What is daydreaming?
Daydreaming: the mind in neutral
A discussion between Mr. Jung and Mr. Freud
Robert L. Fielding
Mr. Freud: When we are what we usually refer to as ‘daydreaming’, what, in your opinion, are we really doing? Clearly, we are not dreaming – we are not in that unconscious state of mind characterized by rapid eye movement.
Mr. Jung: No, of course we are not actually dreaming – rather that is our habitual term for what we are doing when we let our mind wander.
Mr. Freud: And is that the same as being ‘absent minded’?
Mr. Jung: That is again, only an expression. Our minds can never be absent, even when we are asleep, as you have stated elsewhere. But let us deal with this phenomenon we call daydreaming. It seems to me to be the opposite of paying attention to something, which is nothing more or less than focusing on one particular problem or on one thing, let us say.
Mr. Freud: Then if we are not focusing our attention – the direction of our mind’s focus, is on nothing, is that true?
Mr. Jung: That is true; it is focused on nothing, and on everything, or let us say that everything that can be imagined can be included in daydreaming.
Mr. Freud: What do you mean when you say, ‘everything that can be imagined’? Can we think of anything of which we are unaware – that exists in our imagination?
Mr. Jung: Here lies the difficulty for those of us studying the workings of the mind. How can we know what is in our imagination? When does our imagination manifest itself?
Mr. Freud: Why, it would seem to manifest itself in dreams, but at times when we are in a conscious state, I would say the imagination manifests itself in various ways and at various times.
Mr. Jung: When, specifically?
Mr. Freud: When, for example, we are writing a story, or when we are telling one – making one up, I mean, not remembering one and retelling it.
Mr. Jung: I might agree, were it not for the seemingly obvious fact that we are fully cognizant of what we are doing – what we are thinking – how our train of thoughts is taking us on through our made up story, written or otherwise. When we begin to embark upon telling a story – rather like embarking on a journey, we dress for the occasion – we do not go out unprepared, do we?
Mr. Freud: I rather think we start quite unprepared, unless we give our story a title before the telling of it.
Mr. Jung: Can you illustrate what you mean?
Mr. Freud: Yes, I mean that if one of the younger members of our family asks us to tell them a story – a bedtime story, for example, that we do so in the knowledge that we should tell a story that has a happy ending, and we will probably be asked to give our story a title before we begin. We might begin, by saying that “this is a story about a little girl who lost her way in the woods.
Mr. Jung: And how would that prepare us?
Mr. Freud: By giving us the setting and at least one of the characters in the story – in this case a little girl.
Mr. Jung: What then?
Mr. Freud: Then we might begin in the usual manner in story telling – ‘Once upon a time’, we might begin, thus preparing our listeners to hear something that is not necessarily true. After all, we would not want to alarm the child just before she goes to sleep, now would we?
Mr. Jung: Quite.
Mr. Freud: Whereas if we began our ‘story’ with the words “Have you heard what happened to that little girl who lives down in the village…” Then that would particularize our subject – make her a real person, about whom we would be wrong in making a story up about.
Mr. Jung: Yes, yes, I see what you mean. But how are we prepared by the first line proper of our story, and how do we use our imagination in the telling of it.
Mr. Freud: By treading step by step through the story as we go along. If we are blessed with a fertile imagination, we may well be one or two steps ahead of our youthful listeners, even though we will most probably not have worked out exactly how the story enfolds right up to its end.
Mr. Jung: And we might, most probably, speak in chunks of story, describing the scene as the little girl wanders lost through the woods.
Mr. Freud: That is perfectly reasonable to expect, since our imagination must come from somewhere. If we knew nothing at all of forests, we might have difficulty describing what it was like to walk through the middle of one, and still keep our description plausible to the hearer, who may well know what forests are typically like.
Mr. Jung: So are we saying, in fact, that in this making up of a story from our imagination, we are in fact drawing upon some aspect of the knowledge we already possess?
Mr. Freud: Yes, I think we could say that.
Mr. Jung: But what about making a story up about somewhere we had never been – say about being on the Moon or on Mars – what knowledge would we have to draw upon then?
Mr. Freud: Then we would be using our imagination in a more pure form, I think.
Mr. Jung: But would we not be calling upon some sort of ideas about what we believe the Moon is like?
Mr. Freud: Not necessarily. I could give you a description of the Moon that has no bearing at all on any reality that I am aware of. I could say, for example, that the surface of the Moon was like cheese, and then go on to describe how someone travelled across it, stopping to eat bits of it on the way, if you like.
Mr. Jung: So you could describe something outlandish, something which truly does not exist, though it might do, and do so without drawing upon any knowledge you could speak of consciously.
Mr. Freud: That is right. But, if you think about it, you would still be using your knowledge of something you were aware of, but using it in an unexpected way.
Mr. Jung: That way being what we refer to as being creative. And how do you think all this relates to what is going on when someone is daydreaming?
Mr. Freud: When someone is daydreaming, they are allowing their minds to wander freely – perhaps ‘allowing’ is the wrong word, for that conjures up a sort of conscious volition, whereas when we daydream, it is the mind, I think, that does the wandering, without any directions from our conscious thoughts.
Mr. Jung: But is that always true. We might, for instance, let our minds wander to a desert island, imagining the soft ripple of waves as they lap the shore. We might then let our minds wander to that island, placing ourselves lying upon the white sand and sipping a cooling drink of cocoanut juice.
Mr. Freud: Then we might have to distinguish certain sorts of daydreaming as, let us say, some species of wishful thinking. There we are, doing some onerous task in the course of our working day – a task we are well able to do without paying any attention to it, and so giving our mind the freedom to wander in any direction we choose.
Mr. Jung: Do you think we choose the direction or the direction chooses us?
Mr. Freud: Probably both, at one time or another. We probably daydream about our lacking something we particularly desire at that moment of our beginning to daydream.
Mr. Jung: Can you illustrate what you mean?
Mr. Freud: If, for example, you are working in a very hot place, a place you cannot leave for another hour or two, say, then your mind might wander to a cooler place, with things around you to ensure that you stay cool – cold drinks, snow or ice. In essence, you are placing yourself in what I might call an ‘If only’ situation – If only I were sitting on the banks of a stream, letting my feel dangle beneath the cool water, feeling entirely refreshed the coolness of the water creeping up my whole body, making me feel cooler than I am in the here and now.
Mr. Jung: Yes, I see what you mean. So you think that daydreaming can be brought on by a felt need?
Mr. Freud: I do indeed.
Mr. Jung: and could you forecast the direction of that daydreaming, based upon what you know of the person doing the daydreaming?
Mr. Freud: You could try, but your efforts might miss the mark. You might well expect a person working in front of hot ovens in a bakery, to be daydreaming about somewhere cool, but unless you are thoroughly acquainted with every facet of that person’s life, then it is extremely doubtful whether you could forecast the direction his daydreams might take.
Mr. Jung: Better to examine the direction of your own daydreaming to retrospectively examine your own needs or your own sense of well being. It might be the case, for example, that if your daydreams invariably follow the same course, you might be right in thinking that your mind knows you in ways you had not thought of.
Mr. Freud: But then don’t we come back to thinking of daydreaming as an activity that is consciously directed?
Mr. Jung: Yes, I suppose we do. The only way we can progress; it seems to me, is to remember the substance of our daydreams and subject them to scrutiny.
Mr. Freud: But I fear that in so doing you would stem the flow of any future daydreams – subjecting them to mental scrutiny seems like actual thinking rather than daydreaming – that is to say, anticipating – saying to yourself - “How would it be if I just did this or that”
Mr. Jung: But is that daydreaming?
Mr. Freud: Yes, I would say that it is. I am sure that much of what we call our conscious thought is of this type – hypothesizing.
Mr. Jung: Which we might term worrying, if that anticipated future state is painful or if we are reluctant to go that way.
Mr. Freud: Then I think we can say, can’t we, that to daydream is to use our minds in ways that are healthy, advantageous to our sense of worth or well being.
Mr. Jung: I totally agree, for it now seems that what we might in fact be doing, when we are daydreaming, is compromising reality, equalizing our needs and fulfilling some of them, if only in our minds, and only for the duration of the daydream.
Mr. Freud: And thereby keeping our sanity intact. I can easily imagine prisoners locked up for long periods of time, regaining their freedom in their daydreams, and so finding their incarceration more bearable because of this use of daydreaming to negate the negative and accentuate the positive.
Mr. Jung: I think we might well have found a new way of differentiating homo sapiens from other creatures: Man as a user of his imagination to get through the difficulties he faces every day of his life, for I think I would be right in saying that no other living creature is able to do this.
Mr. Freud: My only question now is this: Is it possible to daydream without language? Do we need words to name parts of our existence – imagined existence?
Mr. Jung: That is the perfect way to leave this particular discussion.
Mr. Freud: Why do you think that?
Mr. Jung: Because now we have something to daydream about?
Robert L. Fielding