A distinction in dream logic

I have been fascinated for years by St. Thomas’s teaching on the knowledge we have while dreaming. A few instances:

And so that its knowledge might be perfected and distinguished even unto the singular things, it is necessary that [the soul] gather knowledge of the truth from singular things… But it is nevertheless not to be doubted that the soul is impeded from receiving the influx of the separated substances by its bodily motions and distraction (occupatio) of the senses; which is why  some revelations arise in those sleeping and impaired in their sensation, which does not happen to those using the senses.

Et ideo ad hoc quod eius cognitio perficiatur, et distinguatur per singula, oportet quod (the soul) a singulis rebus scientiam colligat veritatis… Nec tamen dubium est quin per motus corporeos et occupationem sensuum anima impediatur a receptione influxus substantiarum separatarum; unde dormientibus et alienatis a sensibus quaedam revelationes fiunt quae non accidunt sensu utentibus.

The foreseeing of the future that happens in dreams is either from the revelation of the spiritual substances or from a corporeal cause, as we said when we treated divination. Both happen more perfectly in those sleeping than those who are awake, because the soul that is awake is distracted (occupata) by exterior sensibles, and so is less able to perceive the subtle impressions of spiritual substances or other natural causes. But when we consider the perfection of judgment, reason is stronger in those who are awake than those who are sleeping.

praecognitio futurorum quae fit in somnis, est aut ex revelatione substantiarum spiritualium, aut ex causa corporali, ut dictum est cum de divinationibus ageretur. Utrumque autem melius potest fieri in dormientibus quam in vigilantibus, quia anima vigilantis est occupata circa exteriora sensibilia, unde minus potest percipere subtiles impressiones vel spiritualium substantiarum vel etiam causarum naturalium. Quantum tamen ad perfectionem iudicii, plus viget ratio in vigilando quam in dormiendo.

The reference in the second quotation to the discussion of divination is II-II q. 95 a. 6 co.

How to approach this? Perhaps we can start here: one of the common experiences of dreaming is “I saw person X, but I knew they were person Y” or “I was in place A but I knew it was place B”. Again, dreams regularly involve all sorts of bizarre plot lines, changes in scene, etc. This can be taken in two ways. On the one hand, we can say that we accept this “dream logic”  because judgment is not working well. Taken in this way, “dream logic” is an imperfection of thought. On the other hand, we see in the dream a coherence and intelligibility that is not bound by what is necessary for the intelligibility of the sensible, corporeal world. Taken in this way, the dream is a striking example of our transcendence of the physical world and so manifests a perfection of thought.

 

 

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