Category: Non-fiction

Stefan Klein
Träume. Eine Reise in unsere innere Wirklichkeit
[Dreams. The science of unlocking our inner reality]


Welcome to the land of dreams!

We all dream when we sleep. Those who claim to be exceptions simply don’t remember their dreams. The threshold between daytime consciousness and nocturnal perception is less permeable for such people. Many dreamers experience such exciting things and have such intense experiences every night that the entire next day remains colored by impressions of them, be they wonderful or terrible, baffling or enlightening. But even such intense dreamers only remember a fraction of what passes in front of their inner eyes while they’re asleep.
For ages, human beings have pondered what happens in the sphere of our nocturnal imagination. Dreams have presented us with riddles and forced us to come up with explanations. They have inspired us and expanded our imaginations. Prophetic and poetic interpretations of dreams have largely disappeared from present-day society, which prides itself on realism, and psychoanalytic dream interpretations also now appear outmoded. But brain researchers are constantly learning new empiric facts not only about our dream activity and its rhythms, but also about the various transitional phases between waking, sleeping and dreaming. They suggest that these three modes of consciousness are not rigidly separated from one another. On the contrary, they overlap in complex ways.
In his book Dreams: The Science of Unlocking Our Inner Reality, physicist and philosopher Stefan Klein, currently regarded as the most successful scientific author in the German language, summarizes the state of neuro-physical knowledge in easily understandable, enjoyable and compelling form. His book also contains a brief history of dream research, in which readers learn who invented the electroencephalogram, how a certain nineteenth-century Baron d’Hervey cleverly steered his dreams with scents and why sleepwalkers cannot be held accountable for their deeds. Klein doesn’t waste a lot of time with scientific theory. He does offer practical tips for avoiding and understanding nightmares. Today’s science is far removed from the pathos of Freud, for whom dreams were the “high-speed lane to the unconscious,” but both it does agree with the father of psychoanalysis that what we experience in dreams alleviates pressure on our psyches.
What’s very sympathetic about Klein is that, despite being anchored in modern empiricism, he doesn’t close the door for either himself or his readers on unprovable, speculative elements, which are part of the world of dreams. The existence of gigantic dream data bases and scientists’ ability to “divine” the content of dreams by measuring brain functions are ultimately less remarkable than unsolved riddles like why the congenitally blind dream exactly the same things as sighted people.
Between the occasionally bizarre-seeming laboratory-centered realism of neurological researchers and case studies that continually challenge their explanations, Klein never loses sight of what fascinates him personally about dreams: the possibility of learning about himself and thereby increasing his own creativity. It is clear that he has tested out methods of lucid dreaming, practiced by Tibetan monks among others, which allow people to steer their dreams according to their desires. There may come a time when reports of the techniques of consciousness among ancient cultures are once again more interesting than all laboratory data and measurements. Stefan Klein, it seems, would be well prepared for it.
Kristina Maidt-Zinke

By Kristina Maidt-Zinke, 11.03.2015

​Kristina Maidt-Zinke is a literary and music critic for the Süddeutsche Zeitung and writes reviews for Die Zeit.

Translated by Jefferson Chase