Social dreaming is a method for identifying the cultural knowledge and scientific method deployed in the dream - not the oedipal issues experienced by the dreamer. Social dreaming takes place with many participants simultaneously. The number can be 100 to 6, but mostly with about 30. The sessions for this kind of dreaming, called a Social Dreaming Matrix, last for an hour. Time boundaries are strictly kept. The dreams are expanded through free association. Once a dream is voiced in the Matrix, it ceases to be a personal property for it now belongs to, and is shared by, the Matrix. Use of the term 'matrix' was first introduced into psychology by S. H. Foulkes.
The purpose of the SDM is to transform the thinking of the dreams by means of free association so as to make links among the dreams and become available for new thinking and thought.
Knowledge of the dream is the focus. Knowledge can be of three kinds.
- Knowledge of the inanimate world which is expressed through mathematics, and physics making use of mathematical and mechanical metaphors, and formal logic.
- Knowledge of the organic world as expressed in biology which is linked with the use of evolutionary and organic metaphors, and
- Knowledge of the world of the personal, which is the highest and most comprehensive form of knowledge being the mutual knowledge of two persons.
This personal knowledge includes the material and organic. They are vital elements of personal knowledge, but personal life cannot be reduced to them. The first two kinds are knowledge about, but the third is knowledge of. Knowledge of is arrived at through sense perception, and is more than intellectual knowing. Through the senses human beings become aware of the world, cultivating it through our emotions.
Social Dreaming was discovered at the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations, London, in 1982 by Gordon Lawrence, when he was a member of the scientific staff and joint-director of the Institute's Group Relations Education Programme (with Eric Miller). The thinking of Social Dreaming arose out of these experiences. At the time little mention was made of dreaming in that work and when a dream was voiced in any group situation there existed no method of working with it. The Tavistock method had Wilfred Bion's Experiences in Groups [1961, Tavistock Publications. London] as its intellectual lynch-pin and focused on the dynamics of groups as they affected authority relations. The personality factors of participants were deemed to be a private matter, not for public examination. This depended on Bion's formulation that a group could be examined using two perspectives, what he called Oedipus and Sphinx. The first could see the group as a product of the pairing issues of the participants but the second related to problems of knowledge and scientific method which the group were using to advance the learning and understanding, of the group as a whole. The Tavistock method uses the Sphinx perspective exclusively.
Dreams, if ever used in a group, always illuminated the existential life of the group but the only method available was that of Oedipus. Lawrence felt that a method of dream-examination needed to be available to be congruent with the Programme's Sphinx posture. Having examined the anthropological and dreaming literature Lawrence discovered Charlotte Beradt's The Third Reich of Dreams [1968, Quadrangle Books, Chicago]. Beradt had collected dreams before the war in Germany, using general practitioners as her source. She discovered that the dreams of the Jewish patients did not arise from their inner, personal conflicts but arose from the social milieu of Hitler's Third Reich which persecuted the Jewish population by means of propaganda, half-truths and lies.
Once this was digested the method of Social Dreaming could take shape because dreams could be used to illumine social situations, provided the knowledge perspective was used, and not the classic Oedipal one.
In devising the first experiment in Social Dreaming at the Tavistock Institute, it was recognized that the exploration of the dreams was to be the focus. For that reason the collection of people taking part was described as a Matrix, to differentiate it from a group. A Matrix is a place from which something grows, and Matrix acknowledged the unconscious, both personal and social in that it was the feelings and emotions of the participants that were critical. It was felt, intuitively, that if it was described as a 'group', the invitation would be to explore the dynamics of the group to the detriment of the dreaming process. A group is bounded by a universe of meaning but a Matrix makes possible, and can tolerate, a multi-verse of meaning. Divergent thinking is possible in the Matrix.
The Matrix idea, held in the mind of Social Dreaming, can be seen as a Faraday Cage. This was a metal screen which the scientist invented to surround his experiments in order that they would be free from extraneous interference. In the case of Social Dreaming the interference would be group and Oedipal phenomena, leaving a mental space to focus on the content of the dream exclusively. Matrix was the invention for receiving dreams socially.
The other decision was that 'interpretation', in the classic sense would not fit the demands of the primary task of the matrix. Interpretation was ideal for the dyad of classic analysis but with the large number of a Matrix it was felt that 'working hypothesis' was more germane. A working hypothesis is a sketch of the situation which can always be substituted by another as participants attempt to arrive at the potential truth of the dream. This comes about because the dream in a matrix is seen as an Object in its own right with its intellectual and spiritual qualities, belonging to the infinite. If dream is seen as a subject, the dreamer is asking, 'What does the dream mean for me as I pursue the pleasure principle and avoid any un-pleasure?' Once a dream is voiced in the Matrix, it becomes an object to be owned by all present, able to be free associated to, able to become an object that can be mentally played with by the participants.
A Social Dreaming Matrix composed of heterogeneous people, gathered for the purpose of exploring dreams is highly complex and yields much about the society and the shared cultural milieu. When a Social Dreaming Matrix is convened in a system, like a company, the participants tend to dream of the system and their roles in it. Often what will be voiced is the 'unthought known' of the system, i.e. what cannot be voiced in the system, for it is 'secret', but is recognised as a factor in the being of the system. Alastair Bain, who identified the discipline of Socio-Analysis, has proposed 'organizational dreaming' to capture this.
The unconscious<>infinite of dreams - thinking as being - leads to the Social Dreaming Matrix as the crucible for the transformation of thinking by free association - leads to conscious, finite knowledge derived from dreaming - thinking as becoming.
All dreaming arises from the unconscious. The unconscious is “Won from the void and formless infinite” (from John Milton's Paradise Lost cited in Bion ), and as such is numberless and formlessness. Social Dreaming accesses the unconscious<>infinite. It becomes tractable because many are engaged with it through dreaming in the Matrix.
A person is needed to voice a dream. It will arise from the 'personal' unconscious and be unique to the dreamer. But once articulated it becomes a shared object for the Matrix and also is lodged in the Matrix. The sedimented dream becomes available for the social unconscious of the Matrix to work on the dream.
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- Bion, W. (1961). Experiences in Groups, London, Tavistock Publications
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