Ruminations of a Dream Journalist


 Cynthia Pearson

Presented at the Annual Conference of the Association for the Study of Dreams
July 7, 2000, Washington D.C.
a panel addressing

"Dreaming: The Future -- Can We Change It?"

Journal keepers are empiricists-- we observe and document what actually happens (as opposed to what may fit a model or theory). And many of us who keep dream journals eventually find that future events have been liberally and casually scattered about our dreams as a matter of course.

In my journal, "synchronicity" serves as an umbrella category for precognition, déjà vu, mutual dreams, clairvoyance, telepathy and related phenomena, for all can be characterized as "meaningful coincidence."  My dream synchronicities are often domestic and trivial, as when-- to cite one example-- I had a dream about searching repeatedly for peanut butter to make a sandwich, and then upon awakening, opened the morning newspaper to find a picture of a 37-foot peanut butter sandwich at a “Peanut Butter Lovers Festival."  Here is another, more dramatic example::

Excerpts from dream of June 6, 2000:

“…I’m waking up in a hotel/motel room. I get up to use the bathroom. As I’m about to flush, I see a hand come out from behind the tank and press the lever. I realize there has to be someone hiding and then see him. I yell for [my husband] and we demand that he leave.

“Then it’s the next day, and I’m at home. After [my husband] has left, I catch the same guy stepping into the broom closet in our kitchen. I threaten him, then do call 911… but he is lingering in spite of this. I yell at him to get out, scram, and tell him I’m calling the cops, but he seems not to care.”

Less than two weeks later, I was away from home, staying in a motel outside Boston when a series of crimes occurred in my neighborhood of Point Breeze in Pittsburgh. Here are excerpts from the city daily, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

Point Breeze reeling after house attacks, Tuesday, June 20, 2000

“… In three separate incidents that may have been related, an intruder broke into an occupied home, terrorized the residents and robbed them… ‘I don't think anyone in the United States should think that this can't happen to them,’ said Richard Ehmann, whose 30-year-old daughter was alone at the family's home…on Friday night around 10:55 p.m. when she heard someone open the front door… She tried to slam the door but the man reached around and jammed a screwdriver against her back. It did not wound her. The woman ran into the kitchen, grabbed a knife and called 911 -- all while the man was threatening to kill her if she didn't cooperate. While she was talking to emergency officials, the man grabbed her purse, a shopping bag full of new clothes and a videocassette recorder, and fled.”

This occurred within four blocks of my house, as did the other two crimes.  My dream seemed to pick up on many details of this event: my staying in a motel, that both the real and the dream perpetrator reached around from behind, and that I, like the victim, was in the kitchen dialing 911 even as the perpetrator was failing to leave. And the next day, when headlines announced an arrest, I learned that, as in my dream, it had been the “same guy” in all the break-ins.

These and experiences like them occur commonly, and when I first agreed to join this panel, I had intended to focus solely on dream journals as repositories of examples of precognition. However, when the panel’s name was announced, I was given pause. I thought about the question-- "The Future: Can We Change It?"-- and decided to poll some of my fellow long term journaling enthusiasts, to see what they had to say about the subject. Here are some of their answers to “The Future: Can We Change It?” They range from sincere: “I myself wouldn't put it in terms of 'changing' the future, but rather ‘striding more self-consciously into’ the future....” to facetious: "I can, but I'm not so sure about you." But others were more thought provoking, such as:

“If you don’t try, you’ll never know, but if you do try, you’ll never know either.”
“Yes, if there is one.” And finally,
“No, but you can lean into it.”
I think these last capture best my own ruminations on this question, because my dream experiences persuade me that “the future” is an array of probabilities that present themselves in dreams. Some probabilities are stronger than others, but I do not think we so much “change” the future as “tack” and sail among probabilities, navigating ourselves among the head and tail winds that blow through our lives.

I began writing down dreams over 20 years ago, but my ability to note synchronicities increased when I started using a computer database to index my dreams records in the 1990s.

The practice of entering past dreams in the database led to discovering many synchronicities that I hadn't known were there. For example, I hadn’t remembered that I dreamt of my sister’s house being damaged, but I had, exactly one year before it was rendered uninhabitable in the Los Angeles earthquake.

A footnote here-- I was very interested to read in Dale Graff’s book, River Dreams, that "in Louisa Rhine’s study of 10,000  cases of realistic and symbolic spontaneous psi events, over 50%  of the most dramatic experiences were premonitions of fire." (p. 35) In my dream from the night of January 17, 1993, my sister learned "that her building has had a fire”-- perhaps an easier disaster to symbolize than an earthquake!  Then in the dream, my sister picked up the phone to find out what happened, but the operator refused to connect her.

When I first read through this account some years later, I assumed that I must have had this dream right after the big earthquake in Los Angeles. That had been a frightening day for my sister and her four grown children, who all lived around L.A. They were unable to telephone one another, but were able to call me in Pennsylvania and thereby learn of one another's safety. A dream of her building's being damaged and her not being able to get a call through was an apt reflection of her circumstances, and as you might guess, I was surprised that the actual earthquake had been a year later, January 17, 1994.

But in this experience, and in my dreaming in general, I did not know until well AFTER the dream that it alluded to a future event. So the question of whether dreaming can lead to changing the future in a direct sense is, thus far, moot for me. Indeed, I only discovered this one because I was entering it into the database. Now I know the importance of reviewing past dream records, a practice that becomes more onerous with age, but can lead to continuously discovering unsuspected premonitions.

I have heard accounts from other dreamers who did attempt to change the future. When she was in college, my friend Liz had a vivid dream of looking down to find herself covered with blood. One day soon after, she was a passenger in a car driven by a friend whom she knew was suffering from sleep deprivation. It was a dangerously windy road and so, thinking of her dream, Liz offered to drive. Soon after taking the wheel, Liz missed a curve and crashed. She found herself covered with blood, as her dream had foretold, and ended up in a hospital for a week. We can debate for many hours whether or not Liz changed the future that day. Might there have been a worse accident if she hadn’t taken the wheel, or none at all? The possibilities and permutations are endless.

Nothing that sensational has turned up in my dream records. But as the number of dreams I’d entered in my database reached 600, I did try to quantify that certain people and things have an above-average likelihood of being linked with synchronicity dreams. For example, of all 600 dreams, 20% contained synchronicities. However, in the subset of the 55 dreams in which my daughter appears, the percentage was 36%. Many of the synchronicities in my dream accounts pertain to family members, and some of these became quite complex.

Indeed, I noted a number of occasions where the entering of a dream into the database coincided uncannily with events of the day I entered it, often years after I had the dream. These instances were more complex than contemporary synchronicities, because of the way they folded in on themselves and reached through time. I decided to call them "arabesques," after the ornate, complex designs of intertwined lines.

For example, in 1996,  I entered a dream from October, 1991, called "Snake Bites Henry's Puppy.” Henry is my brother, and at the time of the dream, his daughter was dying of a brain tumor; the sad and awful symbolism of his puppy’s being killed was obvious at the time.  But on the day I entered it in the database, almost 5 years later, I had just finished a book Henry had lent me called  Salvation on Sand Mountain: Snake Handling and Redemption in Southern Appalachia. This book contained not only material about snakes and snake bites, but also a quote I had written down because it seemed so pertinent to the my work with dreams.  It was this:  " not the absence of meaning, but the presence of more meaning than we can understand." This also summarized the one conclusion I felt confident in venturing after using a database to study 600 dreams. Thus far, I stated in a paper to ASD in 1997, I was in the presence of more than I could understand.

I have since observed and documented arabesques among members of the Dream Workshop, an ongoing study group I started in Pittsburgh. Over time, a core of four long-term regulars has formed.  We are in the habit of observing our dreams together and have become our own small research group.

However, arabesques are not limited to the veteran group members who are accustomed to dream work. Indeed, on more than one occasion, an arabesque has included a total newcomer to the group. On one occasion, a woman came to the Dream Workshop for the first time, and Gina, one of the regulars, read a dream she'd had more than two weeks earlier. In it, she was with her friend, Claire, as they watched blimps flying over the campus of the University of Pittsburgh and exploding. "Some played music before they fell…The Goodyear blimp was one of them ...A few small planes also crash landed."

As group members began discussing the dream, the newcomer spoke up: "Excuse me, I have to tell you all something. Just this afternoon, I had a flat tire and had to have it repaired. The nearest place was a Goodyear store that I'd never been to before. There was a television on in the waiting room, and my ears pricked up when I heard the words 'Schenectady, New York.' I'm from Schenectady, so I paid close attention. The story was that there had been a plane crash at an air show there, and the reporter commented that music continued playing before, during and after the crash." Then she added, "And I had a dream last night about my friend named Claire."

This astonishing experience provoked much conversation. We talked about Heisenburg's axiom that the very act of observing disturbs the system, and how often we have noticed that observing our dreams seems to create more elaborate dream phenomena. In fact, we sometimes suspect that our dreams, having succeeded in capturing our attention, are actually showing off.  Which they most certainly did in October of 1997, when I met with the dream regulars at a coffee house to discuss an idea for my next ASD presentation. At the previous conference, I had described the arabesques in my own dream history. Next time, I wanted to talk about the arabesque effect as it occurs with others. Having noticed many instances among ourselves like the Goodyear example, we discussed which ones were most memorable.

I’d also brought along a recent New York Times Book Review item. It read, "David Deutsch, author of The Fabric of Reality: The Science of Parallel Universes and Its Implications, thinks…quantum mechanics… must be taken…as an explanation for how the world really works." I shared this notion with the other dreamers. Was the inter-relatedness apparent in our group arabesques a function of our living in "an ensemble of parallel universes that physicists have come to call the multiverse?" We agreed that in the very least, this theory provided enough room to accommodate all the things that go on in our dreams.

Then over the next 24 hours, two of us dreamers found ourselves sharing not only a mutual lucid dream, but before we could compare notes, a continuously mutual,  synchronicitous day. This was an arabesque of such complexity that it took most of a 20 minute presentation to describe it at the next conference (cf. "Earwigs and Arabesques"). It was certainly the fanciest and most intricate arabesque I had experienced to date, and seemed to come in answer to my  posing questions about the multiverse.

Naturally, I wanted to apply to this arabesque the idea that "…quantum mechanics… must be taken…as an explanation for how the world really works.” Now, to do this, we have to suppose some things that are a big stretch. We have to imagine "that our universe is one of many in an ensemble of parallel universes that physicists have come to call the multiverse." No wonder that, as the Times reviewer put it, even "physicists are tired of thinking about it."

But perhaps they would have better luck if they paid attention to their dreams. The multiverse might be too elusive to grasp in the waking world, but the sleeping world is a different matter. From this example and from many others, we can construct this syllogism:

 1. In dreams we are not subject to the constraints of time-- of past, present and future-- that we recognize in our waking lives.
 2. We know from quantum physics that space and time are one in the same.
 3. Therefore, in dreams we are not subject to the constraints of our space time continuum.
I now find it less difficult to suppose that the single universe we inhabit, at least while we are awake and focused, is one of others. And, I can imagine that when we fall asleep, our sharp focus on this universe relaxes, and that we spontaneously return to the matrix of multiple universes. Indeed, it even seems likely to me that our dreams occur in this far vaster reality, freely sailing among the endless probabilities of the multiverse.

And this, finally, must inform my answer to the question posed: “Dreaming: The Future -- Can We Change It?” The initial impression of this question is a mechanical one, a Newtonian paradigm where subject A perceives future event B and proceeds to try and change the outcome, as Liz tried to do. In my long experience with studying my dreams, I can think of no instance in which this has been the case. However, in both my own dream experiences and in comparing notes with other dreamers, I am convinced that the future is “around”--or present, if you will--when we dream. Can this influence our actions? Surely. But more importantly, it changes our view of what constitutes reality and of what is possible in this life. Perhaps the best response, the “final answer” of a dogged dream journalist would be the observation of  the mystic, St. Catherine of Siena, that, “The fish is in the sea and the sea is in the fish.” And it is all, as Robert Moss e-mailed me after he read about these arabesques, “wonderful fun.”

Dream Journalist