Science in Christian Perspective



A Dream Come Untrue: The Amazing Story of Kilton Stewart's Amazing Story
Kathryn Lindskoog
1344 East Mayfair Avenue 
Orange, California 92667

From: JASA 33 (September 1981): 180-182.

Since 1950 two new aspects of sleeping dreams have commanded immense amounts of attention. In 1951 Kilton Stewart first published his now famous article "Dream Theory in Malaya," and in 1952 laboratory workers began their study of sleep stages and the physiology of dreaming. When Stewart became aware of the laboratory results, he claimed that it dovetailed with his own discoveries in Malaya. Few people were aware of these events in the early 1950's, but twenty years later they had revolutionized the subject of dreams.

Stewart's article announced that the Senoi tribe of Malaya has been free of violent crime, armed conflict, stress from culture change, and most chronic mental and physical ailments for probably two or three centuries. These people have almost unearthly psychological integration and emotional maturity because of the way they work with their dreams. Stewart says they are as advanced psychologically as we are in physics and technology.

The story of this new Garden of Eden and its noble savages spread quickly, once it appeared in psychology professor Charles T. Tart's anthology Altered States of Consciousness in 1969. Stanley Krippner recounted the story in Psychology Today in 1970. In 1972 the story was retold in at least five widely circulated books: Where The Wasteland Ends by Theodore Roszak, The Psychology of Consciousness by Robert Ornstein, Dream Power by Ann Faraday, Psychology For You by Sol Gordon, and In Search Of The Dream People by Richard Noone and Dennis Holman. Since this 1972 boom the Senoi phenomenon has been mentioned in almost all books and articles that consider the meaning of dreams.

In 1973 Marilyn Ferguson's fascinating book The Brain Revolution claimed erroneously that Kilton Stewart had studied the Senoi for fifteen years. She remarked whimsically, "The Senoi have become the objects of such intense interest on the part of anthropologists and psychologists that one wonders if they still have time to dream." She and everyone else assumed that the world of research had been beating a path to Senoi villages. Ferguson reported that several colleges offer courses in Senoi-type dream therapy, that a group of American students lived a year and a half in a Senoi-style communal society, and that some psychologists use Senoi techniques in group therapy.

In 1974 psychology professor Patricia Garfield published Creative Dreaming and made the Senoi story especially vivid with her detailed descriptions of their idyllic life in the jungle and her simple explanation of how to use their dream techniques to enhance and enrich life in our socity. The key to Senoi dream theory is to learn to turn all dreams to good account while dreaming. Thinking about this and intending to do it helps it to happen. This is the heart of Senoi education. By discussing the family's dreams at breakfast every morning, the father or older brother teaches the children to recall and value their dreams and to expect to work wonders in their dreams. (None of the Senoi popularizers have mentioned that according to Kilton Stewart the dreams of females are relatively unimportant to the Senoi.)

All enemies in dreams, including uncooperative characters, are seen as potential friends who will bestow worthwhile creative ideas upon the dreamer (either artistic or practical) when the dreamer fearlessly subdues them-fighting to the death or calling helpers when necessary. Dangers such as falling are purposely turned into pleasures such as landing in lovely places or flying. All dreams without enemies, whether neutral or pleasant, are expected to produce gifts or intense pleasure. Orgasm with dream lovers is encouraged, no matter who they are.

There is carry-over into waking life aside from perpetual sharing of dream gift ideas with the community. If an acquaintance is unhelpful in a dream he is told about it and makes a real gift of some kind to the dreamer. If the dreamer has been unkind in a dream, he makes a real gift to the injured party in real life. If the dreamer sees an acquaintance injured in a dream, he warns him of the danger in real life. The Senoi acquire kindly "spirit guides" in their dreams who tell them more about spirit religion, and they incorporate these ideas into their waking religious beliefs. (Contrary to what Kilton Stewart learned in Malaya, those who write and teach about the Senoi culture often claim that the Senoi do not believe in the reality of a spirit world and recognize these entities as their own projections.)

After breakfast, the village males gather for lengthy discussion of all the village dreams of the night before. This is how they are guided. The resulting society is intensely democratic, cooperative, and resilient; it is safely immune to detrimental cultural influences from the outside world. It sounds like an earthly paradise for males, if not quite that good for females, Malaya has become to many dream enthusiasts what Hunza-land is to many health food enthusiasts.

The story is still being retold authoritatively. In 1976 it was included in Dreams, Culture, And The Individual by anthropologist Carl O'Nell. At the end of 1978 it reappeared in Psychology Today as told by sleep researcher Rosalind Dymond Cartwright. In her version Kilton Stewart was an anthropologist who visited the Senoi in the 1950s rather than a psychologist who visited them in the 1930s. Whether he is credited with being an anthropologist or a psychologist, Kilton Stewart's very name seems to command unquestioning respect.

Who in the World was this Famous Kilton Stewart?

Stewart was born to a devout Mormon family in Salt Lake City, Utah, in 1903. After graduation from high school, he served as a Mormon missionary in Quebec and Nova Scotia for three years, exhorting everyone he met to discover in personal dreams and visions the truth of Mormon teachings. When he learned that this unusual approach to potential converts was not acceptable in the Mormon church, he left it. As an ex-Mormon he discarded their doctrines about smoking, drinking and sex; he also lost his belief in any afterlife. He came to think of "God" as a natural force center within each man and no more.

Stewart was a warm, outgoing man with a truly extraordinary personality and an adventuresome spirit. He never wrote about brain hemispheres, but he wrote ardently against our society's emphasis upon what we now know to be left hemisphere skills and wrote ardently in praise of what we now recognize to be right hemisphere functions. He obtained a masters degree in psychology from the University of Utah and then obtained and lost two research grants. He was a maverick all his life.

Stewart's only book, Pygmies and Dream Giants, first published in 1954 and obviously written in a style far superior to Stewart's own prose, tells his fife story up to his adventures in the Philippines in 1933 and no farther. To learn a little about his visit to Malaya in his own words one must read the thesis that he completed in 1947, which says that the visit took place in the spring of 1934, although the correct date seems to be 1935. The thesis is hard to obtain because it is the property of Clara Stewart Flagg, Stewart's widow, who keeps it from public scrutiny, perhaps because of its confusion and lack of polish. Mrs. Flagg makes a career of dream interpretation seminars and in her brochures refers to the Senoi of Malaysia as pygmies, although they were in no sense pygmies. She may be purposely relating the Senoi of Malaysia to the Philippino pygmies of Stewart's book to pique public interest, but there is no relationship.

In fact Stewart's knowledge of the Senoi (really the Temiar branch of the Senoi exclusively) came entirely through the eccentric young British anthropologist H. D. "Pat" Noone, who was making a name for himself by studying them. Noone, who had gained publicity from such reports as his alleged ability to communicate with elephants in their language, accepted Stewart as a visitor for a maximum of six months in 1935 and 1936; during that time Stewart did not learn the language of the Senoi and depended upon Noone's accounts. Later, in 1939, the two men met in England to make use of Noone's notes about the tribe for a couple of months. In his thesis in 1947 Stewart gave credit to Noone for thus providing him with most of his data about the Senoi.

According to Richard Noone's book about his brother's career, In Search Of The Dream People, and Kilton Stewart's thesis, in May of 1939 Noone made a sensational presentation of his research to a gathering of distinguished scientific scholars in Cambridge. In Stewart's much later essay "You Can Raise Your Dream IQ" he claims to have made the presentation with Noone. When a professor asked Noone how he knew that the Temiar dream accounts were accurate, he replied that he sometimes listened to them talk in their sleep. Noone and Stewart told the assembly that while traveling through the jungle together they frequently listened to Temiar talking in their sleep, confirming the dream accounts of the next morning. This claim alone, in print from both Richard Noone and Kilton Stewart, should have aroused instant suspicions about the validity of the Noone/Stewart research.

In his thesis Stewart added that what he and Noone actually heard was older shamans singing songs given to them by spirits in their sleep. This detail is important because readers of the available literature have thought that Noone and Stewart listened to ordinary Temiar narrating ordinary dreams in their sleep. Of the many questions that are raised by this "proof," one of the most obvious is whether or not the Temiar speak (or sing) in their sleep more frequently and clearly than other people. If so, why have we not been told that extraordinary fact? How could an aspiring anthropologist or an ambitious student of dream psychology, both longing to make major discoveries, fail to note this major discovery and only mention it in passing? One likely answer is that it was only a couple of older shamans who were heard singing at night what they sang the next day. If that is the case, Stewart had to take Noone's word for the fact that these shamans' songs were not ever known before they sang them aloud in their sleep, just as Stewart had to take Noone's word for what was being said and done all the time because Stewart did not know the language. This also raises the question of how Noone and Stewart could determine that the shamans were actually asleep rather than engaging in some of their frequent trance states or purposely pretending to be asleep to deceive or oblige their curious visitors.

Another aspect of this tale is far more important. If the story of Temiar dream-talk is true, it will radically change our present understanding of the universal dream pattern. When people talk in their sleep, they are usually in the deepest level of dreaming, from which dreams are not likely to be recalled. When people recall their dream content, it is usually from the much lighter levels of dreaming, especially the morning REM periods. Stewart claimed in his essay "How To Raise Your Dream IQ," apparently written around 1960, that the discovery of REM dream periods supported his Senoi observations because the timing of the sleep-singing that he listened to coincided exactly with what we now know to be the REM periods. If, in fact, the Temiar often talked or sang in their REM dreams (or if they often recalled their deep-sleep dreams in detail) this is amazing information which sleep researchers need to work with. It is the opposite of what research has revealed so far about sleeptalking.

Unless Temiar talk clearly in REM periods or recall deep sleep dreams, both options being extremely unlikely, Noone's claim to have monitored their dream life is impossible. If, when asked how he knew that the morning dream accounts were true, Noone had expressed personal confidence in the trustworthiness of the dreamers rather than claiming to have found empirical proof, there would not be such a serious question about the integrity of this scholarship today.

Whatever the truth was about verification of Temiar dream accounts, the sad truth is that Pat Noone returned to Malaya in 1939, and Malaya fell to the Japanese in 1941. Pat Noone joined the Communist guerillas in the jungle and helped them to make use of the Temiar and other primitive tribes. In 1943 Noone became disillusioned with the Communists and left them, planning to live with tribal friends until after the war. But after the war Pat Noone could not be found. He seemed to have disappeared without a trace.

After the war Richard Noone went to Malaya. The Temiar and others were still aiding Communist terrorists, who were now attacking the rightful government. In 1953 Noone took over the Department of Aborigines and in four years he had won almost all of the aborigines away from the Communists with a welfare program. He says he used the Senoi as armed, uniformed forces to eliminate the Communists.

Next, Richard Noone investigated the mystery of his brother's death. He eventually learned that Pat Noone had been savagely murdered by his best friend among the Temiar. The Temiar people had lied to Richard Noone about his brother's disappearance for ten years to protect the killers because in their society killers who flee the area should not be pursued and punished. In that society killers who do not go into self-imposed exile are soon secretly murdered in turn. As "Dream Theory in Malaya" observes, the Senoi have no need for jails.

There is a fair amount of contradiction between Kilton Stewart's idyllic account of "Senoi" life and Richard Noone's swashbuckling account of his family's involvement with the Temiar. Both accounts were written after World War Il and both were worked on by co-authors who may not have ever been to Malaysia. Noone's account mentions some of the hard facts of ordinary human life existing among the Temiar long before the war: a modicum of mental illness, feuding, desertion, divorce, rebellion, adultery, fear of evil spirits, and murder-along with a high mortality rate. Stewart's Garden of Eden seems to have been full of snakes.

Finally two Senoi enthusiasts reportedly went to Malaysia to make a documentary about the Senoi dream culture and learned when they got there that there is no such thing. The Senoi told the film makers that only the dreams of shamans have any significance. Richard Benjamin, Cambridge's authority on the Senoi, confirmed the fact that today's Senoi haven't even the memory of a dream-centered culture. Benjamin and some of his colleagues suggest that Stewart's enthusiasm about daily dream polls may have been the direct cause of any dream reporting that took place while he visited the Senoi. If so, Noone may have intentionally misled Stewart to whet his enthusiasm.

Some people believe that Stewart's account was factual in 1935 although it could not have been factual when he wrote it in 1950, much less when it became popular in 1969. Others do not think that the most basic part of this culture could have disappeared without a trace in the span of only forty years, even in the wake of a major war. There are some who think that Stewart's famous article, which begins with a brief fantasy about a spaceship visiting Malaya a century ago to bring the Senoi their dream techniques, was all meant to be an inspirational fiction in the first place. But that seems unlikely to those who read Stewart's thesis, which purports to be dependable research about the Senoi.

Perhaps someone will eventually provide a detailed, dependable account of the actual pre-World War II culture of the Temiar. Better yet, perhaps someone will eventually provide a thorough and accurate account of the unusual lives and characters of both H.  D.  Noone and Kilton Stewart. Better yet, perhaps someday we will have a sound evaluation of the merits of the dream therapy techniques that Stewart has given us, whatever their source. And, best of all, perhaps some expert will eventually tell us how it was that a variety of experts have repeated and elaborated upon a farfetched, totally unsubstantiated story for ten years without even checking out the facts. That gives us a lot to look forward to.

If you liked the Piltdown man, you'll love dream theory in Malaya.


Cartwright, Rosalind Dymond, "Happy Endings for Our Dreams,"Psychology Today (December 1978), 66-76,
Coppolino, Ida Stewart (sister of Kilton Stewart), personal conversation.
Faraday, Ann, Dream Power (New York: Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, Inc., 1972).
Ferguson, Marilyn, The Brain Revolution (New York: Bantam Books, 1975).
Garfield, Patricia, Creative Dreaming (New York: Ballantine Books, 1974).
Gordon, Sol, Psychology For You (New York, Oxford Book Co., 1972).
Human Behavior, "News And Comment," (June 1978), 12.
Krippner, Stanley, and William Hughes, "Sleep, Unease and Dreams," Psychology Today (June 1970), 40-41.
Noone, Richard and Dennis Holman, In Search Of The Dream People (New York: William Morrow and Company, 1972).
O'Neil ' Carl W., Dream, Culture, And The Individual (San Francisco: Chandler & Sharp, 1976).
Ornstein, Robert, The Psychology Of Consciousness (New York: Viking Press, 1972).
Roszak, Theodore, Where The Wasteland Ends (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1972).
Stewart, Kilton Riggs, Pygmies And Dream Giants (New York: Harper & Row, 1954).
Religious Beliefs And Practises [sic.] In Primitive Society- Sociologial Interpretation Of Their Therapeutic Aspects (an unpublished thesis submitted to London School of Economics in 1947).
__ Creative Psychology And Dream Education (unpublished, privately duplicated circa 1960 by Stewart Foundation for Creative Psychology).