ON DREAMS by Aristotle


WE must, in the next place, investigate the subject of the dream, and first inquire to which of the faculties of the soul it presentsitself, i.e. whether the affection is one which pertains to the faculty of intelligence or to that of sense-perception; for theseare the only faculties within us by which we acquire knowledge. If, then, the exercise of the faculty of sight is actual seeing,that of the auditory faculty, hearing, and, in general that of the faculty of sense-perception, perceiving; and if there are some perceptions common to the senses, such as figure, magnitude, motion,&c., while there are others, as colour, sound, taste, peculiar [eachto its own sense]; and further, if all creatures, when the eyes areclosed in sleep, are unable to see, and the analogous statement istrue of the other senses, so that manifestly we perceive nothing when asleep; we may conclude that it is not by sense-perception we perceive a dream. But neither is it by opinion that we do so. For [in dreams] we not only assert, e.g. that some object approaching is a man or a horse [which would be an exercise of opinion], but that the object is white or beautiful, points on which opinion without sense-perception asserts nothing either truly or falsely. It is, however, a fact that the soul makes such assertions in sleep. We seem to see equally well that the approaching figure is a man, and that it is white. [In dreams], too, we think something else, over and above the dream presentation, just as we do in waking moments when we perceive something; for we often also reason about that which we perceive. So, too, in sleep we sometimes have thoughts other than the merephantasms immediately before our minds. This would be manifest to any one who should attend and try, immediately on arising from sleep, to remember [his dreaming experience]. There are cases ofpersons who have seen such dreams, those, for example, who believe themselves to be mentally arranging a given list of subjects according to the mnemonic rule. They frequently find themselves engaged in something else besides the dream, viz. in setting a phantasm whicht hey envisage into its mnemonic position. Hence it is plain that not every 'phantasm' in sleep is a mere dream-image, and that the further thinking which we perform then is due to an exercise of the faculty of opinion. So much at least is plain on all these points, viz. that the faculty by which, in waking hours, we are subject to illusion when affected by disease, is identical with that which produces illusory effects insleep. So, even when persons are in excellent health, and know the facts of the case perfectly well, the sun, nevertheless, appears to them to be only a foot wide. Now, whether the presentative faculty of the soul be identical with, or different from, the faculty of sense-perception, in either case the illusion does not occur without our actually seeing or [otherwise] perceiving something. Even to see wrongly or to hear wrongly can happen only to one who sees or hears something real, though not exactly what he supposes. But we have assumed that in sleep one neither sees, nor hears, nor exercises any sense whatever. Perhaps we may regard it as true that the dreamer sees nothing, yet as false that his faculty of sense-perception is unaffected, the fact being that the sense of seeing and the other senses may possibly be then in a certain way affected, while each ofthese affections, as duly as when he is awake, gives its impulse in a certain manner to his [primary] faculty of sense, though not in precisely the same manner as when he is awake. Sometimes, too, opinion says [to dreamers] just as to those who are awake, that the object seen is an illusion; at other times it is inhibited, and becomes amere follower of the phantasm. It is plain therefore that this affection, which we name 'dreaming', is no mere exercise of opinion or intelligence, but yet is not an affection of the faculty of perception in the simple sense. If it were the latter it would be possible [when asleep] to hear and see in the simple sense. How then, and in what manner, it takes place, is what we have to examine. Let us assume, what is indeed clear enough, that the affection [of dreaming] pertains to sense-perception as surely assleep itself does. For sleep does not pertain to one organ in animals and dreaming to another; both pertain to the same organ. But since we have, in our work On the Soul, treated of presentation, and the faculty of presentation is identical with that of sense-perception, though the essential notion of a faculty of presentation is different from that of a faculty of sense-perception; and since presentation is the movement set up by a sensory faculty when actually discharging its function, while adream appears to be a presentation (for a presentation which occurs in sleep - whether simply or in some particular way - is what we call adream): it manifestly follows that dreaming is an activity of the faculty of sense-perception, but belongs to this faculty quapresentative.


We can best obtain a scientific view of the nature of the dream and the manner in which it originates by regarding it in the lightof the circumstances attending sleep. The objects ofsense-perception corresponding to each sensory organ producesense-perception in us, and the affection due to their operation ispresent in the organs of sense not only when the perceptions are actualized, but even when they have departed. What happens in these cases may be compared with what happens in thecase of projectiles moving in space. For in the case of these the movement continues even when that which set up the movement is no longer in contact [with the things that are moved]. For that which set them in motion moves a certain portion of air, and this, in turn, being moved excites motion in another portion; and so, accordingly, itis in this way that [the bodies], whether in air or in liquids, continue moving, until they come to a standstill. This we must likewise assume to happen in the case of qualitative change; for that part which [for example] has been heated by something hot, heats [in turn] the part next to it, and this propagates the affection continuously onwards until the process has come round to itsoint of origination. This must also happen in the organ where in the exercise of sense-perception takes place, since sense-perception, as realized in actual perceiving, is a mode of qualitative change. This explains why the affection continues in the sensory organs, both in their deeper and in their more superficial parts, not merely while they are actually engaged in perceiving, but even after they have ceased to do so. That they do this, indeed, is obvious in cases where we continue for some time engaged in a particular form of perception, for then, when we shift the scene of our perceptive activity, the previous affection remains; for instance, when we have turned our gaze from sunlight into darkness. For the result of this is that one sees nothing, owing to the excited by the light still subsisting in our eyes. Also, when we have looked steadily for along while at one colour, e.g. at white or green, that to which we next transfer our gaze appears to be of the same colour. Again if, after having looked at the sun or some other brilliant object, we close the eyes, then, if we watch carefully, it appears in a right line with the direction of vision [whatever this may be], at first in its own colour; then it changes to crimson, next to purple, until it becomes black and disappears. And also when persons turn away from looking at objects in motion, e.g. rivers, and especially those which flow very rapidly, they find that the visual stimulations still present themselves, for the things really at rest are then seen moving: persons become very deaf after hearing loud noises, and after smelling very strong odours their power of smelling is impaired; and similarly in other cases. These phenomena manifestly take place in the way above described. That the sensory organs are acutely sensitive to even a slight qualitative difference [in their objects] is shown by what happens in the case of mirrors; a subject to which, even taking it independently, one might devote close consideration and inquiry. At the same time it becomes plain from them that as the eye [in seeing] is affected [by the object seen], so also it produces a certain effect upon it. If a woman chances during her menstrual period to look into ahighly polished mirror, the surface of it will grow cloudy with ablood-coloured haze. It is very hard to remove this stain from a new mirror, but easier to remove from an older mirror. As we have said before, the cause of this lies in the fact that in the act of sight there occurs not only a passion in the sense organ acted on by the polished surface, but the organ, as an agent, also produces an action, as is proper to a brilliant object. For sight is the property of anorgan possessing brilliance and colour. The eyes, therefore, have their proper action as have other parts of the body. Because it is natural to the eye to be filled with blood-vessels, a woman's eyes, during the period of menstrual flux and inflammation, will undergo achange, although her husband will not note this since his seed is of the same nature as that of his wife. The surrounding atmosphere, through which operates the action of sight, and which surrounds the mirror also, will undergo a change of the same sort that occurred shortly before in the woman's eyes, and hence the surface of the mirror is like wise affected. And as in the case of a garment, the cleaner it is the more quickly it is soiled, so the same holds true in the case of the mirror. For anything that is clean will show quite clearly a stain that it chances to receive, and the cleanest objects hows up even the slightest stain. A bronze mirror, because of its shininess, is especially sensitive to any sort of contact (the movement of the surrounding air acts upon it like a rubbing or pressing or wiping); on that account, therefore, what is clean will show up clearly the slightest touch on its surface. It is hard to cleanse smudges off new mirrors because the stain penetrates deeplyand is suffused to all parts; it penetrates deeply because the mirror is not a dense medium, and is suffused widely because of the smoothness of the object. On the other hand, in the case of old mirrors, stains do not remain because they do not penetrate deeply, but only smudge the surface. From this therefore it is plain that stimulatory motion is set up even by slight differences, and that sense-perception is quick to respond to it; and further that the organ which perceives colour is not only affected by its object, but also reacts upon it. Further evidence to the same point is afforded by what takes place in wines, and in the manufacture of unguents. For both oil, when prepared, andwine become rapidly infected by the odours of the things near them; they not only acquire the odours of the things thrown into or mixed with them, but also those of the things which are placed, or which grow, near the vessels containing them. In order to answer our original question, let us now, therefore, assume one proposition, which is clear from what precedes, viz. that even when the external object of perception has departed, the impressions it has made persist, and are themselves objects ofperception: and [let us assume], besides, that we are easily deceived respecting the operations of sense-perception when we are excited by emotions, and different persons according to their different emotions; for example, the coward when excited by fear,the amorous person by amorous desire; so that, with but little resemblance to go upon, the former thinks he sees his foes approaching, the latter, that he sees the object of his desire; and the more deeply one is under the influence of the emotion, the less similarity is required to give rise to these illusory impressions. Thus too, both in fits of anger, and also in all states of appetite,all men become easily deceived, and more so the more their emotions are excited. This is the reason too why persons in the delirium of fever sometimes think they see animals on their chamber walls, an illusion arising from the faint resemblance to animals of the markings thereon when put together in patterns; and this sometimes corresponds with the emotional states of the sufferers, in such away that, if the latter be not very ill, they know well enough that it is an illusion; but if the illness is more severe they actually move according to the appearances. The cause of these occurrences is that the faculty in virtue of which the controlling sense judges is not identical with that in virtue of which presentations come before themind. A proof of this is, that the sun presents itself as only afoot in diameter, though often something else gainsays the presentation. Again, when the fingers are crossed, the one object [placed between them] is felt [by the touch] as two; but yet we deny that it is two; for sight is more authoritative than touch. Yet, if touch stood alone, we should actually have pronounced the one object to be two. The ground of such false judgements is that any appearances whatever present themselves, not only when its object stimulates a sense, but also when the sense by itself alone is stimulated, provided only it be stimulated in the same manner as it is by the object. For example, to persons sailing past the land seems to move, when it is really the eye that is being moved by something else [the moving ship.]


From this it is manifest that the stimulatory movements based uponsensory impressions, whether the latter are derived from externalobjects or from causes within the body, present themselves not onlywhen persons are awake, but also then, when this affection which iscalled sleep has come upon them, with even greater impressiveness. Forby day, while the senses and the intellect are working together,they (i.e. such movements) are extruded from consciousness orobscured, just as a smaller is beside a larger fire, or as smallbeside great pains or pleasures, though, as soon as the latter haveceased, even those which are trifling emerge into notice. But by night[i.e. in sleep] owing to the inaction of the particular senses, andtheir powerlessness to realize themselves, which arises from thereflux of the hot from the exterior parts to the interior, they[i.e. the above 'movements'] are borne in to the head quarters ofsense-perception, and there display themselves as the disturbance(of waking life) subsides. We must suppose that, like the littleeddies which are being ever formed in rivers, so the sensory movementsare each a continuous process, often remaining like what they werewhen first started, but often, too, broken into other forms bycollisions with obstacles. This [last mentioned point], moreover,gives the reason why no dreams occur in sleep immediately after meals,or to sleepers who are extremely young, e.g. to infants. Theinternal movement in such cases is excessive, owing to the heatgenerated from the food. Hence, just as in a liquid, if one vehementlydisturbs it, sometimes no reflected image appears, while at othertimes one appears, indeed, but utterly distorted, so as to seemquite unlike its original; while, when once the motion has ceased, thereflected images are clear and plain; in the same manner duringsleep the phantasms, or residuary movements, which are based uponthe sensory impressions, become sometimes quite obliterated by theabove described motion when too violent; while at other times thesights are indeed seen, but confused and weird, and the dreams [which then appear] are unhealthy, like those of persons who areatrabilious, or feverish, or intoxicated with wine. For all suchaffections, being spirituous, cause much commotion and disturbance. Insanguineous animals, in proportion as the blood becomes calm, and asits purer are separated from its less pure elements, the fact that themovement, based on impressions derived from each of the organs ofsense, is preserved in its integrity, renders the dreams healthy,causes a [clear] image to present itself, and makes the dreamer think,owing to the effects borne in from the organ of sight, that heactually sees, and owing to those which come from the organ ofhearing, that he really hears; and so on with those also which proceedfrom the other sensory organs. For it is owing to the fact that themovement which reaches the primary organ of sense comes from them,that one even when awake believes himself to see, or hear, orotherwise perceive; just as it is from a belief that the organ ofsight is being stimulated, though in reality not so stimulated, thatwe sometimes erroneously declare ourselves to see, or that, from thefact that touch announces two movements, we think that the oneobject is two. For, as a rule, the governing sense affirms thereport of each particular sense, unless another particular sense, more authoritative, makes a contradictory report. In every case anappearance presents itself, but what appears does not in every case seem real, unless when the deciding faculty is inhibited, or doesnot move with its proper motion. Moreover, as we said that differentmen are subject to illusions, each according to the differentemotion present in him, so it is that the sleeper, owing to sleep, andto the movements then going on in his sensory organs, as well as tothe other facts of the sensory process, [is liable to illusion], sothat the dream presentation, though but little like it, appears assome actual given thing. For when one is asleep, in proportion as mostof the blood sinks inwards to its fountain [the heart], the internal [sensory] movements, some potential, others actual accompany it inwards. They are so related [in general] that, if anything move theblood, some one sensory movement will emerge from it, while if thisperishes another will take its place; while to one another also theyare related in the same way as the artificial frogs in water whichseverally rise [in fixed succesion] to the surface in the order inwhich the salt [which keeps them down] becomes dissolved. Theresiduary movements are like these: they are within the soulpotentially, but actualize themselves only when the impediment to their doing so has been relaxed; and according as they are thus setfree, they begin to move in the blood which remains in the sensoryorgans, and which is now but scanty, while they possess verisimilitudeafter the manner of cloud-shapes, which in their rapid metamorphosesone compares now to human beings and a moment afterwards tocentaurs. Each of them is however, as has been said, the remnant ofa sensory impression taken when sense was actualizing itself; and whenthis, the true impression, has departed, its remnant is stillimmanent, and it is correct to say of it, that though not actuallyKoriskos, it is like Koriskos. For when the person was actuallyperceiving, his controlling and judging sensory faculty did not callit Koriskos, but, prompted by this [impression], called the genuine person yonder Koriskos. Accordingly, this sensory impulse, which, when actually perceiving, it [the controlling faculty] describes (unlesscompletely inhibited by the blood), it now [in dreams] whenquasi-perceiving, receives from the movements persisting in thesense-organs, and mistakes it-an impulse that is merely like thetrue [objective] impression-for the true impression itself, whilethe effect of sleep is so great that it causes this mistake to passunnoticed. Accordingly, just as if a finger be inserted beneath theeyeball without being observed, one object will not only present twovisual images, but will create an opinion of its being two objects;while if it [the finger] be observed, the presentation will be thesame, but the same opinion will not be formed of it; exactly so itis in states of sleep: if the sleeper perceives that he is asleep, andis conscious of the sleeping state during which the perception comesbefore his mind, it presents itself still, but something within him speaks to this effect: 'the image of Koriskos presents itself, but thereal Koriskos is not present'; for often, when one is asleep, there issomething in consciousness which declares that what then presentsitself is but a dream. If, however, he is not aware of being asleep,there is nothing which will contradict the testimony of the barepresentation. That what we here urge is true, i.e. that there are suchpresentative movements in the sensory organs, any one may convincehimself, if he attends to and tries to remember the affections weexperience when sinking into slumber or when being awakened. He willsometimes, in the moment of awakening, surprise the images whichpresent themselves to him in sleep, and find that they are reallybut movements lurking in the organs of sense. And indeed some very young persons, if it is dark, though looking with wide open eyes,see multitudes of phantom figures moving before them, so that theyoften cover up their heads in terror. From all this, then, the conclusion to be drawn is, that the dreamis a sort of presentation, and, more particularly, one which occurs insleep; since the phantoms just mentioned are not dreams, nor is anyother a dream which presents itself when the sense-perceptions arein a state of freedom. Nor is every presentation which occurs in sleepnecessarily a dream. For in the first place, some persons [whenasleep] actually, in a certain way, perceive sounds, light, savour,and contact; feebly, however, and, as it were, remotely. For therehave been cases in which persons while asleep, but with the eyespartly open, saw faintly in their sleep (as they supposed) the lightof a lamp, and afterwards, on being awakened, straightway recognizedit as the actual light of a real lamp; while, in other cases,persons who faintly heard the crowing of cocks or the barking ofdogs identified these clearly with the real sounds as soon as theyawoke. Some persons, too, return answers to questions put to them insleep. For it is quite possible that, of waking or sleeping, while theone is present in the ordinary sense, the other also should be presentin a certain way. But none of these occurrences should be called adream. Nor should the true thoughts, as distinct from the merepresentations, which occur in sleep [be called dreams]. The dreamproper is a presentation based on the movement of sense impressions,when such presentation occurs during sleep, taking sleep in the strictsense of the term. There are cases of persons who in their whole lives have never had adream, while others dream when considerably advanced in years,having never dreamed before. The cause of their not having dreams appears somewhat like that which operates in the case of infants, and [that which operates] immediately after meals. It is intelligibleenough that no dream-presentation should occur to persons whosenatural constitution is such that in them copious evaporation is borneupwards, which, when borne back downwards, causes a large quantity ofmotion. But it is not surprising that, as age advances, a dream shouldat length appear to them. Indeed, it is inevitable that, as a changeis wrought in them in proportion to age or emotional experience, thisreversal [from non-dreaming to dreaming] should occur also.

translated by J. I. Beare