While many people spend their lives chasing their dreams, Charles McPhee '85 has spent his life studying them.
Following in the footsteps of Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, McPhee has been working to bring the study of dreams into the 21st century.
During his college days, as a novice, McPhee would interpret his roommates' dreams. Now, nearly 20 years after walking out of the Fitzrandolph gates and with more dream experience than any other man in the field, McPhee is working to educate the general public about the myths, meanings and applications of dreams.
"After I finished my thesis," McPhee said, "my advisor (Marvin Bressler) called me in, and, while he was smoking his pipe, he said to me, 'McPhee, do you know what I see in your future? You are going to be sitting on the side of a mountain with a bottle of wine at your side and a beautiful woman as your muse, and you will be teaching the masses about their dreams.'"
"And it has come true," he said.
McPhee, the self-proclaimed Dream Doctor, spends his days interpreting and explaining dreams on his own radio show.
"I'm Charles McPhee — the Dream Doctor. If you tell me your dreams, I'll tell you what they mean"— this is how he opens his show.
McPhee's syndicated radio show is designed for a broad audience and currently broadcasts in 20 markets across the country.
"The goal of the radio format is to take all this information that is available about sleep and dreams and sleep disorders and put it into a language that everyone can understand and that everyone can value," he said, "while making sure it is still accurate."
McPhee is trying to gain esteem in a field that has not always been respected.
"I'll be the first to tell you most dream interpretation books are awful. They are superstitious and have no research behind them," he said.
"The field in general is stuck; it's antiquated. There haven't been the tools required to make it a science till recently," he continued.
However, new resources and tools have the capabilities of moving the dream world to the 21st century.
"The field should be criticized for things it has produced in the past, but the work I do is good, and that is why it succeeds," he said.
Dreams are important, McPhee explained, because they inform us about what is on our minds, highlight issues that are important to us or about which we are concerned.
For example, he explained, when his wife begins having dreams about Austria, her homeland, it means she is missing her family and it is time to plan a visit.
"We share our dreams everyday, and it is really beneficial to our relationship," he said.
McPhee, who now resides in Atlanta, Georgia, believes that people should be able to understand why they have a particular dream at a particular time.
"It's a tool for empowerment and reminding oneself of his goals," he said. "It also allows us to make well-informed and educated decisions in our lives."
Each person dreams 100 minutes per night, on average, but memory for dreams is horrible, McPhee said. In order to increase the amount one remembers, McPhee recommends keeping a dream diary that contains key images and feelings from the dreams he or she had the previous night.
McPhee traces his love for dreaming back to his freshman year at Princeton.
"I am an active and lucid dreamer, so I decided to go to Firestone, and I read everything about Freud and Jung that I could find."
A lucid dream, McPhee explained, is a dream in which you know you are dreaming, a phenomenon that about 50 percent of people experience.
According to McPhee, lucid dreaming is a powerful tool in dream research, but there was not much literature available about it.
"I was really jazzed!" McPhee said. "I thought, 'Wow, here is this really powerful level of dreaming that has been overlooked by the greats.'"
"It was more than just an intellectual thing, more than just finding something that hadn't really been explored before," McPhee said. "My own dreams were really memorable and meaningful and I wanted to know more about them."
For McPhee, Princeton was the ideal place to do just that.
"The greatest thing about Princeton is that they always treat the students with respect," he said.
McPhee recounted having to visit his thesis advisor multiple times in order to convince him that he really wanted to write his senior thesis on how to teach people to have lucid dreams.
"Marvin (Bressler) had to listen to me and listen to me and listen to me. But when I came back for about the seventh time and it was obvious that this is what I was passionate about and wanted to do, he said, 'Yes.'"
"He is a person of immense charm and divine stubbornness," Marvin Bressler, Professor Emeritus in the Department of Sociology, said. "He wanted to write his thesis on lucid dreaming, something his advisors, myself included, were not excessively enthusiastic about."
But according to Bressler, not only did McPhee write an excellent thesis, he established himself as an authority in the field.
"Princeton is not only the place where I learned to dream, but it also encouraged my dreams," McPhee said.
McPhee's connections to Princeton run deeper than purely academics, his uncle, John McPhee '53, is a lecturer in the Council of the Humanities and a Ferris Professor of Journalism.
After graduating from Princeton, McPhee worked at the National Institute of Mental Health and the Sleep Disorders Center at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, where he acted as the clinical coordinator of sleep research labs. More recently, he served at the director of the Sleep Apnea Patient Treatment Program at the Sleep Disorders Center of Santa Barbara. In his late 20s and early 30s, he recorded and studied over 30,000 hours of human sleep. That is nearly three and a half years of sleeping.
During that time, McPhee not only received his masters degree in communications from USC, but he also published his first book, "Stop Sleeping Through Your Dreams," which was partially inspired by his senior thesis.
"After writing my thesis, I was encouraged to write my first book. Once you get a hundred pages under your belt, you say to yourself, you know, I can do two hundred," McPhee said with a laugh.
Writing books was one of the first steps in McPhee's goal of educating the masses. Later he moved to Internet and radio.
"When the Internet started going really strongly, I thought to myself, what a great outlet. So I added a segment to my upcoming book saying that the author would like to hear about the readers' dreams," McPhee said.
McPhee's request for dreams was answered by 700 responses. After that, it didn't take long for McPhee to establish himself as the Dream Doctor, and through an interactive website begin providing dream and sleep information, as well as paid dream interpretation sessions, to the public.
McPhee has used the site not only to educate the public, but also to collect dreams. Over the past six years, McPhee has collected over a half a million dreams from 90 different countries.
"It's the largest dream data base in the world," he said.
McPhee then uses the database as a research tool.
"It is much more accurate than anything that has been done in the past. When you read so many dreams, you get a better idea as to how any given symbol functions in a dream," he said.
As the web-based Dream Doctor grew, McPhee moved into public access television and then radio.
According to McPhee, his impressively high radio ratings are related to his accurate and enlightened dream interpretation, based on clinical research and access to a huge dream database.
With the goal of educating the masses, in addition to radio, McPhee has authored a few books and created an electronic dream dictionary for pre-teenaged girls, to be released in stores next fall.
"While at Princeton, I had a professor who, in lecture one day, told us that the goal of education is to make learning fun," McPhee said.
The message seems to have stuck with McPhee as he has spent the last 20 years trying to do just that.
The Dream Doctor has no plans to leave the radio field in the near future, but he has not ruled out the idea of returning to clinical research.
"Maybe some day I'll go back to clinical work, maybe I'll consolidate all dreams I have collected," he said.
But for now, McPhee is happy where he is.
And according to Bressler, it's exactly what he should be doing. "He's really obsessed with the subject," Bressler laughed.
"I have a dream job — it's so good, and I absolutely love it every single day!" McPhee said.