The Influence of Dreams on Scientific Discovery
Dreams can implement inspiration, even in the area of scientific discovery. Dreams can deliver information about ourselves through thoughts and feelings. Throughout human history, people have been influenced by their dreams. Famous scientists have recorded their dreams, and have claimed that these dreams have significantly influenced their scientific discoveries. The word ‘science’ defined in the dictionary is “(knowledge from) the careful study of the structure and behavior of the physical world, especially by watching, measuring, and doing experiments, and the development of theories,” but some important scientific discoveries made by Albert Einstein, Niels Bohr, and Elias Howe have been inspired by their dreams.
Elias Howe was an American inventor, and he lived from 1819 to 1867. He greatly improved the design of the sewing machine; however, he struggled with the design first. “He almost beggared himself before he discovered where the eye of the needle of the sewing machine should be located… His original idea was to follow the model of the ordinary needle, and have the eye at the heel” (MacIsaac). He was greatly influenced by a dream that led him to this discovery. In it, he was put to work to make a functional sewing machine in twenty-four hours, for a brutal king in a foreign country. Finally, after struggling with his sewing machine, and not being able to make it work, Elias Howe was brought out to be executed. But he saw that the spears that the warriors held were pierced at the heads. As he begged for more time, he awoke out of his dream early in the morning and went to his work-shop with his solution: to put the hole near the sharp head of the needle (MacIsaac).
Niels Bohr was a physicist, born in the year 1885, in Copenhagen, Denmark, and he died in 1962. “…His ideas formed the basis of future atomic research” (“Niels Bohr”). After struggling to create the structure of the atom again and again, and failing each time, Niels Bohr went to sleep one night and dreamt that he was sitting on the sun, as all of the planets hissed and spun around him on tiny cords. This dream gave him the inspiration that he needed to finally draw the conclusion that “electrons revolve around the nucleus and can jump to one energy level or orbit to another” (Webb).
Albert Einstein was born in Germany, in the year 1879, and he died in 1955 (“Albert Einstein”). He may be one of the most dream-influenced scientists of the past. Albert Einstein was a physicist as well as Niels Bohr. Niels Bohr and Albert Einstein’s paths crossed in the year 1927, and they entered into polite but not quite agreeable debates with each other (Boyd). Albert Einstein’s and Niels Bohr’s work affected the progress of the development of atomic energy (“Albert Einstein”).
When Albert Einstein was in his youth, he had a dream which he would contemplate over for the rest of his life.
I was sledding with my friends at night. I started to slide down the hill but my sled started going faster and faster. I was going so fast that I realized I was approaching the speed of light. I looked up at that point and I saw the stars. They were being refracted into colors I had never seen before. I was filled with a sense of awe. I understood in some way that I was looking at the most important meaning in my life (qtd. in Webb).
A little later in his life, when Albert Einstein was twenty-six, he had a second dream that influenced his theory of relativity. In this dream, he walked through mountains and came to some fields. On a particular field, he “noticed a small herd of cows huddling near an electric fence.” He then observed a farmer fiddling with a battery. The farmer finally turned the battery on, which made the cattle move away from the fence in fright. Albert Einstein then took up an argument with the farmer about how they had moved away from the fence. The farmer claimed that “he had seen the cows jump in the air one by one,” while Albert Einstein said that the cows had “jumped into the air at once.” Albert Einstein nightmarishly argued with the farmer over which thing that the cows had actually done for the rest of his dream. When he woke up, he pondered over the idea of experiencing time and space differently, from different vantage points (Borkan).
Perhaps the analyzation of dreams should not be thought of as a sort of pseudo-science by modern scientists. Perhaps dream analysis should be regarded more seriously by modern society. Perhaps modern society is overlooking something extremely important to their happiness and creativity. There are many others besides scientists who have had inspiration from their dreams: writers, mathematicians, artists, and musicians. As people wake up and get on with their lives every day, perhaps by forgetting that dream that they had the night before, they are forgetting an inspiration to abolish the problem that is causing their troubles.
Dreams are important to science. Scientists have proven that dreams can be studied scientifically, although they do not understand the purpose of dreaming. Many similar themes in dreams of those in different cultures have been discovered (Breus). The purpose of dreaming could possibly be to process emotions, scientists now say, “by encoding and constructing memories of them” (Linden). Perhaps without processing negative emotion, the anxiety already existing in one person could increase. “What we see and experience in our dreams might not necessarily be real, but the emotions attached to these experiences certainly are” (Linden). Scientists say that a possible purpose of a dream is to weave “new material into the memory system in a way that both reduces emotional arousal and is adaptive in helping us cope with further trauma or stressful events” (“Why Do We”). There is still not much that is known about the human brain, and what it is capable of. As dreams and the human brain become more understood, perhaps this will allow us to become more intellectual people. “The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination,” Albert Einstein said (qtd. in Shmoop).
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MacIsaac, Tara. “5 Scientific Discoveries Made in Dreams.” Epoch Times. Epoch Times, 29 July 2015. Web. 2 May 2016. <http://www.theepochtimes.com/n3/1380669-5-scientific-discoveries-made-in-dreams/>.
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Webb, Annie. “The Role of Dreams and Visions in Scientific Innovation.” BioFuelNet. 22 Apr. 2015. Web. 27 Apr. 2016. <http://www.biofuelnet.ca/2015/04/22/role-dreams-visions-scientific-innovation/>.
“Why Do We Dream?” Scientific American. Scientific American Mag., 10 July 2006. Web. 2 May 2016. <http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-do-we-dream/>.
Shmoop Editorial Team. “Quotes – The True Sign of Intelligence Is Not Knowledge but Imagination.” Shmoop.com. Shmoop University, Inc., 2008. Web. 04 May 2016. <http://www.shmoop.com/quotes/the-true-sign-of-intelligence-is-not-knowledge-but-imagination.html>.