Category Archives: Dreams

Moses contemplating a human skull

I dreamed that I was reading a book by a New Age author who claimed to have telepathically received a series of striking images. The book consisted of reproductions of those images — pen-and-ink drawings done in a style reminiscent of Tom Baxa‘s — each with an accompanying paragraph giving the author’s interpretation of its meaning. (As the introduction of the book made clear, the images themselves were “received” but the interpretations were the author’s own.)

One of these images — the only one I spent any time looking at in the dream — showed a young Egyptian man looking at a human skull which he held in his hand. (The Egyptian’s hand was not visible in the picture, but it was understood that he was holding the skull.) The scene was shown from such a perspective that the skull loomed huge in the foreground, grinning at the reader, occupying almost the entire right half of the picture. The Egyptian was in the background, on the left side of the picture. The skull faced directly out towards the reader — so the Egyptian was apparently looking at the back of the skull. Every detail of the skull was clearly visible, and it appeared to have a strange texture, almost as if it were made of tiny Legos.

The author had given this picture the title “Moses contemplating a human skull” and written the following commentary: “He asked himself, ‘Did you, O Moses, come from yon human skull?’ — and he concluded that he had, and that only he had.” (Yes, I know that’s an incorrect use of “yon.” The New Age guy in the dream wrote it, not me.)

In the hypnopompic reverie following this dream, I interpreted this as follows: The skull young Moses was contemplating was that of a Hebrew slave, and he noticed that he — and he alone, of all the people in the pharaonic court — had a similarly shaped skull. This was when Moses realized for the first time that he was of Hebrew, not Egyptian, parentage; and this realization marked the starting point of the trajectory that would lead to his role as liberator of the Hebrews. (Once I had fully woken up, though, I no longer thought that interpretation made sense. It seems unlikely that two closely related Middle Eastern peoples would have any noticeable craniometric differences; and if they did, those differences would surely have been accompanied by outwardly visible differences which Moses would have noticed long before, without having to look at a skull.)

*

The dream was on Wednesday night, and it’s clear where many of its elements came from. On Wednesday nights I lead a conversation group for students of English, and our topic that night was “Africa.” We talked about various historical figures from Africa, including Moses, and there was also some discussion of hominid evolution in Africa, including Leakey’s discoveries in the Olduvai Gorge. So that’s obviously why my dream featured Moses (and specifically Moses qua Egyptian), as well as someone contemplating a skull and considering whether he had “come from” it.

*

The Friday morning following the dream, I was browsing an online discussion board, and someone had posted an inspirational quote incongruously illustrated with a picture of “He-Man” cartoon villain Skeletor.

Clicking on the picture out of curiosity, I found that it came from a blog featuring dozens and dozens of such “Skeletor Affirmations.” The third one on the page caught my eye.

This is exactly the same layout as the picture I saw in my dream: a huge skull, staring directly at the viewer, occupying the whole right half of the picture; and in the background, a man staring at the skull. The ghost guy in the Skeletor picture is not an Egyptian, but the shape of his helmet, together with the horizontal stripes below his chin, does suggest the stereotypical Egyptian headdress seen, for example, on King Tut’s mummy case. (I am not entirely sure that the Egyptian in my dream was wearing such a headdress; I just know that he looked obviously Egyptian.) Skeletor himself, with his hood and his blue-and-yellow color scheme, reinforces the King Tut image. And while the Skeletor picture is not black-and-white, it is a cartoon line-drawing with extensive areas filled in with black, and to that extent it is similar in style to the picture in my dream.

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This, like my other recent precognitive dream (of a beast with many eyes), demonstrates the following points:

  • Dreams mix elements from past and future, combining them in such a way that they are impossible to separate out except in hindsight. (Dunne mentions this as well in An Experiment with Time.)
  • So far, all of my strong precognitions have been of images, not ideas, and the meaning associated with the image in the dream is generally completely unrelated to the meaning of the image when it appears in waking life. (This most recent dream seems almost to make that point explicitly; the author of the book of images explains that, while the images themselves were revealed to him, the interpretations are his own.)
  • None of my precognitions so far have been of anything that could even remotely be considered important or meaningful. The dreaming mind (my dreaming mind, anyway) appears to draw on experience (past and future) quite indiscriminately, without regard to whether or not it means anything.
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A beast with many eyes

On Friday night (actually, very early Saturday morning), I dreamed that I was watching TV and saw an image of what I interpreted as being a whale with many eyes, though I only saw its face. It was blue in color, with a row of eyes on the left and a row of eyes on the right — perhaps eight eyes in all. It also had feelers on the sides of its mouth like a catfish. I dreamed that, after seeing this, I got on Wikipedia to do some research, trying to find out if whales with many eyes actually existed. I found information about a particular gene (with a Latin-sounding name which I no longer remember), rare but not unheard of (comparable to albinism), which manifests sometimes in whales and other animals and causes them to have several pairs of eyes. Now that I knew the name of the gene, I ran a Google image search on it and found several pictures of animals with it — several blue whales, killer whales, and other cetaceans, as well as a couple of tigers. As I did this online research, I had the feeling that I had learned about this gene once before but had forgotten about it. My reaction was, “Oh, yeah, that’s right. That gene.”

So much for the dream.

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On Saturday evening, I watched the DVD of the film “47 Ronin” — a fantasified version of the Japanese historical incident, with monsters, demons, a fox-spirit “witch,” and Keanu Reeves thrown in.

In an early scene in the movie, Reeves and a group of samurai are chasing down some sort of giant beast — think qilin-meets-gigantelope. For most of the sequence we don’t get a clear view of its face, but then it stops, turns to face Reeves, and opens its eyes — of which we now discover for the first time that it has six. Here is a screenshot:

47ronin-beast

This image jolted me with a shock of recognition. Aside from the fur, horns, and nostrils, it looks exactly like the many-eyed “whale” I saw in my dream.

This is one of the clearest instances of apparent dream-precognition I’ve experienced yet. The dream even correctly portrayed the beast as being something I saw on TV. And after watching the movie, I did go online (using Wikipedia and Google image search, among other resources) to try to find out whether the beast was based on some actual Japanese legend — but that’s something I chose to do after experiencing both the dream and the movie and recognizing the connection between them, so it can’t really be counted as a “fulfillment” of the dream.

*

I enjoyed “47 Ronin,” by the way, despite the uniformly negative reviews it has been getting from critics. It undeniably has its awful aspects, the most obvious of which is the concept itself. Imagine if a Chinese studio made a King Arthur movie in which Lancelot had some made-up Chinese sidekick who was actually Guinevere’s true love and the greatest knight of them all — and in which the rest of the cast, all British, had to speak their lines in Chinese — and you’ll get some idea of how ridiculous and even insulting this movie must seem to the Japanese. (Also, the 47 ronin actually lived in the 18th century — more Queen Anne than King Arthur — far too recent for monsters, demons, and other fantasy elements to be appropriate.) I also admit to groaning when the fox-spirit unaccountably transformed into a dragon — which looked like the seraphic Chinese/Japanese variety but behaved like the evil fire-breathing Western version.

I’m not Japanese, though, and have no particular attachment to the original story they were butchering, so I was able to enjoy the movie on its own terms. It was visually engaging, and I thought it did a good job of communicating the stern, stoical samurai spirit (or, at any rate, what this relatively uninformed Westerner imagines to have been the stern, stoical samurai spirit).

One of the most provocative aspects of the movie, to me, was the portrayal of the tengu — forest-dwelling bird-demons of Japanese folklore — as Buddhists.  Not as bird-demons who also happen to be Buddhists, mind you, but as Buddhists plain and simple. Although they do look very slightly different from humans (no ears, strange nostrils), their religion is their chief distinguishing characteristic. They’re still demons, to be sure — cold, cruel, nihilistic, and possessed of magical powers — but their demonic nature is portrayed as being part and parcel of their Buddhism. I thought it was a pretty gutsy move to literally demonize a major world religion other than Christianity, but oddly the filmmakers don’t seem to be getting any flak for it. Although Buddhism obviously has its good aspects like any other religion, it does certainly have a very strong current of inhuman/anti-human “demonic” nihilism running through it — something that becomes more obvious to me the more practicing Buddhists I meet — and I thought the portrayal of the tengu was brilliant and rang true. Since the samurai ethos can also seem superficially cold and inhuman, the tengu provided a very effective contrast which helped bring out the essentially human, noble nature of bushido.

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Minor precognitive dream

A couple of days ago, my morning alarm interrupted a very vivid dream in which I had taken a small bucket of water and splashed it out onto the dining room floor. Muddy cat footprints had appeared in the water, though no cats were visible.

Upon awakening from the dream, I went into the bathroom to brush my teeth and that sort of thing, and while I was in there I heard a loud clattering sound downstairs. When I went downstairs, I found that one of my cats had upset his water dish and spilled water all over the dining room floor. There were muddy pawprints, but the cats, presumably having been spooked by the sudden noise, were nowhere to be seen.

The noise made it clear that the water was spilled a few minutes after my dream, ruling out the explanation that the dream had been inspired by sounds I heard while sleeping. (I suppose it’s conceivable that cats knocked down the dish while I was sleeping and then later bumped it again and made another sound. However, I don’t think this is likely. The clatter I heard was very loud and was clearly the sound of the dish falling from its stand to the floor, not just moving around on the floor.)

I’ve been keeping cats for about four years now, but they’d never knocked over their water dish before.

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A minor precognitive/synchronistic dream

I had a dream Saturday night in which I was walking down a deserted street naked, trying to find a towel or something so I could cover up. Then I saw a person approaching, so I put my hands down to shield my privates from view. After standing in that position for several seconds, I looked down and noticed that I was not actually naked after all, but was wearing a pair of light gray boxer shorts — so there was no need to hold my hands over my crotch.

The next day, my wife was watching the Singaporean film “Taxi! Taxi!” on TV, and I saw parts of it. In one scene, some passengers get out of a taxi and run away without paying, and the driver (played by Gurmit Singh) chases them down. In the altercation that follows, one of the passengers forces the driver to strip down to his boxers — and the driver stands there with his hands over his crotch, as if trying to cover up what is already adequately covered by the shorts.

The shorts I was wearing in my dream were almost identical to the ones worn by Singh in the movie, and quite unlike anything I wear in real life.

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Low-gravity dreams evoke “real” memories

. . . when swift Camilla scours the Plain,
Flies o’er th’unbending Corn, and skims along the Main.

— Pope, Essay on Criticism

I have had dozens of dreams in which I seem to be less than ordinarily affected by gravity. The dreams always appear to take place on earth, and other things and people in the environment behave normally; only I (and occasionally a few other people) move as if in a low-gravity environment.

These dreams take two basic forms. In the more common of the two, I am walking and find that every step sends me sailing gently into the air, several meters up, and then slowly back down. I can move almost effortlessly this way; by simply “kicking off” from the ground a few times a minute, as one might do when using a playground swing, I can keep myself moving forward in great slow bounds. In the dreams, the thought that always accompanies this is: “I’d forgotten I could do this. I should do this more often.”

In the second form of the dream, I am in a supine position about 70 cm above the ground and am moving “forward” (that is, in a caudal direction). As in the jumping dreams, I have to “kick off” with one foot occasionally to maintain my speed, though in these dreams I am reminded more of a skateboard than a playground swing. In these dreams, unlike the others, I do not rise or fall; I stay at a constant distance from the ground, and kicking off serves only to give me a burst of forward speed, not to send me sailing up into the air.

In my slow-jumping dreams, I have an exhilarating sense of freedom, and at the apex of my leaps I enjoy looking down on the scenery (generally rolling green hills, dotted with trees). In the supine-skimming dreams, though, I often feel that I am going where I am “supposed to” go, following a leader who is walking ahead of me. I never see this leader, though, because I am always looking straight up at the sky — though I am somehow simultaneously aware of the ground (usually a hard gray surface) rushing past beneath my back.

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What makes these dreams unusual is that, upon waking, I am left with an unshakable conviction that they really happened. I don’t mean that I feel as if the dream itself had been real — the dream was obviously just a dream. However, I have a compelling feeling that the dream is reminding me of something I really experienced, that some long-forgotten memory from my real life has been jogged almost back into conscious recollection by the dream. I feel sure — my body feels sure — that somehow, somewhere, sometime, I really have moved that way, if only I could remember where or when. But, rack my brain how I may, I can never quite retrieve those elusive memories. I am left with an unsatisfying certainty that somehow those dreams must be about something “real,” but without being able to explain how they possibly could be.

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Dream experiment postmortem

A couple of years ago I attempted to duplicate the “experiment with time” described in J. W. Dunne’s book of that title. The experiment involves keeping detailed records of one’s dreams for a period of time and noting any resemblances between dream events and waking events which occurred shortly before or shortly after the dream in question. The higher the ratio P:F (the number of past resemblances to future resemblances), the stronger the evidence that apparently precognitive dreams are mere coincidences; the lower the ratio, the stronger the evidence that dream precognition is just as real as dream retrospection.

I posted the dream records I kept during the experiment at experimentsintime.wordpress.com. Relatively few of my dreams turned out to be discernibly connected to specific past or future events, and none of the resemblances I did notice were sufficiently strong to be truly compelling. Of the 23 dreams I recorded (or 23 nights’ worth of dreams, rather; I made no attempt to separate a given night’s dreaming into distinct dreams), 8 exhibited resemblances to specific past events (6 weak, 2 moderate), and 5 resembled specific future events (3 weak, 2 moderate). Thus my experiment would seem to be consistent with Dunne’s thesis that dreams are constructed from a roughly equal mixture of past and future components. (If all future resemblances were coincidental, we would expect past resemblances to outnumber them by at least an order of magnitude). However, the small number of resemblances noted, together with their overall weak quality, means that my experiment cannot be regarded as conclusive either way.

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Apparently I am not a “good” dreamer in the sense that the experiment requires. That is, the raw materials from which my dreams are constructed tend to be integrated to a degree that it becomes difficult to identify the specific experiences on which the dreams are based. Dunne touches on this in his appendix to the third edition of An Experiment with Time.

It is a commonplace of psychology . . . that most structures of the imagination are ‘integration’ — blends of several images associated with several different waking impressions. And it is accepted generally that dream-images are mostly of the same character — certainly, it is very rarely that one comes upon one of these exhibiting an unmixed, photographic resemblance to any scene of waking life. Now, the possibility of discovering in one of these composite structures an element distinctive enough to be recognizable as pertaining to a chronologically definite incident of waking life depends, mainly, upon what may be described as the coarseness of the blending. The more intricate — the more fine-grained — is the integration, the more difficult becomes its analysis. And, with practice in constructing dream-images, just as with practice in waking imagery, the integrations become more fine-grained, more beautifully blended, and, so, less easy to associate with any chronologically distinctive waking incident, past or future (p. 137, Hampton Roads reprint).

I suppose I ought to be pleased that my dreams are so “fine-grained” and “beautifully blended” — that my dreaming self exhibits a high degree of creativity (in the Einsteinian sense of knowing how to hide your sources) — but mostly I am disappointed at my inability so far to evaluate Dunne’s thesis conclusively from my own experience.

Individuals apparently vary widely in the relative “coarseness” of their dreams. In an experiment involving six Oxford students, one of the subjects recorded 21 dreams, of which 18 resembled waking incidents, 6 of those resemblances being judged “good” or strong. Another recorded 16 dreams without finding a single resemblance of any value. It is my bad fortune to be closer to the latter end of the scale.

Another factor may be the regular — not to say boring — character of my day-to-day life, which would reduce the chance that anything in a dream would resemble a distinctive waking event belonging clearly to either the future or the past. Not wanting to burden a holiday with the troublesome task of keeping daily dream records, I ignored Dunne’s advice to carry out the experiment during a break from one’s usual routine — preferably during a vacation in an unfamiliar locale — and instead conducted it during a perfectly ordinary period of time. I shall probably be going to Australia next year for the first time, and may attempt a second experiment during that trip.

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Some months after the end of my experiment, I did finally have a dream which bore a conclusively strong resemblance to a specific future event.

In my dream, I had the idea that I ought to write a book entitled Pineapples and Apple Pies. It would be an English textbook for use in Taiwan. The title was perfect because it illustrated the rules of compound formation in English: pineapple and apple pie were made up of the same two components (sic) but in a different order; also, pineapple was written as a single word with the stress on the first element, while apple pie was written as two with the stress on the second. I was delighted to have discovered two such common words which were thus related — much more natural than such strained pairs as songbird-birdsong and housecat-cathouse. As an added bonus, a pineapple was something typical of Taiwan, while an apple pie was a well-known symbol of America. (Upon waking, I naturally realized that the elements of the two compounds were not identical after all, that pine and pie were not the same.)

The day after the dream, I was teaching E., a child whom I tutor privately. At each of our sessions, he has to sign a record sheet, and, with a young child’s normal love of nonsense, he often writes a random word or two (often ghost or pig) on the paper after signing his name. This time, the random “word” he wrote was — applepine. When I said, “Applepine? What’s that?” he said, “You know, like pineapple but the other way!” Of course I had never in my life encountered the “word” applepine before, and the odds of running into it by chance the day after my dream are effectively zero. In fact, E.’s choice of that word is so bizarre and unaccountable that I’m almost more inclined to consider it evidence of mind-reading on his part than of precognition on mine.

Unfortunately, even this does not really count as conclusive evidence, since it occurred outside the formal experiment. The key thing is the ratio of clearly precognitive dreams to clearly retrospective ones, and I wasn’t keeping any records of the latter at the time. However, it did serve to keep me interested in the question, and I shall probably conduct further experiments in the future.

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Dunne also describes similar experiments in waking precognition, something I may try in the future, since my dreams seem to be of such poor quality, and since I have experienced some success with waking precognition in the past, before I ever encountered Dunne’s ideas. The following is taken from an email I wrote to a family member.

Here’s an experiment you can try. Go somewhere dark, roll your eyes up and to the side like people do when they’re trying to remember something, and “try to get something.” Just try to pick something up, like tuning a radio — easier done than explained. When I tried this, the first thing I “got” was the nonsense words “wudder-wudder-wudderfly” followed by a rapid succession of mental images: a green parrot viewed in profile; a short, wide, yellow tin; and something else which I no longer remember. Hours later, at work, one of my coworkers who had just come back from abroad (the Philippines, if memory serves) gave me some snack food from that country — in a package decorated with a green parrot in profile. Another colleague, a Japanese teacher, was doing some sort of cooking activity with her students and has brought some kind of Japanese bean paste or something in a yellow tin like the one I had seen. I can’t remember now what the third image was — this was years ago — but it also “came true.” (Nothing came of “wudder-wudder-wudderfly,” though.) I haven’t tried that particular exercise again — partly because I didn’t know what I was “tuning in” to and it seemed a little creepy, and partly because I didn’t want to ruin the magic by trying it again and not getting anything.

Given that, against the background of Dunne’s theories, precognition no longer seems “creepy” to me, I may try an organized experiment in waking precognition in the near future. Of course it will be impossible to calculate a ratio of precognitive to retrospective images, but if the results are sufficiently striking they may be conclusive anyway.

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The dream experiment is up and running

I’ve begun my Dunne-inspired experiment in dream precognition and will be posting my dream notes (records of dreams, together with notes on their connections with my past and future waking life) on this site. The notes on a given dream will not be published until one month after the dream itself, but I started the experiment just over a month ago, so a couple of dreams are up already. You can read more details of the experiment here.

I’ve found several links between dreams and future events, but so far nothing impressive enough to cast serious doubt on the null hypothesis that dreams do not contain precognitive elements.

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