A neuroscientist explores the role of dreams in human existence and evolution, arguing that—from the earliest cave paintings to today's cutting-edge scientific research—dreams have contributed to humans' capacity to perceive past and future and our ability to conceive of the existence of souls and spirits.
How can we explain the nature, recurrence and meaning of dreams? ... Mr. Ribeiro seeks to answer these questions with a sweeping account as tangled and chaotic—and fascinating—as the dreams themselves ... The Oracle of Night is not, however, an attempt to demystify the act of dreaming. Instead, it reinfuses the dreamscape with beauty, mystery and significance. And it begins with Mr. Ribeiro’s own story; he was that dreaming boy ... Despite its well-sourced scientific discussions and the collective weight of its historical case studies, the strength of The Oracle of Night lies in its poetic and visceral retelling of dreams ... Daunting in its breadth and encyclopedic in structure, The Oracle of Night contains a narrative thread that leads the reader from its inception to close.
The Oracle of Night makes a resounding case for the mystery, beauty and cognitive importance of dreams. Ribeiro marshals prodigious evidence to bolster his case that a dream is not simply 'fragments of memory assembled at random' (as he summarizes Francis Crick’s dismissive position), but instead is a 'privileged moment for prospecting the unconscious' ... this book is...the expression of remarkable, if sometimes all-over-the-map, scholarship, drawing on history, literature, biology, anthropology, neuroscience, sociology and psychology, among other disciplines ... His lyrical account is aided by Daniel Hahn’s beautiful translation from the Portuguese ... His accounts of rich, metaphorical dreams made me wish that my own weren’t so fragmented and elusive ... For those who want to examine the scientific underpinnings of Ribeiro’s thesis about the importance of dreams for synthesizing information and forming memories, The Oracle of Night somewhat exhaustively describes numerous studies, and the advances—or confusions—that they have brought to the field. Who knew that sleep researchers were such a fractious bunch? ... As in a dream, the reader can lose the thread. The technical research Ribeiro presents is hard for a lay person to understand. It feels as though there’s enough material here for at least two books ... But you can’t help being awed and enchanted by the wonder with which Ribeiro approaches his subject, by the depth of his knowledge and passion.
If this were just a science book it would be rich and full, but Ribeiro weaves in a history of dreaming, selecting ideas that support his evolutionary argument ... This is an enthusiast’s book: it covers a lot, and sometimes gets lost. It has a sound scientific core, though, and its argument stands up. Dreams matter. They deserve our serious attention.