Can dreams predict the future? There is surprisingly little scientific information available to provide concrete answers to this common question. While methods exist to test the abilities of individuals who claim to be psychic, I have been unable to find studies of this nature dealing specifically with dreams.
Accounts of predictive dreams can be found dating back to the stone age. In the Old Testament, Joseph interpreted Pharoah's dream as predicting seven years of abundance followed by famine, an event that actually occurred. According to a close personal friend, Abraham Lincoln dreamed that his funeral was taking place in his home shortly before his death. James Watson dreamed of a spiral staircase, leading him to the discovery of the double-helix component of the structure of DNA. This editor dreamed of a large nail being removed from my spine more than ten years before spinal fusion surgery and subsequent removal of the broken hardware five years later.
Eerie dreams that pointed to waking life events have been featured in films and literature. A good example appears in the movie "The Mothman Prophecies". Connie has a recurring dream where she repeatedly hears someone say, "Wake up, number 37." Connie is not able to connect the dream with reality until after the fact, when Klein rescues her and prevents her from becoming the 37th victim of a bridge collapse.
Despite thousands of accounts from individuals who claim that their dreams have predicted events that actually occurred, the majority of dream experts seem to believe that these dreams are more coincidental than clairvoyant.
In his writing, Carl Jung cited as an example one of his own dreams that appeared to predict the onset of World War II. Jung did not give this dream psychic credit for two reasons. He explained that the dream was about his own perception of discord in German society at the time, and also mentioned that he didn't connect the dream with the event until after it had occurred.
Most individuals who claim to have frequent predictive dreams often report similar patterns. They express frustration that they were not able to connect their dream with the event until after it had happened. Some accept this phenomena with relief, admitting that if they gave much weight to these dreams, they would worry constantly.
A large percentage of individuals who pay attention to their dreams report having at least one dream that predicted an event. Individuals who rarely remember their dreams have also reported these experiences. One of the most common types of dreams reported features a person the dreamer has not seen in some time. Within days, weeks or months, the dreamer receives news about that person or connects with them.
Sigmund Freud's idea that dreams are the "royal road to the unconscious" was initially scoffed at. Although some flaws have been found in his theory, the basic premise that our minds harbor emotions and memories below the conscious level continues to have a strong influence on psychology's treatment of mental and emotional issues. Pioneer psychoanalyst Carl Gustav Jung took Freud's theory further, determining that dreams extract knowledge from the unconscious mind of the individual as well as the "collective unconscious." He defined the collective unconscious as a shared history of the human race.
Famous psychic Edgar Cayce maintained that the visions presented in dreams are necessary for personal development and should be applied in waking life. Cayce said that dreams should be taken as warnings, advice and guidance toward conditions to be met. Lucid dreaming expert Stephen LaBerge reports that when we dream in a state of both sleep and wakefulness, we can solve problems, learn new skills and even create positive events in our lives.
Dreams are the product of the unconscious mind and occur in the Theta brainwave state, where we are deeply relaxed. In this state, we can connect with insight from the subconscious. In the deeper state of Delta, our minds are resting even more fully and we are further distanced from the physical world. Perhaps it is in this state that we can receive cues from the energy of people and situations that we are connected with in waking life or from Jung's collective unconscious.
While I agree with Jung's theory that we analyze waking life in our dreams, I have seen and experienced evidence that predictive dreams can and do occur. Everyone dreams, whether they remember their dreams or not. As human beings, we all share a connection. That connection is particularly strong among people with an emotional attachment. For instance, couples who have been together for many years tend to finish each other's sentences or know what their partner wants before they ask. Parents "sense" when there is something wrong with their children. Perhaps this emotional, possibly "psychic" energy is better able to transmit to the unconscious when the receiver is in a deep state of relaxation and can enter the mind as a dream. Instinct may also play a part.
When we consider the ground-breaking theories of Freud and Jung, proving that dreams can divine the future is difficult, if not impossible. We know that dreams speak to us in a language of symbols that we must translate in order to interpret the meaning of the dream. The symbols have both traditional and individual meanings. For instance, a dream featuring a car that was stolen from the dreamer may not be about the physical image of a car at all. Instead, it may represent the dreamer's freedom and independence. Dreams of death rarely mean physical death. As a dream symbol, death symbolizes endings and new beginnings. Dreams have no sense of time and the symbols that appear are often fantastic and unrealistic. In fact, dreams frequently make no sense at all! If things are not what they appear to be in dreams, how can they possibly predict events?
Dream symbolism can be quite complicated, and few individuals possess the skills necessary to arrive at a completely accurate interpretation of dreams. For some individuals dealing with deep psychological issues, dream work can be so powerful that it should be done only under the supervision of a psychiatric professional.
While experts do not seem to completely discount the idea of predictive dreams, there seems to be general agreement that these dreams are simply too "unpredictable" for anyone to have the ability to identify them as such. Since there is no way of determining that a dream is predictive until after the event happens, placing excessive belief in such dreams can be harmful, causing fear and anxiety in the dreamer. According to Freud's "self-fulfilling prophecy," believing and declaring that an event will occur can actually cause it to happen. Freud also said that dreams indicated wishes that the dreamer longs for to be fulfilled, which has since been viewed as a flaw in his theory.
Freud and Jung's theories have been analyzed and implemented from a medical and psychological standpoint. Perhaps the idea of predictive dreams is too "new age" to be included in research and literature.
While there is no clear evidence proving that dreams predict the future, there is far more information proving that dreams can open the door to the inherent wisdom of the self. Some also believe that dreams are messages from the Divine. Saint Patrick believed that he was instructed to become a missionary through several dreams.
Our dreams can help us connect with knowledge from the unconscious that we cannot readily access due to the distractions of waking life. Working with our dreams can inspire us to evaluate our patterns and behaviors and work toward changing them to improve our emotional and spiritual health. When undertaken responsibly, dream interpretation is a valuable tool for personal and spiritual development.
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