The Elsewhere Dream Journaling App

Elsewhere is a new dream journaling app, created by an international team of people who are avid dream journal-keepers themselves. Available for both iOS and Android systems, it’s a safe, private space to record your dreams, track them over time, and learn about their unfolding patterns of meaning. Elsewhere offers a variety of analytic tools and fun interactive features, with even better features soon to come.

There are many dream journaling apps in the world today, which is a positive sign of interest in this kind of widely-accessible oneiric resource. I believe Elsewhere stands out because of its singular focus on exploring the deepest, most dynamic dimensions of dreaming. The app can already do amazing things, providing users with:

  • The ability to record dreams by writing or speaking into the app
  • The ability to upload dream-related images (e.g., sketches, diagrams, photos)
  • Automatic tagging of each dream, with running statistics of what contents appear most often
  • AI-generated artistic images for each dream
  • AI-generated analyses of patterns relating to symbols, characters, and settings
  • Access to a set of more than 100 specially designed images of classic dream symbols
  • Symbolic interpretations from David Fontana’s 1994 book The Secret Language of Dreams
  • Multiple languages, with full functionality in English, German, Japanese, Indonesian, Polish, Ukrainian, Russian, Spanish, and French

Soon Elsewhere will be available in a website version, for those like me who prefer typing at a desktop for dream journaling. The website version will look and function essentially the same as the app, making it easy to move from one device to another and back again.

Most exciting is the imminent arrival of the Groups function. This will allow Elsewhere users to create private online groups for sharing selected dreams together, with all the tools and resources of the app at their disposal. The first version of this function will be quite basic, but we’re hoping to expand and improve it over time. If you’re interested in being an early tester of the Groups function—especially if you already have experience with dream-sharing groups—please sign up for Elsewhere and let us know what you think. You can find it here.

The Scribes of Sleep – A New Book about the History of Dream Journals

My latest book, The Scribes of Sleep, has just been published by Oxford University Press. It’s a work dedicated to people who keep dream journals, as a new resource for learning more about the fascinating and largely unknown history of dream journal practices. The book is also intended as an argument in favor of dream journals as a valuable source of empirical data for scientific research into the nature and functions of dreaming.

If you are passionate about your dreams and tracking them over time, The Scribes of Sleep is written specifically for you.

Seven remarkable historical dreamers are the core of the book:

  1. Aelius Aristides (117-181), a Roman speaker and writer whose health crisis in his 20’s brought him to seek help at the temples of the healing god Asclepius. Aristides began recording his dreams in response to a direct command from the god.
  2. Myoe Shonin (1173-1232), an ascetic Japanese monk who advocated for reforms in the Kegon school of Buddhism. He kept a journal of his dreams, visions, and meditation experiences for forty years.
  3. Lucrecia de Leon (1568-?), an illiterate young woman who grew up in Madrid, Spain during the imperial reign of Philip II. Catholic priests recorded a series of her dreams over a period of three years, dreams that accurately foresaw the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588.
  4. Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772), a Swedish scientist and philosopher who recorded his dreams over several years, leading to a spiritual awakening and the founding of a new church of mystical Christianity.
  5. Benjamin Banneker (1731-1806), a free African-American scientist, inventor, surveyor, and author of impressively accurate almanacs. One of the most brilliant minds of his time, Banneker kept a regular dream journal through his adult life, only fragments of which still exist.
  6. Anna Kingsford (1846-1888), a crusading English doctor, anti-vivisectionist, theosophist, and women’s rights advocate. She wrote a journal of her dreams from her early 20’s to her death at 41.
  7. Wolfgang Pauli (1900-1958), a Swiss theoretical physicist whose original work on quantum theory won him the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1945. He was a therapy client of C.G. Jung’s, and for many years he kept a dream journal and shared its contents with Jung for analysis and interpretation.

To help in exploring the dream journals of these seven amazing figures, I bring them into dialogue with three broad methods of dream study: digital data science, depth psychology, and religious studies. Drawing together the findings from all these methods, I advocate for the importance of keeping a dream journal as both a unique practice of spiritual self-discovery and a vital source of scientific evidence.

Dream Journaling as a Contemplative Practice

Most people who keep a dream journal are initially motivated by simple curiosity and the hope they will gain insights into their waking lives. But as they continue with the journaling and track the emerging patterns of their dreams over time, they often find the process becomes something more than that, something that develops a life of its own and opens into a new relationship with the unconscious realms of their minds.

Recently I was talking with Ryan Hurd, who manages the site, about the experience of keeping a dream journal, and he mentioned the idea that dream journaling can be thought of as a kind of contemplative practice, similar in many ways to meditation and prayer. This idea immediately resonated with my own feelings about the impact of dream journaling, and as we talked further it seemed worthwhile to share this line of thinking with others who might find it helpful.

At first sight, of course, this might seem like an implausible comparison. Dream journaling is not addressed to a deity like prayer, nor does it involve emptying the mind of all contents like some forms of meditation. There are no formal traditions or established schools of dream journaling, comparable to the ancient teachings about prayer in Christianity or meditation in Buddhism.

All of this is true, and yet the similarities remain striking. Consider the following features that characterize the long-term practice of dream journaling:

  • It cultivates a capacity for sustained, focused self-reflection.
  • It cultivates an ability to suspend your ego and listen to your inner voice of intuition, your true self.
  • It brings forth a more honest awareness of your greatest challenges, conflicts, and vulnerabilities.
  • It increases your sensitivity to the symbolic potentials of waking experience.
  • It will surprise you with sudden discoveries and realizations.
  • It is enjoyable and mentally transformative no matter what actual insights may come.

These core features of the practice of dream-journaling also characterize many forms of meditation and prayer. This was pragmatic gist of my conversation with Ryan. In our lives, at least, keeping a dream journal plays a role very similar to the one that meditation and prayer seems to play in other people’s lives. As much as we value the insights we learn from particular dreams, we are most drawn to dream journaling as a practice, as an ongoing dialogue with the transcendent powers of the psyche.

Setting aside time each day to record your dreams, reflect on their images and feelings, sort and categorize their contents, analyze them for their broad patterns and odd singularities—these activities generate a contemplative flow in themselves, a flow that when experienced on a regular basis becomes a powerful resource for creativity in all aspects of life. Although much less studied than meditation and prayer, keeping a dream journal is a kindred practice of deep, long-term psychological and spiritual growth.


(This post was first published on the website of Psychology Today, March 2, 2023.)

Shakespeare’s Enduring Impact on Psychology

The 23rd of April is the traditional day for celebrating English playwright William Shakespeare’s birth in 1564. April 23 also happens to be the date on which he died in 1616, at the age of 52. A special reason to reflect on his legacy this year is the 400th anniversary of the publication in 1623 of the “First Folio,” the original collection of his works.

One way to appreciate the psychological value of Shakespeare’s plays is to look at his characters as case studies of mental and emotional typology. In this view, the character of King Lear gives us a vivid and psychologically accurate portrayal of an aging man struggling with mortality and loss of power. Many other examples like this emerge in the plays. Othello can be seen as embodying the violent irrationality of jealousy. Lady Macbeth shows the deranging effects of intense guilt. Falstaff exemplifies a life driven by animal appetites. Ophelia illustrates the suicidal despair of a dissolving self. When Freud first introduced his idea of the Oedipal complex and the dynamics of desire in parent-child relations in The Interpretation of Dreams (1900), he immediately connected it to the Bard: “Another of the great creations of tragic poetry, Shakespeare’s Hamlet, has its roots in the same soil as Oedipus Rex.

As useful as these analyses may be as a form of psychological shorthand, we need to be careful not to let such a reductive approach diminish either the characters or the plays, which are always larger than just one perspective can encompass. Trying to think in broader terms about Shakespeare’s works as a whole and their ongoing relevance to psychology, the following three general themes seem to me the clearest and most significant.

Respect for psychological diversity: Over the course of 38 plays, Shakespeare created hundreds of characters with an astonishing variety of personalities, thoughts, feelings, motivations, and behaviors. Even more impressively, he gave each of them a distinctive voice and fully-realized presence within the world of their play, enabling them to articulate their individual human experiences (most explicitly in their soliloquy speeches, alone on stage with the audience). In a striking expression of this humanistic, diversity-embracing spirit, Shakespeare never demonizes his villains, nor does he deify his heroes. The bad characters (Iago, Caliban, Richard III) are definitely bad, but they are also portrayed with genuinely sympathetic qualities. The good characters (Henry V, Prospero, Rosalind) are truly good, but we see their flaws and vulnerabilities, too.

The power of the imagination: Many of Shakespeare’s plays build up dense networks of metaphorical interaction between sleep, dreaming, illusion, madness, children’s play, love, revelation, and the practice of theater itself. Some of the most psychologically acute speeches in the plays revolve around this theme of the mind’s image-generating power in its many manifestations. Although wild and dangerous, Shakespeare portrays the human imagination as a creative source of new critical awareness of ourselves, society, and the world around us. In this way, his plays provide a kind of psychological map of the symbolic resonances between different realms of imaginal experience.

Transformative effects of art: Shakespeare not only created plays with a wide range of characters, he also created plays for a wide range of audiences. His stories addressed everyone in his society, from the elite royals to the lowly groundlings and everyone in between. The plays were meant to be entertaining, of course, but it seems that Shakespeare wanted to have a deeper impact on his audience by stimulating, within the imaginal space of live theater, a flow of provocative insights about individual and collective life. These dramatically-generated insights can have transformative effects because they unsettle our assumptions and open our minds to surprise, wonder, and growth. Even for the audiences of Shakespeare’s time, his plays were hard to understand. He twisted traditional tales, subverted conventional genres, used an endless stream of bizarre words, mixed ethereal poetry with bawdy puns, and devised elaborately convoluted plots. He intentionally kept his audiences off-balance and uncertain, not to confuse them but to open their eyes to fresh possibilities of human experience, to new dimensions of perception, feeling, and empathic connection. At the risk of anachronism, I’d say we should appreciate mind-expanding complexity as a feature of Shakespeare’s art, not a bug.

Happy birthday, Will!


(This post was first published on the website of Psychology Today, April 18, 2023.)

Recurring Dreams

Many dreams contain recurrent elements that have appeared in previous dreams. These elements include characters you have encountered before, in settings where you have been before, doing things you have done before. The long-term consistency of your dreaming offers a unique window into the nature of your personality and the foundational realities of your waking life.

When specifically asked to describe a recurrent dream, people will usually share a common dream scenario with intense emotionality and/or counter-factual weirdness. For example:

“I’m speeding downhill in a car with no brakes…”

“I discover surprising new rooms in a familiar house…”

“I’m back in school taking a test on a subject I don’t know…”

These dreams can be extremely vivid and memorable just by themselves. As a repeating series, they become even more attention-grabbing.

To interpret recurrent dreams like these, it helps to look at them as metaphors, as attempts to understand something we do not know in terms of something we do know. With the no-brakes scenario, we might ask the dreamer, is there anything in waking life that feels like you’re speeding dangerously out of control? With new-rooms dreams, where in your waking life do you feel moments of wonder and growth, or unexpected insights? With the school-testing dreams, is something happening in waking life that makes you feel unprepared, or out of your depths, or judged by others?

In describing a recurrent dream, people will often say the same single dream has happened many times, but after further discussion it usually emerges that the recurrent scenario almost never appears exactly the same way in each dream. In most cases there are shifts, differences, and changes to the basic scenario, some small, some big, all of which can be considered as meaningful variations on the theme. For instance, the no-brakes dreams might shift over time in what kind of car is being driven, where is it going, and what happens at the end. The new-rooms dreams might vary in what kinds of architectural spaces are discovered and what the dreamer discovers inside. The school-testing dreams could differ in the school and class settings, the subjects being studied, and the results of the test.

These variations on the recurrent theme can be very helpful in understanding why the dreams come when they do. If the basic scenario of a recurrent dream has metaphorical meaning, how do the changed details in a particular dream connect the metaphor to something happening in the waking world right now? A key question with recurrent dreams is why they appear when they do. What is it in current life that has triggered another instance of this theme? Recurrent dreams are rarely about trivial matters. Something important is at stake, something so important that repeated efforts at sparking conscious attention are required. Perhaps the dream is a warning: watch out, you’ve been in this situation before! Perhaps the dream is highlighting an opportunity: hey, do you see that? Do you recognize its value?

By looking closely at the metaphorical dimensions of your recurrent dreams, at both their basic themes and their many variations, you can gain more insight into the ongoing psychological relevance of these lifelong companions of your sleeping mind.

Note: if you have distressing recurrent nightmares about a single repetitive theme with no variations, you might consider consulting with a mental health professional.

(This post was originally published on the website of Psychology Today, January 23, 2023.)

Escape from Mercury: A New Science Fiction Novel

Escape from Mercury is a science-fiction novel about a secretive NASA mission to the planet Mercury, what the astronauts find at its shadowy north pole, and what they must do to reach Earth again. The book portrays an alternate history of America from the 1960’s to the 1980’s in which NASA’s Apollo program does not end shortly after the Lunar landings but continues and expands with new missions to other planets in the Solar system. It’s a surreal space Western that combines period-specific Apollo program technologies with dark theology, musical metaphysics, and the psychology of dreaming.

Escape from Mercury is only available in a limited paperback edition. No authorized electronic version of the text exists. The shape, size, and cover design reflect the aesthetics of pulp sci-fi novels of the 60’s and 70’s. Alas, the price of EfM, $9.99, is an order of magnitude more expensive than those books. However, T.A. and I take comfort in the fact that our publisher paused the production process at one point to ask if we really and truly wanted to set the price the book at such a low, barely profitable figure.

My previously published writings have been non-fiction works of dream research. To write about dreams, however, is always to write about the stories of people’s lives. My non-fiction has always included many narrative elements as a result, even when I’m trying to make technical academic points. Escape from Mercury is the Yin to the Yang of those writings. Here, the foreground changes places with the background: the narrative story-telling takes the lead, with the scholarly theorizing in a supporting role. And yet, the non-fictional elements in EfM are essential to the alternate-reality plot. For example, we present (thanks largely to T.A.’s expertise) an historically accurate portrait of how the 70’s era Apollo Applications Program would have continued to develop its plans for interplanetary missions following the original Lunar landings. EfM also includes numerous references to the origins, functions, and interpretation of dreams, all of which is grounded in actual research and historical fact. If you have enjoyed any of my other books, I think you’ll like EfM.

A big difference between Escape from Mercury and my other writings is that I don’t really want to say anything about it. With non-fiction books, it’s much easier to summarize the basic ideas and discuss them in general terms, which helps in giving potentially interested readers an idea of what the text is about. With EfM, even what I have written here feels like too much, like I’m giving things away we would prefer the readers to discover on their own. We’re not trying to be cryptic, or at least not too cryptic. We just want to give you a chance to enjoy the story without any spoilers getting in the way.