Analysis and Arabesque:
Observing 600 Dreams Using a Computer Database
to the 14th Annual Conference of the
Association for the Study of Dreams
Asheville, North Carolina
June 20, 1997
At the ASD conference in 1995, I described designing a dream database for our old home computer. This was my solution to the problem of burgeoning dream journals, and it also helped me to document incidents of synchronicity sprinkled throughout my dream records. Now many computer systems come with databases preinstalled, and creating a database for personal dream records is within the grasp of any computer owner. Over the past year, I have entered the dates, titles, key phrases, and incidences of synchronicity for 600 dreams recorded from the beginning of 1990 to mid-1996. Today I will describe some of the benefits of maintaining a dream database, and share findings I have drawn from my observations, including some statistical analysis.
The Virtues of Keeping a Database
To begin with, keeping a dream database means you can readily be of service to researchers seeking dream accounts on any subject. For example, last fall ASD President Kelly Bulkeley requested dreams about the upcoming Presidential election for his ongoing research on the subject. Using the database, I was able to search for every dream mentioning Clinton, Dole and Perot over the past 6 years. I then expanded the search to other Presidents, as Kelly had suggested, and found dreams featuring JFK, FDR and Nixon. In minutes, I had found every dream Kelly might need, and I was able to send him 10 dream accounts in all. Not long after, author Alan Vaughan posted a query in the ASD Newsletter, requesting precognitive dream data from 1990-1994. Once again, the database enabled me to respond quickly and easily.
It is worth explaining that with database software, one does not have to completely type up every dream. Entering dates and descriptive phrases from each dream is enough. One can then search by a date, word or phrase and be led to the pertinent dream accounts, whether they are handwritten or on a disk drive.
If you decide to try this, understand that no matter what the brand name, all databases do the same thing -- allow you to record and quantify information that can then be put to use in any number of ways. If you have a computer system that is less than 3 years old, you probably already own database software; check your machine's documentation. The software will usually include an on-screen tutorial, which will help you understand what to do and how to get started.
But service to other researchers is not half the fun of keeping a database. From the beginning, my interest in indexing dreams was based on my desire to track incidents of synchronicity. In my database, "synchronicity" serves as an umbrella category for precognition, déjà vu, mutual dreams, clairvoyance and related phenomena, for all can be characterized as "meaningful coincidence." So that when -- to cite one example -- I had a dream about searching repeatedly for peanut butter to make a sandwich, and then opened the morning newspaper to find a picture of a 37-foot peanut butter sandwich at a "Peanut Butter Lovers Festival," I was able to record that in the database.
Studying Synchronicity: Family Ties
As I have undertaken to enter the contents of past dream journals, I have been surprised to discover synchronicities that I hadn't know were there. For example, in the summer of 1996, I entered a dream from the night of January 17, 1993. In it, my sister Perk learns "that her building has had a fire." She picks up the phone "to find out what happened, but when she asks the operator to connect her, the operator gives her a hard time" and refuses.
I thought as I read through this that I must have had this dream right after the big earthquake in Los Angeles, where Perk lives. That had been a frightening day for the entire family, but especially for her and her children, all grown, who live 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 whereabouts. Everyone survived unscathed, but Perk's house was so badly damaged that authorities prevented her from reentering it. A dream of her building's being damaged and not being able to get a call through was an apt reflection of her turmoil. But I wondered -- had I had this dream before or after the earthquake? I looked it up and discovered that the date of the earthquake was January 17, 1994 -- one year to the day after my dream.
The rule of precognitive dreaming is that one does not know until AFTER the dream that it IS precognitive. I only discovered this one because I was entering it into the database, and the practice of reviewing old dreams in order to enter them is proving to be a valuable benefit of keeping a database.
Many of the synchronicities in my dream accounts pertain to family members. Mine is a large family. I am close to my mother, my four siblings and a number of nieces and nephews, not to mention my husband and two children, so the fact that family members figure strongly in my dreams does not surprise me. Sometimes, however, the synchronicities do.
For example, at my mother’s birthday party in 1994, when she opened her present from my brother, I found myself looking at a book that I recognized from a dream. I didn't recall when I'd had dreamt about it, but I remembered the book. Fortunately, I was able to use the database to find the dream account. In it, I am handed a book with a dust jacket made of clear plastic. I could see the dark gray cover through the jacket, and the title -- something about mystical experiences. The name of the book my brother actually gave to my mother was The Quark and the Jaguar, an exploration into new physics as metaphysics, and it had a dark gray cover under a clear plastic dust jacket. I had had the dream six months earlier, which, I realized, had been the night of my brother's birthday.
As the number of dreams I’d entered in my database reached 600, I sought 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% contain synchronicities. However, in the subset of the 55 dreams in which my daughter appears, the percentage is 36%.
Curious to know if this could be statistically meaningful, I sought professional assistance to determine the significance of this proportion, using the Z test. A Z score of 2.0 is needed to establish significance; the Z score for synchronicities in the subset of dreams featuring my daughter was 2.69.
I am new to statistics, and have much to learn. For example, I was impressed that the highest percentage for dreams with synchronicities featured my maternal grandmother. She was a powerful -- and fey – personality when alive, and it made sense that she remained so in my dreams. Of the seven dreams in which she appears, 43% contain synchronicities. However, this subset proved too small to yield a significant Z score. Nevertheless, this high percentage carries significant meaning for me anyway, even though it’s not one I can substantiate with numbers.
Obviously, I am in the early stages of observation and analysis, and cannot yet venture a theory about the phenomena I am noting. However, it is fascinating to have a tool which allows me to survey my records with precision, and to observe things I would not otherwise see.
This is literally the case with what I have come to call the "arabesque." I have noted a number of occasions where the entering of a dream into the database coincides uncannily with events of the day I enter it, often years after I had the dream. These instances seem more complex than contemporary synchronicities, because of the way they fold in on themselves and reach through time. I have come to call them "arabesques," after the ornate, complex designs of intertwined lines. The following example is perhaps the most complex arabesque I have noted thus far.
On June 19, 1996, I entered a dream from October 20, 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 my work with dreams. It was this: "Mystery . . . is not the absence of meaning, but the presence of more meaning than we can understand." This also summarizes the one conclusion I can reach with certainty in using a database and studying these 600 dreams. Thus far, I am in the presence of more than I can understand.
Toward an Understanding
At last year’s conference, I was on a panel that addressed "Long-Term Journaling: The Naturalist’s Approach to Dream Study " chaired by Dennis Schmidt. He and I have had a number of lively conversations about this emerging issue -- that we who have kept journals for many years have a body of data that warrants study, and that computers are making this increasingly easy to do. But where this may take us is hardly predictable, and here Dennis offers an analogy with Tycho Brahe. This was the Danish astronomer who, through his dogged and exquisitely detailed observations, made possible Kepler's theoretical breakthroughs and ultimately, Galileo's revolutionary cosmology. But Brahe himself had no idea what "Big Picture" his data were sketching; his mission and his genius were in the observations he made.
That is how I now see the challenge of keeping and managing long term dream journal records, and I look forward to comparing notes with other dream observers for years to come. Perhaps some day, our labors will inspire a cosmology of dreaming.
Bruning, James and Kintz, B.L. Computational Handbook of Statistics. Glenview, IL: Scott, Foresman and Company, 1977, pp. 220 - 221.
Covington, Dennis. Salvation on Sand Mountain: Snake Handling and Redemption in Southern Appalachia: New York: Penguin Group, 1995, p. 203-204.
Lovejoy, Elijah Parish. Statistics for Math Haters. New York: Harper & Row, 1975, pp. 118 - 145.
Microsoft® Works: The Essential Tools for Easier Everyday Computing, User's Guide. Redmond, WA: Microsoft Corporation, 1987-1993, pp. 271-385
Pearson, Cynthia. "The Dream Index: Thanks to Bill Gates, It's Working." Paper presentation, ASD-12, June 22, 1995.
Long Term Journal Keeping
Copyright 2017 Cynthia Pearson