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Portrait of Freud

Freud May Have Dreamt of His Own Cancer, Three Decades Before Suffering It


A widely discussed theory is explained by Eric Wargo, bolstered by ideas from quantum physics.

Have you ever had a dream in which you see yourself doing something which, in much later life, turns out to have come true? That ability to remember dreams, and to integrate them into our lives as part of our life-experience is often enough shunted aside by science, where dreams are still inexplicable, or where they’re simply the secondary experiences of wakefulness.

A doctor of anthropology and writer, Eric Wargo, has another way of dealing with the problem of dreams. According to Wargo, precognitive dreams (those in which we can see the future), and the phenomena labeled as “parapsychological” or mysterious, are but manifestations of our own consciousness —but over a very long timeline.

In other words, in dreams that foretell the future, the sense of serendipity or deja vu, is but a manifestation of our own consciousness. Messages from ourselves to ourselves, however distorted, they don’t seem to affect their many possible outcomes.

The phenomena of dreams and of quantum physics come together in the experiments of Eric Wargo. In support of these theories (published in his book, Time Loops: Precognition, Retrocausation, and the Unconscious), Wargo draws on a novel (though sometimes problematic) interpretation of the Freudian unconscious, seasoned with references to science fiction and quantum physics.

To illustrate this interesting problem, Wargo put forward the idea that premonitory dreams function as wormholes and time-travel. It’s a well-known paradox and one which has infiltrated the popular imagination. A time traveler returns to the past and kills a grandparent. One then confronts the problem that one has ceased to exist at that very moment. In murdering one’s grandparent or parent, one can never have existed. But Russian physicist, Igor Novikov has argued that physical laws include a self-consistency principle, according to which if an object that travels from a point B, in the future, back to a point A in the past, its journey couldn’t interfere with its own entry into the wormhole. What happens is a kind of “quantum Darwinism,” according to which the trip back to point A would necessarily facilitate a later entry into point B.

Wargo’s example of this paradox comes from a rereading of the famous chapter II of The Interpretation of Dreams by Sigmund Freud. In short, Freud describes a dream he had in 1895. Freud’s dream-self is observing the mouth of a patient, “Irma,” in the interior of which he sees a white spot, and parts of the nasal passage which shouldn’t be visible. The patient has a difficult time opening her mouth. This draws Freud’s attention and he calls a trio of colleagues who check the patient and conclude that the injuries in the mouth of “Irma” are due to a “dirty syringe.”

Freud argued in his seminal treatise on dreams that the function of such dreams in the libidinal economy is to “realize” desires that the conscious mind can’t accept. The classic interpretation of the “Irma” dream is that Freud was ridding himself of an accusation of medical malpractice. According to Wargo, though, Freud’s dream could actually have been a premonitory dream of the cancer which would afflict him three decades later. An aggressive cancer of the jaw, for which he would eventually have part of this bone removed (and from which he’d have difficulties opening his mouth, and even speaking). The dream even showed the abscesses in the “white spots” beneath the tongue. Wargo explains it this way:

In short: Freud’s most famous dream was like a billiard ball sent back to his younger self by his 68-year-old brain. The big 8-ball in his life that deflected him onto being the great pioneer of the new method called psychoanalysis was itself a wish from his future self that he’d done a few things different when he was younger, including being less adamant that dreams were only disguised fulfilments of repressed wishes. It was a corner he could not back himself out of. This is why I say that it was “not coincidental” that his most famous and significant dream happened to center on the most grave circumstance of his later life: It had to be a particularly powerful and significant shot to deflect him in just the right direction, that many years before.

Read quickly, Wargo’s theories may seem difficult to understand. After all, they require some familiarity with very different fields of knowledge, from Freudian psychoanalysis to quantum physics. But reading them with the same adventurous impetus he has when writing of them on his well-known blog, The Night Shirt, could lead us to a seldom-explored adventure within the phenomena of consciousness. Wargo’s explanation of precognition offers a materialistic version for many unexplainable phenomena, from questions of the existence God to the “observer effect” in particle physics. It may even lead us to think that consciousness remains an unexplored territory, and one in which (in the past as in the future) we’re witnessing our own learning experience.

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