The Pelican: Structure, Dynamics, Function and Meaning of a Nightmarish Dream

The Pelican: Structure, Dynamics, Function and Meaning of a Nightmarish Dream

A dream laboratory has just been established at the University of Oregon by Drs. Louis Breger and Les Davidson (Breger, Hunter and Lane, 1971). We are testing out the equipment (a machine that records brain waves, movements of the eyers and muscular tension in the neck), as well as the sound recording system (enabling the sleep subject to report on their dreams and the lab attendants to record these verbal reports) We are inviting some of the college students we know to come into the laboratory so that we can learn how to apply the electrodes (using a collodion glue) and how to interact with these sleep subjects during the night when we wake them up.

One of the first volunteers is Katherine (name changed to protect confidentiality), an advanced undergraduate at the university. I am one of the people running the laboratory and get Katherine ready for sleep. It is now fairly late at night. Katherine had already had several rather detailed dreams that she reported in the lab. Her ability to recall her dreams was remarkable—though there might be a fair amount of what is called “secondary elaboration” – always a challenging issue in dream laboratory studies.

We are looking at the pens moving back and forth on the machine as they record shifts in overall electrical brain potential, movements of the eyes and shifts in muscular tension in the neck. Katherine’s eye movements were quite rapid and there was increasing muscular tension. Her brain waves suggested that Katherine was in an alpha state. She was stirring in her bed. Katherine was also quietly moaning. We decided to wake her up. Following is a transcript of her report. “J” is the lab associate located in the adjacent room who is conducting the interview with Katherine (represents by “K”).


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William BergquistWilliam Bergquist, Ph.D. An international coach and consultant in the fields of psychology, management and public administration, author of more than 50 books, and president of a psychology institute. Dr. Bergquist consults on and writes about personal, group, organizational and societal transitions and transformations. His published work ranges from the personal transitions of men and women in their 50s and the struggles of men and women in recovering from strokes to the experiences of freedom among the men and women of Eastern Europe following the collapse of the Soviet Union. In recent years, Bergquist has focused on the processes of organizational coaching. He is coauthor with Agnes Mura of coachbook, co-founder of the International Journal of Coaching in Organizations and co-founder of the International Consortium for Coaching in Organizations.

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