Have Dreams Actually Helped people Solve Problems?

The claim has often been made that scientists and writers have received the solutions to problesm that they were attempting to solve, via dreams.
Take the case of Kekule (a German chemist); supposedly, Kekule was struggling to understand the molecular structure of benzine…and he dreamed one night about a snake swallowing its tail…from this he deduced the ring structure of benzine.
In another example, the American Archaeologist (H.V. Hilprect) was puzzled about some rings that he found in an excavation in Iraq…that night, he saw an ancient sumerian priest in a dream, who explained to him the purpose of the rings, and told him where to dig to find the other (missing) ring.
One more example…the famous German mathematician Gauss once struggled with a difficult mathematical equation…later, he received the solution in a dream.
Have any of these stories ever been verified? Or are these things just legends? Is the dream state especially creative for math and science wizards? :confused:

I studied Russian in Moscow for two sememsters. It wsa overwhelming at first to be constantly bombarded with a foreign language.

Eventually I started having dreams in Russian and when that happened the language started to click for me.

More anecdotal evidence… I’m a software developer and I occasionally wake up knowing the solution to a problem that has been bothering me for days. Then again I also find the shower and the toilet are common places for a solution to hit me!

When I was a software developer, my function was having a problem in testing. I’d spent all day looking at dumps, looking at the code, etc… to no avail. That night while sleeping, I saw a vision of the save set from the dump and I saw that one of the code modules was back leveled in the test environment. I was really anxious to get to work the next day to see if my dream debugging was correct, and sure enough, it was.

I was trying to design a torsion spring mechanism that would connect two collinear shafts. It needed to allow clockwise input and provide clockwise output, but counterclockwise force on the input shaft needed to lock the mechanism. It also needed to store several hundred rotations. I sketched and doodled for the better part of a day, did a pencil sketch of my flawed design, and traced it before bed, and when I woke up: POW I knew what I had forgotten.

I sketched it in, then did a final draft. I consider it the second-best mechanical solution I’ve come up with.

I recall reading somewhere that the guy who invented the sewing machine was having trouble getting it to work at first. He had a dream one night where he was being chased by “natives” in Africa or somewhere. While running from them, he noticed their unusual spears that had holes in the tips. When he woke up, he realized that putting the thread hole in the tip of the needle was the answer to his problem.

I’d Google to see if this has been debunked, but I can’t remember the guy’s name.

I am another software developer and I can also report seeing the solutions to problems in dreams.

Far more common for me is thinking of a solution shortly after waking up, particularly in the shower.

Though I have only anecdotal evidence, I’m conviced that our brains continue to work on difficult problems while we sleep, and that sleep is essential for intellectual achievement. It’s a shame that there is much cultural pressure in the programming community to go on all-night coding binges. My experience is that code produced in such environments may work, but if often sloppy and poorly thought out. In other words, a well-rested brain not only finds solutions, but better solutions as well.

Elias Howe.

It is the sub-conscious mind at work.

Nobel Prize winning physicist Wolfgang Pauli had a dream of “The World Clock” which purported to unify his thoughts and research into quantum theory.

Quoted from Physics Today

Far from being verified, this one’s actually been debunked.

It’s too bad – it’s one of my favorite chemistry stories, but evidently it’s not true – suggestions of a ring structure for benzene were apparently in the literature before Kekule’s dream.

I don’t recall the cite – I’ve got it buried in my files somewhere, but I think it’s some science history journal.

The mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan is another example:

I’m with the other software programmers here. I have come up with a solution to a week-old problem 2 or 3 times now in a dream. Pretty amazing.

Do people ever come up with non-mechanical (or technological, I guess) solutions in sleep? Like the answer to your financial problems or a way to get your kids to stop fighting?

I was trying to figure out my own life and the social-political world around me, and essentially started waking up in the middle of the night with clear new understandings which I wrote down on scratch paper. In the short run, it got me into trouble but eventually it led to a decent body of sociological theory, theology, and sexual identity writings. I didn’t exactly dream them but I woke up with the new comprehensions fully formed.

Mr. Adoptamom (carpenter) often solves difficult job related challenges while he sleeps. He also talks in his sleep, too. I’ve heard him build entire houses while dreaming :stuck_out_tongue:

I was considering asking a woman out. I had a dream about her (yes, that kinda dream). In the dream I spoke a very witty line that lead to us having fun. In real life I remembered the line and spoke it. She laughed, we went out, and later that night the dream came true.

I often dream that I’m flying, which is not unusual, I suppose. But once, while dreaming, I designed an experiment to determine how it was that I was flying. It would be a reasonable experiment, too, were I actually flying.

Now, if I could only get some of those dreams to explain real-world phenomena…

If anyone can find a cite for this I’d be very curious to see it (not doubting you CalMeacham, just interested). Kekule’s speech about his dream is one of my favorites quotes, both for chemistry and for dreaming so I hate to give it up. In particular, I’d like to know whether Kekule got the idea of a cyclic structure from another source and passed it off as a dream or if he simply wasn’t the first to realize the structure of benzene.

And in reply to the OP, I had a dream that enable me to see a problem in a new way. I was in my first month working at a daycare and I figured I would have to quit soon because the children were badly behaved and driving me nuts. I dreamed that night that the kids couldn’t see or hear me, and I could relax in the classroom without trying to control their behavior. The next day, I finally got understood that their behavior was their own choice and that though I could encourage them to act differently it was their decision whether or not they chose to do so. This relieved most of my tension in the classroom and I immediately got along better with the kids.

I just did a quick Search. Most sites unquestioningly give the Dream story, but here’s a dissenting view: