J. Allan Hobson's scientific experimentation began in childhood, with a soot-filled investigation into the capacity of a chimney to admit Santa Claus. (He discovered that even with the damper open the chimney was far too narrow.) Hobson’s life as an experimentalist has continued through a pioneering career devoted to aligning psychology and biology and to investigating the relationship of dreaming and consciousness. In Dream Life, Hobson conducts an experimental investigation into his life and work.
Hobson charts his developing consciousness through a vividly imagined conception (in October of 1932), birth, and babyhood, offering a theory about "protoconsciousness" in fetuses and infants. He recounts his youthful zeal for scientific discovery, his early sexual experimentation, and his education. He describes taking on the entrenched Freudians at Harvard Medical School in the 1950s, as a maverick psychiatrist who wanted to replace psychoanalysis with biological science. He describes his further studies, his marriages and love affairs, his travels, and what he learned about the brain from his whiplash-induced amnesia after a 1963 automobile accident and from his "brain death" after a stroke in 2001. Through it all, Hobson uses his life as the ultimate case study for his theory that REM sleep provides a test pattern that allows the brain to develop "offline." Dreams—most intense in REM sleep, when the brain is active—need no Freudian-style decoding, he says. Dreaming is a glorious mental state, to be enjoyed and studied for what it tells us about consciousness.
"Aiming squarely at Freud, Hobson and a succession of collaborators documented people's sleep cycles, monitored their brain waves, and tracked chemical changes in the brain. In a series of books driven by five decades of research, Hobson argued that what's really happening when we dream is that our forebrains—the center of thinking and memory—are offline, while our visual, auditory, and emotional centers are not only online, but lit up. Bizarre and powerful dreams aren't caused by repressed desire, he argued, but by biology. Dreams may be fun to think about, but they're really just a side effect of sleep."—Boston Globe
"Many scientists write lay expositions of their research. Others do memoirs. Hobson, one of the world's most eminent sleep researchers, provides a unique amalgam. He recounts his life history, employing diverse episodes to convey insights into brain function. Hobson is frank to a fault, baring painful personal traumas—including his stroke, heart failure, and marital infidelities—all as learning moments for the reader. The resulting volume is as engrossing as a detective story, emotionally moving, and teaches far better than any textbook. Every scientist, physician, and curious lay reader will wish to devour this succulent brain food."—Solomon H. Snyder, M.D.
"Hobson, world-renowned and respected psychiatrist and neuroscientist, here elucidates how our brains work by sharing the captivating story of his life. Provocatively self-exposing, the book reads as a run-beaten train and uncovers the newest theories on the function of consciousness, sleep, and dreams. Popular brain science at its best. Hobson here presents a new kind of book: a 'biopsychography.' Learning neurobiology never was so fascinating as through the memoires of this scientific rebel. Psychoanalysis finally gets substituted by experiment-driven biological science."
—Steven Laureys, Coma Science Group, Liège
"Many scientists write lay expositions of their research. Others do memoirs. Hobson, one of the world's most eminent sleep researchers, provides a unique amalgam. He recounts his life history, employing diverse episodes to convey insights into brain function. Hobson is frank to a fault, baring painful personal traumas—including his stroke, heart failure, and marital infidelities—all as learning moments for the reader. The resulting volume is as engrossing as a detective story, emotionally moving, and teaches far better than any textbook. Every scientist, physician, and curious lay reader will wish to devour this succulent brain food."
—Solomon H. Snyder, Johns Hopkins Medical School
"The gripping autobiography of the life of a most remarkable man. Hobson is a worthy rival to Sigmund Freud as the most important dream theorist ever. In Dream Life we are treated to a new kind of memoir—a 'biopsychography'—a form of writing that involves simultaneously understanding one’s own life from the subjective, phenomenological point of view and from an objective evolutionary-neuroscientific point of view. Unlike most every other theorist of consciousness, Hobson has been studying consciousness, both his own and that of thousands of sleep subjects, for over half a century. The life of a most remarkable man and a primer in the nature and function of the waking and sleeping mind. Deeply personal and deeply impersonal at the same time. A compelling model for how all of us might work to truthfully understand ourselves given that we are 'subjectively objective/objectively subjective' beings. An exemplary exercise in what self-knowing might look like in the 21st century."
—Owen Flanagan, James B. Duke Professor of Philosophy, Duke University
"This remarkably candid and unconventional memoir provides a fascinating account of the life of the mind, as lived and boldly explored by one of the foremost brain scientists of our time. The details of Hobson's youthful escape from the Siren call of psychoanalysis, and the fruits of his subsequent and revolutionary research on sleep and dreaming, bear witness to a challenging and passionate quest. Along the way, we learn just how the study of sleep and dreaming have supplied a 'royal road' to the understanding of consciousness."
—Frank J. Sulloway, University of California, Berkeley, author of Freud, Biologist of the Mind and Born to Rebel: Birth Order, Family Dynamics, and Creative Lives
"Upon the ruins of Freud's failed attempt to construct a universal theory of mind, Hobson builds a catholic, brain-based edifice to account for the phenomenology of awake consciousness, sleep, and dreams in sickness and health. Its cornerstone—that dreaming, psychosis, and psychedelic experiences are closely related phenomena caused by specific alterations in the brain's neuromodulatory systems—allows him to explain a dizzying variety of altered states—from hypnosis to lucid dreaming, from out-of-body to religious experiences, mind-altering drugs and so on—within a single framework."
—Christof Koch, Lois and Victor Troendle Professor of Cognitive and Behavioral Biology, California Institute of Technology