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Dreaming: A Form of Emergent Healing
by David Kahn, PhD



Editor's Note: In this article Dr. David Kahn uses the theory of self-organization to take a unique approach to the dreaming brain and its creative and healing potential.

When faced with a medical issue, do you reach for the phone to call a doctor? Reach into the medicine cabinet for a pill or medicine? Or do you reach within--to the natural processes that produce our artistic impulses and our dreams?

Often we rely on a top down approach to ensure we are dealing with a health issue in the most logical time-tested proven way. For example, we ask ourselves and others what is needed to deal with a health issue, perform this or that exercise, take this or that medication, or consult with this or that person or choose this or that doctor. These are rational ways of dealing with a problem: we use our knowledge gained over lifetime, infused into us by our culture. Some cultures prefer one method of healing, others another. Some cultures rely on medications given by a doctor, some by ourselves, and others by a Shaman. These ways of dealing with the health issue use a top down approach, a deliberate call to the person in us who is aware and awake and has the ability to think logically.

There is another way in which nature has provided to affect change, to form something new that was not directed from above, and that could not have been imagined to occur without direction. Nature has provided the ability to self-organize, that is, to accomplish what would be impossible with the raw materials at hand.  Self-organization is used throughout the natural world as a means to create abilities, structures and newness from within the elements themselves without direction from above. For example, a collection of ants who individually are not capable of creating nests, bridges and tunnels, do have a collective intelligence which will build bridges, tunnels and nests used to store food, to cross above and under obstacles. And this collective intelligence is all done without a master architect to direct the nest, bridge and tunnel building.

Humans will create wonderfully interesting music, both by following music already written down by a composer, but also by improvising on those musical notes. The musicians create something new by themselves without direction from the composer. Each note or musical phrase affects notes and musical phrases that follow them to create a musical improvisation not directed by the composer, but self-organized from within.

Dancers will create dance pieces when they follow the directions of a choreographer, but they can and do create wonderful dance movements when they improvise without direction from the choreographer. The dancers play off of each other’s movements, bootstrapping movement upon movement until a whole improvised dance piece emerges. The dance piece being created by the movements of the dancers themselves is said to self-organize as one movement leads to another, each informing the next, until a dance piece emerges without the dancers being told how and where to move.

Dreaming is a self-organizing way our minds create new ways of thinking without being directed by our logical over learned pattern-driven mind. The dreamer uses the notes gathered over a lifetime of experience, memories, thoughts and feelings to improvise on them, to self-organizationally create a story with images and feelings that are not directed by the over learned pattern-driven mind. Something entirely new and unexpected will emerge through a non-logically driven placement of people, places and ideas. As the improvised dream continues there is little regard to what should logically happen or not happen. In this way the self-organizing images, stories, feelings and memories create an emergent universe that did not exist before. If we do not dismiss these stories as crazy, this emergent universe with its attendant feelings and insights is capable of building bridges that lead to unique ways of dealing with issues and to the creation of emergent healing.



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About the Author

David Kahn, PhD
, is a neuroscientist on the faculty of Harvard Medical School who studies the dreaming brain. Kahn is a board member and past president of the International Association for the Study of Dreams, and has written extensively about self-organization. Kahn is also a board member for Dance New England, and he enjoys freestyle dancing--especially contact improvisation.












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