by J. Allan Hobson
MIT Press, 2001
Review by Valerie Gray Hardcastle, Ph.D. on Jan 15th 2002
This is a fascinating book.
In The Dream Drugstore, Allen
Hobson uses his own theory of dreaming to discuss altered states of
consciousness, including psychosis, mania, and brains on tranquilizers, antidepressants,
psychedelics, narcotics, and psychotherapy.
In broad strokes, his claim is that the neurochemistry of dreaming is
quite similar to what we find in these other conditions, and that if we can
understand the former, then we can also understand the latter. Even if you dont quite agree with this
broad-strokes claim, there is still lots and lots worthwhile in his book to
that this book is written for a general audience. I have to disagree with him there. I think writing books for general audiences is quite difficult. One difficulty is knowing how to pitch
something at the appropriate level you dont want to pander to the lowest
common denominator; at the same time, you dont want to aim too high and go
over the heads of the majority. Hobson
aims too high. Except for the fact that
it is categorized as a trade book (which means very few references at all), this
book is suitable for professionals in the field, scholars and advanced students
in related areas, and maybe the occasional dilettante who is widely read in
neuroscience. But my mom, as educated
as she is, wouldnt be able to read this book easily.
two-thirds of the book recounts Hobsons theory of dreaming and embeds it in a
larger framework for understanding consciousness and brain dysfunction. For those of you already familiar with
Hobsons research, you wont find too much new here. For those of you not yet familiar with what Hobson has done, you
should be, and this is an excellent introduction. He occasionally strays too far into side disagreements he is
having with colleagues and I cant say that I always find his illustrations and
figures helpful (using a state space analogy can be overdone). Nevertheless, Hobson provides us with a good
and clear account of what we know about the neurophysiology and biochemistry of
sleep and dreaming.
third of the book connects sleep and dreaming research with what we know about
how various chemicals and other insults to the brain alter perception and
thought. This is the best part of the
book, for it consolidates a huge body of literature under one theoretical
framework. I find Hobsons ideas
provocative, creative, and strikingly original. I am not sure whether in the end I will agree with his views. My hunch is that he pushes the analogy with
dreaming too hard and that differences between psychosis, for example, and REM
sleep with outweigh similarities.
Nevertheless, his proposals deserve to be taken seriously. They are well worth exploring. For all I know, he will turn out to be
exactly right. If nothing else, he gives us a unified framework under which to
discuss all manner of conscious states.
presentation, Hobson is clearly and unapologetically anti-drug. Thus he presents a refreshing change from
the rest of the world, which is enamoured with SSRIs, various and sundry sorts
of tranquilizers, and drugs for recreation.
He highlights the known long-term effects from taking mood- or psyche-altering
chemicals, pointing out that we in fact know very little about the permanent
effects on the brain, but what we do know doesnt look happy-making. I was particularly heartened to see such
commentary regarding our beloved SSRIs, since there is not enough public worry
regarding what we might be doing to ourselves by taking these feel-good drugs
ad infinitum. I sincerely hope that we
take Hobsons concerns to heart.
chapter of the book, as almost a coda, concerns how Hobsons views should
affect psychoanalysis. This, too, I
found hugely interesting, since Hobson was originally trained as a
psychotherapist and doing talk therapy still forms a large part of his
professional life, and yet he is also firmly immersed in brain chemistry. How he integrates the two works well and provides
a blueprint for others interested in following his path. It also significantly improves upon the
assumptions behind most psychoanalysis, in my humble opinion.
What we find here is barely more
than a sketch of how it all fits together, though. I would love to see this chapter expanded into a book in its own
right. Perhaps this could be Hobsons
next project. Ill be first in line to
All in all,
if you are interested in how the mind/brain works, this book is well worth your
time and energy. I guarantee you will
learn something new and, perhaps more importantly, think about what you already
know in a different light. I highly recommend the book.
2002 Valerie Gray Hardcastle
Valerie Gray Hardcastle,
Ph.D., Program in Science and Technology Studies, Department of Philosophy, Virginia