cover image The Oracle of Night: The History and Science of Dreams

The Oracle of Night: The History and Science of Dreams

Sidarta Ribeiro, trans. from the Portuguese by Daniel Hahn. Pantheon, $32.50 (480p) ISBN 978-1-5247-4690-2

Neuroscientist Ribeiro sheds light on the psychology, philosophy, and evolution behind dreams in his wide-ranging if far-fetched debut. He argues that dreams do not “represent a simply random chain of images,” but rather are “a succession of images... capable of trying, evaluating, and selecting adaptive behaviors” without risk since everything takes place “in the safe environment of one’s own mind.” He explores hypotheses about the evolutionary value of sleep to humans, presenting a fascinating analysis of the debate about the relationship between sleep and cognitive ability (the early 2000s saw a great interest in this issue) and concluding, among other things, that nap rooms would be a valuable addition to school environments. He provocatively, though not entirely convincingly, calls for a revival of Sigmund Freud’s ideas, positing that the id, ego, and superego correspond to “distinct cerebral processes” and suggests dreams might open “many dimensions of reality.” But readers should be prepared to wade through thickets of jargon: “Referential communication in various non-human species corresponds in Peircean semiotic terms to the concept of dicent symbol,” for example. Still, there is much worth checking out for those with a deep interest in dreams. (Aug.)