University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > Departmental Seminars in History and Philosophy of Science > Impossible objects? Towards a history of modern sleep and dream research

Impossible objects? Towards a history of modern sleep and dream research

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In my talk, I will address rise of the scientific study of sleeping and dreaming in Europe and the US after 1850. Whereas dreams have always been a troubling phenomenon for Western rationality, attempts at the systematic observation and control of the dreaming process only emerged in the 19th century. Within a new scientific culture of objectivity, dreams posed a challenge: since they appear in the sleeper’s mind as fleeting phenomena and can only be known after awakening, they could hardly be considered as observable objects; and more disturbingly, their irregular, immoral, and irrational aspects threatened the unity of the observer. This twofold uncertainty gave rise to a regime of observation in which dreams and similar mental phenomena were objectified, a process in which the use of new visual media was of key importance. By reconstructing the genealogies of the practices by which dreams were objectified, my aim is not only to bring to the fore the specificities of the cross-disciplinary field of sleep and dream research, but also to offer historical and epistemological elucidations of the current ambitions voiced by the exponents of new subdisciplines (most notably cognitive or neuroscientific approaches to psychoanalysis).

This talk is part of the Departmental Seminars in History and Philosophy of Science series.

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