2001: Nothing But Black Space

Jacob Peeter Gowy - The Fall of Icarus (1638)

In a 2001 study, Tim and Virginia Kasser analyzed the dreams of people who had been assessed as either highly materialistic or non-materialistic. They asked the participants to share “the two most meaningful, memorable, or powerful dreams they remembered in their lives”and found three remarkable differences:

First, death played a bigger role in the dreams of highly materialistic individuals. It was mentioned in the dream itself or in associations with the dream in 20.5 percent of high materialists’ dreams, compared with only 3 percent of dreams of people less focused on materialism. To give a couple of examples, people who were dead in waking life appeared in the dreams of two highly materialistic individuals, and another saw “a ghostly lady dressed in black . . . hanging from the cross [of a church] calling my name.” For others who strongly valued materialistic aims, death was mentioned as an important association, even when it did not appear explicitly in the dream.

The second difference…was that 15 percent of dreams of people in the high-materialism group involved falling, in comparison with 3 percent of dreams of those in the low-materialism group. Falling is almost universally interpreted by theorists as representing insecurity, as one is out of control, is headed downward, and has nothing to hold on to. Two people from the high-materialism group reported dreams of falling into fires, a third fell from barn rafters, and a fourth worried about falling from logging equipment. Evocatively, a fifth person in that group dreamed that his father tossed him over the railing of the steps inside his house, but “instead of landing on the floor below, there was nothing but black space into which I was thrown . . . I saw myself fall. While I was falling into the black void, I was circling or spinning and screaming, but my screams were very faint.”

Another difference between the groups was that the dreams of highly materialistic individuals exhibited a very different attitude toward feared objects. Specifically, 18 percent of dreams of the low-materialism group involved reframing an originally feared object so that it was no longer so frightening; no one from the high-materialism group confronted their fears in this way. For example, two dreamers from the low-materialism group were initially afraid of a rhinoceros and a giant purple poodle, respectively, but found that the animals had benign intentions. Others in that group realized that their attacker was actually “a nice, happy guy” or were quite confident that they would not be hurt. One of them even reported that while being chased down cliffs by a boulder, “sometimes it was rather fun to run.” These dreams suggest that people who do not care much for materialistic pursuits may be more able to overcome insecurities than those with a strong materialistic value orientation.

Tim Kasser: The High Price of Materialism (2002)

Jacob Peeter Gowy: The Fall of Icarus (1638)

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