List of dreams

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On several occasions throughout history dreams have been credited for causing very important events. This includes problem-solving, decision-making, and apparent precognition while dreaming. These phenomena have been interpreted in various ways.

Notable dreams[edit]


Mary Shelley's Frankenstein was inspired by a dream:

"I saw the pale student of unhallowed arts kneeling beside the thing he had put together. I saw the hideous phantasm of a man stretched out, and then, on the working of some powerful engine, show signs of life, and stir with an uneasy, half-vital motion. Frightful must it be; for supremely frightful would be the effect of any human endeavor to mock the stupendous Creator of the world."[1]

Kubla Khan[edit]

Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote Kubla Khan upon awakening from an opium-influenced dream. In a preface to the work, he described having the poem come to him, fully formed, in his dream. When he woke, he immediately set to writing it down, but was interrupted by a visitor and could not remember the final lines. For this reason, he kept it unpublished for many years.

The sewing machine[edit]

A possibly apocryphal account of how in 1845 Elias Howe he came up with the idea for placing the eye of the needle at the point to produce a sewing machine is recorded in a family history of his mother's family:

He almost beggared himself before he discovered where the eye of the needle of the sewing machine should be located. It is probable that there are very few people who know how it came about. His original idea was to follow the model of the ordinary needle, and have the eye at the heel. It never occurred to him that it should be placed near the point, and he might have failed altogether if he had not dreamed he was building a sewing machine for a savage king in a strange country. Just as in his actual working experience, he was perplexed about the needle's eye. He thought the king gave him twenty-four hours in which to complete the machine and make it sew. If not finished in that time death was to be the punishment. Howe worked and worked, and puzzled, and finally gave it up. Then he thought he was taken out to be executed. He noticed that the warriors carried spears that were pierced near the head. Instantly came the solution of the difficulty, and while the inventor was begging for time, he awoke. It was 4 o'clock in the morning. He jumped out of bed, ran to his workshop, and by 9, a needle with an eye at the point had been crudely modeled. After that it was easy. That is the true story of an important incident in the invention of the sewing machine.[1]

The Terminator[edit]

Director James Cameron said the titular character in The Terminator was inspired by a dream he had under the influence of a soaring fever. It was a vivid dream where a gleaming figure of doom emerged from fire; a metallic, skeletal monster with a rictus smile and burning red eyes, dragging itself across the floor with kitchen knives. He states: "I was sick and dead broke in Rome, Italy, with a fever of 102, doing the final cut of Piranha II. That's when I thought of Terminator. I guess it was a fever dream."[2]

Descartes' new science[edit]

Descartes claimed that the dreams that he had on November 10, 1619, revealed to him the basis of a new philosophy, the scientific method.[citation needed]


The scientist Friedrich August Kekulé discovered the seemingly impossible chemical structure of benzene (C6H6) when he had a dream of a group of snakes swallowing their tails.[2]

Double Helix structure of DNA[edit]

Nobel laureate James Watson opens TED 2005 with the frank and funny story of how he and his research partner, Francis Crick, discovered the structure of DNA. James Watson, co-discoverer of the structure of DNA, reported stumbling upon the double helix image for the DNA chain through his dream of a spiral staircase.[3][disputed ]


Paul McCartney claimed to have dreamed the melody to his song Yesterday. After he woke up, he thought it was just a vague memory of some song he heard when he was younger. As it turned out that he had completely thought up this song all by himself, he recorded it and it became the most often covered pop song in the world.[4]

"(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction"[edit]

Keith Richards claimed to have dreamed the riff to the song (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction. He ran through it once before falling asleep. He said when he listened back to it in the morning, there was about two minutes of acoustic guitar before you could hear him drop the pick and "then me snoring for the next forty minutes".[5]

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde[edit]

Robert Louis Stevenson dreamed the plot for his famous novel.[4]

Tintin in Tibet[edit]

The Belgian comics artist Hergé was plagued by nightmares in which he was chased by a white skeleton, whereupon the entire environment turned white. A psychiatrist advised him to stop making comics and take a rest, but Hergé drew an entire story set in a white environment: the snowy mountaintops of Tibet. Tintin in Tibet (1960) not only stopped his nightmares and worked as a therapeutic experience, but the work is also regarded as one of his masterpieces.[6]

"Over the Garden Wall – Chapter 5"[edit]

Chapter 5 of the series, Mad Love, was inspired by a dream show creator Patrick McHale had. In the events of the dream, Pat was house hunting and came across a secret library in one of the houses. As he explored further, he realized that he had entered someone else's home. In the episode, the character Quincy Endicott explores his mansion, and discovers that he has entered the mansion of his neighbour.

Prophetic dreams[edit]

Several historical people have experienced dreams which they believed to be warnings that they were to die after they woke up.

New York lawyer Isaac Frauenthal had a dream before boarding the RMS Titanic. “It seemed to me that I was on a big steamship that suddenly crashed into something and began to go down.” He had the dream again when on board the Titanic, and was alert to the danger when he heard about the iceberg collision. Frauenthal survived the sinking.[7]

Niels Bohr's structure of the atom[edit]

Niels Bohr won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1922 for his discovery of the structure of the atom. He recalled that the electrons revolving around the nucleus, like the solar system, came to him in a dream.[8] Upon testing his "dream" hypothesis, he was able to discover that the atomic structure was, in fact, similar to it.

Mendeleev's Periodic Table[edit]

Dmitri Mendeleev, who created the periodic table foundational to our understanding of chemistry, claimed to have envisioned the complete arrangement of the elements in a dream. While struggling to correctly orient the elements he recalls seeing them in a dream a table where all elements fell into place as required. Awakening, he immediately wrote them down on a piece of paper, only in one place did a correction later seem necessary.

Xerxes I's Invasion of Greece[edit]

Xerxes I, Persian king, invaded Greece after being inspired to do so by a recurring dream.[9]


As divination[edit]

A way of understanding this phenomenon is that some dreams are messages from a god, or the future. This belief has been held by many military leaders (such as Hannibal) who planned battles from dreams, and Descartes, who changed the course of his life after his scientific dream. According to Carl Jung,[10] psychic energy might be operative.

An early—and perhaps the first formal—inquiry into this phenomenon was done by Aristotle in his On Divination in Sleep. His criticism of these claims appeals to the fact that "the sender of such dreams should be God", and "the fact that those to whom he sends them are not the best and wisest, but merely commonplace persons." Thus "Most [so-called prophetic] dreams are, however, to be classed as mere coincidences".[3]


The psychological role that dreams play is not fully understood. These events have been interpreted as evidence that dreams play some sort of organizing function, sorting out thoughts had during the day. This theory suggests that dreaming is an "unlearning process" in which our brains bring up material to be thrown out like a computer attempting to clean itself of things we do not need to remember. That is, the subconscious organizes things, solves these problems, and then communicates them to the individual via a dream. (see Dream interpretation) The hypnagogic state is sometimes proposed as a specific explanation of experiences such as alien abduction, apparitions, or visions.

As coincidence[edit]

Another way to describe this phenomenon is to claim that dreams are random, but the individuals have been lucky enough to interpret their dreams in an allegorical way relevant to a problem they need to solve. Dream researcher Ernest Hartman comments on current dream theories proposed by biologists. One such theory suggests that dreams are basically random nonsense and are the product of a poorly functioning brain during sleep. If there is any meaning to dreams, it is added on later as our brains try to make the best of a bad job.

Thus the predictive value of dreams is moot.[11][12]

Dreams which appear to be precognitive may in fact be the result of the "Law of Large Numbers". Robert Todd Carroll, author of The Skeptic's Dictionary put it this way:

"Say the odds are a million to one that when a person has a dream of an airplane crash, there is an airplane crash the next day. With 6 billion people having an average of 250 dream themes each per night, there should be about 1.5 million people a day who have dreams that seem clairvoyant."[13]

In his book The Interpretation of Dreams, first published at the end of the 19th century, Sigmund Freud argued that the foundation of all dream content is the fulfillment of wishes, conscious or not and devoid of psychic content. Some of Freud's patients and their strange dreams have become well-known case studies in psychotherapy, like Irma's injection, Wolf Man, and Dora. In his discussions with Carl Jung, Freud referred to parapsychology and precognition as "nonsensical."

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Waln-Morgan Draper, Thomas, The Bemis History and Genealogy: Being an Account, in Greater Part, of the Descendants of Joseph Bemis of Watertown, Massachusetts, The Bemis History and Genealogy (Washington [District of Columbia]: Library of Congress, [19--]), pp 159–162, 1357 Joshua Bemis, FHL Microfilm 1011936 Item 2.
  2. ^ "James Cameron - How to direct a 'Terminator'". 2012-04-24. Retrieved 2014-08-25. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  3. ^ Watson, James (February 2005). "How we discovered DNA". TED. Retrieved 11 May 2019. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  4. ^ a b "TWELVE FAMOUS DREAMS: Creativity and Famous Discoveries From Dreams". Brilliant Dreams. Archived from the original on 2008-07-09. Retrieved 2008-01-22.
  5. ^ Keith Richards - In His Own Words by Mick St Michael, Omnibus Press, 1994, page 24. ISBN 0-7119-3634-X
  6. ^ Goddin, Philippe (2011). The Art of Hergé, Inventor of Tintin: Volume 3: 1950-1983. Michael Farr (translator). San Francisco: Last Gasp. p. 108. ISBN 978-0-86719-763-1. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  7. ^ "Psychic Forewarnings of a Tragedy?". Retrieved 11 May 2019. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  8. ^ "Bohr, Niels". Retrieved 17 December 2018.
  9. ^ "The Dreams of Xerxes, Revisited: Herodotus 7.12-18 and the Role of Religious Ideology in the Second Persian Invasion of Greece". Retrieved 11 May 2020.
  10. ^ Jung, C.G., "On the Nature of the Psyche", Princeton University Press, 1960
  11. ^ Hartman, Ernest, MD, "Biology of Dreaming", Charles C. Thomas Publications Ltd, 1997
  12. ^ Hartman, Ernest, MD, "Boundaries In The Mind" New York, Basic Books, 2002
  13. ^ "law of truly large numbers - coincidence - The Skeptic's Dictionary -". Retrieved 11 May 2019. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)