The Lost Dream Journals of Santiago Ramón y Cajal

Federica Bordoni for Nautilus Magazine
Federica Bordoni for Nautilus Magazine

When I was in Spain, last spring, I visited the National Library in Madrid, where original manuscripts of Don Quixote and other classics are preserved. I searched for every single book about Santiago Ramón y Cajal. Throughout my research, I had already seen most of them. But I hadn’t seen Los Sueños de Santiago Ramón y Cajal, published earlier that year. I took the book to the central reading room and could not believe my eyes. The father of modern neuroscience kept a dream diary from 1918 until 1934, when he died. He wanted to disprove the theories of Freud. I had known about his work as an experimental psychologist, studying hypnotism and suggestion out of his own home. I knew that his ultimate goal was to understand the human mind by examining the anatomical substrate of the brain. But I had no idea that he would have kept such a personal account of his own unconscious. Perhaps this is why he chose not to publish his findings, in the end. I was deeply moved by some of the dreams. Here was a side of the great genius that no one knew. The story of the book was stuff of legend; thought lost during the Spanish Civil War, it was guarded by a Spanish psychiatrist during his travels throughout Europe and uncovered just recently by Spanish scholars. Read more about it all in Nautilus Magazine, which published some of my translated excerpts along with an introduction.

About the author

Ben Ehrlich

Ben Ehrlich's new book "The Dreams of Santiago Ramón y Cajal" will be published by Oxford University Press in 2016. Ben is a 2015 Salzburg Global Seminar fellow in Neuroscience and Art.

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