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]

The sewing machine[edit]

Elias Howe invented the sewing machine in 1845. He had the idea of a machine with a needle which would go through a piece of cloth but he couldn't figure out exactly how it would work. In his dream, cannibals were preparing to cook him and they were dancing around the fire waving their spears. Howe noticed at the head of each spear there was a small hole through the shaft and the up-and-down motion of the spears and the hole remained with him when he woke. The idea of passing the thread through the needle close to the point, not at the other end, was a major innovation in making mechanical sewing possible. [2]

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."[1]

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.[3]

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.[4][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.[2]

(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".[3]

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.[5]

Prophetic dreams[edit]

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

Roman Emperor Caligula had a dream in which he saw himself standing before the throne of Jupiter. This planet was held in high esteem by Romans in terms of religious value as Jupiter (or Jove) was seen as king of all the Gods, comparable to the earlier Ancient Greek deity, Zeus. In the dream Caligula observed himself being rejected by Jove via this God kicking him down to Earth. This was seen as a premonition of his death. Caligula ignored the dream and was indeed assassinated the next day.

It is also believed that U.S. President Abraham Lincoln anticipated his assassination. According to Ward Hill Lamon, Lincoln's friend and biographer, three days before his assassination Lincoln discussed with Lamon and others a dream he had, saying:

About ten days ago, I retired very late. I had been up waiting for important dispatches from the front. I could not have been long in bed when I fell into a slumber, for I was weary. I soon began to dream. There seemed to be a death-like stillness about me. Then I heard subdued sobs, as if a number of people were weeping. I thought I left my bed and wandered downstairs. There the silence was broken by the same pitiful sobbing, but the mourners were invisible. I went from room to room; no living person was in sight, but the same mournful sounds of distress met me as I passed along. I saw light in all the rooms; every object was familiar to me; but where were all the people who were grieving as if their hearts would break? I was puzzled and alarmed. What could be the meaning of all this? Determined to find the cause of a state of things so mysterious and so shocking, I kept on until I arrived at the East Room, which I entered. There I met with a sickening surprise. Before me was a catafalque, on which rested a corpse wrapped in funeral vestments. Around it were stationed soldiers who were acting as guards; and there was a throng of people, gazing mournfully upon the corpse, whose face was covered, others weeping pitifully. 'Who is dead in the White House?' I demanded of one of the soldiers, 'The President,' was his answer; 'he was killed by an assassin.' Then came a loud burst of grief from the crowd, which woke me from my dream. I slept no more that night; and although it was only a dream, I have been strangely annoyed by it ever since.[6]

On the day of the assassination, Lincoln had told his bodyguard, William H. Crook, that he had been having dreams of himself being assassinated for three straight nights. Crook advised Lincoln not to go that night to Ford's Theatre, but Lincoln said he had promised his wife they would go. As Lincoln left for the theater, he turned to Crook and said, "Goodbye, Crook." According to Crook, this was the first time he said that. Before, Lincoln had always said, "Good night, Crook." Crook later recalled "It was the first time that he neglected to say ‘Good Night’ to me and it was the only time that he ever said ‘Good-bye’. I thought of it at that moment and, a few hours later, when the news flashed over Washington that he had been shot, his last words were so burned into my being that they can never be forgotten.".[7]


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,[8] 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".[5]


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.[9][10]

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."[11]

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. ^ "James Cameron - How to direct a 'Terminator'". 2012-04-24. Retrieved 2014-08-25. 
  2. ^ "Famous Dreams". 
  3. ^ Keith Richards - In His Own Words by Mick St Michael, Omnibus Press, 1994, page 24. ISBN 0-7119-3634-X
  4. ^
  5. ^ 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. 
  6. ^ p. 116–117 of Recollections of Abraham Lincoln 1847–1865 by Ward Hill Lamon (Lincoln, University of Nebraska Press, 1999).
  7. ^ Lloyd Lewis (1994). The Assassination of Lincoln: History and Myth. University of Nebraska Press. p. 297. ISBN 978-0-8032-7949-0. 
  8. ^ Jung, C.G., "On the Nature of the Psyche", Princeton University Press, 1960
  9. ^ Hartman, Ernest, MD, "Biology of Dreaming", Charles C. Thomas Publications Ltd, 1997
  10. ^ Hartman, Ernest, MD, "Boundaries In The Mind" New York, Basic Books, 2002
  11. ^ Law of Truly Large Cow