GURU OF THE WEEK:  Big thoughts in brief

By Jerome Burne

LIKE THE ancient priest kings, most gurus have to slay their predecessor and Joe Griffin is no exception. He has in his sights the rather battered Big Daddy of psychotherapy – Freud. Or, more specifically, Freud’s hugely influential notion that dreams are the royal road to the unconscious and only by deciphering their rapidly fading and elliptical images can we hope to understand the hidden forces that drive our conscious actions.

In his book, Human Givens: a new approach to emotional health and clear thinking, Griffin dismisses not only the Freudian account of dreaming but also the far more prosaic ones currently favoured by neuroscientists – that they are for consolidating memories and/or solving problems. His big idea is that the function of dreams, or rather rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, is to inscribe genetic information about our basic psychological patterns – the ‘givens’ - into the neural circuits in our brains.

Griffin’s key insight followed a big row with his wife about his obsessive dream recording. Thinking that such emotionally arousing events triggered dreams, he expected one about the row. But it never came, provoking his eureka moment – it is unresolved events that trigger dreams. They had kissed and made up, so no dream. Rather than providing a glimpse into a maelstrom of repressed drives, dreaming is a way of discharging emotions so that the dreamer can deal with the challenges of tomorrow. Dreaming is not a glimpse into the cesspit but a way of flushing the toilet.

Weekly excavation of your painful past in an attempt to understand your present depression has never seemed so foolish. There is a new king in the sacred grove.


Copyright © 2004  FT Magazine

This article first appeared in the 20 March 2004 edition of The Financial Times Magazine








Find out about Joe Griffin's and Ivan Tyrrell's book: 
Human Givens: a new approach to emotional health and clear thinking

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