Is a Dream A Story? Philosophy, Dreaming and Literary Imagination


People are storytellers. Since ancient times, humans have sat around a campfire while listening to stories. Stories that expand the mind and capture the imagination. In this day and age we sit around our television set and watch story after story.  In the night we follow the stories of our dreaming mind.

The deep connection between stories and dreams opens up a tremendous opportunity for a book that explores the intersection of dreaming and literary imagination. A book that draws together neurocognitive, empirical, philosophical and literary sources. Michaela Schrage Früh, expert on literature and dreams, at the University of Limerick is the one who seized the opportunity and wrote it.

Philosophy, Dreaming and the Literary Imagination;
written by Michaela Schrage Früh;
published by Palgrave Macmillan;
Hardcopy ISBN 9783319407234 $109.00 Ebook ISBN 9783319407241
Review by Susanne van Doorn MSc

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Story and Imagination

We like stories so much because “Both dreaming and the human delight in waking fictions help survival-enhancing capacities such as connection making and theory of mind” (page 17).

Boundaries between imagination and perception are not clear-cut. For example, what you imagine to be true and what you perceive to be true can overlap, such as when athletes use visualization techniques to improve athletic performance. What they imagine to be true translates into reality as better performance. And indeed, sometimes a dream is so powerful, that you are still in its trance for quite a while after waking up.


And in this wild land between dreaming and waking, the boundaries of one’s personality play a big role. Daydreamers have thin boundaries. They happily imagine a world of their own making and immerse in it. Rigid personalities, on the other hand, have thick boundaries. To them, imagination is at best fanciful and avoided and at worst, dangerous.

Story, dreaming and writing

Michaela goes on to argue that dreaming and writing a story are similar in many ways. While reading, you co-create a story by visualizing it in the mind and filling in missing details. But there are also differences. In dreaming, there is no guiding voice, like there is in a book, that tells you what to expect, or what motivations certain dream characters have. Reading, like dreaming, is seemingly passive, but “even the most ordinary act of perception depends on the active, purposeful, attentive seeking out of environmental information” (page 95).


“If my suggestion that the dreamer is simultaneously creator and recipient of his dream is accepted, then reader response theory is bound to provide crucial further insights into the similarities between dreaming and reading” (page 95).

Reading can indeed put you under a spell and take you away to imaginary times and places. Reading, dreaming and daydreaming are three sides of the same phenomenon. Michaela leans towards the insights of Bill Domhoff, who suggests that dreaming and daydreaming are similar processes and she adds a few philosophers to spice up her story.

literature and Dreaming

Dreaming erodes any clear cut boundaries between imagination and perception. While reading, you can imagine certain scenes, but while dreaming, you are in those scenes. Dreams typically have spatiotemporal immersion. Each dreamer experiences a three-dimensional world. Knowing that, it makes sense that dream-researcher Foulkes discovered that people who have more spatial insight, have a better dream recall. The three-dimensional perception separates dreaming from reading. Because of this perception there is a deep sense of immersion in a dream.

Immersion in the story, known in storytelling as “suspension of disbelief. The story is created by using metaphors from your own dreaming mind. Jennifer Windt  argues that this sense of immersion defines the heterogeneous phenomenon of dreaming.

That is why Sartre says that “dream immersion is inevitably deeper than readerly immersion” (page 117).  Reading is a joint experience between writer and reader. “As Schwenger aptly puts it, ‘when we put down the story, we are in the position of someone who has dreamed and whose waking is disconcertingly incomplete; a fictive reality has seeped into our real body and altered its psychological metabolism’ (page 130). Dreaming is a joint experience between you and the metaphors in your dreaming mind.



  • Easy to read: philosophical concepts that are explained so easily and readable;
  • It is a very ambitious book: it wants to “lay the groundwork for an aesthetics of dreaming, based on the empirically informed assumption that our dreaming and waking imagination are two sides of the same coin” (page 9) and it succeeds in this ambition. You will understand so much more about dreams and dreaming after reading this.
  • The chapter about the differences and resemblances between dreaming and writing is a must read for anyone working with dreams (Chapter 4: Dream Fictions, Writing Dreams).


  • The Western scientific assumption is, people only dream about themselves, and this book follows that line of thinking. However, anecdotal evidence suggests that the scope of dreaming can expand to include dreaming directly about other people, especially about loved ones. Such as when you dream that a relative is being rushed to the hospital and wake up to find out it really happened. Hundreds of such cases have been documented in the work of Sally Rhine Feather and other researchers. This book could benefit by expanding its scope to include such dreams, because reality is like a story or dream we create together.
  • The book will be very expensive for some people: it is 109 dollars.

Mindfunda verdict:

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A special thanks to Jason DeBord, editor of this blog.


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    What is Mindfunda about?

    My name is Susanne van Doorn, I am a Dutch psychologist, blogger and author. I have been working with psychology, dreams and mythology ever since I finished my study in psychology at Tilburg University. I made this independant site to share insights, and recent scientific articles about the brain, dreams, and mythology for use in your personal life.

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