Can Your Dreams Tell the Future?

Have you ever had a dream that came true the next day? Have you ever had a vision of the future and then watched it play out in the real world? Have you ever had a feeling that something big was going to happen and then it does?

You are not alone.

One night, the famous American writer Mark Twain awoke from a horrible dream. Mark saw his younger brother Henry laying in a metal casket, dead. On his brother's chest was a bouquet of white roses with a single red rose at the center. When Mark woke up he was stricken with a sense of grief, as if his brother really were dead. But he wasn't. Henry was still alive. Still, his nightmare was so specific that it left Mark with the sensation of being more of a vision than a dream. The white roses with a single red rose at the center and the coffin being metal and not wood was particularly strange. At the time, wooden coffins were the standard.

Mark was eventually able to calm himself down. And he dismissed this vision as "only a dream". In the real world, Mark and Henry got a job working together aboard a riverboat. But Mark was soon transferred to another vessel after he got in a fight with the boat's captain. So the two brothers were separated. Mark went one way, and Henry went another. A few weeks after his dream, Mark got word that his brother Henry was dead, killed in an explosion aboard the riverboat. Mark was summoned to where his brother's body was being prepared. When Mark entered the room he was horrified to see the scene from his dream exactly as he dreamt it. Henry was lying in a metal casket. 

As shocking as this was to see, a small detail was missing. There were no flowers, no bouquet of white roses with a red rose at the center. The nightmare must have just been a coincidence. Right? Here’s the twist. Before Mark leaves his brother, a woman enters carrying a bouquet of white roses with a red rose at the center. Mark can only watch as the woman lays the bouquet on Henry's chest. Mark Twain dreams of his brother’s untimely death and gets every detail of his sibling’s demise correct, right down to the color of the flowers and the unique type of casket. But he isn't the only luminary from the past to dream about the future. Abraham Lincoln reportedly dreamed of his impending assassination. There are records of passengers meant to board the infamous Titanic who dreamed of the catastrophe before it occurred. As a result, they didn’t take the trip. These are only a few of the thousands of reported cases from all over the world of people dreaming up accurate visions of the future. This phenomenon is known as precognitive dreams. But how is this possible? Is it all just coincidence?

I can't claim to believe in precognitive dreams one way or the other, but a story sent to me got me interested in the topic. It's a story I will share with you at the end of this video. A story you may find hard to believe. But first, I'd like to provide a little background and context that got me thinking that the story isn't so hard to believe after all. But what is precognitive dreaming? A study by the American Psychological Association defines a precognitive dream as "a dream that seemingly includes knowledge about the future that cannot be inferred by some prior knowledge.". In other words, they are a vision of the future that does not draw on input from the five senses, memory or logic. Have you experienced something like this before? 

It's likely that you have. And given the nature of dreams and the uncanny feeling they leave you with, chances are you remember them. Although precognitive dreams are categorized as paranormal, research suggests that they are quite common.

Up to 38% of large samples of people reported having at least one precognitive dream. Women report having them more than men and the frequency of them occurring seems to decline with age. In 1989, a meta-analysis published by paranormal investigators Charles Honorton and Diane C. Ferrari cited over two million trials conducted between 1935 and 1987 on 50,000 random participants. The goal was to discover if precognitive dreams are more than just coincidence. And the results are shocking. The study concluded that there was only a 0.0975% chance that coincidence had anything to do with the descriptions of future events offered by the participants.

But is the ability to have these precognitive dreams so unbelievable? What if they are more akin to something like instinct? And we do not debate the existence of instinct, right? Instinct almost always comes with a physical sensation. A study by Northwestern University investigated the hypothesis that human physiology can predict important future or emotional events. In this study, participants were shown pictures at random. On average, participants experienced physiological changes like sweating before they were shown a picture of a gun. But this is hardly a modern phenomenon.

The Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh is one of the oldest surviving works of literature that dates back to 2100 BCE. In the story, dreams are regarded as visions of the future. Aristotle published a paper called "On Prophesying Dreams". In it, he concludes that precognitive dreams are possible but that most of them are probably coincidental. Are precognitive dreams only mere coincidence? People can't really predict the future, can they? It depends on what you believe about time. When you're awake does it feel like time is linear, moving forward? Or is this an illusion? 

First, let's go with the assumption that it is linear. And if it is then our ability to predict the future is impossible, right? The idea of knowing the future before it arrives is logically incoherent. Newtonian physics is built upon the concept of materialism. This is the assumption that matter is the basis of everything. So consciousness is merely a by-product of physical processes. And this strictly physical world operates on the principle that time flows in one direction. This is known as the principle of causality.

Thing A causes Thing B. And Thing B only happens because Thing A caused it to happen. Your coffee mug shattered on the floor because you dropped it. Precognitive dreams violate the fundamental principle that an effect cannot occur before its cause. But this Newtonian, materialist worldview has not been adopted by everyone. There is another theory, the theory that consciousness is a fundamental part of reality itself. And something so much more than a by-product of brain activity.

One of the most unbelievable theories in quantum physics is the theory that an observer can affect reality simply by the act of observing it. What's even more unbelievable is that this has been proven to be true… on the quantum level. It all comes down to qualia and quanta. Qualia is conscious awareness. And quanta is this discovery that objects observed at the quantum level are extremely sensitive to being observed. Nobody likes the feeling of being watched. This feeling often produces physiological changes in our bodies and results in us changing course or acting differently than we otherwise would have.

And you've probably heard of teleportation, which on the quantum level really is possible. It's much like Schrödinger’s cat where the cat is simultaneously alive and dead. The cat exists in two different states at two different times simultaneously. You could think of precognitive dreams as the passing of information. And we know from our Wi-Fi signals that the passing of information can defy all kinds of laws. And what is being teleported in the quantum world is information, not matter. Newtonian physics and materialism simply cannot explain this phenomenon. But quantum physics can. Kind of.

According to Einstein's theory of general relativity, time is just another dimension in space. And you can traverse this space in either direction, forward or backward. Quantum physics and general relativity supports the theory of a block universe, which is to say a 4-dimensional universe. But existence as we experience it is only three-dimensional. You are a three-dimensional being living in a three-dimensional world. Physical objects in the three-dimensional world have height, width and depth. And they take up space. Stay with me here cause we’re jumping from a three-dimensional world into a four-dimensional one.

There is a four-dimensional space-time structure where time is just like space. Space and time both have coordinates or addresses in space-time. Time does not have a tense as in past, present and future, so all points in time are equally real. The past and future are no less real than the present. They are all occurring simultaneously. Like physical objects in the 3D world, time takes up space.

This challenges the notion that the past already happened and so is gone forever. And the future doesn't exist yet so it is inaccessible. This leads to the many worlds, or multiverse, theory. This theory states that at each moment a new possible future splits off into a whole new timeline. This would explain how particles can exist in the same place at the same time. But this theory hasn't yet been proven. It can't be empirically tested because we just don't have access to those other timelines. Or do we?

A common vision or warning in precognitive dreams is that of car crashes. The dreamer witnesses their own death while behind the wheel and as a consequence, they refuse to drive to work the next day or take a different route than normal. In effect ending one timeline and splitting off into another. Another common warning is that of illness. In a study of warning dreams preceding the diagnosis of breast cancer, each participant had similar dreams that shared the same characteristics. Each dream had a sense of conviction about the importance of the dream. Each one was more vivid, real or intense than ordinary dreams. Each one had an emotional sense of threat, menace or dread. And they all could sense physical contact with the breast. Warning dreams of breast cancer were often reported to be life-changing experiences that spurred the participants to get checked right away, which led to early diagnosis. Had the person not had the dream, the cancer could have gone undiagnosed and for some, their timeline would end, perhaps prematurely.

So what is it about sleep that allows us to do the impossible and break the linear flow of time? Is time both real and not real? What about the physical barriers of the world both real and not real? This is a paradox. And that's the word I want you to keep in mind as we continue, paradox.

You've probably heard of REM sleep. But have you heard of paradoxical sleep? Paradoxical sleep is a part of the sleep cycle where the brain is incredibly active but our body is unable to move. Brain scans indicate that brain wave activity during this part of sleep is almost identical to brain wave activity while we are awake. For all intents and purposes, our brain thinks we are awake. And yet the body is, in effect, paralyzed. During this stage of sleep, the brain's limbic system is in overdrive. The limbic system contains the amygdala, the hippocampus and the cingulate gyrus. These parts of the brain are responsible for our five senses and emotions, long-term memory and muscle movement respectively.

Though we are sleeping, our brain is still busy interpreting visual cues and sensations without external stimulus or input. So we are awake, but not awake. We are simultaneously experiencing the world and yet we are not. Hence the paradox. This brain activity during sleep supports studies on the top-down connection between the unconscious mind and the physical body. The first empirical demonstration of this mind-matter interaction was achieved in the 1990s when scientists concluded that guided imagery and self-hypnosis enhanced immune function.  

You could say that the simple act of behaving differently after having a dream is an example of your consciousness having a real tangible consequence on the physical world. But how many dreams are ignored because they don't predict anything? There are nearly 8 billion people in the world. On average, the majority of them have multiple dreams each night. And when it comes to precognitive dreams, people aren't dreaming of alien invasions or zombies walking the Earth. Though the content can be a warning of something tragic, they are still mundane, possible and plausible occurrences. If that many people are having that many dreams, doesn't it stand to reason that every now and then a dream is just a really good guess or coincidence?

I'd like to leave you with the story I spoke of earlier, and let you decide. The following story happened in Montreal, Canada, in 2022. After yet another negative pregnancy test, Bill and Kate had all but given up trying to have a baby. They had the dog and that would have to be enough. But one night, Bill had a dream. In it, he held their dog in his arms but when he looked down at it, the dog had a baby’s head with a furry body. Bill doesn’t tell Kate about the dream. Until the moment he has to. In the real world, Bill and Kate take the dog for its morning walk. Kate stops when she notices the dog has something in its mouth. Kate bends down to see what the dog has found. She holds the something up to Bill. Bill’s jaw drops. In her hand, Kate holds a tiny doll with a baby’s head and a furry body.

Bill tells Kate about his dream. The couple races home where Kate takes a pregnancy test, then another, then another. All three come back positive. Bill and Kate are going to have a baby.

Maybe, just maybe, we really can see the future.