Weird pandemic dreams are a thing, and researchers in Canada and U.K. are collecting them
Researchers hope to discover the role dreams play in working through conflict brought on by the pandemic
Anxiety about get infected with COVID-19, a craving for social contact and a yearning for what life was before the pandemic are just some of the common themes researchers hypothesize they'll find when they take a look at the dreams — and nightmares — people have had during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
A group of researchers from Western University's Museum of Dreams in London, Ont. have partnered up with the Museum of London in England to capture all the strange dreams Londoners in the U.K. have had during the pandemic for a project called Guardians of Sleep, named after a description of dreams penned by Sigmund Freud.
"What [Freud] meant by that was that dreams are there to protect our sleep ... but it's also the case that dreams are a kind of psychological event that help preserve the integrity of our mind — that's the guardian part," said Sharon Sliwinski, the creator of the Museum of Dreams and an associate dean at Western University.
"[Dreams] are kind of ground zero for our capacity as humans to represent our experience in our own terms. They figure our experiences in new ways that keep us alive to life, and so, of course, this global pandemic is a massive event and it requires a great deal of psychological processing."
Sliwinski and the Museum of London will be collecting dreams in the form of oral testimonies as part of the museum's ongoing Collecting COVID project, to see how people in London, U.K. have processed and coped with stresses brought on by the pandemic.
"Collecting Londoners' dreams in their own words not only allows us to document a key shared experience from the pandemic but also helps stretch the definition of a 'museum object' by adding dreams as raw encounters and personal testimonies to our permanent London Collection for the very first time," Foteini Aravani, the Museum of London's digital curator, said in a news release.
"Traditionally, if museums have collected dreams, it has been in the form of paintings or drawings influenced by the events, however, this can often dissociate the dream from the dreamer," she added.
Since the pandemic began, researchers have noted that stress and anxiety have not only invaded our daily lives, but have also found a way to creep up during our sleep.
"We're capturing something that's neither fiction nor fact in the sense of, this is an experience that people create with a kind of force of an otherness that comes into them at night," Sliwinski said.
The museum put out a call for Londoners to submit the happenings of their nocturnal subconscious last Thursday and Sliwinski said they've already received hundreds of letters of interest from people wanting to take part in the project.
A group of researchers from the Museum of Dreams will be conducting virtual interviews in February and then, Sliwinski said, the recordings will be available as research tools.
She's hopeful this research will allow further understanding of the role dreams play in working through conflict brought on by the pandemic.
"It's part of the larger human condition to try to make meaning about the things that we face together. Because dreams are such an individual experience, to try to think about it at the level of a human condition is quite difficult and challenging, but it might be a way to begin moving forward."