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Allan Hobson

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John Allan Hobson
Hobson in 2016
Born(1933-06-03)June 3, 1933
DiedJuly 7, 2021(2021-07-07) (aged 88)
Alma materWesleyan University, Harvard Medical School
Known forResearch on rapid eye movement sleep, activation-synthesis hypothesis
Scientific career
FieldsPsychiatry and dream research

John Allan Hobson (June 3, 1933 – July 7, 2021[1]) was an American psychiatrist and dream researcher. He was known for his research on rapid eye movement sleep. He was Professor of Psychiatry, Emeritus, Harvard Medical School, and Professor, Department of Psychiatry, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.


Hobson grew up in Hartford, Connecticut.[2] In 1955 he obtained his A.B. degree from Wesleyan University. Four years later he earned his MD degree at Harvard Medical School in 1959.

For the following two years he interned at Bellevue Hospital Center, New York. Then in 1960, he was a resident in Psychiatry at Massachusetts Mental Health Center in Boston for a year. Hobson then traveled to France where he was a Special Fellow of the National Institute of Mental Health for the Department of Physiology at the University of Lyon.

Upon returning to the United States, he went back to the Psychiatry at Massachusetts Mental Health Center in Boston until 1966.

He worked in numerous hospitals and research laboratories over the years and became the Director of the Laboratory of Neurophysiology at the Massachusetts Mental Health Center.[3]

Hobson received four awards for his work:[2]

  • Admission to the Boylston Medical Society
  • The Benjamin Rush Gold Medal for Best Scientific Exhibit
  • Honorary Member of the American Psychiatric Association since 1978.
  • Recipient of the 1998 Distinguished Scientist Award of the Sleep Research Society

Hobson's sense of humor was shown in such quips as: “The only known function of sleep is to cure sleepiness".[4]


In addition to his many paid appointments, Hobson was actively involved with four groups relating to his neurological sleep research: the Society Memberships, the Society for Neuroscience, the Society for Sleep Research, the AAAS, and the International Association for the Study of Dreams (IASD), for which he used to be president.[5]

Dream theories[edit]

Hobson's research specialty was quantifying mental events and correlating them with quantified brain events, with special reference to waking, sleeping and dreaming. Hobson's recent work[6][7] puts forward the idea that during dreaming, different aspects of the conscious mind, Primary consciousness and Secondary consciousness, which are distinct from unified qualia, enter a self-referential interplay where by one constantly creates the environment of another. In this way, secondary consciousness performs the role of the dream environment itself, with the primary consciousness, not usually involved in self-awareness in waking life, becoming the object of conscious identity.

This process transpires for multiple reasons, but the primary one suggested is as a means to reductively simplify and stabilise the ideas learned in waking consciousness to less computationally complex ones, to improve overall system stability and reduce computational entropy, or free energy. Free energy is proposed by Hobson and Friston[7] to correlate with capacity for an organism to experience shock or surprise. Thus, for humans, the process of daily learning becomes unsustainable without a corresponding process to revert from these neuroplastic increases in complexity.

Since 2009, he had been developing his theory of 'proto-consciousness.' According to this theory, dreaming is the most readily available representative of primary or proto-consciousness. Primary or proto-consciousness represents a relatively more primitive stage of consciousness that develops earlier in both evolutionary and ontological terms. In Psychodynamic Neurology (2015), he discussed the little-studied yet crucial role that proto-consciousness plays in overseeing and organizing the intricately complex growth of the individual, from zygote to fetus, through the trimesters in utero, and following parturition, and draws parallels with analogous phases of development in animals such as cats.

Dream interpretation[edit]

Hobson was critical of the idea that there are deep, nonphysiological, or hidden meanings in dreams, calling such notions "the mystique of fortune cookie dream interpretation." However, he used less confrontational phrasing in his critiques of Freud,[8] and produced much academic work supporting the notion that dreams may contain analytically useful information,[9] just not psychoanalytically useful information in a Freudian sense of the term.

Hobson asserted that dreams require no explicit training to decipher, and are certainly not encrypted to hide their meaning. Instead, as we can observe through dream reports, during REM sleep, it is emotional salience that steps into a directorial role, and the seemingly bizarre connections made within and between the scenes of dreams are trying to reveal rather than disguise whichever type of emotional salience we have associated with new, unpredicted sensory impressions with which we have been bombarded during waking periods. However, dreams may still be enormously useful to understanding our psychological state so long as we ground our interpretations in the hard science of how dreams work at the physiological level. In this sense, the emotions and feelings experienced in a dream can be viewed as the brain's 'best attempt' to communicate information to itself in a fractured state of awareness, as a means of preparing itself for waking consciousness the following day.[10]

By exploring these emotions in an integrated state of wakeful awareness, according to Hobson, it may be possible to gain insight into what our brain was preparing itself for and why.[11]


Hobson wrote, co-authored, or co-edited twenty-three books that relate to research on dreaming and waking consciousness and on mental health. The following is a complete list (as of July 2021):[12]

  • 1988, The Dreaming Brain. Basic Books.
  • 1989, Abnormal States of Brain and Mind [Co-edited with Paul Adelman]. Birkhäuser Verlag.
  • 1989, Sleep (Scientific American Library Series). W. H. Freeman & Co.
  • 1992, Sleep and Dreams. (Carolina Biology Readers Series). Carolina Biological Supply Co. [16 pages].
  • 1994, The Chemistry of Conscious States: How The Brain Changes Its Mind. Little, Brown & Co.
  • 1999, Consciousness (Scientific American Library Series). W. H. Freeman & Co.
  • 1999, Dreaming As Delirium: How the Brain Goes Out of Its Mind [This book a reprint of The Chemistry of Conscious States, originally published in 1994 (see above)]. MIT Press.
  • 2000, The Conscious Exploration of Dreaming: Discovering How We Create and Control Our Dreams [Co-authored with Janice E Brooks and Jay Vogelsong]. AuthorHouse.
  • 2001, Dream Drugstore: Chemically Altered States of Consciousness. Bradford Books.
  • 2002, Dreaming: An Introduction to the Science of Sleep. Oxford University Press.
  • 2002, Out of Its Mind: Psychiatry in Crisis, a Call for Reform [Co-authored with Jonathan A. Leonard]. Basic Books.
  • 2005, 13 Dreams Freud Never Had. Pi Press.
  • 2005, From Angels to Neurones: Art and the New Science of Dreaming. Mattioli.
  • 2005, Dreaming: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press.
  • 2011, Dream Life: An Experimental Memoir. MIT Press.
  • 2012, Creativity, [Illustration by Sofia Areal]. ISPA University Press.[13]
  • 2014, Ego Damage and Repair: Toward a Psychodynamic Neurology. Karnac Books.
  • 2014, Dream consciousness: Allan Hobson's new approach to the brain and its mind [Edited by Nicholas Tranquillo]. Springer.
  • 2015, Psychodynamic Neurology: Dreams, Consciousness, and Virtual Reality. CRC Press.
  • 2018, Conscious States: Waking, Sleeping, and Dreaming. CreateSpace.
  • 2018, Dreaming as Virtual Reality. Kindle Direct Publishing.
  • 2021, Godbrain. Kindle Direct Publishing.
  • 2021, Dream Self. Manuscript in preparation.


  1. ^ World Sleep Society, World Sleep Society (12 July 2021). "In Memoriam: Allan Hobson, MD". World Sleep Society: Advancing Sleep Health Worldwide. World Sleep Society. Retrieved 18 July 2021.
  2. ^ a b Robert, Rose (2004). "Network on Mind Body Interactions". Archived from the original on 2020-09-05. Retrieved 2007-03-25.
  3. ^ Dreifus, Claudia (2002-08-27). "A CONVERSATION WITH/J. Allan Hobson; A Rebel Psychiatrist Calls Out to His Profession". The New York Times. Retrieved 2007-03-25.
  4. ^ Konnikova, Maria (8 July 2015). "The Work We Do While We Sleep". The New Yorker. Retrieved 17 July 2015. The Harvard sleep researcher Robert Stickgold recalled his former collaborator J. Allan Hobson joking that the only known function of sleep is to cure sleepiness.
  5. ^ President and Fellows of Harvard College (2006). "Faculty Profile". Archived from the original on 8 March 2007. Retrieved 2007-03-25.
  6. ^ Hobson, J.A. (2009). "REM sleep and dreaming: towards a theory of proto-consciousness". Nature Reviews Neuroscience. 10 (11): 803–813. doi:10.1038/nrn2716. PMID 19794431. S2CID 205505278. Retrieved 2013-06-29.
  7. ^ a b Hobson, J.A. (2012). "Waking and dreaming consciousness: Neurobiological and functional considerations". Progress in Neurobiology. 98 (1): 82–98. doi:10.1016/j.pneurobio.2012.05.003. PMC 3389346. PMID 22609044.
  8. ^ Hurd, Ryan (2010). "Allan Hobson and the Neuroscience of Dreams". Dreamstudies.org. Retrieved 2013-06-29.
  9. ^ Gourguechon, Prudence (2009). "The Meaning of Dreams and Do Dreams have Meaning". Psychology Today. Retrieved 2013-06-29.
  10. ^ Hobson, J.A. (2015). Psychodynamic Neurology: Dreams, Consciousness, and Virtual Reality. Taylor & Francis. ISBN 9781482260557. Retrieved 2015-01-29.
  11. ^ Hobson, J.A. (2001). Out of its Mind: Psychiatry in Crisis — A Call for Reform. Perseus Publishing. ISBN 9780786748716. Retrieved 2013-12-28.
  12. ^ AddALL.com - browse and compare book price: J. Allan Hobson
  13. ^ "Criatividade - Creativity | ISPA | Centro de Edições". ce.ispa.pt. Archived from the original on 2017-01-13. Retrieved 2017-01-11.

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