Dreams have played a powerful role in history – from assassinations to scientific breakthroughs to the basis of many literary tales. Though we all dream while sleeping, in these 25 instances people have harnessed visions from their dreams and used them to create wondrous things, escape certain deaths, and even predict future events. Makes you want to keep a dream journal now, huh? Check out these 25 Dreams That Changed History!
E = mc squared
Albert Einstein’s Theory of Relativity changed the world of physics – and it came from a dream. Einstein dreamt he was sledding down a mountain, ever increasing speed until he nearly reached the speed of light. He noticed the stars looked different and this observation led him to the mathematics by which he figured out the famous formula.
Yes, even the idea for our biggest search engine came from dreams. Founder Larry Page dreamt of Google, seeing that he & Sergey Brin could make a business by “downloading the entire web onto computers”.
The Twilight vampire
Like it or hate it, twilight changed the way pop culture saw vampires. Stephenie Meyer, author of the best-selling Twilight series, had the idea for vampires come to her in a dream – specifically for the human-vampire love relationships and where vampire skin sparkled when in the sun but didn’t burn.
What would the literary world be without Frankenstein? Author Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley dreamt up the idea for Frankenstein after Lord Byron (a fellow poet she was visiting) challenged his guests to write a ghost story. She dreamt of the moment when the mad scientist brought Frankenstein to life and, the following morning, began writing the chilling tale.
Beyond having the most covers of any song in history, The Beatles’s song Yesterday came to Paul McCartney while dreaming. He woke up with the music in his head and wrote it out on the piano next to him.
Abraham Lincoln's assassination
Honest Abe dreamt of his own assassination just a few days before – how freaky is that?! He dreamt he could hear sad wailing in the White House and, in getting up and trying to find it, finally came upon a room with mourners and his own corpse…(OK so you could argue that his dream was not the cause of one of the most momentous events in history, but it’s still a pretty freaky coincidence, don’t you think?)
The sewing machine was invented in 1845. Elias Howe had a dream he was taken prisoner by men with spears ready to do him in. Looking at their spears as they were nearly upon him, he noticed a hole at the spears’ points. By the next day, this breakthrough led him to develop the missing link in his sewing machine.
A winning golf swing
Famous golfer Jack Nicklaus lost his groove in 1964, shooting games easily in the 70’s. After seeing a problem with his holding of the club in a dream, he corrected it the next day and his game improved significantly.
Well-known among mathematicians, Indian Srinivasa Ramanujan is said to have published over 3,000 theorems. He claimed Hindu goddess Namagiri would appear in his dreams and tell him new formulas.
DNA's double helix
One of the greatest scientific discoveries of all time was the discovery of DNA’s structure. Dr. James Watson had a dream involving two snakes intertwined with heads at the opposite ends, leading to his consideration of a double helix.
With a fever spiking to 102°F (39°C), James Cameron had the idea of the Terminator in a dream (more like a nightmare). Cameron saw the metallic figure with piercing red eyes pulling itself up from a fire – not the kind of dream we’d want to have anytime soon.
Stephen King books
Global best-selling novelist Stephen King had many ideas come to him through dreams, including the books Misery and It. As King said: “I’ve always used dreams the way you’d use mirrors to look at something you couldn’t see head-on.”
Nervous system communication
In the early 20th century, scientists thought our nerves transmitted information electrically. After a dream, Dr. Otto Loewi awoke during the night and scribbled some thoughts on a paper. Upon waking in the morning, he realized he had written about information being transmitted chemically, later proven to be true and winning him the Nobel Prize in 1936.
You might not know much about it, but benzene is a pretty important foundation in chemistry, partly responsible for cars, leather, and high schoolers dismay. Chemist Friedrich August Kekulé von Stradonitz’s dream of a snake biting its own tail in a hexagonal shape led to his discovery of the six-sided benzene.
Periodic Table of Elements
Dmitry Mendeleev first came up with the idea for the periodic table in a dream. Unable to figure out how to arrange the elements, he used music heard in his dream to figure out the best way was by their properties and atomic weight.
Director Christopher Nolan is fascinated with dreams. He would frequently practice waking up and falling partially asleep again to try manipulating his dreams in the semi-conscious state. It’s easy to see how this love turned into the Inception thriller.
Artillery Gun Leveler
D.B Parkinson, an employee at Bell Labs (started by Alexander Graham Bell and at one time owned by AT&T) was designing an add-on to the telephone in 1940. One night, he dreamt he was in the middle of the war in Europe and, after being shown by an artillery crewman, saw the device he was creating helped the cannon take out Nazi aircraft with surprising accuracy.
Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones attributed his popular song (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction to a dream. He’s said to have recorded the acoustic riffs just before falling back to sleep. (The riffs were followed by 40 minutes of him snoring.)
Beethoven was rumoured to be a prolific dreamer, hearing many of his piano sonatas in his dreams and writing them out afterwards. Some historians even say his dreams featured instruments not yet invented. We’d love to hear his Symphony No. 5 on one of those!
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
Robert Louis Stevenson regularly used dreams as the bases for his stories. He saw the scene where Mr. Hyde changes in front of his pursuers and, combined with other nights of dream, wrote the novel within 10 weeks.
The Persistence of Memory
Salvador Dalí’s famous clock-work The Persistence of Memory may not have been directly seen in a dream, but Dalí often referred to his paintings as “hand painted dream photographs”.
Not of the Christ variety here (though Mary did learn of Jesus’s coming through a dream) – composer George Frideric Handel came to an impasse when trying to finish his now-famous piece, Messiah. He claimed the ending for it came to him in a dream.
Caligula, famous Roman emperor, dreamt of his death the night before it happened. In it, he met the god Jupiter (Zeus in Greek mythology) who proceeded to kick him from the heavens back to Earth. The next day, conspirators assassinated the emperor.
Madame C.J. Walker
The world’s first female American self-made millionaire, Madame C.J. Walker, made her fortune in the early 20th century cosmetics industry. A black man appeared to her in a dream and told her the mixture which would help her falling-out hair grow back in. It worked, and she enjoyed a lengthy career selling her cosmetics products.
Hitler's life-saving dream
While fighting in the trenches of World War I, it’s said Adolf Hitler had a life-saving dream. In it, he and his unit were eaten up by the earth and liquid metal. He awoke, bewildered, and left for a walk during which time a shell landed on the trench, killing the other soldiers.