Is there any form of dream interpretation that is based on (accepted) science or has shown not to be superstitious? My understanding was that dream interpretation was not reliable, but then I found in the wikipedia article it has actually been promoted by psychologists (including Freud and Jung). However, according to psychologytoday "there is no scientifically supported system of dream interpretation".

I assume certain correlations between mood and dreams will exist, for example if someone's stressed out, it may be more likely they have bad dreams. However, I'm interested in more complex dream interpretations, such as dreaming you are in an unfamiliar place means you are experiencing separation anxiety (or whatever).

  • Dream interpretation has to be done on an individual basis. So-called "dream dictionaries" are worthless. A table has very different associations for a carpenter, a homemaker, and a buisnessman, for a simple example.
    – Joe L.
    Commented Feb 22, 2016 at 3:05
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    I went to a psychiatrist once and told him some dreams I was having, and he went on interpret the dreams, for example saying that water was a sign of emotion. And I Googled this, and found "Dream Dictionaries" that contain this relationship. My question is, how does my subconscious know to code things this way? Why would different people all associate a symbol (water) to the same meaning?
    – tcrosley
    Commented Feb 22, 2016 at 7:09
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    @Sklivvz: I am not sure "superstitious" is a better adjective than "reliable". We can test reliability; what does it mean to test if it is superstitious?
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Feb 22, 2016 at 11:05
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    @Oddthinking A superstition is either an untested effect or a disproven effect. Asking if dream interpretation is superstitious, is equivalent to asking whether the practice of dream interpretation is based on reliable evidence. Asking if dream interpretation is reliable, instead, is not a good question because it lacks specificity: reliable for what purpose?
    – Sklivvz
    Commented Feb 22, 2016 at 11:45
  • Let's go to chat.
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Feb 22, 2016 at 12:56

1 Answer 1


The reason Freud called his analysis "scientific" is for rhetorical purposes. He believed that science had given the lie to all things "supernatural", but the interpretations of dreams was still full of supernatural claims, which he hoped to eliminate through his own set of materialist rules. As he says in The Interpretation of Dreams (1913):

It would ... be wrong to suppose that the theory of the supernatural origin of dreams lacks followers in our own day; for leaving out of consideration all bigoted and mystical authors—who are perfectly justified in adhering to the remnants of the once extensive realm of the supernatural until they have been swept away by scientific explanation—one meets even sagacious men averse to anything adventurous, who go so far as to base their religious belief in the existence and co-operation of superhuman forces on the inexplicableness of the dream manifestations.

Everyday life in 20th century Europe lacked religious experiences, but for example, people still saw Jesus in their dreams, and considered this to be a proof that they could be visited by divine agencies. If Freud could "prove" that Jesus was merely a manifestation of their minds, he could prove that dreams were no more supernatural than any other human experience, and this would be a more "scientific" claim than the commonly held beliefs of his time.

21st century scientists would say that Freud and Jung were doing subjective analysis, not neuroscience. By Popperian standards, Freudian analysis is not scientific. (source) This does not mean it's useless, just that it's not much different from Freud's hated "supernatural" interpretations.

There is a scientific method of dream interpretation, the cognitive neuroscience of dreams, but it has only made very basic findings, such as the difference between REM and NREM dreams.

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    To me this post seems like it's personal opinion. In addition it treats Freud as using the word scientific when Freud wasn't publishing in English but in German and the word Wissenschaft doesn't directly translate into English. Lastly there a confusion about whether psychology being neuroscience matters for it being science. Just as something labeled Christian Science isn't automatically science something labeled neuroscience isn't directly science. Especially under the Popperian definition.
    – Christian
    Commented Feb 22, 2016 at 12:48
  • I'm relying on an encyclopedia source, and didn't mean to present that source as my personal opinion.
    – Avery
    Commented Feb 22, 2016 at 15:01
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    I don't see the claim about "rhetorical purposes" in your linked source.
    – Christian
    Commented Feb 22, 2016 at 16:16
  • I guess that is my subjective interpretation of Freud's own words, but I'd be surprised to learn if anyone did not consider the quoted passage a polemic!
    – Avery
    Commented Feb 22, 2016 at 16:54
  • Freud wrote the book in German, so that's the words of the translator. That said, Freud claims to be wissenschaftlich (translated as scientific) by virtue of not being a mystic. Freud wasn't a mystic. He doesn't critize people because they aren't materalistic. Freud himself had no problem with speaking about the Seele (soul) of humans.
    – Christian
    Commented Feb 22, 2016 at 17:25

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