Thinking and Memory
The results of the examination of emotional processes in the preceding chapter were mainly negative. What we were particularly interested in ascertaining was the relevance, if any, of the emotions to the Sector 3 aspects of human life, specifically to the efforts of the Sector 3 control units to divert human activities and aspirations away from the purely survival objective of the biological organism and toward the objectives of Sector 3. Our finding was that emotion, as defined for the purposes of this work, is a purely biological mechanism, a function of the primitive reptilian brain. Suppression of the emotions in favor of the responses to stimuli that are dictated by intelligent reasoning, wherever the two are in conflict, is therefore a prerequisite for progress toward specifically human (as distinguished from animal) standards.
Victory of reason in this contest for dominance over human actions does not guarantee this kind of progress. On the contrary, intelligence, as a more efficient tool than emotion may simply act more effectively toward the same animal goals. There are actually two battles going on: a struggle between reason and emotion for control of the actions of the human organism, and a struggle between the Sector 2 (biological) and Sector 3 (ethical human) control units for the power to establish the objectives of these actions. The second of these conflicts is the one in which we are primarily interested in this work, and the further discussion of the human information handling equipment in this and the following two chapters will be limited to those items which have, or are currently thought to have, relevance to this struggle over objectives.
On this basis, we will have no occasion to inquire further into the mechanism of thinking, or of the advanced form of thinking known as reasoning. The details of the reasoning process are still far from being fully understood, but for the purposes of this work, the exact nature of the thinking mechanism and its operation is irrelevant. The significant point is that reasoning is the most advanced physiological means that the human individual has available for determining the course of action in response to the information that he receives from various sources. As brought out in Chapter 11, it is an activity of the mind, part of what the combination entity, the mind-brain, does, as distinguished from the brain, that which this entity is. The particular function of thinking is to correlate the incoming stream of messages arriving through the various information channels with the relevant knowledge already available, and to arrive at appropriate conclusions.
In order to enable the thinking mechanism to perform this function, the information previously made available to the individual must be so disposed within the mind that it is available for reference. The mental storehouse for this information is known as memory. The term “memory” is also applied to the process of retrieving information from storage, and to the item of information that is recalled. Memories, the discrete items that are stored, are of many different kinds. Some, such as the motor memories that enable us to take the right muscular actions to accomplish our purposes, do not have any perceptible impact on the conscious thought processes. Those that are perceptible may be classified as visual, verbal, auditory, etc., but for present purposes, the significant point is that the great majority of the memories that are taken into the general storehouse are memories of experiences. Every individual undergoes a succession of experiences during all of the waking hours of every day. What he sees in the visual media is mainly a selection of experiences of others. His reading consists largely of narratives; that is, experiences.
The strong predominance of experience memories is somewhat obscured by the fact that the demands upon the memory are largely for items of knowledge rather than for direct recall of experience. By far the greatest amount of this traffic is concerned with language: calling upon memory for the meaning of words seen or heard, and the inverse process, calling upon memory for the words applying to the entities or concepts with which the mind deals. But this is not the form in which entry into the memory storage occurs. We see an animal of a rather distinctive appearance, and we find that it is called an elephant. Or we read or hear about someone else having such an experience. It is this experience or report of experience of seeing the elephant and learning its name that goes into the memory storage. In the memory process, certain information about the elephant, including the name, is abstracted from the experience and retained in condition for retrieval. Those details of the experience which have no continuing significance are then forgotten. Thus the output from storage is largely bits of information, but as we will see later, it is important to realize that the input is in the form of experiences.
Memory is a relatively early evolutionary development. Even the most rudimentary type of emotional mechanism requires the existence of some kind of a memory to enable identification of the situation which calls for an emotional response. We therefore find evidence of memory even in the lower animals. In fact, memory experiments have been performed on such unlikely subjects as cockroaches.228 The operating principle of the memory process is association. The storage is so organized that each item A is associated with certain other items B, C, D, etc. Because of this association, an attempt to recall A may reach B instead. If it can be recognized that B is incorrect, further effort at direct recall may be made, or A may be reached indirectly by first recognizing an association BC and then an association CA. But if the situation is such that the accuracy of the first recall cannot be tested, then the fact that conscious thought and memory utilize very different criteria of close association is very important in some applications, as we will see in Chapter 15.
From the memory standpoint, an idea and its direct opposite are very closely associated, whereas our thought processes place them far apart. Likewise, memory makes little or no distinction between an event in the past and a similar event in the future, whereas there is a very clear line of demarcation between past and future in rational thinking. The difference between thought and action is often disregarded by memory, but to our consciousness it is very important. Memory identifies some persons as individuals, but tends to group the others. The first result of an attempt to recall one member of the group will often be a memory of another. Members of large families frequently call each other by the wrong name, usually, but not always, correcting it immediately. In these cases, memory accepts the first of the names as being close enough, but conscious thought quickly rejects it.
A type of recall from the memory storage that is widely used in clinical and investigative work is called “free association.” As defined by Hall, “It consists of letting the mind wander in a completely free and apparently aimless manner.”229 Actually, however, completely free recall cannot be obtained as long as the subject is conscious. His thinking mechanism always retains enough control to keep the memory recall rational, to censor objectionable items, and so on. In this present work, we will have occasion to deal with association processes which are free from all control, and which call up memories without the intervention of any thought process. This is the pure memory mechanism, the process that must exist in the lower animals that do not have the ability to think. In order to avoid confusion with psychologists’ “free association,” we will refer to this completely free association process as uncontrolled association.
If goal-oriented thinking is suspended for any significant length of time, the result is daydreaming or fantasy rather than uncontrolled association. Momentary relaxation of the controls does, however, occur frequently. These are the intervals in which sensory or other stimuli of which one may not even be aware trigger unexpected, and in some cases surprising, recollections. In the ordinary affairs of life, the memories called up by association during these interim periods are usually no more than distractions. However, in those kinds of reasoning or problem solving where some thinking along unconventional lines may be advantageous, a partial relaxation of the controls is often helpful, inasmuch as it gives the association process more leeway.
The number and variety of memories called up during such processes as free association or daydreaming is mainly due to the fact that the memory mechanism has some special provisions for handling what we may call a working supply of information. This transient aspect of memory is not given much, if any, attention in current work in this area, and the information that we need for present purposes is not available from the memory studies that have heretofore been made. We can, however, deduce that, in view of the continual interruption of one’s thinking by the stream of messages coming in through the senses, it would not be feasible to carry on any extended program of activity unless there were some special memory mechanism in operation to bring the thought processes back to the task that was under way when an interruption occurred. Otherwise the first foreign thought would divert attention to different channels, and there would be no way of getting back except by accident.
Furthermore, human activities are usually too complex to permit giving undivided attention to one specific line of thought for any extended period of time. Almost always, the task to which thought is being applied has features which require special consideration—safety precautions, for example—and there are always other aspects of life that must be given attention from time to time: personal needs, responsibilities, commitments to other persons, etc. In order to receive attention, these items must have representation in the working memory. Experience indicates that this memory is so organized that each of the items in the working stock returns to the consciousness periodically. For example, if a person has an appointment at a certain time, his working memory periodically reminds him to look at a clock. Meanwhile, this memory will from time to time break in upon his goal-oriented thinking to remind him of other matters that need his attention, either in thought or in action. This observed memory pattern can most appropriately be described by calling it a circulating memory system.
We often hear someone say that he has several things “on his mind.” This does not mean that he is continually thinking about all of them. Indeed, he cannot think about any of them while he is actually engaged in disposing of the minute-by-minute items that demand his attention. What he is really expressing by his statement is that his circulating memory system is interrupting his thought processes periodically to remind him that these matters are still outstanding. Most of those who have occasion to deal with complex problems requiring intensive study and analysis tend to develop an ability to shut out sounds and other sense stimuli so that they can concentrate their full attention on their current task. When this preoccupation with the primary thought objective is carried to an extreme, it results in blocking out some or all of the circulating memory as well as the sense signals, producing the condition known as absent-mindedness.
The circulating memory system is no doubt a later evolutionary development than the primitive memory storage, but it must have been present in very early animals. The first requirement for the survival of the small and weak is vigilance, and to be vigilant while keeping one’s primary attention on the serious business of getting enough to eat requires constant reminding. Nothing complicated is needed. All that is necessary is to call attention periodically to the general idea of “danger.” Once a system capable of accomplishing this purpose was in operation, it was available for extension to other memory items, and in the human mind, the circulating memories cover a wide range of subjects. The evidence which we will examine indicates, however, that the non-specific nature of the circulating memories has been retained, and unlike the memory input into storage, which consists mainly of detailed experiences, most of the circulating memories are merely general ideas or impressions with only a minimum of detail, if any.
The aspects of the thinking and memory processes that we now want to examine are sleep, and the most conspicuous feature of the sleep phenomenon: dreaming. Unlike thinking and memory storage, the functions of which are reasonably well understood, even though many of the details of their operation are still obscure, neither the purpose nor the mechanism of either sleep or dreaming has heretofore been explained on a scientific basis. Where knowledge is lacking, conjecture has free rein, and the number and variety of theories and speculations that have been offered as possible explanations of one or the other of these phenomena have been limited only by the scope of the human imagination. Some of the most widely accepted of these speculative ideas have direct or indirect relevance to the metaphysical subject matter of this volume. “One of the most fascinating questions of all,” says William C. Dement, is this: “Is there a supernatural element that determines what we dream about?”230 This issue and related questions, such as the possibility of the existence of a prophetic significance in dreams, have been matters of concern to the human race from the earliest days of which we have knowledge. Since they are clearly germane to our present inquiry, they must have some attention at this point.
Before we can answer these questions, we must have a reasonably good understanding of the way in which the two major components of the mental mechanism, thinking and memory, enter into the sleep situation. But this is something that is not available from the work of previous investigators. Examination of the literature in this area will show that the works dealing with memory make little reference to sleep, while those on sleep and dreaming contain no significant information on memory. It will therefore be necessary to blaze our own trail in the investigation. This involves giving what may seem a disproportionate amount of attention to some of the less important components of the human information handling processes, but the allocation of space in this work necessarily has to be based on the relevance, or possible relevance, of the various items to the general subject of the work, together with whatever additional emphasis may be warranted where the findings of this investigation are entirely new to the branch of thought involved.
The physiological condition known as sleep is a result of the fact that the information storage and processing equipment of the higher forms of life, memory and thinking, is not capable of continuous operation. It must be periodically taken out of service for an interval, which in the human individual characteristically extends for about half of the time of the previous operating period. When this mental equipment is in operation and in contact with the outside world, the individual is conscious. The regular and normal period of unconsciousness in which the mental contact with the environment is inoperative is sleep.
No satisfactory explanation of the need for sleep has ever been derived from conventional theory. As expressed by Dement, “In spite of many heroic efforts, sleep researchers have failed, to date, to define the function of sleep.”231 One of the aspects of the situation that has been the most puzzling is the high price that is being paid for whatever benefits are gained. A third of our life is essentially lost, so far as our normal aims and purposes are concerned. In a statement quoted by Dement in this same connection, Allan Rechtschaffen raises the question as to why evolution ever produced such an apparently “useless, maladaptive” process. “If sleep does not serve an absolutely vital function, then it is the biggest mistake the evolutionary process ever made,” he contends.
Evolution is a purely mechanical process, and it responds only to existing conditions. It cannot take into account the possibility that those conditions may change. Consequently, when conditions actually do change, some of the forms of life that have evolved may be too specialized to survive in the new environment. In this sense, evolution may be said to make some mistakes. But sleep is not on one of these branches that is susceptible to being lopped off; it is directly in the main line of evolutionary development. It is a behavior characteristic of all of the most advanced forms of life, including the human race, the most adaptable of all biological organisms,232 and it applies under all of the environmental conditions to which these forms of life are subject. It obviously must serve an important and essential purpose. Inverting Rechtschaffen’s reasoning, we may say that inasmuch as sleep clearly is not an evolutionary mistake, and costs us a third of our lives, it must “serve an absolutely vital function.”
The nature of that function is another of the many long-standing problems that have been resolved by the development of the Reciprocal System of physical theory. As explained in Chapter 6, a biological organism is a material (Sector 1) structure associated with, and under the control of, a unit of the cosmic (Sector 2) type. Inasmuch as Sector 2, the cosmic, or inverse, sector of the physical universe, is the sector of motion in time—that is, motion in which location in time deviates from the clock time of the material sector—the time to which the Sector 2 control unit (the life unit) conforms continually diverges from clock time, the time to which the material structure of the living organism conforms. Sleep is simply a condition in which the control mechanism is periodically disconnected and brought back into synchronization with the material structure. In plants and the lower animals, where the control mechanisms are simple and operate only intermittently, this is accomplished by means of frequent adjustment periods of short duration, but in the higher animals, where the control mechanism is complex and operates continuously, the period of readjustment is distinct and much longer.
One of the most significant features of the Reciprocal System of physical theory is that the explanation which it produces as to what any particular physiological entity is also explains why that entity behaves as it does. For example, the theoretical explanation of the nature of matter leads directly to an explanation of why matter exists in discrete units (atoms and particles), why it gravitates, why there are a specific number of different types of atoms, and so on. Now we find the same situation in biology. The theoretical explanation of the nature of life not only tells us why the life unit is an aggregate of processes, and why it opposes the tendency of inanimate matter toward disorder, but also leads directly to simple explanations of some of the most important features of biological structures, such as the reason why they are composed of cells. Here we derive another significant item of information from the same source. We find that the basic explanation of the nature of life likewise reveals why sleep is an essential accompaniment of biological complexity.
Exact synchronization of the life unit with the material structure is not required, as there is a zone of tolerance within which operation of the control mechanism is not impaired. A cycle of sleeping and waking periods is therefore established within the zone of tolerance on some basis that is in harmony with environmental conditions. The principal governing factor, so far as the human race is concerned, is the rotation of the earth, as the most efficient pattern is one in which sleep is relegated to the time that is the least favorable for purposeful activity.
Abstention from sleep beyond the time when it would normally begin, on the basis of the established pattern, creates what we may call a pressure tending to cause sleep. By a deliberate effort, this pressure can be resisted, and the period of wakefulness can be prolonged quite substantially. Ultimately, however, the limit of the zone of tolerance is reached, and further deprivation of sleep results in disruption of the mental processes. If continued, this disruption may become permanent, and experiments with animals show that it can result in death; that is, complete loss of the Sector 2 control. The time divergence simply becomes too great, and the control mechanism loses touch with the physical body.
We can deduce from theoretical premises that the time correction is accomplished by operating the mental processes in reverse during sleep. On the basis of our normal understanding of the effect of reversals, it would appear that a period of sleep equal in length to the preceding waking period would be required in order to complete the synchronization of an apparatus that operates continuously. Development of the Reciprocal System of theory has revealed, however, that the effective magnitude of all primary physical quantities is the amount by which they deviate from unity, rather than from the mathematical zero. Each such quantity has an initial positive level of one unit which has no physical effect. Reversal of the direction of the mental processes during sleep reverses the initial level of each individual time unit, as well as that unit itself, and the total deviation from the positive unit level during one unit of reverse operation is therefore two units. If the mental process is in full operation when the individual is awake, his sleep periods should theoretically amount to one third of the total time. This is roughly in agreement with human experience.
Physical or mental abnormalities may increase or decrease the sleep time. Incipient mental disturbances, for instance, are often correlated with reduced amounts of sleep, as would be expected if there are significant interruptions in the thought processes which reduce the total operating time. It is also true that there seems to be some variation above and below the theoretical eight hours in the individual requirements for sleep even where no abnormalities are present. But it is doubtful if the apparent variations in average sleep time are real. What appears to be a greater amount of sleep may be due to a number of short intervals during which the individual is actually awake—perhaps in the borderline state known as drowsiness. Similarly, a well-known phenomenon called “microsleep,” which involves a succession of short sleep intervals, may well account for the apparently low sleep requirements of other persons.
As already noted, the control mechanism of the higher animals, including man, consists of two distinct parts, the memory apparatus and the thinking apparatus. Both have cosmic (inverse) elements—that is, they operate electrically rather than by means of material forces—and both must therefore undergo periodic synchronization with the material structure. But the memory apparatus is simpler and more primitive than the thinking apparatus. Furthermore, it evidently is not, as a whole, in full operation continuously. It therefore accomplishes the necessary readjustment in less time. In order to allow the synchronization of the thinking apparatus to catch up, the memory apparatus is disconnected from the adjustment process periodically and allowed to operate for a time in its normal manner, except that it remains separated from the motor mechanism and the contact with the outside world. The most striking physiological feature of this phase of the sleep cycle is a rapid movement of the eyes, and for this reason it is called REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. The phase during which the entire mental mechanism is undergoing the synchronization adjustment is non-REM, or NREM, sleep. The three different physiological conditions that have been discussed may be summarized as follows:
Dement refers to the “difficulty in demonstrating the purpose of REM sleep in adults.”233 Luce and Segal report that “many conjectures about the purpose of the REM state are plausible, yet they are not answers and the purpose of the dream state remains a mystery.”234 On the basis of the foregoing theoretical explanation, the purpose is simply to prevent overcorrection of the time deviation in the memory apparatus. As in the case of the positive deviation that is corrected by the synchronization process, there is a tolerance in the negative direction, and aside from building up the negative equivalent of sleep pressure that results from sleep deprivation, lack of REM sleep has no important effects within the zone of tolerance. Beyond the limit of this zone, adverse physiological effects begin to develop, similar in some respects, but apparently not as severe as those resulting from complete deprivation of sleep. The less severe reaction is understandable inasmuch as lack of REM sleep affects only the memory system, while total deprivation of sleep affects the entire mental apparatus. A report that is of special interest in view of the theoretical findings with respect to the need for synchronization is that one of the effects of REM sleep deprivation is “time sense distortion.”235 When REM sleep is again permitted after a time in which it is inhibited by one means or another, the overcorrection of the time deviation is reversed by a period of abnormally high REM sleep. This is the so-called “rebound.”
The pattern of REM sleep in animals indicates that the structural complexity of the thinking apparatus falls off more rapidly than that of the memory apparatus as we follow the evolutionary scale downward—a relationship that is to be expected since memory necessarily precedes thought. We can have memory without thinking, but thinking without memory is not possible. Mammals, as a class, have well-defined REM periods, but the REM sleep of birds has been reported as minimal, while reptiles apparently have none at all, indicating that their memory synchronization time is ample to take care of the needs of their rudimentary thinking apparatus. Very young infants, on the other hand, go to the other extreme and spend half or more of their sleep time in the REM state. This probably indicates that the thinking mechanism develops more rapidly than the memory mechanism in the early stages of the infant’s growth. The observed gradual decline to the normal adult REM time then naturally follows.
Theoretical considerations indicate that emotional states have a significant effect on the REM sleep. Emotion and memory are both parts of the old mental equipment, and it is probable that an increase in emotional activity has the same effect on the sleep requirements as more use of the memory. This will have the effect of decreasing the need for REM sleep, and may explain some of the results of drugs and other agencies that affect the emotions. It may also explain why deprivation of REM sleep under experimental conditions can be carried far beyond what seems to be the normal limit; so far as to lead to the assertion by David Foulkes that, “Although there is a need for REM sleep, apparently it is not absolute.”236 The REM sleep deprived individuals, both human and animal, are reported to “exhibit undue brain excitement,”237 which may very well be the result of a forced increase in emotional and memory functions to offset the loss of REM sleep time.
During the REM period when the individual is asleep—that is, his thinking mechanism is out of service—but his memory is active, both memory mechanisms (circulating and storage) are operating normally, but have been disconnected from the motor control, and the inflow of sensory stimuli from the environment is almost totally shut off. In the absence of thought and environmental input, the memory apparatus responds only to stimuli from the circulating memory and from internal sensations. If the originating stimulus is physiological, it usually consists only of what we may call a theme—“hunger,” for example—without details. As brought out earlier, such abstract themes are not the kind of input with which the memory storage processes are equipped to deal. In order to fit into these processes, the themes must be put into the form of experiences. Memories that are associated with hunger that are already present in storage are therefore drawn upon, and a synthetic hunger experience is built up. The individual becomes aware of this synthetic experience in a manner similar to that in which he becomes aware of real experiences and, with certain qualifications that we will consider later, it appears to him that he is undergoing a real experience. This process is a dream.
The second, and most prolific, source of dream stimuli is the circulating memory system. This system continues to bring one after another of the items that it contains into the position where it makes contact with both the memory storage and the thinking mechanism (inactive in the REM stage). The same process is also in operation during the waking state, but is subject to suppression by the thinking mechanism, and, in any event, is overshadowed by the much greater flow of direct experiences to the memory storage. As each of the items in the circulating memory makes the appropriate contact, it acts in the same manner as a physiological stimulus; that is, it initiates a dream. These items from the circulating memory system contain only a minimum of detail, as the functions of this system do not require detailed elaboration. In fact, an excessive amount of detail would interfere with the primary purpose of this memory system: the reminding function. Like the sensory stimuli, the circulating memories are mainly in the form of abstract themes, although there is a certain amount of elaboration by means of what might be called subsidiary themes.
In a sense, the content of the circulating memories is intermediate between that of physiological sensations, which are simply “hunger,” “cold,” etc., and the detailed memories of experience that go into the memory storage. We may compare the circulating memory to a language with a limited vocabulary, and the detailed memory of the original experience to a versatile modern language such as English. In the principal memory process, the full account of the experience goes directly to storage. Meanwhile, this account is translated into the limited language of the circulating memory for its purposes. During sleep, when no direct accounts of experience are coming in, the memories in the circulating system are fed one by one into the stream going to storage, and are translated back into the detailed form that is acceptable to the storage facilities. A consideration of the language analogy shows what results can be expected. If a statement made in English is translated into the language of some primitive tribe, and then retranslated back into English by some person who does not have access to the original text, the general idea of the statement will be preserved (if the translators are competent), but there will undoubtedly be significant differences in the details. Similarly, a dream produced by a circulating memory theme will reproduce the theme of the source from which the memory originated, but may alter the details beyond recognition.
On the other hand, there is also a fairly good chance that the details will be reproduced accurately in a certain percentage of the dreams. A memory of the original experience exists in the memory storage, and since, as we will see in Chapter 15, this is usually, perhaps always, a very recent acquisition, it is favorably situated for recall. Thus, the association process may very well reach this memory rather than some other item in storage, and in that case, the result will be that the dream reproduces the original experience with no more than minor variations.
There has been much discussion of what has been interpreted as a “need to dream.” Freud, for instance, regarded the dream as a “safety valve” which “relieves the mind”238 of harmful material by allowing it to be expressed during sleep. Our theoretical findings are that what exists is a need for sleep in order to synchronize the processes of the mind with the structure of the brain, and a further need to separate the memory from the thinking mechanism during a portion of the synchronization process in order to allow the thinking mechanism to continue the adjustment process for a time after the synchronization of the memory is complete. Thus the only need for anything other than sleep itself is for the correct proportion of REM sleep to total sleep. The dreams occur not because they are needed but because they are part of the normal physiological activity during the sleep that is needed.
The general nature of the dream process in the NREM state is the same as in REM sleep, but the thinking mechanism and the memory are connected to each other during the NREM dreaming and both are disconnected from the environment. The NREM dreams are therefore subject to control by the thinking process. This supervision eliminates most of the incongruities of the type that is characteristic of the REM dreams, and makes the NREM dreams more like the mental processes during the waking state. Dement describes them as “more plausible” and “more like thinking and less like [REM] dreaming,”239 attributes which can be expected in view of the participation of the thinking mechanism in shaping the dream experience. He also reports that they are “more concerned with contemporary lives,” but as we will see in the next chapter, the REM dreams are likewise concerned with contemporary experience. The difference is that the connection between the REM dreams and experience is less obvious.
Another reason for the greater plausibility of the NREM dreams is that more of them are direct recall of experiences. The factors that determine the extent to which direct recall occurs during dreams are the same for both kinds of sleep, and consequently there is no difference in the initial probability of such recall. But since the REM dream is not subject to censorship, the original result of the association process, whatever it may be, has to be accepted. Apparently there is about one chance in five that uncontrolled association will retrieve the actual experience from the memory storage, as studies indicate that not more than 20 percent of the REM dreams are of the direct recall type.240 In the NREM dreams, the thinking process censors the memories produced from storage. If a memory called up by association is incongruous, it is rejected, and another association is called for. In most cases, the direct memory is reached somewhere along the line of this trial and rejection process, and the direct memory content of the NREM dreams has been found to be 80 percent or more.
In this respect, the research findings coincide with the theoretical conclusions. There is less agreement, however, between the theory and the views of the investigators with respect to other aspects of the thinking process during sleep. Calvin S. Hall is probably expressing the general opinion when he says, “All forms of thinking from realistic problem solving to unrealistic fantasy may and do occur during dreaming.” The principal difference, he concludes, is that “during sleep the thoughts are projected in the form of images, usually visual in character.”229 The conclusion reached from our theoretical development, however, is that the thinking process during sleep is a very limited form of activity because, aside from some physiological sensations and a few outside stimuli that get through the barriers, it has nothing to work with but memories.
Problem solving, one of the forms of thinking mentioned by Hall, is theoretically possible only if all of the necessary components of the solution are present in memories, and the only requirement is to put them together in the proper manner, or to experience one of those “flashes of insight” discussed in Chapter 9. In most cases, all of the necessary information is not present in the memory storage. Furthermore, the thinking during the dream is not able to make full use of the information that actually is contained in the storage, as the many aids to directed thinking that are available in the waking state, such as tabular and graphic representation, are lacking in dreams.
These theoretical results also throw considerable cold water on the idea of the unconscious mind introduced by Freud. The memory storage is outside our consciousness except when we have occasion to recall some item, or when such an item is called up by the association process. It is no doubt possible for long-buried memories which we would not recall in the ordinary course of events to be brought out by association in dreams or under hypnosis. But the idea that these experiences can affect the life of the individual without being called up from storage is hard to reconcile with the theoretical findings. The theoretical analysis indicates that the emotions (or sensations) which disturb the troubled individual are not generated by the forgotten experiences, but by the experiences, or some aspects of the experiences, which he wants to forget, but cannot.
In general, the various devices that the psychoanalysts use to accomplish what they regard as dredging up items from the unconscious—such things as free association, dream interpretation, and hypnotism—can equally well be regarded as means to circumvent the subject’s unwillingness to reveal his conscious knowledge of these matters. But it may be that the knowledge of which the subject is conscious is so vague and general that he is unable to reveal it. As noted earlier, experiences are not usually retained in the memory storage in such a way that they are subject to recall in their entirety on demand. Ordinarily, certain features—items of information, mainly—are abstracted and kept available for recall, while the remaining details are gradually forgotten. But the retained features are not necessarily useful items. For example, the original experience may have been accompanied by a feeling of anxiety. In the memory process, an association may be set up between this anxiety and some person or object X that played a part in the experience. Future contacts with X, or something associated with X, may then result in recall of the anxiety sensation without the individual being aware of what has happened. He simply feels anxiety without knowing why. If he is emotionally susceptible, he may prolong the memory by frequent recall even without any additional contact with X.
This view of the situation indicates that the analysts’ procedure in attempting to identify the original experience as the first step toward correcting the abnormal mental condition is probably sound. If the association between the anxiety and X can be identified, it can probably be broken by some means, so that the recurring anxiety stimulus is eliminated. But the Freudian belief that the trouble is due to items that are present in an unconscious mind does not agree with our theoretical findings. It is not what has been forgotten, our theory tells us; it is that aspect of the original experience that has not been forgotten. The original circumstances—the experience itself—may have been forgotten, but sensations are remembered as well as experiences, and a certain kind of stimulus may call up a disturbing memory that lingers on as a residue of the forgotten experience.