The Engine Man

A natural scientist wrote down a remarkable dream series between July 14 and October 14 of 1939, when he was in his mid-40's. When he died, nearly 20 years later, his journal was inherited by one of his relatives, who later sold it to a book dealer. The journal eventually was purchased by Harvard psychiatrist and dream researcher Allan Hobson, who wrote about it using the pseudonym "The Engine Man" in Part IV of The Dreaming Brain (Basic Books, 1988). This pseudonym was chosen by Hobson because the man dreamed frequently of train locomotives and sometimes drew pictures of them in the margins of his dream journal.

Hobson used these dreams to demonstrate the unusualness and unreality of dreams in terms of their form, scene changes, and unlikely juxtapositions. Whatever the formal structure of the dreams, we found they are extremely consistent in their content, as shown in a table that compares subsets of his dreams.

The subset analysis, done by Adam Schneider, is based on the 187 dreams in the series with 50 or more words, and it compares findings for the whole sample with those for two subsets of 93 and four subsets of 46. The stability of the findings is not very good with the four subsets, but it is impressive with the two larger ones, except for two or three categories where there may be trends in what he is dreaming about that cannot be followed because he stopped writing down his dreams. Generally, though, these findings support our claim that 75 to 100 dream reports are all that are needed for a representative sample from an individual.

The Engine Man was not only a consistent dreamer, but also a somewhat unusual one, as revealed in the h-profile below. He was below the norms in most aggression categories, particularly in terms of his own involvement in aggressions. He is also strikingly low in his involvement in friendliness. In other words, he is in good part a witness or observer in his dreams. He is above the norms only on animal percent and familiar settings.

H-profile of "Engine Man" compared to the male norms

The atypical aspects of the Engine Man's h-profile are very congruent with his waking life, as revealed in a four-page obituary in the proceedings of a scientific society. The Engine Man was born and raised on a farm and became an entomologist who did very detailed taxonomic studies. These facts are consistent with his high animal percent and his stance as an observer in his dreams. In his dreams he is usually on the family farm, at his work setting, or around his home, which accounts for his high percentage of familiar settings. In terms of content, then, there is consistency over a three-month period and continuity with waking life in the dreams of the Engine Man, in striking contrast to the irregularity of their form.

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