Blog 24: Media news

14th April 2021

I’m chuffed that I now have several media items about me and my book “What do dreams do?” to put on this website- so will get a media page up and running soon, including a YouTube video, a podcast, a couple of reviews and a discussion piece.

With, hopefully, more to come!


Blog 23: Pandemic dream (2)

12th April 2021

In Blog 22 I introduced one of my pandemic dreams, I’ve repeated the dream narrative below, with more detail.  In this Blog, I include visual illustrations of the dream.

The woman whose arm has red lumps with wings

Scene 1

I am in the spare bedroom of my house or, maybe, it’s the house where I lived as a child. In the left hand corner, as you enter the room, there’s a bed with a woman on it. The woman is quite vague in the sense that I’m not aware of what she looks like or is wearing. But I am very aware that she is holding out her arm, which has raised red lumps all the way down. The lumps, like insect bodies, have silver wings attached, but only on one side.

This woman is very agitated, scratching the silver off the wings, it’s coming off in flakes and going all over the bedclothes. Then it seems as though the woman might be me. Also, the lumps and wings are raised, they are very discrete and horribly artistic, like a 3D tattoo all down the arm.

Below is a zoomed-in version of the woman’s arm.


Suddenly a blue bird/small dragon takes off from the bed the woman is lying on or, maybe, it is coming from her arm. This bird/dragon is toy-like, it goes straight up in the air, rather like a helicopter, then, flies over to the other side of the room where two children are in bed. The bird  has one wing which also forms a tail, which propels its flying very well. This bird isn’t horrible like the tattooed/ diseased arm, it’s attractive but strangely unreal in appearance- flat and 2-dimensional.  Maybe, it’s a Phoenix rising from the silver flakes/ashes on the bed?

In Blog 22 I mentioned two recent memories that seemed to drive this dream: First, on the day before the dream I discussed with my sister R whether we shared a room or slept alone as children, when I thought about this afterwards I decided that, over the many years we lived in this house, I had my own room when I was older but, when I was younger, we shared. The dream seems to reflect this because at the beginning, the woman (who may be me) seems to be alone in the room but later in the dream, after the bird appears there are two children sharing the room. But what about the blue bird?

The night before the dream I saw a man on the TV with a bird tattoo across his neck. I thought it horrible. The memory of this bird tattoo may be why the blue bird is flat. The blue bird only has one wing/tail. This may be because the bird seems to rise from the 3D tattoos of bodies and wings on the woman’s arm – where there are only wings on one side of the bodies. But why is the bird blue? In the dream the room is ambiguous- it seems like the guest room in my present house but at the same time it may be the room where I lived as a child. The guest bedroom is painted blue. This may be why the bird is blue.

In Blog 22 I presented a diagram demonstrating how the different dream elements are associated in the winged arm dream- before the blue bird appears. Making associations between experiences makes them more much memorable. Associations work like “hooks” in our memories. These associational “hooks” connect up people, places and events- making it much easier to remember them.

An illustration or image is much more memorable than a diagram or verbal description. Also a bizarre or striking image, like this woman with the winged arm or the blue bird/dragon, is much more easily remembered than a mundane, everyday one.

Back in 1973, research predicted that if you saw 1 million striking images you would retain 731, 400 of them.  More recent work confirms the impressive capacity of visual memory. In a 2008 research study, participants  viewed 2500 pictures of objects, then they were shown two images and asked which of the two they had seen before; the participants successfully discriminated between an object they has seen before and a new one with 87% accuracy. This seems remarkable until you realise how dependent we humans are on our visual sense and, therefore, how good our visual memories have to be.

In following Blogs I will discuss more about how dreams work in our memories, even though we forget almost all of our dreams!

Brady, T. F., Konkle, T., Alvarez, G. A., and Oliva, A. (2008). Visual long-term memory has a massive storage capacity for object details. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 105, 14325–14329. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0803390105

Standing, L. (1973) Learning 10,000 pictures. Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology 25:207–22.


Blog 22: Pandemic dream (1)

7th March 2021

In my last Blog I looked at the associative patterns in pandemic dreams, in this one I identify the associative pattern in one of my own pandemic dreams.

I’ve called the dream:

The woman whose arm has red lumps with wings

I am in the spare bedroom of my house or, maybe, it’s the house where I lived as a child. In the left hand corner, as you enter the room, there’s a bed with a woman on it, she is holding out her arm, which has raised red lumps all the way down. The lumps, like insect bodies, have silver wings attached, but only on one side.

Sketch of the red lumps/bodies with wings

This woman is very agitated, scratching the silver off the wings, it’s coming off in flakes and going all over the bedclothes. Then it seems as though the woman might be me. Also, although the lumps and wings are raised, they are very discrete and horribly artistic, like a 3D tattoo all down the arm.

Elements of my experiences/memories that are merged in the dream

Two recent memories: the day before the dream I discussed with my sister R whether we shared a room or slept alone as children; the night before the dream I saw a man on the TV with a bird tattoo across his neck. I thought it horrible.

Four remote memories: First, as a child, I suffered a badly infected vaccination site, leaving me with a disturbing, large, raised round scar on my left arm, which remained red for a long time after the infection. I often wished I could rid myself of this scar but I never scratched it. Second, I read a distressing story about boys pulling the wings off flies. Third, one of my in-laws had a son with eczema. She scratched his arms so hard the skin came off in flakes. Finally, I saw a woman in a restaurant. I thought her arm diseased until I realized what I had taken for a scarring of her arm was actually the result of the silver-grey tattoos all over it.

A woman with scarring or silver-grey tattooing?  

The woman above is not the one I saw in the restaurant but this photo captures the impression I formed of her, before I realised that what I thought was scarring was actually silver-grey tattooing.

Associations between the red, lumpy, winged arm dream and Covid-19

How does this dream relate to Covid-19? Most clearly in the vaccination element. Vaccination is intended to protect against infection by the virus but, as a child, a vaccination actually resulted in an infection for me .  Other associations to the virus lie with the wings and insect-like bodies/lumps. The virus is invisible. To feature in a dream it has to take a visual form. One survey of pandemic dreams identified flying bugs as the most frequent occurrence[i]. The virus spreads through droplets that fly out when people cough or sneeze, pulling the wings off bugs would prevent them flying but we cannot control droplets in this way. In the dream, skin flakes fly out rather than droplets. Tattoos, like vaccination, can result in scarring .

Diagram showing the patterned dream associations

The diagram below portrays the nexus of associations that underlie the woman whose arm has red, lumps with wings dream. I have added colour to those elements which were most striking in the dream image.  The lumps with silver wings are red. This is the most distinctive, bizarre and prominent aspect. Ernest Hartmann, a notable dream researcher called this the “central image”. But the agitation of the woman in scratching off the silver from the wings is also very remarkable.

The double ended arrows conveys the dual nature of the associations. For example, for me, my childhood vaccination both protected me from infection but caused an infection.

In my next Blog I will compare this diagrammatic nexus of associations with  visual dream illustrations of  “The woman whose arm has red lumps with wings”.




Blog 21: Patterns in pandemic dreams

7th February 2021

The pandemic has seen a global upsurge in vivid, bizarre, more negatively toned dreaming.  As discussed in Blogs 16 and 20, I propose the origins of dreaming lie in our evolutionary past when we needed to avoid threats and take advantage of opportunities to survive and reproduce. Dream associations identified the non-obvious activity patterns of competitors and predators so that we could avoid them, and those of potential mates so that we could meet them. We retained these associative patterns in vivid, bizarre dream images. Just like the predators of long ago, Covid-19 is a threat to our survival so the emergence of more vivid, bizarre, negatively-toned dreaming is no surprise.

Some  dreams incorporate pandemic features, such as masks and social distancing but, like our usual dreams, Covid- 19 dreams don’t replay memories of pandemic experiences in their entirety. Instead they seem to mix up elements of the Covid-19 threat with other anxieties. I propose this is because negatively-toned dreams portray associative patterns in our threat-related experiences. If they are related in meaningful ways, threats encountered in the past may help us deal with those in the present. So threat-related dreams often associate different threats across time. Pandemic dreams are no exception.

For example, Tore Nielsen,  a dream researcher writing in Scientific American on pandemic dreams, included the following brief dream extract: “My phone had a virus and was posting so many random pictures from my camera roll to Instagram and my anxiety was at an all time high.”  This person seems to have associated the pandemic virus with a phone virus. Although rare, phones can get viruses. The anxiety in this dream is about random Instagram posting but the association to Covid-19 may be because the dreamer fears both the phone virus and Covid-19 are out of control. Unfortunately, we can only speculate over this dream because the extract is very short and we can’t ask this dreamer to decode their dream through associating it with their memories.

The image below is from Unsplash, after searching for “pandemic dream”. One of the techniques used decode dreams in dream groups is to  invite someone to relate a dream and then ask the other dream group participants what the dream would mean- if it were theirs. I follow this technique here, but rather than using a reported dream narrative, I invite readers to associate to this pandemic dream image.

Trying to escape from the blackboard cellar

My dream associations are as follows: I see my friend, C, she is wearing a mask and  striking animal print coat. C is in a dark place – it could be a cellar. I think she wants to escape but the windows are too small. Behind her is a wall entirely covered with an enormous blackboard with lots of squiggly chalk drawings, words and noughts and crosses, which I can’t see properly. So maybe she is in a school.

In the dream C is masked, but apart from this, the dream doesn’t have any other Covid- related features. But the dream does have associations to some of my other threatening experiences. First, the dream may be situated in a cellar with small windows and C can’t get out. As a small child, I was left in a cellar which I couldn’t escape from.  Second, again as a child, newly arrived at school, I couldn’t see the blackboard. My parents hadn’t realised I was severely short-sighted. I was distressed and disorientated outside of my familiar home environment. So I found school threatening. Third,  recently, a person with an animal  print coat asked me directions. She came up very close and wasn’t wearing a mask, so I felt a bit scared about infection.

I propose that in pandemic dreams, the Covid-19 threat is often associated with other threats which are similar in ways that are meaningful for the dreamer. The Covid-19 virus is threatening: we can’t escape from it, we can’t see it and other people may infect us with it. My associations to the Unsplash pandemic dream image echo these three threats.

Blog 20: The bizarre sandhouse and its evolutionary origins?

12th January 2021

In my last Blog 19, I decoded my Sandhouse dream. By “decoding” I mean I identified the nexus of associations from which my dreaming mind/brain constructed the sandhouse. These associations connect elements of my recent and remote memories.

Across evolutionary time,  in our pre-linguistic past, when we lived in a much more dangerous world than we do now, I propose we used retained dream images, unconsciously, on approach to a place we wanted to go, for food, water or shelter, which was also sometimes frequented by potential mates, predators and competitors.  Dreams associations identified activity patterns in the behaviour of potential mates, competitors and predators. We retained these patterns in dream images enabling us to visit places when potential mates were more likely to be there or, in the case of predators and competitors, less likely to be there. Who would want to visit the waterhole when this fearsome, “sit and wait”, dragon watched, from a rock nearby, ready to pounce?

Sit and wait dragon at the waterhole

Even this close up, look how well camouflaged the dragon is, blending into the rock. Supposing an early human is approaching the waterhole and, from a distance, senses movement on top of one of the rocks near the water. An unconscious dream image depicting associations which predicted the danger of a dragon would help to decide whether to withdraw, freeze or continue to advance.

If another waterhole was discovered in a similar location, and if, for example, it also had rocks on which dragons could lurk, then an early human would be likely to merge the retained dream associations from the first waterhole with the second because, without much experience  of this newly discovered waterhole, the best prediction of the presence of fearsome dragons was the associative dream image from the first. But how would these two different waterholes be depicted in the new dream image?

In my sandhouse dream, I seem to have merged my associations from the first “house on the edge of town”, where I experienced fear under the bridge, with the second  “house on the edge of town” which I feared unlucky because someone had died in it. The common positioning of both houses, along with the fear associations of both, seems to have engendered a hybrid house. I propose this is the evolutionary explanation for the dream experience of a place/person/object taking on the characteristics of other places/persons/objects- creating hybrids.

But the house I approach in my dream is not only hybrid but also bizarre because I don’t just feel afraid I see something that, to me, is fear-inducing: a sandhouse.  A bizarre house, which is constructed from elements of four different memories. A dictionary definition of bizarre is: markedly unusual in appearance, style or general character and often involving incongruous or unexpected elements. I propose that the evolutionary explanation for bizarreness in dreams is the use of prior experiences to prepare us for newly encountered ones- where those experiences are similar in ways that are meaningful to us. Paradoxically, I suggest the bizarre and surprising nature of dreams ( as in “I had a really funny dream last night“) means we are prepared for new experiences and, therefore, less likely to be surprised in our waking lives.



Blog 19: Dreams as patterns in memories: the sandhouse

29th December 2020

One of the things we find most surprising about dreams is that although they clearly often feature familiar people, places we recognise and experiences we remember, dreams mix them up so that bits (or elements) of some memories become integrated into others – where they didn’t “belong” in real life.

For example, I dream about a walking down a street towards a house on the edge of a housing estate which borders a beach and a river. I think this is definitely an element from an old memory of visiting upstate New York with M my (former) partner. We got out of our car to walk along a street because he wanted to photograph an old bridge at the end of this street- you can see the old bridge petering out in the dream illustration below. The house at the edge of the estate was significant because we knocked on the door of this (very ordinary) house to ask the lady who owned it if M could take a photo of the bridge from her garden. She agreed. While M was snapping away I wandered off and stood under the bridge, which was quite low and under construction. While standing there I began to feel afraid. The bridge was low. Underneath was dark and oppressive. Irrationally, I felt trapped- although there was nothing to stop me walking away.  Hoping that M had finished his photography and we could escape, I hurried back towards the house at the edge of town.

The Sandhouse Dream

But, in the dream, the house at the end of the road is not all ordinary, it’s very strange- it’s made out of sand and, as I approach it, I become very afraid . In reality the bridge was under construction. In the dream, I think the house must be under construction (bricks are about 50% made of sand) and would be too noisy to buy. This idea of buying the house comes from another very recent memory.

The evening before the dream, J, my eldest son, rang to say that he and G, his girlfriend, were thinking of buying a house on the edge of town, a house that an old lady had died in. I immediately felt the house may be unlucky but I didn’t voice this opinion for fear of being thought irrational. I decided that if they asked my advice I would stress its less than convenient position- on the edge of town.

But why do I think that the house on the edge of town is under construction and may be noisy to consider buying? This relates to a long standing problem that my middle son T has with his hearing- he cannot bear and fears continuous noise. This is a concern to me, held as a memory.

But why is the house made of sand? And why do I become afraid in the dream? In the dream the sandhouse borders a beach. When I was a child my mother warned me against straying out along the beach – if they do this, children can die, they can sink into quicksand and cannot be rescued. This ancient memory, from my childhood fear of quicksand seems to be the basis of the sandhouse.

This sandhouse dream takes elements from four different memories:

One recent, the phone call from my eldest son about buying a house on the edge of town, that a lady had died in;

One remote, the most dominant, the house on the edge of the housing estate in Upstate New York;

One very remote, my old fear of dying, as a child, through being engulfed in quicksand;

One on-going memory/concern, my middle son’s fear of noise which may damage his hearing.

Elements of these four memories are associated in the dream to make a new experience: I have never walked along a street, approached a house made of sand and become afraid. Dreams don’t replay our experiences. They  create new experiences through associating elements from our memories. In the case of the sandhouse, this creativity comes from identifying an associative pattern which looks something like this:

The Sandhouse: Nexus of associations 

The “house on the edge of town” associates two houses which have the same positioning- the one on the edge of the housing estate in upstate New York and the one my eldest son was thinking of buying on the edge of town. In the dream, the sandhouse is the central dominant image. A nexus of associations spreads out from this central house. If you compare the visual dream image with this diagram, I think you will agree the dream image is so much more powerful and emotional. In a later Blog, I will explore why taking elements of different memories and displaying  them as a patterned associative image is much more powerful than words for memory but in the next Blog I will discuss how my proposal on the evolutionary origins dreams explains the Sandhouse dream.

Blog 18 My site went live!

23rd December 2020

It’s a month since my last Blog- because when I contacted Ionos to publish my site some of the content didn’t transfer properly. So I asked a friend who has an attractive site and she put me in touch with her web developer. So now I have a professional – Chris Webb- great name for website design! He has definitely improved the look and functionality of my site. Also I’m pleased with the sales of my book “What do dreams do?” and I have two 5* reviews- so not a bad start….. I care about this book in a way I’ve not done before with any of my other books and journal articles- I really want people to read it and tell me what they think.