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Michel Jouvet

Michel Jouvet, a pioneer in sleep research, is Emeritus Professor of Experimental Medicine at the University of Lyon, France. He is a member of the French Academy of Sciences and holds the Gold Medal of the CNRS (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique). He is the author of The Paradox of Sleep: The Story of Dreaming (MIT Press).

Titles by This Author

This enlightening, entertaining, and intriguing novel begins as a story within a story—or a story within a trunk. A Frenchman—our narrator, presumably the author Michel Jouvet, or a literary version of himself—buys an antique chest with brass fittings, labeled with the initials HLS and a partially worn-away date, "178-." Happy to have such a handsome piece for his hallway, the narrator is surprised to find within it bundles of ancient papers tied with string. He has discovered the dream journals, experiments, and correspondence of eighteenth-century amateur scientist Hugues la Scève. With Jouvet, a recognized authority on sleep and dream research, as our guide, we follow la Scève's quest to unlock the mystery of dreams.

In his chateau and elsewhere, la Scève undertakes a series of complex and often comic experiments: he records his own dreams and speculates on their relation to waking life; he studies sleeping cats, rabbits, and other animals (and observes rapid eye movement almost two centuries before modern science discovers it); he records the sleep and dream experiences of a Swiss soldier and a pair of Siamese twins. And, because sleep and dreams are often in close proximity to the erotic, he considers the relation of dreaming and sexual activity, heroically undertaking first-hand research with various women (with the notable exception of his wife).

La Scève's fantastic experiments and discoveries have a solid scientific basis: Jouvet has transposed some of his own cutting-edge research to the context of the eighteenth century—when scientific knowledge was more limited, but the joy of scientific study was more widespread. La Scève's experiments are a testament to the power of scientific observation. The tale that Jouvet discovered buried in the old chest could have been true.

The Story of Dreaming

Michel Jouvet is perhaps the world's leading sleep and dream researcher. In The Paradox of Sleep, Jouvet takes the reader on a scientific and sociological tour of the history of sleep and dream research.

Jouvet tells the story of a handful of neurobiologists, including himself, who pioneered sleep and dream research in the 1950s. He describes the technical and ideological obstacles they faced and opens his own laboratory to the reader. A key section of the book is Jouvet's discussion of why we dream. After summarizing Freud's theory of dreams, he contrasts it with current neurobiological data. Finally he outlines his own controversial theory about why we dream: to preserve our individuality.