When I was a School Counselor I used to teach second graders how to brainstorm.
Usually this lesson occurred during the autumn season and I would present a problem about excess vegetables to get them interested. I would tell them that I had a problem and needed their help solving it. As their interest peaked, I would whip the cover off of a few bowls of tomatoes or apples or even zucchini squash. I would then ask them to help me figure out what to do with the excess. I would explain that there were only two rules – the solution couldn’t hurt anyone and no one could laugh at anyone’s idea.
Given the freedom to think creatively, their tiny hands rose and solutions went up on the chalkboard that delighted me and everyone in the classroom. Allowed to think with both their left and right brains, seeking logical and not so logical ideas, the end of the lesson resulted in a board covered with ideas that not one of us would have thought of alone.
If only we all had 25 second graders inside our brains nightly to help us solve our problems! Oh, what we could invent, create, and solve.
Now, if you’ve ever had a small problem to solve and inexplicably woke up from a good night’s sleep with the solution at your fingertips, you have experienced something similar to my classroom lesson. However, even as creative as the lesson allowed students to be, their brains were still being controlled by centers of executive function which allow them to use logic and planning abilities. How creative could we all be if those centers were in the off position in our brains? This is exactly what our dreaming brains do.
The dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, central to our capacity for logical problem-solving and planning abilities, is predominantly turned off during sleep. This allows the sleeping brain to use any thoughts, feelings, visual images and experiences to work together to create solutions to problems that we would not normally imagine during waking consciousness. As a result, our entire world has been enhanced and even changed by the dream inventions and innovations many people created through their dreams.
Below are just a few of the most well-known inventions or innovations:
Friedrich von Kekule, a professor of chemistry in Belgium, had attempted to solve the structural puzzle of the benzene molecule. While taking a nap, he saw “atoms flitting before his eyes”. Eventually, some long rows formed and began to twist in a snakelike fashion. Suddenly, one of the snakes seized hold of its own tail and began to whirl in a circle. He awoke and constructed a model of a closed ring with an atom of carbon and hydrogen at each point of a hexagon. This discovery revolutionized organic chemistry!
Elias Howe dreamed he was surrounded by natives with spears, threatening to kill him. When he looked closely at the spears he saw that the spear heads had holes in them.. Upon awakening, he changed his original sewing machine design and drilled a small hole in the needles allowing the needle to catch the thread. We have Elias’s dream to thank for the modern sewing machine!
Theory of Relativity:
In adolescence, Albert Einstein had a dream that he was sledding down a steep mountainside going faster and faster until he was nearly at the speed of light. The stars in his dream began changing in appearance. Einstein knew that he had to understand the meaning of his dream and meditated on it until he eventually worked out the theory of relativity.
Jack Nicklaus tells his dream in his own words.
“Wednesday night I had a dream and it was about my golf swing. I was hitting them pretty good in the dream and all at once I realized I wasn’t holding the club the way I’ve actually been holding it lately. I’ve been having trouble collapsing my right arm taking the club head away from the ball, but I was doing it perfectly in my sleep. So when I came to the course yesterday morning I tried it the way I did in my dream and it worked. I shot a sixty-eight yesterday and a sixty-five today.”
In 1940, D. Parkinson, a Bell Laboratory engineer, was attempting to develop an automatic level recorder to improve the accuracy of measurements in telephone transmission. In a dream, he was with an antiaircraft crew in a gun pit. One of the guns brought down an airplane with every shot. One of the crew members beckoned Parkinson to come closer to the gun and pointed to the exposed end. To Parkinson’s surprise, he saw the control potential of his level recorder was mounted there. From this dream, and further research, the first all-electric gun director evolved and became known as the M-9 electrical analog computer.
Our dreaming minds are capable of solving even the most complex problems in science, art, and mathematics. What could they do for the rest of us with our everyday problems? The next time you need a creative solution to one of life’s many problems, try asking for an answer from your dreams. Remember to write down every dream you remember for at least 3 days and chances are your answers will appear creatively (and perhaps hidden) within your dreams.