People create things all the time. Inventors, musicians, writers, and filmmakers all work to create something new. When scientists approach problems from new angles it tends to change the way the world works.
But where do people get their ideas? Sometimes it’s from just sitting down to do the work while other times the idea stems from something they notice in everyday life. Sometimes it could be an idea that strikes out of the blue. Every so often, however, they literally dream them up.
There’s a theory that when you sleep new neural pathways are created. That’s why you might have trouble with something the night before but seem to pick it up far easier the next day. Your brain has rewired itself while you slept.
That leads to some more interesting things, though, because when you sleep your unconscious mind takes over. That can create strange dreams about the problem you have, helping you develop creative solutions. And that’s what we have here, 15 famous ideas that were invented in dreams.
15. The Sewing Machine
A sewing machine is something we all take for granted. All it basically does is repeatedly stab pieces of cloth together until you have something to wear. But creator Elias Howe was initially stuck on a design element for his new invention. In a violent dream based on his frustrations, he dreamt that cannibals threatened to kill him if he couldn’t come up with a design. Because he failed to come up with a solution in his dream as well, the cannibals stabbed him with spears that featured a hole in the tip. That hole in a needle tip was all that was missing to make the sewing machine work.
The creation of Google can be traced back to a dream and the fear of a clerical error. Back in 1996, Larry Page had an irrational fear that he was admitted into college because of an error and believed he would be kicked out of college at any moment. That anxiety fuelled a dream of downloading and storing the Internet on individual PCs. When he woke up, he was curious to see if it was possible so he did the math. Given the amount of data, it wasn’t — but he could save them all as individual links. That gave him the idea of creating a searchable database of links to web pages and that led to the creation of Google.
13. The Terminator
While in Rome, back in the early 80s, then unknown director James Cameron was working on a film called Piranha II: The Spawning. During the shoot, he grew sick with a fever of 102 degrees Fahrenheit and had to leave the set early in order to get some shut eye. He had a fevered dream where he saw a chrome robot torso crawl away from an explosion, wielding a kitchen knife, and crawling toward a girl who was trying to get away. When he woke up, he sketched the idea down and the whole thing became the basis for The Terminator.
A movie about a dream within a dream coming from dreams doesn’t sound so far-fetched. Inception wasn’t based on any one dream that Chris Nolan had, but rather a series of lucid dreams the director had. When you’re lucid dreaming, you realize that you can control your dream and do whatever you want. Some skeptics suggest that it is not a state of sleep, but rather you are actually experiencing a moment of wakefulness. Whatever the case, the concept of lucid dreaming took root and formed the basis for the film Inception where the protagonists can control what happens in a dreamscape.
11. H.P. Lovecraft’s Necronomicon
Anyone who is into horror literature knows that the buck stops with H.P. Lovecraft’s book series. In it, there are terrible ancient gods like Cthulhu. His worshippers follow him in the hopes that when the world ends, they’ll get eaten first rather than suffer through what comes next. The book that they read is called the Necronomicon whose name came to Lovecraft in a dream. When he woke up, he scribbled the word down and roughly translated it to “an image of the law of the dead” from Greek. Satisfied with its meaning, he went on to scare the pants off his fans with his stories.
10. Tintin In Tibet
Herge, the creator of Tintin, was having a recurring nightmare which involved great white spaces. In one of them, he was in a tower made of a series of ramps with dead leaves falling, covering everything. Later, in an alcove, a white skeleton appeared and tried to catch him at which point everything became white. His psychoanalyst told him that his previous work on Tintin was the root cause of the dreams and he should stop immediately. Instead, he wrote Tintin in Tibet which became one of his masterpieces.
9. Dr. Jekyll And Mr. Hyde
Robert Louis Stevenson is an author who is known for his adventure novels like Treasure Island. However, one of his works took a sharp left turn into horror when he wrote The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The novella addresses the concept of duality within human identity through the character’s of respectable Dr. Jekyll and his terrifying alter ego Mr. Hyde. The story came to Stevenson in a nightmare that was so bad he began yelling in the middle of the night. His wife woke him up which peeved him off because the story in his dream was a great one. The novella went on to become a classic.
8. Stephen King’s Misery
Yes, another one for the horror novel list. This time it’s Stephen King whose dream inspired the novel Misery. He was flying on a plane when he fell asleep and dreamed of a woman who held a writer prisoner. Eventually, she killed and skinned his flesh. After feeding what was left of the writer’s carcass to her pig, she used the writer’s human skin to bind his own novel. The first forty or so pages of the book were written as soon as he woke up and landed in England. The book was produced into an equally chilling movie starring Kathy Bates and James Caan.
What is it about horror writers and nightmares? Mary Shelley was at a summer retreat hosted by Lord Byron but a volcanic eruption in the Dutch East Indies blocked out the sun and created a cold environment. To pass the cold days, the group told ghost stories around a campfire until Shelley came up with the idea that they should all create their own ghost stories. That night, she dreamed of a mad scientist attempting to play God and creating his own new human race. That story became the foundation for Frankenstein.
6. The Beatles ‘Yesterday’
The Beatles are one of the most popular bands in history and one of their more famous songs is Paul McCartney’s ‘Yesterday.’ The musical tune for the song came to him in a dream which got stuck in his head when he woke up. He wrote it down on a piano and showed it around because he believed that he couldn’t have possibly written a piece of music in a dream. After he was sure no one else wrote it, The Beatles fleshed it out and it became the song we now know and love.
5. Special Theory of Relativity
Einstein may have published his theory of relativity when he was in his mid-twenties but the idea for it came much earlier. In fact, it came to him in a dream when he was just a teenager. In it, he dreamt he came upon a farm with a bunch of cows huddled behind an electric fence. When the farmer — who was at the opposite end of the field — turned the fence on, all of the cows jumped back at the same time. However, when he went to talk to the farmer, the farmer said he saw them jump away one-by-one from the fence. This dream led to his realization that events look different depending on where you’re standing due to the amount of the time it takes light to travel.
The discovery of benzene revolutionized the production of cars, rubber, fuel, clothing, plastics, and explosives — just to name a few. Friedrich August Kekule von Stradonitz cracked the molecular structure by dreaming of snakes. Up to this point, despite knowing that benzene was made from six hydrogen and six carbon molecules, every configuration of them didn’t work. While trying to figure it out, Friedrich took a fireside nap where he dreamed that he was surrounded by snakes who were holding their own tails — like an ouroboros but in a hexagon shape. That led him to the discovery of the shape of the element as hexagonal.
3. The Shape of DNA
It seems that when scientists have trouble with their research they decide to take naps. Just like Friedrich August Kekule von Stradonitz was having trouble with the structure of benzene, so too did Dr. James Watson and his contemporaries with the shape of DNA. One account of the dream had him dream of a double-sided staircase. Another account stated that he dreamed of two snakes coiled around each other with their heads at opposite ends. If the latter story is true, someone really needs to explain why scientists dream of snakes. But how odd to think that an eerie dream helped Watson understand the structure of one of the most influential discoveries of the last century.
2. The Periodic Table of Elements
Ah, the periodic table of elements. A logical system that presents elements and gave us that cool Breaking Bad television title. But it wasn’t always organized that way. In fact, it wasn’t organized until 1869 when renowned chemist Dmitri Mendeleev published what he saw in a dream. Unlike some other scientists on this list, his dream was pretty simple as he just saw all of the elements fall into place on a table. His original version listed them by atomic weight which was then adapted into the modern periodic table that sorts elements by how many protons in an atom each element has.
1. The Scientific Method
René Descartes is known for the quote, “I think, therefore, I am.” He also created the foundation of the scientific method and so paved the way for modern civilization. The formulation for it came to him from a series of bizarre dreams. In them, he found himself caught in a whirlwind and chased by a group of ghosts. He also had a huge, inexplicable craving for melons. When the winds calmed down he was guided to a room that tried to set him on fire while the sound of thunderclaps were heard in the background. He escaped to yet another room but this one was serene and peaceful and had a single book in it. In the book there was one line written down: “What path shall I take in life?” Then a man appeared and said, “Yes and no.” The mysterious man and the book both then disappeared. Descartes believed the dream was literally a message from God to reinvent the way humans think about the universe. I just want to know if he ever got that melon.
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