of dissociation and that of subexcitement of `central' systems may be regarded as the ‘central’ conditions of hallucinations, while the peripheral process is the factor that supplies to the systems the primary, sensory, nuclear elements round which the secondary elements crystallize and form a hallucination.

        States of dissociation, provided the other conditions are present, are preeminently favorable to the formation of hallucinatory percepts. In sleep, when the mind is immersed in darkness, isolated isles of systems may stand out of this general night of consciousness and give rise to dreams of various degrees of intensity. Dreams are sleep hallucinations, while hallucinations are waking dreams. Both hallucinations and dreams develop under the same conditions of dissociation.

        The nature of dreams and hallucinations is essentially the same. An isolated dissociated system of secondary sensory and representative elements predisposed to function becomes awakened by a special peripheral stimulus or by a summation of series of stimulations, and gives rise to hallucinations or dreams, according to the general state of consciousness, waking or sleeping. This process can be clearly traced in all hypnagogic and hypnapagogic dream hallucinations.

        The hallucination of the comparatively waking state stands out alone, it remains more or less isolated and becomes obliterated by the general inrushing flood of peripheral sensations and perceptions of the waking consciousness. The dream is made up of a series of hallucinations going sometimes to form a complicated hallucination, expanded into a whole life history. From this standpoint we may say that a hallucination is an abbreviated dream, while a dream is an expanded hallucination.

        In sleep the primary sensory nucleus of the dream hallucination is supplied by the peripheral processes coming either from external stimuli or from internal stimulations, from changes taking place in the organism. The psychophysiological threshold is raised in sleep, the resistance to the entrance of sense impressions is increased, the rise being proportionate to the depth of the sleep state. The peripheral sensory channels are closed to external stimulations.

        External stimuli, however, assail the peripheral sense organs from all sides and now and then, whether on account of the intensity of the stimulus or of the summation of a series of stimulations or of the temporary rise of the sleep level and consequent fall of the threshold and decrease of resistance to the influence of external stimuli, sense impressions force an entrance and awaken to activity some slightly slumbering systems thus giving rise to the dream hallucination. Under such conditions the sense impressions have but small chance to awaken their appropriate systems, and hence they become incorporated into systems with the lowest psychophysiological threshold, thus giving rise to the phantastic combinations characteristic of dream life.1

        Sense impressions form the nucleus around which cluster systems of secondary sensations and representations, all tinged with the sensory color derived from the original primary, nuclear sensory elements. The systems of secondary sensory and representative elements once awakened may go on expanding and developing, awakening other groups and systems, assimilating them or being assimilated by them as much as the nature of their content permits and being further reinforced by incoming stimulations.

           During the whole course of its expansion the aroused groups and systems maintain their sensory or rather their perceptual character. For, if a system is once awakened to activity, the threshold, the resistance to incoming stimulations is lowered, and many more sense impressions gain access to the functioning system’s and become incorporated and assimilated. This assimilation of chance systems and sense-impressions often gives birth to highly elaborated phantastic dreams and visions.

          Systems awakened by stimuli must have some relation of familiarity to the nuclear sense impressions. If perception is to take place, there must be some congruence between the sense impressions and the stimulated systems. Only on such conditions can assimilation take place. Similarly the awakened systems in sleep assimilate congruent sense impressions, the latter becoming so transformed as to fit the system, and the system is modified by the incoming impressions.

         This congruence in the dream state is often strained and remote and consequently often of a phantastic and irrelevant character. Thus the taking off a plaster may give rise to a dream of being skinned alive, or of being scalped by an Indian. A change to an easier position and a freer respiration may generate a dream of flying. In one of my experiments of dream hallucination the uncovering of the feet in a cold room gave rise to the dream of walking on the frozen surface of a river, the impeded respiration awakening the feeling of fear of falling into the water. In a great number of experiments and dreams carried on by me for years, I have been enabled to trace dreams to sensory changes and stimulations.

        The internal sensations such as arise from the different functions of the bodily organs are important factors in the generation of dream hallucinations. Every one knows the fact that indigestion often gives rise to nightmares and unpleasant dreams, but not many realize the fact that coenaesthetic sensations, sensations that come from our internal organs play an important role in the production of dream hallucinations. The circulation of the blood, the secretion of the various glands, the peristaltic movement of the small intestines, the action of the stomach, the changes in the muscles, the metabolism going on in the various organs of the body, in the cells of the organism, all these give rise to sensations which, though obscure and confused, go to make up the general sense of organic life activity.2

         This sense of coenoesthesis may, in fact, be regarded as the basis of our physical being or of our physical personality. A change of this sense is frequently an important factor in the formation of delusions, when mental life becomes dissociated and disaggregated. Hypoaesthesia or anaesthesia of the leg, for instance, may form the nucleus for the formation of the delusion that the leg is made of glass or of putty or is totally gone. Anaesthesia of the body or of the internal organs may develop the delusion of being dead, the patient asking to be buried.

        Similar conditions are also present in dream life. Toxic and antitoxic material, accumulation of waste products, various drugs, gases and injections of various poisons have in my experiments given rise to hallucinatory dream states. Affection of special organs have given rise to nightmares. Changes of co-anaesthesis play no doubt an important role in the activity of the dream consciousness. Changes in the various component elements that go to make up the obscure but highly complex life of organic sensibility affect profoundly the rich exuberant play of the dream consciousness.

            Since the channels to external stimulations are closed, the co-anaesthetic sensations that form the obscure basis of waking consciousness become the sole possessors and guides of whatever mental activity is present in sleep. These internal sensations are woven by the dream consciousness into phantastic images of all shapes and forms.

        The dream consciousness presents many characteristics found in states of mental dissociation and disintegration. Moral tone is lowered, attention is greatly reduced, logical thought is enfeebled and the sensori-motor and ideo-motor elements are thrown out of gear, often resulting in the formation of illusions; hallucinations, and delusions. In the dream state there is present the mental degradation of dementia, the sordid delusions of hypochondria and melancholia, the delirious states of mania, the delusions of grandeur of general paralysis, and even the persistent systematized delusions of paranoia.

           The dream consciousness is extremely unstable, it forms no definite type of mental disintegration and has no determinate course, it is extremely fluctuating in its states, and its background is usually shifting ceaselessly. From this standpoint it may be said that the dream consciousness is a normal form of mental alienation and that mental alienation is an abnormal form of dream consciousness.

            A very characteristic diary brought to my notice in which a retrospective and introspective account is given by a patient in the normal condition of the experiences lived through in the state of mental aberration opens with the suggestive title: Memories of my Dream Life and with the following interesting introductory remarks:

         “Where shall I commence? How shall I begin to recall and record this to me mysterious life I have been living? So beautiful, so strange, and in some way so terrible. Yet I would not forget, for it seems as though I must have been in communication with intelligences above-spirits of the air, if it were possible.

            “When did it commence? How long has it been with me? are questions I cannot solve. For weeks before coming to the hospital I must have been living this ‘ideal life’ as in an ‘ideal world.’ I have jotted down what I have thought, though they are not one hundredth part of the thoughts which passed through my mind during this strange time of dreaming.”

        In my cases of katatonia the frightful dreams of the year preceding the disease became hallucinations of the maniacal stages, and appeared again as dreams during convalescence. The dreamer dreams with his eyes closed, the insane dream with their eyes open.

         In both the dreamers and the insane the disaggregated states under the influence of external and especially of internal stimuli give rise to illusions, hallucinations and delusions. Dissociated states grouped round nuclei of primary sensations form the internal organizations of hallucinations and delusions so often characteristic of dream life and insanity.

           Co-anaesthetic sensations are important agents in the formation of insane delusions and hallucinations, they are so many fermentation nuclei among masses of dissociated states. Irritation of the genitalia may in the insane awaken hallucinations and delusions of a sexual character; constipation and heaviness in the intestinal tract may generate delusions and hallucinations of rats and pigs in the stomach; rumbling in the stomach and the intestines may give rise to the delusions and hallucinations of devils in the body or of electric discharges of powerful batteries, placed in the abdomen.

         The difference between the waking life of the insane and that of dream consciousness is the mode of activity, the dream consciousness works in images, in secondary sensory percepts, while in the insane mind the activity is largely representative. This difference is due to greater dissociation present in dream consciousness. The awakened dissociated systems in dream life become tinged with a perceptual sensory color by the process of absorption and assimilation of all the incoming sense impressions.

            Pathological states of rapid mental dissociation, such as the acute states of maniacal excitement or in states of psychopathic functional dissociation, such as the “Dämmerzustände” of psychic epilepsy and other states of functional psychosis, closely approximate to the condition of dream consciousness, though the former are more stable and far more consistent, being narrowed to the active functioning of definite mental systems, conditions rarely to be met with in dream states.

          The dream consciousness lacks unity of logical thought, certainly fails in critical judgment, and is sometimes indifferent to immoral situations and acts. The credulity of dream consciousness is well known to every active dreamer. Changes of time, place, and of objects are often instantaneous, and the most incongruent situations as well as transformations of personality are placidly and credulously accepted. The dream consciousness is entirely at the mercy of incoming sense impressions which spin the dream experience regardless of truth and reality and steadiness of logical purpose and moral ideals of the race. From this standpoint it may be claimed that the dream consciousness is to some extent a reversion to the earliest forms of mental life, when the race was as yet undisciplined by the accumulated experience of ages of social life.

          The teleological aspect of the dream consciousness may possibly lie in the fact suggested by some that the many trains of thought started in the activity of waking consciousness and arrested by the selective thought and logic of things and events of waking life find their vent and completion in the activity of dream consciousness. This vent relieves us from the high pressure of suppressed thought and makes it easier to sustain the rigid selection of sequences of mental states required by the struggle of existence and social life in our adjustments to the conditions of external environment.

          This view, however, is not correct. For the dream consciousness follows not only along the lines of thoughts started in waking life, but more often forms new lines of associations giving rise to highly dramatic situations bearing no relation whatever to the interests of waking life, and far from relieving waking thought impedes and depresses it, since the mind feels unrefreshed by the sleep and in many cases serious mental troubles arise, due to the disturbing influence of active dreams on the course of waking thought.

        It is more likely that there is little teleology to dream life, and if any teleology there be, it may consist in the freedom and ease in which the mind finds itself in the dream state, fettered as the mind is by the rigid relations of the external environment. In dream life the routine of waking life is interrupted and new associations are formed.

           This possibility of forming new associations and thus breaking through the routine of life, a possibility maintained and fostered by the dream consciousness, might have possibly proved of some consequence to the human race. The dream consciousness may thus be regarded as an important factor in the progress of human thought, as an agent in the breaking up of habits of thought, due to the routine of life, calling the attention of man, absorbed as he is with the interests and requirements of the needs of his physical world, to another life existence and strange universe of reality. It is out of the activity of dream consciousness that the concept of an independent spiritual life has developed. In sleep and dreams man breaks away from the bondage of the interests of this world.



1. Recent speculations about the “interpretation” and “meaning” of dreams are unscientific, arbitrary, and meaningless. The "Traumdeutung" is nothing but a play on words, an ingenious play of Talmudic, cabalistic puerility and childish scholasticism.

2. In another work I shall take up the study of the dream consciousness more in detail, meanwhile I must strongly protest against the flood of psychoanalytic literature about the supposed psychology of dreams. Psychoanalysis in general and psychoanalysis of dreams in particular display not only arrogance of the ignorant parvenu in psychology, but also manifest a total incapacity of comprehension of psychological problems.


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