The Interpretation of Dreams: The Musical

What about this guy doesn't say "musical" to you?

What about this guy doesn’t say “musical” to you

The curtains go up. The Interpretation of Dreams, the first version of which was published in November 1899 by Dr Sigmund Freud, is considered to be a landmark in the development of modern psychoanalysis. In fact whatever your opinion of psychoanalysis is made up of, from the mid-1890s onwards, Freud’s life basically is the history of the development of psychoanalysis. In fact, Freud’s autobiography concentrates almost entirely on the development of psychoanalysis with very little mention of his personal life. In 1885 he wrote to his fiancé, stating that he had destroyed many of his notes, documents and manuscripts, adding that he had no wish to make life easy for his future biographers. Freud and a camel then toured the world in a space ship shaped like a bee.

Freud’s theory of dreams still holds some influence, although largely dreams are currently more likely to be thought of in terms of information processing. The word “dream” is also used as a form of verbal punctuation by TV talent show contestants. A large problem is that many of Freud’s theories regarding dreams are simply not testable. The book itself consists largely of Freud stating a part of his theory, describing an example dream in a way which he says illustrates that part of the theory and then shouting “Proved!” If you hold any copy of The Interpretation of Dreams to your ear you can hear a good number of modern research psychologists weeping. Librarians too, but that’s probably just because you’ve got ear wax on one of their books.

Regardless, Freud did believe in the application of the scientific method and perhaps it’s important to recognise that it was Freud who set up the dream as a phenomenon worthy of scientific study and if we’re being generous, the idea that many mental processes could be assessed scientifically. So that’s something to think about and then study the processing of thinking about it because you can.

In a previous blog post I asked if the theory of evolution is so good that it can’t be improved by singing. Musical theatre is a very popular art form that combines songs, spoken dialogue, acting, and dance to communicate a story and its emotional content. Many in the field of science communication might argue that adding these sorts of layers to the communication of science, particularly the emotional content, improves the efficacy of communication, ultimately promoting enthusiasm and a desire for more science learning. They might even say that they fucking love expressing this enthusiasm for some of the content of scientific findings. As has been hinted, Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams attempts to describe a scientific model by levering a concept onto examples he picked himself, which is far from ideal and shouldn’t be attempted. So can the musical format improve what scientific content there is in The Interpretation of Dreams?

No, obviously not. It’s just a gimmick for describing an influential book by an influential doctor, which is worth reading for historical interest, for an understanding of the foundations of modern psychoanalysis, and because in Freud had an excellent literary style. So, without further suppression, let me introduce The Interpretation of Dreams: The Musical!

R.E.M: the obvious link between sleep, dreaming and musi... oh nevermind!

R.E.M: the obvious link between sleep, dreaming and musi… oh nevermind!

Introductory Remarks

The introduction establishes that Freud believed the interpretation of dreams could be accomplished within neuropathology and that he intended to use his own dreams and those of some of his patients to illustrate his theories.

Song: Brain Dream Rereader

Cheer up, Sleepy Freud
I’ll tell you what dreams mean
To a brain dream rereader
Though I can’t keep it clean

Preface to the Third Edition

Freud said that he still thought his theories were pretty good despite needing a new edition less than a year since the last one, but that he had since attached greater value to symbolism in dreams interpretation.

Song: Rewrite My Idea

Rewrite my idea, expand my theory’s my only desire
Rewrite my idea, symbols show your love
Rewrite my idea, expand my theory’s my only desire
Rewrite my idea symbols show, symbols show, your love, (what to shove!)

I. The Scientific Literature on the Problems of the Dream

Freud states he’s going to show that the interpretation of dreams is a legitimate psychological technique and that by analysing dreams in this way, important processes occurring in the waking mind are revealed. He also argued he was going to show why sometimes dreams are a bit weird and what mental forces produce and shape dreams. Previous writings by people who aren’t Freud are mentioned.

Song: Let’s Get Ready to Analyse

Let’s get ready to analyse
Let’s get ready to analyse

Just a chrysanthe mum.

Just a chrysanthe mum.

Let’s get, let’s get, let’s get
Ready, ready
Let’s get ready, ready
Let’s get ready, ready
Let’s get ready to analyse

Straight up science
A symbolic triumph
It’s a literal appliance
It ain’t no hype!

Watch us expert cite
Watch us expert cite
Psyche!

II. Method of Dream Interpretation: The Analysis of the Sample Dream

It is argued that dreams have hidden meanings that are substitutes for other thought processes and that this meaning can be revealed by looking at parts of the content of the dream separately rather than analysing the dream has a whole.

Song: The Snoop Snoop Song (It’s in the Dream)

What do you wish?
I wanna know!
What’s the info in your frontal lobes?

(Is it in the eyes?)
Oh no! That’s cataracts!
(Is it between the thighs?)
Oh no! Please have some tact!
It’s only sciencish
But if you need the wish
It’s in the dream!
(If you look at the bits!)

III. The Dream is the Fulfilment of a Wish

Freud states that dreams always represent the fulfilment of a wish of the person having the dream. He gives the example of a woman who had dreamed her periods had stopped and states that this was a “clever way of giving notice of her first pregnancy” and that the wish fulfilment was her wanting to enjoy her freedom before motherhood began. So forget those pregnancy tests! It also contains the following incredible sentence;
“The dreams of little children are simple fulfilments of wishes, and as compared, therefore, with the dreams of adults, are not at all interesting.”

Just a banana.

Just a banana.

Song: Ring of Desire

Dreams, can be seen as deep
And they happen, in REM sleep
Psychoanalysts enquire
To reveal your hidden desires

Dreams reveal your hidden desires
And you’ll frown, frown, frown at the therapist you hired
But you’ll learn, learn, learn
Your hidden desires, your hidden desire

IV. Distortion in Dreams

Freud argues that even painful, fearful or indifferent dreams are examples of wish fulfilment, just better disguised wish fulfilment. The reason for this disguise is that the person doesn’t like that they have that wish and so it’s not expressed properly in the dream.

Song: Don’t worry (About a Dream)

Don’t worry, about a dream
‘Cause every little wish, is revealed at night
Singin’: “Don’t worry, about a dream
Even if that little dream, gives you a fright!”

Rise up this mornin’
Frowned at the risin’ sun
Had a nightmare
Dreamt I was falling
But Freud’s theory
Said my fear was undue
Sayin’, (“Dreams are sex wishes by you-ou-ou”)

V. The Material and Sources of Dreams

This chapter states that the content of a night’s dreams comes from the events of the preceding day, but can come from events at any time in the person’s life if something connected to those events has occurred that day. So basically they can come from any event in your life. Freud also states that there are no series of associations in dreams which cannot be adapted to the representation of sexual facts. Will he get away with that?

Song: The Batman Theme

Penis Penis Penis Penis
Penis Penis Penis Penis
Batman!

VI. The Dream-Work

Freud describes the mental processes (dream-work) by which the contents of the dream are rendered less disturbing to the individual. I don’t know if that’s why the company that made Kung Fu Panda is called that. These processes include condensation (the fusing of ideas into a single image), displacement (disturbing idea replaced with a connected but less disturbing idea), representation (thoughts are converted to visual images) and symbolisation (neutral objects stand for aspects of the person’s sexual life they’d prefer not to recognise or would rather keep mum about).

Just a lighthouse.

Just a lighthouse.

Song: Dream-Workin’ Night to Night

Dream-workin’ night to night,
What a way to make a symbol
Makes a tunnel rude
It all seems fairly simple
You just use your mind
And let your deep subconscious edit
It’s enough to womb you penis
If you let it

 

VII. The Psychology of Dream Activities

Freud tries to explain certain phenomenon associated with dreams. For example explaining why people forget their dreams by saying that they don’t really forget them and even if they remember them incorrectly, important information is still obtained. Apparently not an excuse they’ll accept when you’re taking exams.

Song: It’s the End of The Dream as We Know it (And I Can’t Remember It)

That’s great, it starts with a something, nurr nurr nurr aeroplane,
Something, Something… Chorus!

It’s the end of the dream as we know it
It’s the end of the dream as we know it
It’s the end of the dream as we know it, I shouldn’t have had wine

The curtain closes while the Freud dancers smoke cigars in a cave.

Women are Funny.

Do not, under any circumstances, Google "funny women" to find an image for your blog post.

Do not, under any circumstances, Google “funny women” to find an image for your blog post.

When you type the phrase, “women comedians” into Google the second suggestion that appears is “women comedians aren’t funny.”Now I’ve no idea how Google works, probably librarian-trained crows, but this does seem like a worryingly common-place opinion. I have had a discussion fairly recently which involved the other person saying, “But women just aren’t funny” which made me concerned that the person I was talking to had never met or spoken to a woman. And the person I was talking to was a woman! Probably still is.

It’s not up to me to decide what’s funny. What people find humorous, while sharing many commonalities, varies wildly and so does what people say and do in an effort to be funny. Farts! This variation is obviously true of women who much like snowflakes, fingerprints or human beings are all individual and unique. Some women will be funnier on average than other women and funnier on average than some men.  The funniest woman is likely as funny as the funniest man. I don’t even though how you’d reliably judge “funniest”. What unit would it be measured in? MilliMillicans?

It’s not up to me to defend women. They are perfectly capable of defending themselves. Declaring that women simply lack the ability to be funny is odd though. While there are many theories as to what is humorous, one prevalent idea is that laughter comes with incongruity. This theory states that humour is perceived at the moment of realisation of incongruity between a concept and the real thing in relation to that concept. If this were the case (and it certainly seems to be at least some of the time) if you claim that women can’t be funny then you are claiming that women can’t conceive of ideas and situations not matching. This is an ironically difficult notion to conceive of.

Oestrogen and laughter are apparently not contra-indicated.

Oestrogen and laughter are apparently not contra-indicated.

I’m not especially interested in whether the ideas that women aren’t funny or that women aren’t as funny as men are true or not. They’re blatantly not.  The Funny Women Awards have just celebrated their 11th year with the 2013 winners being duo Twisted Loaf. The Funny Women Awards unlikely to have years where they can’t award anything due to women being unusually mirthless for a select 365 days. There are multiple examples of very funny women including Sarah Pascoe (@sarapascoe), Sarah Millican (@SarahMillican75), Rachel Parris (@iamrachelparris), and Gabby Hutchinson Crouch (@Scriblit). I have purposefully not made this list extensive as I am sure to miss out some excellent individuals and some idiot is bound to sweep a paw across the list and state that “None of dem are funny” as if it were an objective truism rather than a subjective comedic preference.

I’m more interested in considering the arguments people use to justify this opinion and whether they stand up to scrutiny (they won’t). I’m going to use a vague biopsychosocial approach to do this. Not because I think detractors of female comedy, or as it is sometimes known “comedy” do so but because it’s a reasonably simple way to manage the ideas.

Evolution/Biology

Evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller (when he wasn’t busy tweeting about students being fat) proposed that human characteristics like humour evolved by sexual selection. Sexual selection: good name for a part of evolutionary theory, bad name for a box of confectionary. He argues that humour (which he states has little survival value) emerged as an indicator of other traits that were of survival value, such as intelligence. On this basis if you argue that women aren’t or can’t be funny you would be arguing that either women can’t use humour to show their intelligence (clearly wrong), that they can but they don’t (clearly wrong because of examples) or that if they did men might not appreciate it (ahem). Women are showing intelligence through humour and people are ignoring it or at worse threatened by it? They would have to be pretty small-minded, insecure people. At this stage you can assume I am giving meaningful looks.

Another evolutionary psychology theory takes a break from copying Rudyard Kipling and argues that, like male deer clashing antlers, humour is produced by males competitively to impress potential mates for breeding. Consistent with this theory is research that females indicate a preference for mates who makes them laugh, whereas males prefer a mate who laughs at their humour.

However the data are not entirely consistent with this view. Most studies find male humour appeals most to other men.  In purely evolutionary terms, if you are in search of a mate to breed with, attracting a bunch of guffaws and their supposed sexual advances from members of the same gender isn’t the best move. Secondarily this theory in no way explains why women can’t do the same thing. If you’re arguing for a theory, it’s not really enough to state that they just don’t. Any attempts by MRI to catch the ovaries strangling jokes before they leave the body have thus far failed. So we’re left with a theory that tries to make humour the exclusive domain of rutting men, but fails like a pleasant look on Piers Morgan’s face.

Psychology

Lee Mack on Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs has said fewer women become comedians because they are not so inclined to show-off or be competitive in conversation. Lee Mack stated “I am only quoting other scientific reports on it.  When men sit around together and talk they are very competitive… When you get six women in a room together they share a lot more…and it’s a more interactive. “This idea may have links to the evolutionary theories seen previously.

The concept that men are more likely to do stand-up comedy or just be funny because they are more competitive than women is pervasive. Generally, research into how groups of single and mixed sexes converse agree with what Lee Mack is saying. A sentence I never thought I’d type. But these are just tendencies. Women may be more likely to support each other in conversation, but that doesn’t mean they all do it all the time. They can also be competitive and try to show off. Same goes for men for support and chances are it’s largely context dependent.

These studies investigated conversation and weren’t about being funny and/or a stand-up comedian. Just because a woman is on average more likely not to be competitive in conversation, doesn’t mean she won’t change her style of interaction when “performing” to her friends or performing onstage as a comedian.

It was depressingly difficult to find a picture of a female clown that wasn't trying to be "sexy".

It was depressingly difficult to find a picture of a female clown that wasn’t trying to be “sexy”.

Finally and more importantly, competition and showing off doesn’t necessarily equate to funnier. For some reason people who make this argument seem to be focussing on one style of comedy. One-upmanship is fine for some things (human pyramids and so on), but a lot of comedy relies on interaction, support and listening e.g. improvisation, sketch comedy. Stand-up itself doesn’t need to be competitive as such and many a skilled comedian can build a hilarious act through audience interaction and support. Just watch Dara Ó Briain open a show.

Social (and some psychology)

The entertainment industry seems to agree with the idea that women are not or can’t be funny, or at least can’t be as funny as men. One figure tossed around is that only 10% of stand-up comedians are women and it’s relatively rare to see more than one woman on one of the ubiquitous comedy panel shows.  I don’t have the data to argue that many more women want to be or are funny and hard-working enough to be successful stand-up comedians and lack or don’t see the opportunity, but given societal and prevalent psychological bias it seems a likely explanation.

It would seem that across an alarming swathe of society, humour and the production of humour is not valued or even recognised in women.  If you think women aren’t funny and as a result ignore it when they are then what’s the incentive for women to be funny? Lo and behold you fulfil your own bias. Or you try to. if you hold the ridiculous opinion that women aren’t funny and as proof try to point out a non-existent lack of funny women then by your own logic you only have yourself to blame. Luckily there are women who defy this societal bias to produce excellent comedy.

Research shows humorous items are often remembered more successfully, in a phenomenon known as the humour effect. For example in one study (linked to already in these ramblings) related to providing funny captions, the items judged as funnier were remembered better. The analyses also provided evidence for a humour-based retrieval bias.  Individuals of both genders tended to misattribute humorous captions to male writers. This was true both for misremembering captions whose author’s sex the participants knew and for when participants were only guessing the sex of a caption author. So again it’s not that women can’t or aren’t being funny, it’s that due to existing societal bias, when they are you don’t remember or worse, you remember the humour and think it was a man that did it. Again you only have yourself to blame for thinking there are no funny women. “I don’t remember ever doing this!” you might shout. Quite.

The Guff at the Long-Awaited End

Ultimately there appears to be no strong argument that women can’t be funny or aren’t funny or aren’t as funny as men.  If you think there are, then you are contributing to the biased social and psychological forces that contrive give that appearance.  This isn’t surprising and I’m sorry if any of this has come across as patronising.  I don’t think that people who hold that opinion have even though about it that much other than as a subtle impact of prejudice. Then why bother taking-apart the arguments behind women being “not funny” at all? To paraphrase Josh Whedon, “I’ve got a theory, it could be bunnies…”

 

On The Origin Of Species: The Musical

437px-Charles_Darwin_1880

The curtains go up. On the Origin of Species, published on 24 November 1859 by Charles Darwin is considered (correctly I would argue) to be the foundation of evolutionary biology. Its original full title was On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life which was later changed around 1872 to the shorter, The Origin of Species. It was perhaps felt that “the preservation of favoured races” sounded dubiously racist when in fact this wasn’t what the title was referring to at all. Of course the last thing anybody would do is falsely co-opt evolutionary theory to promote their own despicable and prejudice agenda. Right?

Darwin’s book introduced the scientific theory of natural selection. I am aware of the excellent work of Alfred Russell Wallace and you should definitely watch Bill Bailey’s brilliant TV series on the topic. However I’ve probably got enough work on my hands tenuously claiming that one set of original prose about natural selection should be a musical, without throwing Wallace into the mix. Notable in that it was not written specifically for a scientifically literate audience, The Origin of Species methodically and eloquently sets out the evidence and arguments for  the theory that the diversity of life on Earth arose by common descent through a branching pattern of evolution.  All any book by Dan Brown can say is that it’s thoroughly absorbent. It is not too much of a leap to say that modern evolutionary theory is the unifying concept of the life science and that little in biology makes sense without it. It’s a good theory.

Is the theory of evolution so good however that it can’t be improved by singing? Musical theatre as an art form combines songs, spoken dialogue, acting, and dance to communicate a story and its emotional content. It’s a bit popular. 12.27 million tickets were purchased for Broadway musical shows in 2007-2008. In 2007 total ticket revenues in Central London in the major commercial and grant-aided theatres were £469.7 million. Musicals are not just popular in theatre. Les Misérables, as a film aided by the singing of Anne Hathaway and Hugh Jackman while Russell Crowe was also there won 3 Oscars and earned £8.1 million in its opening weekend in the UK.

Just because something is popular though doesn’t make it good, he typed realising he’d already used his Dan Brown reference. Popular UK sitcom My Family anyone? Things could always do with a bit of added science and I would definitely watch a musical about evolution. Additionally there is some evidence that music can aid with learning as well as being useful in studying the brain’s natural plasticity. The Origin of Species: The Musical then seems like an ideal form of science entertainment. Primarily though I just thought it would be a fun idea to think and write about. So without much further ado, introducing The Origin of Species: The Musical!

800px-Rock_pigeons_on_cliffs

Introduction

The introduction mainly establishes Darwin’s credentials as a naturalist.

Song: Naturalist In The UK

I am a scientist
I am a naturalist
I know what moths I want and
I know how to get them
I wanna catch butterfly.

Chapter 1

Primarily deals with animal husbandry, plant breeding and selective breeding.  Darwin describes the astonishing diversity of pigeon breeds given that that they all descend from a single species of rock pigeon.

Song: Crazy Little Things Called Doves

These things, called doves, explained, no religion,
These things called doves , descend, from a rock pigeon,
Selective breeding!
To get these little things called doves.

Chapter 2 and 3

Darwin argues the arbitrary distinction between species and varieties with species merely being distinctive and well-established varieties. He then explores how varieties become separate species and introduces the concept of natural selection.

Song: Taxonomy And Variety

Taxonomy and Variety, work together, to help describe species
Side by side for example, defining different types of trees.

Chapter 4

Darwin further describes natural selection through the relationships of all living beings and the physical conditions of their environment.  He also proposes sexual selection to explain sexually dimorphic features such as lion manes, peacock tails and some bird song.

Song: Girls Just Want To Have Good Genes

I’m at home, make myself look fine
Mother nature says when you gonna pick a genetic line?
Oh mother dear I’ll pick the best suited ones
And girls they want to have good genes
And men just want to have good genes.

Chapter 5

Here Darwin discusses the effects of use, disuse and inheritance.

Song: Lamarck The Disproved Theory Sings

With untested thought proclaim:
Use it or lose it is the game.
Lamarck the disproved theory sings
This kind of inheritance isn’t a thing.

 Chapter 6

Darwin discusses the existence of intermediate forms and then whether natural selection could produce complex specialised structures. (It can.)

Song: Stuck In The Middle With Gills

Water to the left of me, land to the right
Here I am, stuck in the middle with gills.

Chapter 7

This chapter covers the evolution of instincts using experimental evidence from ants and honey bees.

Song: Ain’t No Hexagons

Ain’t no hexagons with bees gone
Ain’t no swarm with bees away
Ain’t no hexagons with bees gone
They don’t make that honeycomb
Anytime bees go away.

Chapter 8

In this chapter Darwin addresses the idea that species have special characteristics which prevent hybrids from being fertile and preserve separate species.

Song: Bonnie Facts Of Stock Breeding

Oh you’ll take the hybrid and I’ll take the within-species breed
And I’ll preserve the genome before you.

Chapter 9 and 10

Here we get a bit of rock and look at how the geological record appears to show forms of life suddenly arising, without the multiple transitional fossils expected from gradual changes. Darwin then easily explains this by exploring the science and relative rarity of fossilisation.

Song: You Are Not A Stone

But you are not a stone
You just decayed to goo
Conditions didn’t apply
For you to mineralise
So you are not a stone.

Chapter 11 and 12

The biogeographical evidence is explored and Darwin notes the importance of barriers to migration in the formation of species.

Song: Island In The Sea

Island in the sea
That is where we are
Something between
Half our species gone
Go on breed with me
We’ll start to adapt
And given some mutations, ah-ha
We’ll begin our speciation, ah-ha.

Chapter 13

Darwin observes that classification depends on grouping based on degrees of similarity.

Song: I Believe I Can Classify

I believe I can classify
Pick matching wings and classify
Using nature’s morphology,
To recognise homology.

Conclusion

At last we have the big finale where Darwin reviews the previous chapter and expresses his hope that evolutionary theory might produce revolutionary changes in many fields of natural history. It did.

There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.

Now to get some musical skill, incorporate the differences between different editions of the book and write this!