3. The Dream Collector
Name: Kelly Bulkeley
Title: Psychologist of religion specializing in dream research
Why they're interesting: Data-banking dreams to understand the waking world
Kelly Bulkeley takes a big data approach to studying dreams. In 2009, he launched the Sleep and Dream Database, an online archive containing more than 30,000 dream reports (i.e., written descriptions of dreams). Using digital-search technology, Bulkeley and his colleagues have put a modern-day spin on an old and formerly labor-intensive practice called dream content analysis.
Essentially, Bulkeley "codes" dreams by analyzing dream reports for elements such as aggressive emotions, sexual situations, humor and self-awareness. And, by coding large numbers of dream reports, Bulkeley has been able to form insights about the dreaming lives of different populations and track changes in dreaming trends over time. Dream content experts have found, for instance, that kids dream about animals more than adults do and that women and men dream more similarly today than they did in the '60s. It's a sociological investigation, via your weird subconscious.
In one project, Bulkeley looked at dreams about political figures during Obama's presidency. ("Dream" Obama came off as a messianic figure. "Dream" Trump? Not so much.) But Bulkeley isn't gunning to become, say, MSNBC's first-ever (dream) political analyst. His goal's a bit broader. "I’m interested in everything there is to know about dreams," said Bulkeley, "how they are formed, what function(s) they serve, how to interpret their meanings and who they have inspired to blaze forward on new paths of creativity and innovation."
The mainstream attitude towards dreams, Bulkeley says, has ups and downs. "Today’s generation of psychotherapists has received very little training in dream interpretation," Bulkeley said, "which is a big shift from a few decades ago. That’s one less place where people can safely talk about their dreams."
But he does think dreams are getting the treatment they deserve somewhere else. "I’m thinking of several recent television shows with fascinating and surprisingly insightful explorations of dreaming," said Bulkeley, "Falling Water," "Westworld," "Dream Corp LLC," and "The OA." And now that the new season of "Twin Peaks" is out, we've truly reached “peak-dream tv.”'
Perhaps, unsurprisingly, dreams factor prominently in Bulkeley's own life: "I've kept a dream journal for more than thirty years, and at this point I remember a dream pretty much every night."