Creativity and Inventions That Came from Dreams

Throughout history, inventors, writers, artists and scientists have solved problems in their dreams.

  • Kekule, the German chemist who discovered the structure of the benzene molecule, had worked endlessly to figure it out. Then, in a dream, he saw snakes forming circles with their tails in their mouths. When he awoke, he realized that the benzene molecule, unlike all other known organic compounds, had a circular structure rather than a linear one.
  • The inventor of the sewing machine, Elias Howe, had struggled in 1884 to figure out how the needle could work in a machine for sewing. In a dream, he found himself surrounded by native tribesmen with spears that had a hole in the point. When he woke up, he realized that a needle with a hole in the point would solve his problem.
  • Mary Shelly, author of "Frankenstein," got the idea for the story from a dream.
  • Edgar Allen Poe got inspiration from a dream featuring large luminous eyes for his story, "Lady Ligea."
  • Many musicians, including Paul McCartney, Billy Joel and Beethoven, have found inspiration for their music from their dreams. Some hear musical arrangements in their dreams, while others hear lyrics.
  • Golfer Jack Nicklaus found a new way to hold his golf club in a dream, which he credits as significantly improving his golf game.

Dream Incubation

Dream incubation is learning to plant a seed for a specific dream topic to occur. For example, you might go to bed repeating to yourself that you'll dream about a presentation you have coming up or a vacation you just took. Those who believe in problem solving through dreams use this technique to direct their dreams to the specific topic.

While somewhat similar to lucid dreaming in that problems can be solved, dream incubation is simply focusing attention on a specific issue when going to sleep. Several studies have shown this method to be successful over a period of time. For example, in a study at Harvard Medical School, Dr. Diedre Barrett had her students focus on a problem before going to sleep and found that it was certainly possible to come up with novel solutions in dreams that are both personally satisfying and reasonable to an outside observer. In her studies, two-thirds of participants had dreams that addressed their chosen problem, while one-third actually came up with solutions in their dreams.