The main concept of this book
is a new form of psychiatry. The patient goes inside something vaguely
coffin-sized and is attached to electrodes. The psychiatrist puts the patient
into a sleep state and initiates dreams. The psychiatrist molds the dreams to
be relevant to the patient's particular issues. The dynamics of the
psychiatrist-led dreams are supposed to help the patient respond to treatment
over a shorter period of time. (There is also a reference to the process
making physical changes in the patients' brains, but it wasn't clear to me
whether this was merely a consequence of the above or whether there was some
neurological treatment the machine carried out simultaneously with the other.)
This type of psychiatrist is known as a "shaper".
Shapers work with the
neurotic, not the psychotic. Shaping requires too much of a link between the
two minds - working with a psychotic might harm the shaper's mind.
We get some introduction to
the process via the treatment of a fairly typical patient. Then most of the book
deals with the shaper working with a woman psychiatrist who wants to become a
shaper. This is not so simple because to be a shaper she would need to
understand and manipulate the visual elements of the dreams. She is at a
disadvantage for doing this because she has been blind since birth.
In order to learn to shape
dreams, first she needs to be familiar with a visual representation of all the
things that might be in dreams. The shaper has the woman get into the machine
as a patient would. Then he initiates dreams for her. He begins with simple
elements - introducing her to the colors and the appearances of simple
objects. Over the course of a number of sessions, he shows her more and more
of what the world looks like.
In addition to this basic
plot there are some other elements that provide subplots. The blind woman has
a modified seeing-eye dog. The dog has been genetically altered for higher
intelligence and has been surgically altered to allow it to be able to speak.
There is some scientific interest in this concept. There is also a
psychological element - the dog's bonding to the woman makes him distrustful of
the process and worry about what would happen if she gained sight or otherwise
no longer needed him.
There are two subplots about
the shaper's personal life. He is not currently married, but he has a son. He
has his son off at boarding schools, but the shaper has repeatedly become
dissatisfied with the schools and transferred the son from school to school.
The shaper seems to have issues.
The shaper also has a
girl-friend who he sometimes sleeps with, but he has no interest in living with
or marrying. There are some issues in their relationship. Furthermore, the
girl-friend becomes concerned about his relationship with the blind woman.
These subplots about the
shaper's life seem to mainly give us a picture of the shaper as someone who
needs to work out some matters in his own life.
Against the recommendations
of others, including the shaper's past mentor, he works with the blind woman to
introduce her to visual experience through his dream machine. The blind woman
has a strong will - she has had to in order to get where she is. She has a
tendency to exert more influence in the dreams than she should. And she and
the shaper are attracted to each other. This is probably a factor in why he
continues to work with her in spite of everything...