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Precognitive Dreams

Precognitive dreams are dreams that have been credited with foresight or precognition. It is a phenomenon that has fascinated and puzzled mankind for thousands of years. Precognition is typically defined as knowing or perceiving events before they actually occur. According to Carl Jung, [1] psychic energy might be operative.

Anecdotal Evidence

The anecdotal evidence for precognitive dreaming has been documented since before Biblical times. Prior to invading Italy, Hannibal asked for a dream about his future military activities. He was shown winning decisive victories and decided to persevere in his conquest of Italy. An Egyptian prince slept one day in front of the mighty Sphinx and wondered if he would ever become king of Egypt. In his dream, he was told to clear away all of the debris that had buried most of the Sphinx statue and he would then become king. Upon awakening, he had his slaves clear away the debris so that the Sphinx would be totally visible again. The prince later became King Thutmose IV and erected a stone tablet in front of the Sphinx to document that he and the God figure in his dream had both kept their bargain.[2]

Napoleon won many famous battles but his adventures at Waterloo were doomed and foretold in a dream. On the eve of that historic event, he dreamed of a large black cat that moved back and forth between his army and his opposition. Finally this dreaded symbol of bad luck came back to lie down with his French troops. On the following day, his army was dealt a stunning defeat by the opposing armies. Elias Howe labored for months working to invent a practical sewing machine. He was using a needle with a hole in the middle that made good stitches, but they quickly pulled apart. Then in a dream, he found himself surrounded by savages brandishing spears at him. All of the spears had a hole in the point. Upon awakening, he quickly realized that he needed to modify his sewing needle and rapidly completed his amazing invention.[citation needed]

There are hundreds of other dream examples. Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote his famous poem the Kubla Khan in 1797 following a dream during an afternoon nap. The German chemist Kekule discovered the highly elusive ring structure of the benzene molecule based on a dream. Abraham Lincoln dreamed of his own death just days before his assassination. Pompey dreamed of defeat and Caesar’s death was foretold in a dream. Descartes’ dreams shaped his outstanding career, and Constantine I dreamed of a flaming cross before embracing Christianity. The San Francisco earth quake and the Jewish holocaust were both predicted by dreams. Numerous people dreamed of the sinking of the Titanic.[citation needed]

Anecdotal documentation for precognitive dreams that did not come true is extremely rare. No doubt the individuals did not like to report on their failed experiences. In some cases, the dream may have been incorrectly interpreted.[citation needed]

Clinical Evidence

Dr. Robert Van de Castle summarizes some of the key progress points in the area of psychic dream research in his book Our Dreaming Mind. In 1819, H. M. Wesserman successfully projected messages to experimental subjects while they slept and dreamed. While the general content of the dream was successfully received, some of the characters in the dreams were changed.[3]

An Italian psychiatrist, Dr. G. C. Ermacora, published a paper in 1895 titled “Telepathic Dreams Experimentally Induced”. This work documented successful efforts of a medium to transmit dreams to a young girl. Perhaps the best-known research in this field was conducted at Maimonides Medical Center, in Brooklyn, New York by Stanley Krippner and Montigue Ullman in 1964. These trials clearly showed positive correlations for transmitting information to dreamers who had no prior knowledge of the subject material. Dr. Van de Castle himself was a subject during these sessions and achieved considerable success in having dreams that were closely correlated to the target pictures.

Dr. Van de Castle further documents the evidence for psychic dreaming based on a fascinating questionnaire approach. Survey questions sent to several thousand individuals listed in Who’s Who In America resulted in 430 replies claiming some kind of ESP experience and dreams were involved in 25 percent of these cases.[citation needed]

Dr. Louisa Rhine at the Parapsychology Laboratory at Duke University compiled by far the best-known and largest body of such dream evidence. Dr. Rhine collected over 7000 accounts of ESP experiences. The majority of these accounts were dream related and were precognitive in nature. The material for this work was collected by advertisements in various well-known popular media.[citation needed]

Dr. David Ryback, a psychologist in Atlanta, used a questionnaire survey approach to investigate precognitive dreaming in college students. His survey of over 433 participants showed that 290 or 66.9 percent reported some form of paranormal dream. Using very rigid standards, Dr. Ryback examined those responding to the survey. He rejected many of these claims and reached a conclusion that 8.8 percent of the population was having actual precognitive dreams. [4]


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]

Other researchers in this area are more guarded in their reports on the value or use of dreams. 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. In his discussions with Carl Jung, he referred to parapsychology and precognition as “nonsensical.”

Phillip Goldberg favors the use of intuition but endorses the idea that dreams are sometimes a doorway to the intuitive manifestation of a prophecy, a solution, and a result.[6]Yet dreams are riddled with symbolism, and only a good dream psychologist together with the subject dreamer can fittingly translate the dream into reality. David Meyers [7] was even more guarded in warning against a reliance on intuition or related psi experiences and found little of any real value in dreams.

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. A second 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. In either case, the predictive value of dreams is moot. [8][9]

Michael Shermer, author of the book “Why People Believe Weird Things”, also notes that dreams and precognitive impressions are of limited value in predicting future events [10]. In a companion publication, “The Skeptic Encyclopedia of Pseudoscience”, this same author refers to the images and stories arising within dreams as merely products of a “fertile and easily overwhelmed imagination.”[11].

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.”[12]


  1. Jung, C.G., “On the Nature of the Psyche” , Princeton University Press, 1960
  2. Alchin, L.K. King Tut e.g. Retrieved February 16 2007 from
  3. Van de Castle, Robert, PhD. “Our Dreaming Mind”. New York: Ballantine Books, 1994.
  4. Ryback, David, PhD. “Dreams That Came True”. New York: Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, 1988.
  5. Aristotle, On Divination in Sleep
  6. Goldberg, Phillip, PhD., “The Intuitive Edge” Los Angeles, Jeremecy P. Tarcher, Inc, 1983
  7. Meyers, David, G. PhD, Yale University Press, 2002
  8. Hartman, Ernest, MD, “Biology of Dreaming”, Charles C. Thomas Publications Ltd, 1997
  9. Hartman, Ernest, MD, “Boundaries In The Mind” New York, Basic Books, 2002
  10. Shermer, M, “Why People Believe Weird Things”, W. H. Freeman & Co., 1997
  11. Shermer, M, “The Skeptic Encyclopedia of Pseudoscience”, ABC-CLIO, Inc, Santa Barbara, CA, 2002
  12. Law of Truly Large Numbers

Further Reading

  • Dreams – My Lamp Unto the Darkness
  • Barrett, Deirdre, PhD .”The Committee Of Sleep”. New York: Crown Publishers, 2001
  • Quinn, Adriene. “Dreams of History That Came True”. Tacoma: Dream Research, 1987.
  • Reed, Henry, PhD. “Getting Help From Your Dreams”. Virginia Beach: Inner Vision Publishing, 1985.
  • Thurston, Mark. PhD. “Tonight’s Answers To Tomorrow’s Questions”. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1988.

External links