7th Nov 2013: To sleep, perchance to dream: 30 years in the land of Morpheus by Prof Ray Miller


Come along to The Counting House at 7pm for a talk by Ray. Enjoy meeting someone new and sharing a crust of bread. Click here for details

Name of speaker and subject:

Prof. Ray Miller, Psychologist

Title of talk:

What has Psychology ever done for us? (A story in three parts)
Part 4:    To sleep, perchance to dream: 30 years in the land of Morpheus
Why do we sleep? How much do we need? What happens in sleep? What are dreams?.

“Even a soul submerged in sleep is hard at work and helps make something of the world.”
― Heraclitus

Bullet points:

  • What do we REALLY know about sleep?
  • Ten common myths about sleep.
  • Sleep in plants and animals – and some oddities.
  • The sleep cycle in humans.
  • Why do we sleep? Three theories.
  • Common sleep disorders.
  • Getting a good sleep.
  • What are dreams and why dream? Three theories.
  • Lucid dreaming and sleep paralysis.


Sleep is something we are all so familiar with that it rarely occurs to us how little we know about it. We spend around one third of our life in sleep. It is something we share with the entire kingdom of plants and animals. We can’t seem to do without it. But even basic questions like why we sleep at all are only just beginning to be answered.
There are many myths about sleep and many facts that are surprising. Understanding sleep cycles and the changes in both brain and body activity casts some light on that mysterious realm that evades our direct, conscious awareness.
Past theories have depended largely on subjective experiences, external observation and crude, biophysical measures. Only with the development of Electroencephalography (EEG) and brain scanning are we beginning to get a more objective view. Some of the results cast much of what we thought we knew into doubt.
And then there are dreams. Portents of the future, the high road to the unconscious or the random products of neurological processes. Dreams have been the subject of much speculation and are at the core of myth and meaning in many cultures. They have been explored extensively in literature and psychology but, once again, we are only beginning to be able to compare the competing theories and seek out some clearer answers. The discovery of the fascinating area of sleep and dreams should keep you awake!

A few words about you and your passion:

I have been a psychologist for nearly 40 years. Most of that time has been spent as a professional psychologist in the field of healthcare (now retired) but much of the psychology that I used, and continue to use, is based on understanding some essential concepts that I acquired during my undergraduate years.
Psychology is more than just an academic topic or applied science, although it is certainly both of these. Psychology is a fundamental aspect of our daily lives, our interactions with others and with our environment. In that sense, we all have to be psychologists and, even without aiming to become experts, we can all benefit from a better understanding of some of its principles.
Don’t expect an in depth study of the topic. This will be a somewhat idiosyncratic taster to whet your appetite rather than to educate you. However, you will probably find at least some ideas that set you thinking and which may start you along the path of self-generated learning.

A few lines about the history of your subject:

Psychology, Philosophy and the urge to understand ourselves and our world have been around as long as there have been people. They are the springboard to Science and the very etymology of these terms can be traced back to Ancient Greece.
Modern Psychology, as an academic and scientific discipline, can probably be dated back to the late 19th century and the attempts of people like Wilhelm Wundt to formalise the study of personal experience. Theories of psychology have ranged from Freud’s model of the psyche, through Behaviourism and Learning Theory, Models of Cognition, Evolutionary Psychology and, most recently, the integration of Psychology with our emerging knowledge of neurology and biology.
It is a subject that has grown hugely in both its scope and understanding in the last 100 years or so. The British Psychological Society was founded in 1901 but few, if any, of its original members could have conceived of its development 110 years later.
It sometimes seems that the more we look into it, the less we actually know. It challenges many ‘common sense’ beliefs and sacred cows. It is political, social and, often, revolutionary. It raises questions about our attitudes and beliefs, our social structures and even about the notion of ‘self’. Where will it take us in the next 100 years? Who knows! But the journey will certainly be full of surprises.

Anything else you may want to say:

That’s all folks!