Here at True Pictures, we are fascinated by stories and ideas about the mysteries of time.
Back in 1925, engineer and philosopher J. W. Dunne published An Experiment in Time, a long-form essay arguing that we see bits of the past, present and future all jumbled up in our dreams.
At the Internet Archive, you can download a free copy of An Experiment in Time. Dunne wrote:
Was it possible that these phenomena were not abnormal, but normal? That dreams—dreams in general, all dreams, everybody’s dreams—were composed of images of past experience and images of future experience blended together in approximately equal proportions?
Dunne argued that our waking brains can’t access the future–a mental block prevents us from “seeing” the extension of time into the future. But when we are dreaming, our brain can travel freely between past, present and future:
backwards and forwards in Time; and the dreamer’s attention, following in natural, unhindered fashion the easiest pathway among the ramifications, would be continually crossing and recrossing that properly nonexistent equator which we, waking, ruled quite arbitrarily athwart the whole.
Dunne designed an experiment that anyone can carry out at home and discover bits of the future buried in dreams. I’ve outlined his method below…
If you follow his steps, you can build a comprehensive record of your dreams. Once you have collected this material, you can go “image hunting”–searching for material from the past and present in your dreams.
1. Grab your dream notebook the instant you wake up from a dream.
“A notebook and pencil is kept under the pillow, and, immediately on waking, before you even open your eyes, you set yourself to remember the rapidly vanishing dream.”
2. After a dream, focus on the most clear experience in that dream.
“As a rule, a single incident is all that you can recall, and this appears so dim and small and isolated that you doubt the value of noting it down. Do not, however, attempt to remember anything more, but fix your attention on that single incident, and try to remember its details. Like a flash, a large section of the dream in which that incident occurred comes back.”
3. Jot down as many dream incidents as you can recall, even if they are not part of the first dream.
“What is more important, however, is that, with that section, there usually comes into view an isolated incident from a previous dream. Get hold of as many of these isolated incidents as you can, neglecting temporarily the rest of the dreams of which they formed part. Then jot down these incidents in your notebook as shortly as possible; a word or two for each should suffice.”
4. Go back over the dream incidents, adding as many details as you can remember.
“Now take incident number one. Concentrate upon it until you have recovered part of the dream story associated therewith, and write down the briefest possible outline of that story. Do the same in turn with the other incidents you have noted.”
5. Reread the entire outline and make it a full story–don’t go back to sleep until you have finished.
“Finally, take the abbreviated record thus made and write it out in full. Note details, as many as possible. Be specially careful to do this wherever the incident is one which, if it were to happen in real life, would seem unusual; for it is in connection with events of this kind that your evidence is most likely to be obtained. Until you have completed your record, do not allow yourself to think of anything else.”
Dunne offered one last piece of advice: “Do not attempt merely to remember. Write the dream down.”
Once you have built a dream record, start trying to match imagery to events in the past, present and eventually, your future. Start reading the news or examining your own experience– “image-hunting” for details that surfaced in your past dreams.
According to the people enlisted in his 20th Century experiment, you will soon see details from the future recorded in your past dreams as well.
(Photograph via Roberto Trm)