Dreams Can Work For You

An article1 by Deidre Barret recounts incidents in which dreams resulted in creative discoveries. Perhaps the most famous is the dream of a snake of atoms biting its tale that lead to his discovery of the benzene ring. Others include Mendeleyev’s dream enabling him to come up with the final form of the periodic table. A dream enabled Loewi to design a neuroscience experiment that ultimately lead to a Nobel Prize. Paul Horowitz dreamed of the designs for laser telescope controls and Alan Huang dreamed of laser computing.

It is not just science and engineering, bu dreaming has had beneficial impacts on the arts. Mary Shelly‘s dreams helped her write Frankenstein. Dreams also helped Robert Louis Stevenson write Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde. As for music, Beethoven, Paul McCartney, and Billy Joel all awoke with ideas for new themes and tunes. An in the area of social activism, Mahatma Gandhi reported that it was a dream that lead him to call for a nonviolent protest of British Rule of India.

Leonardo da Vinci made it a practice to mull over a problem before falling to sleep.

That dreaming can be productive should not be too surprising to readers of the Healthymemory Blog, as a large part of mental activity takes place below the level of conscious awareness. Our minds are actively working even when we are not aware that they are working. Dreaming is just another cognitive state; one that can result in productive results. Barret reports a variety of studies that report some success in setting up people so that their dreams will solve problems. Often, the results are nil, but sometimes they are fruitful.

Barret provides the following tips on how to intentionally try to dream about a problem in the hope that it will lead to a solution:

At bedtime, imagine yourself dreaming about the problem, awakening, and writing on a notepad besides your bed.

If possible, arrange objects connected to the problem on a bedside table or on the wall across the room.

Write down a brief description and keep this note close to your bed. Also keep pen, paper, and a flashlight besides it.

Then review the problem for a few minutes before actually going to bed.

When in the bed, imagine the problem, as a concrete object if possible.

Convince yourself that you want to dream about the problem before your drift off to sleep.

Lie quietly when you awake before you get out of bed. Try to recall as much of the dream as you can and write it down.

If you are interested in this topic, Barret has written a book, The Committee of Sleep: How Artists, Scientists, and Athletes Use Dreams for Creative Problem-Solving__and How You Can Too. Crown (Random House) 2001. The International Association for the Study of Dreams also has a website: www.asdreams.org.

1Barrett, D. (2011). Answers in Your Dreams. Scientific American Mind, November/December, 27-33.


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