The long-range goal of dream research is a comprehensive explanation of the connections between sleeping and waking, a multidimensional picture of consciousness and thought 24 hours a day. In the meantime, dream science is helping us understand and treat depression, posttraumatic stress, anxiety and a whole range of other problems.

In the middle of the night, we are all Fellini—the creator of a parade of fleeting images intended for an audience of one. At times, it’s an action flick, with a chase scene that seems endless … until it dissolves and we’re falling, falling, falling into … is it a field of flowers? And who is the gardener waving at us over there? Could it be our old high-school English teacher? No, it’s Jon Stewart. He wants us to sit on the couch right next to him. Are those TV cameras? And what happened to our clothes? In the morning, when the alarm rudely arouses us, we might remember none of this—or maybe only a fraction, perhaps the feeling of lying naked in a bed of daisies or an inexplicable urge to watch “The Daily Show.”

This, then, is the essence of dreaming—reality and unreality in a nonsensical, often mundane but sometimes bizarre mix. Dreams have captivated thinkers since ancient times, but their mystery is now closer than ever to resolution, thanks to new technology that allows scientists to watch the sleeping brain at work. Although there are still many more questions than answers, researchers are now able to see how different parts of the brain work at night, and they’re figuring out how that division of labor influences our dreams. In one sense, it’s the closest we’ve come to recording the soul. “If you’re going to understand human behavior,” says Rosalind Cartwright, a chairman of psychology at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, “here’s a big piece of it. Dreaming is our own storytelling time—to help us know who we are, where we’re going and how we’re going to get there.”

Neuroscientists are gleaning insights into how we learn by studying the physiology of dreaming in adults and children. Psychologists are also studying dreams to learn how both ordinary people and great artists resolve problems in their life and work by “sleeping on it.” For many of these researchers, accounts of ordinary dreams are a rich resource. Psychologist G. William Domhoff and his colleagues at the University of California, Santa Cruz, have meticulously cataloged and posted more than 17,000 dreams. That database ( is the source of the dreams printed here.

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