On the Reality of Precognitive Dreams

We need to move beyond mere skepticism concerning these dreams.

Posted Nov 03, 2019

For me the experimental and scientific case for the reality of precognitive dreams, dreams that contain images of the future, is now settled—they do occur. In fact, they appear to occur frequently not rarely. In some of my previous blog entries I have covered some of that experimental evidence and mentioned extensive meta-analytic reviews of these studies.
In my opinion the discussion should now focus on why and how they occur. While skepticism concerning these dreams is always healthy, we need to avoid the kind of skepticism that devolves into a form of science denialism, obstructivism and dogmatism.

So why and how do precognitive dreams occur? Could they be a form of the experience of “recognition” or “familiarity” or reminiscence de-coupled from actual memories of previous experiences so that you get the experience of familiarity in contexts where familiarity should not occur? You are aware that the context is new for you so you ask yourself “why am I finding this scene familiar”? Then you confabulate an answer to the effect that you must have dreamt it. While the confabulation account surely explains some precognitive experiences, it does not really explain why the person reporting the experience believes it was dreamed, rather than experienced during the daytime.

In addition, the recognition/confabulation depends on the idea that the feeling of familiarity occurs randomly, can be triggered randomly and is often disconnected from reality. but we know that that is not the case. While the recognition system can easily be fooled it does not operate randomly.

The typical explanation for the occurrence of precognitive dreams is coincidence or the law of large numbers.  Given sufficiently large numbers of opportunities for dream images to match some future events/images, those matches will occasionally occur. While coincidence can surely explain some precognitive dreams it cannot explain most of them. These dreams are not rare events. They happen all the time to most people. When matches are occurring on a reliable basis it is not mere coincidence.

Developments in philosophy and physics may help us to begin to understand these dreams. The dreams are telling us that the future is real—it is not just a possibility. That does not mean that the future is pre-determined. It may consist of an array of possibilities with one becoming real when choice is made. In any case we have to conceive of ourselves in terms of the philosophical tool called “temporal parts” Just as we have spatial parts we also have temporal parts. Our bodies, our selves must be thought of as literally projecting into (at least) a 4 dimensional space-time reality (3 spatial dimensions and one time dimension). We are spacetime “worms.”

Parts of us are in the future and so we literally perceive that future. Our daytime egos generally suppress those perceptions so that we can function in our daily lives. In dreams, however, some of those future experiences get through. To the extent that the dream ego is a residual of the daytime ego, it finds these images from the future as vaguely familiar but bizarre nonetheless.

Now the above is only one possible way of understanding precognitive dreams. It leaves all of the interesting questions unanswered. can we develop reliable metrics for discerning which dream images are future oriented and which are not before the future actually arrives? Why do we typically only get glimpses of the future in our dreams? Why are some dreams more detailed than others? Can we learn to use these dreams to alter future outcomes? If we are space-time worms why do we anchor our awareness, our now, at an abritrary point the "worm"? What does all this say about the nature of time itself?