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How to dream up a New Yorker cartoon caption

The New Yorker cartoon editor threw out the challenge, can you, literally dream up a cartoon caption. Psychologist Deidre Barrett writes on the TED blog, How to dream up a New Yorker cartoon caption, how dreams can be used to unlock waking world problems and provide creative solutions.

Barrett writes: There are not all that many funny dreams, but at least three elements general to dream creativity can benefit cartooning:
1.  Puns: language use drops in dreams, but the sound of words plays a larger role relative to meaning,
2. The emergence of forbidden impulses: the sex and aggression that escape sleep’s indolent censor are fuel for humor, and
3. Bizarre juxtapositions: what our dreaming mind fails to label as “not making sense” will strike our waking sensibilities as funny.

Freud wrote in The Interpretation of Dreams of “visual representation”: the tendency of a verbal phrase to be represented by an image. Of Freud’s many punlike examples, the only one robust in a translation from German to English featured a sexual encounter in a car interpreted as “autoeroticism.” Many of the amusing dream images I’ve encountered are literalizations of idioms — a family’s “black sheep,” an ambivalent dreamer “straddling the fence,” and another finding herself and her husband “on the rocks.” A century ago, Winsor McKay’s famous cartoon strips, “Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend” (so named as the cheesy dish was said to produce weird dreams), illustrated  idioms showing up in dreams — as in a husband  ending up “in the dog house.”

It is not difficult to see how Barrett’s standard dream incubation instructions, as below, could be, with a little relevant modification, apply to any problem facing someone. Well, the experiment would be to try it out for yourself. Here are Barrett’s dream incubation instructions: and, I guess for other problems, replace “cartoon” with your problem. The key may be to capture your problem in a very concise and specific manner, such as a cartoon presents. Good Luck.

1) Place the cartoon to be captioned by your bed.
2) Review the cartoon image for a few minutes just before going to bed.
3) Once in bed, visualize the cartoon image in your mind’s eye.
4) Tell yourself you want to dream a caption just as you are drifting off to sleep.
5) Keeping a pen and paper–perhaps also a flashlight or pen with a lit tip–on the night table.
6) Upon awakening, lie quietly before getting out of bed.  Note whether there is any trace of a recalled dream and invite more of the dream to return if possible.  Write it down.


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